Subscribe in a reader or enter your address to get posts via email: 
Like this blog on Facebook!

Monday, December 31, 2012

Family Time

I've been thinking about Christmas today.

"What??" I know you are saying. (Because I can read your mind... it's a talent we bloggers have.) "What??" your mind says again, then, "But Michael, you nitwit, today is New Year's Eve! Not Christmas!"

Well, to be honest, I actually started thinking about Christmas yesterday. Better?

[readers sit in stunned silence]

I suppose I should explain. When people think of Christmas, what do they think of? Gifts, obviously. Santa, Rudolph, Christmas trees, shopping. "The Little Drummer Boy" or "Jingle Bells". It's A Wonderful Life and Miracle On 34th Street. And as Christians, we might also add things like putting up manger scenes and hearing Linus reciting from Luke chapter 2 to that list.

There's another thing that people think of when they think of an ideal Christmas, though. Consider the Cratchits from A Christmas Carol. They had next to nothing, but they had one thing that Scrooge did not. Scrooge's nephew Fred was more well-off than the Cratchits, but he also had this thing that Scrooge lacked. The thing I'm talking about is family. When people think of their idealized Christmas, they think of spending quality time with family.

I realize that in a lot of families, time with family is less than pleasant. Not everybody gets along with all of their family members, and in some cases, spending time with family can be a very negative experience. But if you eliminate those blips from your Christmas experience, the chance to spend time with people you are genuinely close to is one of the best parts of Christmas.

So, yesterday was Sunday, and like most Sundays, I spent a few hours in the morning at my church. At our church we treat "shake hands with someone around you" as a pretty important part of the service; I'm very introverted by nature and awkward in social situations, but I make the effort to come out of my shell and shake some hands, smile at people, and say some good mornings at those times. Why do I do that? Because it's important. Because church is not a concert followed by a lecture. Church is spending time with other sons and daughters of the Most High God.

Church is family.

Do you see where I'm going with this? By no means am I implying that we should neglect our biological families in favor of our church families, but I think that church family is family in a very special way.

Want to experience the joyfulness of Christmas every week? Show up at a church full of people who treat each other like family. Like family that they enjoy, I mean. Shake someone's hand, give them a smile and maybe a hug if you are so inclined. Celebrate the gift of Christ with them. And if Weird Uncle Mel shows up, well, shake his hand too.

Because family time is the most Christmassey time of all!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Club Awesome 2012 - Oklahoma City

I just posted something about the concert we were at last night on my music blog... Club Awesome in Oklahoma City. The most fun I've EVER had at a concert? Maybe! Take a look at the journal entry here!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Election Results and the Christian: Part 3

Many of my Christian friends were sorely disappointed by the results of the election. Some are downright nervous about what might come of a second term from a President they didn't care much for the first time around. The first impulse in that kind of situation is to sort of freak out, become very fearful, maybe lash out verbally on your social networks. I was surprised and impressed that my friends did not do that... many of them instead took time to seek God, look to Him in prayer, and discover hope in His Word. Now, it's very easy to use the Bible as a weapon against people - find some scriptures that beat people up or make them look bad. That's not what the Bible is for; it's a weapon, but it's a weapon against spiritual forces, not against human beings that God loves. But my friends didn't misuse the Scriptures. Here are some of the things that I found in my Facebook stream after the election (I won't quote the commentary that was with the verses quoted; I'll let the Scripture stand on its own).

No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save. But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine.

We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you.
-Psalm 33:16-22 NIV
It is better to trust in the LORD Than to put confidence in princes.
-Psalm 118:9 KJV
Do not trust in princes, In mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.
-Psalm 146:3 KJV
...the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.
-Daniel 4:32b NKJV
We use God's mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments.
-2 Corinthians 10:4 NLT
I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour...
-1 Timothy 2:1-3 KJV
Do not fret because of evildoers, be not envious toward wrongdoers. For they will wither quickly like the grass and fade like the green herb. Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He will do it. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light and your judgment as the noonday. Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him; do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, because of the man who carries out wicked schemes. Cease from anger and forsake wrath; do not fret; it leads only to evildoing. For evildoers will be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord, they will inherit the land. Yet a little while and the wicked man will be no more; and you will look carefully for his place and he will not be there. But the humble will inherit the land and will delight themselves in abundant prosperity.
-Psalms 37:1-11 NASB
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all who were carried away captive, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit. Take wives and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters—that you may be increased there, and not diminished. And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace... For thus says the Lord: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.
-Jeremiah 29:4-7, 10-13 NKJV
...if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to prayer made in this place.
-2 Chronicles 7:14-15 NKJV

What does the Holy Spirit seem to be saying to His people? Seems like He's saying something like: Calm down... you're going to be all right. Live your life in peace and confidence, praying for your leaders, knowing that no man is worth your confidence anyway, and neither is any man worth your fear. Even the most evil of people can't destroy what I protect. I'm here, and I'm listening to your prayers.

I'm so proud of my friends for seeking answers from the Word of God instead of giving in to fear and panic. I'm actually humbled by the breadth of the wisdom they've culled from the Scriptures on this. Whether their political opinion that a second Obama Presidency is a Really Bad Thing is correct or not, they have found that God's answer is peace. That's always a really good answer to any situation!

Here's the original post, and here's Part 2 of this impromptu series!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Election Results and the Christian: Part 2

In yesterday's post I talked about a Christian response to the election results from this week. Many of my Christian friends were sorely disappointed by those results, because their political leanings are conservative (as mine are). My point yesterday was that even under the regimes of the most pagan and downright stupid rulers in the Bible, God's people were able to prosper, so even if you think that Barack Obama is evil and stupid (I don't happen to think he is either, but some people appear to) there is still hope for the people of God. But I started to be concerned that one statement that I made might be misunderstood. I wanted to keep focused yesterday on the topic at hand so I didn't clarify then, but I do want to make sure today that it's clear what I didn't mean by it. Here's the statement in question:
In the end, the only thing in the Bible that ever caused God's people to ultimately not prosper is not their leadership: it is their own unrighteousness. God's people failed to prosper not when their leaders were bad, but when they chose not to maintain their own relationship with God.
What I was absolutely not saying by that was that if we are all good boys and girls and keep our noses clean, that God will be nice to us. Looking back at it, it could be read that way, but that's a half-truth that I want to clear up.

The stories I was discussing in that blog post (Joseph, Daniel, and Esther) had one thing in common: they occurred under the Old Covenant. I was telling stories from the Old Testament, and referring to the experiences of the Jewish people before Jesus came to Earth. In those days, the primary means of having a relationship with God was by following the Law. You would do what the Torah said, offer the proper sacrifices at the proper times and when you sinned, and that was the way that people related to God and maintained righteousness. If you read through the books of Kings and Chronicles, the times when the people had rough water as a nation were the times that they abandoned the Law and decided that worshiping idols instead of the one true God was a great idea. When they began to look to idols or to alliances with other nations instead of looking to God, they began to have problems - the problems that ultimately resulted in the exile of Daniel and the other young Hebrew men to Babylon. The means that God had provided for them to stay right with him were the rules they called the Law. Follow the rules and you're OK. That's what I had in mind when I wrote those two sentences yesterday.

However, we're in a different situation now. When Jesus died on the Cross, He took all of our broken rules with Him. We call them "sins," but basically they are broken rules, transgressions of God's Law. God knew that ultimately nobody but Jesus would ever be able to flawlessly follow the Law - that's why He gave the Jews of the Old Testament sacrifices to pay the price for their rulebreaking, and that's why God gave us Jesus as the ultimate sacrifice to pay the price for all of them at once. Breaking the rules is not what separates us from God now; refusing to accept the cleansing that Jesus offers by the blood He shed on the cross is the only thing that gets between us and God. The "unrighteousness" that Israel of the Old Testament never could really quite break free from is the unrighteousness that Jesus has unchained from those who accept Him as their savior. So where "unrighteousness" from an Old Testament perspective meant "breaking the Law" or not following the rules, to New Testament Christians, "unrighteousness" is not a failure to follow rules as much as it is a failure to seek that connection to God that Jesus has provided. I don't think the sin-to-consequences link is the same now as it was then.

So to bring it back around: if you got the idea from my post that I think we should all be good, go to church on Sunday and not kick the dog on Monday, don't smoke or chew or run with girls that do, don't lie or cheat or steal or break the Ten Commandments, and then God will smile on us and protect us from the infernal Democratic Party - that's not what I wanted to convey. Be nice, absolutely. But don't try to be a good person in order to curry God's favor. You already have God's favor if you've accepted Him as your savior. Because you have God's favor, you are free to naturally live a life that lines up nicely with His Will and His Word. And because you have God's favor by the blood of Jesus, you aer under God's protection from whatever might try to harm you. There is no legislation, no five-point plan, no majority in Congress that can separate you from the love and protection and favor of God. We actually have coined a special word for that concept: the word is "Gospel." The Gospel is this: God has made a way for human beings to live in His favor. The guy who sits in the Oval Office has no effect on that.

Here's the original post - and here's Part 3 of this impromptu series!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Election Results and the Christian

I've been pretty quiet here all through the U.S. election season. This blog isn't intended as a place for me to espouse or even share my political views; it's not a politics blog and I don't want it to turn into one, and that's been a big part of what's been on my mind. Certainly it is part of my "life" as a "Christian" (see the blog's title!) but I just don't want to go there on this platform... because I don't think that you should use your Christianity as the reason for your politics. I don't mean by that that you shouldn't vote for the person who you believe will provide the most Godly leadership out of all of the candidates, no matter what the office, but I don't think that you should hang your Christianity on your political party. Politics by its nature is divisive, but Jesus by His nature seeks to draw everyone to Himself. If I say "I'm a Republican because I'm a Christian," what are people who are not Christians but who have strong opinions which contradict the Republican platform supposed to think? That they aren't allowed in the "Christian" club because they are members of the "Democrat" club? I just don't think that's a good path to follow. Jesus loves and accepts political liberals, moderates, conservatives, and whatever - all the same - and does not require them to change their political ideas except in any areas that contradict God's Word. And those ways are often fewer than we think.

Anyway, now that the elections are over, I do have a few thoughts to share... with my Christian friends, mostly. The ones who wanted Mitt Romney to win. I will start with full disclosure: I didn't want President Obama to win again. I don't think he's done the job that needed to be done, and I wanted to give the other guy a crack at it. That said, I have something to say to my Christian friends who agree with me on that.

My message to my Christian friends is this: RELAX.

Let's back up for a second. I live in Oklahoma, which is as red of a state as you are going to find. I grew up in Louisiana and Texas, which are also very red Southern states. And most of my friends are thoroughly Republican Christians. Overall I think they (we?) are pretty disappointed that Obama won a second term. But I don't believe that a second four years for a President who may have failed to accomplish what needed to be accomplished is the end of the world for Christianity or Christians, or even the end of the United States of America. I think God is present in America today the same as He was present yesterday, in the hearts and lives of His people.

I'm going to take the devil's advocate for a moment and argue from the assumption that Obama is the worst of what conspiracy theorists and wild-eyed alarmists think he is: evil incarnate, bent on ruining this country by turning it into something it has never been before and should never be, and lacking the common sense to do even the simplest things for the actual good of the country. (This is not my own view; I don't think the President is an evil man. But let's assume for the moment that he is.) What precedents do we have in the Word of God for a ruler like that?

Let's think about the life of Joseph. Joseph was sold into slavery into the land of a pagan king. Once he was there, God brought Joseph such success that not only did he prosper personally, but he brought his whole extended family in to enjoy the prosperity, and ultimately that family grew so large that 400+ years later, a future pagan king felt threatened by their presence. Now THAT is prosperity under an unrighteous ruler.

What about Daniel? He was a prisoner of war, brought into the court of yet another pagan king who not only tried to get him to do things that contradicted his religious convictions, but after Daniel and his friends proved their value to the king and became trusted advisors, the king stupidly and more than once was talked into executing them (God saved them each time, Daniel from the lions and his three friends from death by burning in a furnace). Not only was Daniel made a top advisor to that king, but he outlived two or three more kings, becoming a top adviser in turn to each of them. How's THAT for a lifetime of prospering under unrighteous leadership?

And let's take Esther. Forced to marry the king and become the queen (forced to become the queen?) she was able to save her whole people group when she exposed a situation that the king was stupid enough to let his adviser talk him into, condemning to death not only her, but a man who had just a few days earlier saved the king's life. A pagan king? Yes. Unrighteous? Yes (forcing women to marry you is not a righteous act). Dumb? Yes (not thinking through policies that are presented by your advisers is dumb leadership). Did Esther and the people of God survive and prosper?

Yes they did.

Even Jesus Himself came into the world during the reign of a pagan oppressor (Rome), but Jesus did not seek to correct any of the political problems of His day. Our situation is a bit different in the 21st century United States, of course, and we have the privilege/right/responsibility to take part in the political process by the mechanisms the Constitution gives us. But my point is that God does not always see fit to immediately remove rulers who are not Godly or even not that smart. In the end, the only thing in the Bible that ever caused God's people to ultimately not prosper is not their leadership: it is their own unrighteousness. God's people failed to prosper not when their leaders were bad, but when they chose not to maintain their own relationship with God.*

Now, let's get back to reality. President Obama may be a bad President. Or, he may be a good President. We may, in future years, reap benefits as a nation from the work he's done for the past four years and the work he will do in the next four, or we may suffer the consequences. Sometimes historical hindsight reveals a forest we were unable to see for the trees at the time. But as individual children of God, we can trust that He will make all things, even President Obama, work together for our good.  God's power is greater than the power of any other ruler, and if you don't agree with that statement, perhaps you're not thinking of the same god I'm thinking of. The Kingdom of God is not the United States of America; the Kingdom of God exists within His people. And God will take care of His people. We will not be destroyed.

So quit the pouting. It's all going to be okay. :)

Still freaking out a little bit? Take a look at this blog post which a friend of mine linked to on Facebook yesterday.

Don't miss Part 2 and Part 3 of this impromptu series!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Evolution Is Not Science

Last week, as I'm sure you've heard by now, children's TV show host Bill Nye 'The Science Guy' released the following video, entitled "Creationism Is Not Appropriate For Children":

The news media immediately jumped on it, and that's how I heard about it. Frankly, I was shocked at what I heard, not because I believe that God created the cosmos (although I do believe that), but that Bill Nye apparently has a few of his facts confused. He also clearly thinks that anyone who doesn't believe what he believes is an idiot.

Here are a few of the facts that Mr. Nye is getting wrong:
  1. "When you have a portion of the population that doesn't believe in that, it holds everybody back, really." How can he say this immediately after saying "I mean, we're the world's most advanced technological [country]... generally, the United States is where most of the innovation still happens"? Does he think that Americans never believed in creation until recently? Clearly it hasn't held us back yet. It could be argued, based on those two statements alone, that belief in evolution has held everybody else back.
  2. "Evolution is the fundamental idea in all of life science, in all of biology. It's like, it's very much analogous to trying to do geology without believing in tectonic plates." How is evolution fundamental to understanding biology? Is he saying that if someone chooses not to believe that one species can, over time, bring forth a different species, that that person is not able to become a biologist or a physician? He might want to discuss that with the excellent Christian doctor who has kept me healthy for many years now.
  3. "Your world just becomes fantastically complicated when you don't believe in evolution." What's more simple than "I think someone made these complex living things in the world around me"? I suppose "Over the course of millions or billions of years, directed by forces which we cannot observe or repeat, counter to the observable fact that organized things in our world tend to deteriorate instead of becoming more organized, simple creatures suddenly appeared out of nowhere for no reason and then slowly became more complex creatures, guided by no intelligence at all" is much simpler.
  4. " are distant stars that are just like our star but they're at a different point in their lifecycle. The idea of deep time, of this billions of years, explains so much of the world around us. If you try to ignore that, your world view just becomes crazy, just untenable, itself inconsistent" Bill here seems to misunderstand something about believers in creation. Not every believer in creation believes in the "young Earth" hypothesis which says that although the universe seems very old, it actually is only something like 6,000 years old (or maybe some other figure, but you get the picture.) In fact, there is no reason that someone who believes that an intelligence created everything can't also believe that that intelligence created it billions of years ago. Young Earth is not the same topic as evolution, although they may often be part of the same arguments.

    This is the first time in the video, by the way, that Mr. Nye implies that people who do not believe in evolution are not very bright. More on that later.
  5. "And I say to the grownups, if you want to deny evolution and live in your world, in your world that's completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe, that's fine, but don't make your kids do it because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future. We need people that can—we need engineers that can build stuff, solve problems." Obviously, if you do not believe in evolution, you can not understand science, "build stuff" that requires understanding of engineering, or "solve problems." Hundreds of thousands of scientists, engineers, astronauts, computer programmers, and generally very intelligent people who doubt evolution would beg to disagree.
  6. "You know, in another couple of centuries that world view, I'm sure, will be, it just won't exist. There's no evidence for it." On the contrary, in recent years the evidence against evolution has been mounting... in fact, if there is anything that lacks evidence, it is the argument that simpler creatures can and have managed to change themselves into more complicated creatures. Human beings cannot even force evolution to happen, and to our knowledge, we are the more complex and intellectual creatures on Earth. The best we can do is make creatures mutate, but we can't make a Spider Man or a Wolverine... usually the mutations we create result in the death of the mutant. Mutation does not make creatures better. It usually kills them. It certainly doesn't turn one species of animal into a different species. And if even the most complex species on the planet can't make it happen, how can a one-celled microbe make it happen?
The thing I find offensive about Bill Nye's video, though, is not his inaccuracies, but his arrogance. He leaves no room between "smart like me" and "crazy people who can't understand the world around them." He implies that science and evolution are one and the same, but that's just not the case. Evolution is not science. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines the Scientific method this way: "principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses." Did you notice how the scientific method involves observation and experiment? So far there has never been a bona-fide observed case of evolution. We haven't been able to turn cats into anything but cats, cows into anything but cows, daisies into anything but daisies, humans into anything but humans. Squirrels give birth to baby squirrels. Chicken eggs hatch and chickens come out. Evolution has as much scientific validity as Mary Shelley's story of Dr. Frankenstein giving life to an assembly of body parts by shooting them with lightning. Neither experiment, Frankenstein's Monster or Darwin's Evolution, has ever been repeated. Experimental results that are not independently repeatable are scientifically suspect.

And yet Bill Nye and others like him do exactly what they accuse creationists of doing: they shove their dogma down the throats of others. They pretend that something they cannot observe or make happen is a scientifically proven fact, and they call people names if they are disagreed with. I've even heard accounts of very qualified scientists suffering bullying within their professional circles for advancing ideas that exclude evolution. Some scientists who believe in creation actually remain "in the closet" because they fear that their career will suffer if they buck the party line on evolution. By using the word "crazy" to describe the views of creationists and by implying that they live in a dream world, Mr. Nye has shown that he has no respect for those who have views counter to his own. It's shocking that someone who aligns himself with the scientific establishment would show such disdain for the views of others.

Even if I believed in evolution, that's not the kind of attitude I want to teach to my children. Hopefully, the children of tomorrow will respect others' viewpoints, even if they disagree with them. Evolution or not, intellectual arrogance is definitely not appropriate for children.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Bible Translations Comparison Chart

A company I discovered a while back called Rose Publishing creates tons of "e-charts" on Bible-related topics. Occasionally they make samples available for free download (so far I've amassed a collection of 24 of the free charts), and today they released one that I thought might be of interest to my readers: the "FREE 'Bible Translations Comparison' eChart." The free version of the chart compares some characteristics of four Bible translations: the KJV, NIV (2011 edition), NASB, and NLT. Here's the link to the free download:

The full version compares twenty translations, and is available for $3.99 to download (they also have pretty cool-looking wall-chart editions in the $10-15 range), so if you like the free version you can download from the link above, you might want to spring for the 20-translation edition. Here's a list of the translations in the full (paid) versions:
  • American Standard Version
  • Amplified Bible
  • New American Standard Bible
  • Revised Standard Version
  • New Revised Standard Version
  • English Standard Version
  • King James Version
  • New King James Version
  • New Jerusalem Bible
  • New American Bible
  • New International Version 2011 (NIV)
  • Common English Bible (CEB)
  • Today's New International Version
  • God's Word
  • Holman Christian Standard Bible (Holman Bible)
  • New Century Version
  • New Living Translation
  • New International Readers Version
  • Good News Translation
  • Contemporary English Version
  • The Message
By the way, the free download is only guaranteed to be available until Tuesday, September 4, 2012, so jump on this one pretty quick!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

War with the World, Part 2

In my previous post I outlined some thoughts related to the recent Chick-fil-A hoopla, and the response of the Christian community. This morning a detail fell into place for me in a way that put two and two together to make something that was more like "four" than anything I've heard yet. Maybe I'm turning into a wild-eyed conspiracy theorist, but hear me out and maybe you'll at least see where I'm coming from.

Let's review the basic events that occurred that led to the controversy. On July 2, some comments that Dan Cathy made about traditional marriage were published in a Baptist newsmagazine. On June 16, he appeared on a radio show I've never heard of before and made similar remarks (source: via Wikipedia). Such a controversy erupted over these remarks that by July 22, the former governor of Arkansas had called for a special day for Chick-fil-A supporters to go eat there to show support for the chain (source: On August 1, supporters did as Mr. Huckabee had recommended, and even though Chick-fil-A did not officially ask for it or plan an event, they had a "record-setting" sales day (source: The LGBT community planned a counter-demonstration "kiss-in" for the following Friday (see: I doubt it cost Chick-fil-A much in sales, but Chick-fil-A does not publicly report sales numbers so nobody but their hairdresser knows for sure what happened for them financially on Wednesday or on Friday.

Since this thing started to percolate up into the brouhaha it eventually became, I've been puzzled over how a few comments in such obscure venues became such a big deal. I mean, who is this Ken Coleman with the radio show? I've never heard of him before now, and I'd guess I've at least heard the names of most nationally-known Christian leaders. (Actually, I'm assuming he is a religious speaker of some kind, although I don't immediately find anything specifically addressing that on Best I can tell from his Web site is that he has a local show on a radio station in Georgia. And tell me: how many gay rights activists really read the Baptist Press? If I were gay and wanted to be part of a Christian church, I would most certainly NOT choose the very conservative Baptist denomination, and I would not read Baptist publications.

So here's the question to ask yourself. How did the LGBT community even know about these things Dan Cathy was saying? Are you telling me that gay people are spending their time reading Baptist publications and listening to Christian talk radio? Now, I did just do some quick research, and Wikipedia does report that Atlanta has a large gay population (source: so it's possible that homosexual activists in that area might have stumbled across Coleman's radio show. But I've got to wonder whether that's really what happened, and here's why.

It appears that Chick-fil-A has actually been controversial within the LGBT community for at least a year and a half. Wikipedia reports that there was a flap over a marriage conference in January of 2011 (source: and if you check the references in that Wikipedia article, you'll find several other instances of LGBT activists becoming upset over something Chick-fil-A did. So essentially, Chick-fil-A seems to have been in their crosshairs for some time. What occurred to me this morning was that it is very likely that they were actually looking for the right time to attack Chick-fil-A in the national arena. This public denouncement of Chick-fil-A wasn't really in response only to those two interviews.

Now, here's where Christians either won the day, or got pie on our faces, and I'm going with option #2. Sure, CFA had a great sales day, and my guess is that they are continuing to have great sales days - the Saturday after the big chicken-athon I was at a mall with a CFA in it and the line was still longer at that restaurant than anywhere else in the food court. But really, did the chain really need saving? It's not like CFA is an ailing fast food chain that needs our support to keep it from going under. We gave them our money, but all that meant was that we had some tasty chicken.

Here's how we failed: the LGBT community was trying to cause a division between themselves and Christians. Can't you see that that was the idea all along? They sought to show that Christians are mistreating gays, to consolidate gays against Christian organizations, to make sure that homosexuals would not seek to leave the lifestyle but would become more afraid and suspicious of organizations that would reach out to them.

I think we walked right into their trap.

I don't think that the LGBT activist community got things exactly like they wanted, because I think they really wanted to demonize and damage the chain and that just wasn't going to happen. But I do think that they've set Americans at each other's throats, and specifically I think they've set homosexuals against Christians. They've polarized people, shoring up their own power. Christians saved a fast-food restaurant that didn't really need saving, and hardline gay-rights activists built a stronger sense of "us-versus-them" community on both the gay side and the "religious right" side.

It's another row or two of bricks in the already towering wall between the Christians and the people that Jesus wants us to reach out to in love. And we laid the bricks ourselves.

Friday, August 3, 2012

War with the World

No time for being lazy
No sleeping until noon
The world is cruh-cruh-crazy
Don't you get the news?
Get up, put on your armor
Yeah, we're at war with the world
- from "War With The World" by DeGarmo & Key (listen: Spotify -
Years ago there was a great deal of controversy over what was known in Christian circles as the "spiritual warfare movement." Christian rock bands with lyrics like this one (a different band called Petra even released an entire album called This Means War!) raised eyebrows with their use of combative language. War is a violent thing... should Christians be talking as though we are in some kind of battle? Isn't that what happened in the Crusades? Isn't that what we object to in radical Islam even today?

In the past couple of weeks, angry Christians have eaten thousands of chicken sandwiches in protest of people who protest at the Chick-fil-A founder's statements about marriage. Some say the controversy is about free speech (even though nobody restricted Dan Cathy's speech). Others say the controversy is about gay marriage rights (even though Dan Cathy denied nobody's rights to get married) or gay rights in general (although I have yet to hear any good solid evidence that Chick-fil-A has discriminated against anyone because of their sexual orientation). Others see the statements as a symptom of a corporate policy with which they disagree (the company has made charitable donations to religious organizations which seek to help homosexuals leave that lifestyle if they so choose, and the methods of some of these organizations have been questioned). In the Christian circles I frequent, I have seen a lot of defiance, some of it bordering on anger. Christians are frustrated, because they feel that homosexuals are trying to legalize something which they believe threatens their religious beliefs. Apparently, if homosexuals are allowed to call themselves "married" under the civil laws of the United States, it will be the first step in the crumbling of Christianity to dust.

But wait... is the Church really that fragile? Is Christ really not able to preserve his people if homosexuals quit eating at a fast food chicken place? Even if that place doesn't open on Sunday because of the owners' religious convictions? And, more importantly, are political ideas, even ones that are very important to us in America such as the right to freedom of speech, really a part of Christianity?

Are we at "war with the world?"

I think we've gotten our idea of what "the world" that we should be "at war with" mixed up. The second part of the song I quoted above is a little more specific:
The enemy's a liar
He wants to take your heart
The lure is the desire
That tears the heart apart
So don't go for the glitter
Yeah, we're at war with the world
- from "War With The World" by DeGarmo & Key
"The enemy" that the song talks about is personified under the name Satan, but really "the world" that we are to oppose is the sinfulness that surrounds us, not everybody in the whole world who is not a Christian. In fact, in the Gospels Jesus never attacked the people around him who were considered "unclean" and "sinners" (in first-century Jewish thought, homosexuals would surely fall into this category, if any of them happened to show up). The people that Jesus most vehemently attacked were the self-righteous religious people who thought they knew all the rules and wanted to force everyone else to follow them.

Sound familiar?

The problem with this whole Chick-fil-A thing... in fact, with the whole "gay rights" thing and the response of Christians to it... is that it serves to create a division between Christians and the very people we should be seeking to reach with the message of Jesus' love. When you post that pro-Chick-fil-A image on your Facebook profile, think about this: is your lunch really worth the soul of a gay person who might see your profile and become hardened against the message of the Gospel because of it? What about your right to free speech? Is that worth the price of a human soul? What if a gay person wants to become "married" in the eyes of the State, but does not want to try to force a church to call them married as well. Is your opposition to that person's actions worth alienating someone from Jesus?

I'm not saying we should "wink at sin" and say that it's OK. Homosexuality is not OK. Neither are any of the other sins that most of us commit every day. If you break one part of the law, one rule, one sin - you've sinned just as thoroughly as the homosexual. There are no sins worse than others: every sin is a capitol offense without Jesus. But what I am saying is that we should pick our battles wisely. Even Chick-fil-A immediately tried to separate themselves from the controversy over gay marriage; maybe Christians en masse ought to take a cue from that and do the same. Free speech and chicken sandwiches are not worth anyone going to Hell over.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

One Week on One Chapter

Last week I gave myself an interesting goal: study a particular chapter of the Bible a little every day and see what I can get out of it. The problem is that most of my Bibles and study materials (some of which appear in the picture at the top of this post from a year and a half ago) are currently in storage because of a move last year. But I do still have a number of resources at my disposal, and I decided to see what I could come up with!

The first day I read the passage from the New Living Translation (which is what my pastor uses during his messages) from my NLT Life Application Study Bible. This gave me a basic overview of the passage, plus some real-world applications. I don't really have a lot of trust for the NLT as a study text (not for inductive study methods, anyway) but it reads easily and it's certainly good enough to give you an idea of what the writer is talking about.

There was something that was puzzling me, hinging around one specific word in the passage, so the next day I fired up the Logos app on my phone. It's kind of a little brother to the Logos/Libronix software you can buy for your computer. It's actually pretty good for doing light Bible study using a phone; the screen can divide into two parts which hold different translations or books, and it can do some simple word study kind of stuff. It's nowhere as good as the desktop version, but I just had my phone handy at the time, and it satisfied my curiosity. I read the passage again using the New American Standard Version on the phone, and it is tied in to the Greek/Hebrew stuff, so it was simple to do my word study.

The next day I fired up and read the chapter through in the Holman Christian Standard Version. I actually used my phone browser for this, and it worked out reasonably well. I still wasn't 100% satisfied with my word study results from the Logos app, and has a terrific "click the underlined word to see the Greek or Hebrew source word" thing going on, and it clarified what I had discovered the day before. And you can't beat the price for using the HCSB Study Bible on this site... free!

The next day I read the chapter in the ESV translation on On this site you can read the ESV Study Bible notes, and although there is a minimal cost to access them, I highly recommend it; the ESV Study Bible is still my preferred study Bible. The notes were terrific; I was really getting a good handle on what I had been reading all week.

The next day I pulled out my NIV Study Bible to read the passage in the New International Version. This is my second favorite study Bible, a close runner-up to the ESV Study Bible. The NIV is probably my second-favorite translation, too... I thought for a while that the HCSB was going to take over that spot, but I've been disappointed with the translation in a few spots... maybe I'll blog about some of them one day. I still like the Holman translation, but I like the NIV better. This is an older copy of the NIV Study Bible, so this is the 1984 NIV, although I have no problem with the parts I've read from the newest edition.

The next day I pulled out the Life Application Study Bible and went through the chapter again in that book; I wanted to see if what I read made better sense to me after being through the chapter so many times. Sure enough, the text and the study notes were more meaningful to me this time through than before. I must have learned something!

How much did I pay to do all of this? Nothing! Of course, I already had the materials at my disposal; maybe you own a study Bible or two, or maybe you don't. But there are plenty of Bible study resources online; you could study a passage for weeks just using the resources on Blue Letter Bible alone and never run out, and that site is free!

I used a couple of physical volumes in my study, but the astonishing fact is that I did most of my study of this passage (it was 1 Peter 1, by the way, but it could have been any chapter) using only my low-powered Android cell phone! Just a few years ago that would have been science fiction; these days there are a wealth of materials available to anyone with a smart phone, anywhere they have a data connection (or in some cases, even without a data connection). With only the meager resources at my disposal, I did a study that would have taken hours in a physical library full of Bible commentaries fifteen years ago. We are truly blessed these days with a rich variety of sources of information about the Bible literally at our fingertips.

The real question here is: why do Christians not have a deeper understanding of the teachings of the Bible? With all of these resources available, there is no reason every Christian couldn't know as much about the Word as a graduating seminary student a half-century ago. Why don't we?

I'll leave you to answer that question yourself in the comments section below.

Monday, June 18, 2012


'Washington Monument Halo' photo (c) 2006, - license:
Forgiveness. It'll clear the bitterness away.
It can even set a prisoner free...
The prisoner that it really frees is you.
In the past few years I've really been getting into the tween/teen book series by Rick Riordan. You've probably heard of Percy Jackson, if not from the half-dozen or so books about him and his friends, at least from the Disney movie that came out several years ago which was based on the first Percy Jackson book. Riordan has written several other series, and a while back my tween son got me interested in another one of them, "The Kane Chronicles." Last week I read the brand-new book in this series, The Serpent's Shadow. In the story, a huge supernatural snake is on the verge of destroying the world, but a part of him his "shadow" in the story — is stuck. It is pinned to the ground by an obelisk (like the Washington Monument), and no matter how it writhes and struggles, the serpent can't get loose. (Fortunately, the heroes manage to defeat him and save the world, but that's not really what this blog post is about!)

This morning on my commute I heard the words I quoted above on the radio in a new song by Matthew West called "Forgiveness." I thought they were so apt and so true. Of course it's true that knowing they are forgiven can be a relief to the person you are forgiving, but sometimes the person who has wronged us doesn't even know he or she has done so. What about the person who cuts you off in traffic? (That did not happen to me during the Matthew West song, by the way!) What about a friend who says something to you on the telephone that they had no way of knowing would cause you pain because of some factor they didn't know about? Or what about someone who hurts you without doing anything wrong and without even realizing it? In all of those cases, the forgiveness technically is extended to that person, but the person who experiences the relief is you. That unforgiveness was the obelisk that was keeping you pinned to the ground, struggling to get free. But unlike the serpent's shadow, you have the power to release yourself.

Here's a video of Matthew West performing the whole song live, including West's account of the incident that inspired the song. Please enjoy it... and then choose to free yourself by forgiving someone today.


Here's a list of Scripture verses about forgiveness.

Monday, June 11, 2012

God Loves You

Did you know that God loves you?

Wait a second. Let's really consider that statement.

God LOVES you.

The human love that we feel for our children, family, friends, or whoever... that love, at its very purest and best, is a pale reflection of God's love for us. God draws pictures in the physical world of things that exist in His dimension to help us understand Him. Love is one of those things.

When you think God is doing something to hurt you, neglect you, be mean to you, or otherwise mistreat you, step back for a minute and remember:

God loves you.

Would you do the things you suspect God of to someone you loved with all of your heart? Would you put that person through the kind of thing you think God is putting you through? Would you delight in that person's pain as you knowingly created the situation you are in and placed the jewel of your heart in the middle of it?

If what you think God is doing does not look like Love to you, then it might pay to look elsewhere for the cause of the problem you are facing. Because God is omnipotent. God can do anything... and




Thursday, June 7, 2012

Blue Like Jazz (the book this time)

So, a few weeks ago I blogged about the Blue Like Jazz movie. The movie is loosely based on the book by the same name, and although I read the book several years ago I didn't remember much about it, so I decided to read it again. My reaction to it this time was very different this time from the last time... almost like reading a different book. Here's what I wrote about it on Goodreads.

I read this book several years ago, and remember enjoying it, but coming away from it with the impression that Miller spent most of his time walking around seeking out people to have long, introspective conversations with. It seemed like he was mostly full of questions and not much full of answers, and never really quite getting to the point.

That whole impression has changed this time. Yes, Miller is full of questions. Yes, he does seem to seek out deep conversations with people, and he doesn't seem to come out having a bunch of definitive answers like most Christian authors seem to. But I think that is the key in this whole thing. When we think we have all of the answers... or, dare I say it, when we think we have full understanding of any of the answers? ...we're fooling ourselves. God is a mystery, and always will be, outside of what of Himself he reveals by His Spirit. And the fact is, as mortal human beings, we couldn't take the full impact of knowing everything about God if He revealed it all to us. God's too big for that.

This time through the book I realized that although at first glance, Miller doesn't seem to have any definitive answers like maybe some other author seems to, he does in fact come to a separate, useful conclusion at the end of each chapter. But he never claims to have all of the answers. In fact, part of what he seems to be communicating is that we need each other because none of us will ever have all of the answers. The truth that you understand can augment the truth that I understand, and vice versa. By communicating with each other, having introspective and even not-introspective conversations and interactions, each of us can come into a fuller understanding of God, mankind's relationship with Him, and the relationship each of us individually has with Him.

I read another review which compared this book to a blog; it does sort of have a bloggy, chatty flavor to it. Don't come to it thinking that you're going to read a book that has a larger theme; it does have one (the theme of the book is that the Christian life is hard to describe and you have to live it as it comes, like a good jazz musician plays the music as it comes, interacting with his bandmates and improvising based on what they do) but each chapter has its own focus. The book itself is actually a little bit like a jazz suite with many movements that don't seem at first listen to be related, outside of the instrumentation and basic musical style, but the more of them you experience, the more connections you begin to understand. I think it pays to read it sort of like a devotional... read one chapter at a time and stew on each one a bit before advancing to the next. Each movement of the suite needs to stand on its own two feet before you advance to the next one.

I think part of the reason I'm seeing this book differently than I did several years ago is because of growth I've experienced in my own life and relationship with God. Miller says in the book: "I used to not like jazz... now I do like jazz." I used to not like this book as much as I do now. I would recommend giving it a chance... or a second chance.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Do Fish Believe In Airplanes?

'Beaver' photo (c) 2008, Steve - license: wonder if fish believe in airplanes.

Airplanes are simply not part of a fish's universe. Most fish live in the water all of the time, and most airplanes don't go into the water. There are fish who jump out of the water, and there are fish who may have been caught on a fishhook or by a predator and escaped back into the water. But in general, fishes are in the water, and airplanes are in the air.

Now, certain fish might occasionally have a certain kind of encounter with airplanes. For example, on a sunny day a fish who happened to be looking up might, by chance, see on the surface of the water the shadow of an airplane which happened to be flying by. Or, a fish who lives in a place where a seaplane lands might have a more direct experience with an airplane, maybe get to touch its pontoons. An airplane might even enter completely into a fish's realm of experience if it crashes into the ocean. Of course, even a theoretical Very Intelligent Fish (VIF) would not likely be able to explain these experiences very well. A VIF would have to be in the right place at the right time to experience Airplane, and although he might be able to predict some occurrences of Airplane (say, if it was a seaplane that landed at a certain place and time every day, or if the ocean was near an airport with regular takeoffs and landings) he would never be able to make Airplane happen, or truly explain what it was. He would only be able to experience it for himself and report what he experienced to other VIF. There would be varying theories as to what Airplane is, what it means, and how best to experience the mysteries that Airplane brings, but most of what Airplane is would remain a mystery.

Some fish would never in their lifetimes experience Airplane. Maybe they stay deep in the depths of the ocean where sunlight never goes. Or maybe they just don't happen to live in a lagoon where a biplane lands, or near that noisy airport where they could hear the rumbles and see the plus-shaped shadows. I imagine, though, that VIF that believe in Airplane and wanted to experience it might tend to congregate in places where Airplane might be experienced with some regularity.

Or maybe not... after all, we're just talking about worm-sucking fish here.

But fish, even VIF, would be making a mistake to say that airplanes don't exist at all just because they don't exist under the ocean. Airplanes inhabit a realm of existence that fish simply cannot go without help. It would be a very misguided VIF that would claim that because he hadn't ever experienced an airplane (and hadn't even tried) that he had authoritative proof that Airplane is a myth.

Airplane is real.

...And anyone who has had a genuine experience with God can tell you, even though God does not originate in or physically inhabit our realm of existence, God is still real. Occasionally God penetrates into our cosmos, and those who believe in Him sometimes gather (we call it church) to meet with others who believe in Him and to seek out those experiences, but we can't make God do things at our commands, any more than a fish can charter a flight to Disney World.

Maybe there really is not a God. Even after all of the times in my lifetime that I've had experiences with what I believe to be a divine being, and even though I believe that being to be the God described in the Bible, I can't offer you physical proof of his existence. I don't have his autograph, or the jersey he wore when he played basketball in Junior High. He's not from here; He doesn't live here.

Just because airplanes aren't submarines doesn't mean there are no airplanes. And just because God doesn't physically live in the house next door to me doesn't mean there's no God.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Thirteen Years Ago

Thirteen years ago today, plus a week or so, I asked my boss Harry for a week of vacation. He gave me a strange look (because I hardly ever used vacation time) and said, "Are you getting married?"

I had to shush him... my girlfriend's own mother didn't even know! But that Sunday morning I picked her up as though we were going to church like always, and when I brought her back a week later, she was my wife. We spent part of that Sunday driving from Tulsa to Arkansas, where we could easily get married in a little wedding chapel we had found out about on the Internet (after all, we had met on the Internet!), and then we spent another hour or two waiting at McDonald's because our County Clerk was out brush hogging his property instead of waiting around for us to be late for our appointment to get a marriage license! We had written our vows earlier that day at Long John Silver's, so we kind of made the fast food circuit in little Harrison, Arkansas that day.

But despite being something we began secretly (her dad did know what we were up to, by the way, and approved of us getting married) and despite us spending way more time in fast food joints than anyone wants to spend on their wedding day, our 13-years-and-counting have been anything but a disposable, fast-food marriage. We've certainly had misunderstandings, arguments, and hurts, but we've had so many laughs, fun times, talks late at night, and so much love that every rough patch is totally worth it.

A good marriage is funny. You start out thinking you are so alike that it's impossible to imagine not being together. Then in the first years of your marriage, you realize that you are in fact not as alike as you thought, and you learn to give each other room to grow as an individual. No marriage can last if one or both of the people in it are being stifled by the other. After a while, you discover that each of you has grown into an even different person than the one you were when you got married, but the person you've grown into is hopelessly tangled up with the person you've married. There's no getting loose! You're totally stuck! ...and you wouldn't have it any other way.

A few days ago I noticed my wedding ring. It was on my finger, of course; I never take it off. But these days, I'm not usually conscious that it's there. It just is. It's part of me. It feels wrong if it's not there. That's what marriage is like when it's a good one. And that's why it's good to celebrate when you pass another yearly milestone... something that you weren't born with, something precious and valuable, has become a part of you. And that's something that deserves celebrating!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Walking Around

Isn't it cool when people walk around?

No, I didn't leave anything out of the sentence. They don't have to be doing anything special to be amazing, juggling chainsaws or doing card tricks or something. Just, walking around.

I have a four-year-old daughter who loves animals. Whenever she sees a creature that she hasn't seen before and it starts to move, she giggles. She gets so excited that the puppy or the turtle or the squirrel is moving! A little while I was walking from room to room, remembered something I had forgotten, paused to decide whether to go get it, and then turned around and went back to get it. When I did that, like a four-year-old watching a kitten walk, I suddenly became conscious of the specialness of it.

Have you ever thought about how many muscles have to work in concert for you to walk across the room? Some quick Googling returns the number 200 from a couple of sources, and I don't doubt it. I think there are only about five muscles in your leg, but what about all of the muscles that are constantly adjusting your spine, toes, feet, and all of the other parts of your body to keep you balanced and moving forward? And I didn't just move forward... I moved forward, stopped, remained balanced for a moment, then turned my whole body and walked in the other direction. At every point in that operation, many muscles were involved in keeping me doing what I wanted to do. At any time, one of those muscles could have done something different, and I would have been lying on the floor (or bashing into a wall or door, or whatever) instead of walking across the room. Mundane, you say? No! It's positively amazing! (Just ask anyone who has ever tried to design a two-legged walking robot!)

Why am I mentioning all this? Because to me, even something as simple as walking points to God. There's no way a system like the human body would have occurred by chance. People who would say "isn't it amazing how Nature designed our bodies like that?" are simply refusing to use the word "God" for the creator and using the word "Nature" instead, which doesn't really make any sense unless you're talking about "Mother Nature" and then you've just tipped your hat to pantheism, not atheism. Then again, I'm the guy who doesn't believe in the existence of atheists, so maybe I'm not the guy to apply those labels. Wait, where was I going with this again?

Oh yeah: your body is amazing. And I'm not just saying that because you are so good-looking, because everybody knows that the people who read this blog are SMOKIN' good looking! But even if you weren't so incredibly attractive, your body would still be an amazing creation by an amazing God. And when you stand up and walk away from whatever you're reading this on, I hope you are reminded of that with every step.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Blue Like Jazz: Shock Treatment for Christians

As I drove up to the movie theater this sunny Sunday afternoon to view the new Donald Miller/Steve Taylor film, Blue Like Jazz, I had Christian rock playing in my car. This is the song that came on as I drove up to the theater:

When I left the theater, I skipped back to the beginning of the song, listened to it again, and cried my eyes out. Then I called some friends to tell them about the movie, and then I hopped on the Internet with my phone and streamed some John Coltrane (you'll know why when you see the movie), and I cried some more. (Leave it to musician-turned-filmmaker Steve Taylor to use a jazz album as a metaphor for Christ.)

But I'm getting a little bit ahead of myself. Blue Like Jazz is based on the bestselling Donald Miller book by the same name. I read the book several years ago, wound up a bit puzzled at the end, and enjoyed the experience enough that I sought out more of Miller's work. When I heard that he and Steve Taylor were teaming up to bring it to the big screen, I was excited and mystified. Excited because I'm a long-time fan of Steve Taylor and I really enjoyed Taylor's movie a few years ago called The Second Chance (which in my opinion did not receive the respect it deserved), and mystified because the book really is not a narrative at all. It's a series of essays, or maybe memoirs, that are based on some of Miller's experiences in college. I had no idea how they would turn it into something coherent on the movie screen.

Of course the way they did it was by creating a story that includes elements of the anecdotes Donald relates in the book, but stringing them together into a plot that makes sense. In an almost self-referential twist, the movie is structured around a mantra from a writing class: setting, conflict, climax, resolution - the four elements of a successful story. The screenwriters did a good job of taking the book, applying those elements, and turning it into a narrative that takes you to uncomfortable places where we, as Christians, desperately need to go.

I really hate to give away too much of the plot, because it's best if you take the journey with Don (the main character is based on the book's author, since the main character in the book is the author) without knowing too much of what's going to happen ahead of time. Suffice it to say that it's about a teenager who goes to college and has a crisis of faith - or, maybe more accurately, has a crisis of faith and then goes to college. His college is far from home, and far out of his Texas Baptist comfort zone. The movie is about his struggle to get a handle on his faith, and at the end he has discovered something important, something that every Christian needs to discover.

Sounds like a wonderful, cuddly Christian after-school special kind of movie, doesn't it? Well, hang on tight and keep your hands and feet inside the ride at all times, because this is probably not a movie you want to take your 10-year-old to. This movie depicts alcohol being happily consumed by the Christian protagonist, an instance or two of drug use on-screen, a lesbian who does not become a Christian at the end, a shocking case of an unwanted pregnancy occurring outside of marriage, more profanity than some Christians are going to be comfortable with, people talking about sex using street slang, condoms (real ones and some very large ones with happy faces painted on them), an older man who has just had a sexual liaison with a young intern, and a back-story of sexual abuse of a child by a member of the clergy. What it does not contain are: sex scenes, nudity, violence, and the Plan of Salvation. What? A "Christian" movie where nobody becomes a Christian at the end? Tragedy! Blasphemy! Apocalypse!

Well, nobody does become a Christian at the end, but becoming a Christian is not what the movie is about. The point is that Don-the-movie-character, like Don-the-book's-author, learns how to be a better Christian by the end of the movie. He learns the vital, obvious but seldom-lived-out point that Jesus came to Earth because he loved sinners, and if we consider ourselves followers of Jesus, we should be loving them, too. On one of the most liberal college campuses in the country, Don gets through to one of the most liberal people on campus by showing him the love of Christ. Not by debating him about the Bible, not by telling him what a sinner he is, but simply by loving him. And that's why the theater erupted with applause when the credits rolled on the showing I was in. Because the film ends with one Christian young man making a heart-to-heart connection with a hardened, liberal, damaged non-Christian young man by, paradoxically, not being ashamed to say "I'm sorry."

One thing I really appreciated about this movie is the metaphors of Jesus that keep showing up. I've already mentioned the jazz records that represent Christ. There is also a young lady who is a Christlike character, and a Christlike Catholic priest who, at one point, offers a compassionate hand and pulls Don out of an overturned latrine. Not every Christian character in the film is Christlike (I won't give away a major plot point, but you'll know the main hypocritical Christians when you see them), but as Don is exposed over and over to Christlike figures in the middle of some of the most Godless situations imaginable, he finds himself transformed into a more Christlike Christian.

I've read some people's comments online about this film, and I've seen both glowing recommendations (I guess you can count this one among those) and some pretty harsh criticisms. The criticisms are not about the cinematography or the writing or the acting, but about some of the things that are depicted in the film, the lesbians-and-condoms-and-booze kind of stuff. Sadly, I think a lot of Christians are going to find something in the film to be offended by. And that's a real shame, because by Hollywood standards, this movie is seriously tame fare. I mentioned before, and I'll mention again, that this isn't a movie for children; it's a movie for adults, and maybe for older teens who are able to take in the subject matter involved. But come on... if you've watched the advertisements during the Super Bowl, you've seen more suggestive and offensive stuff than there is in this movie. It's a crying shame that some Christians will miss out on the amazing, life-changing, redemptive message because they allow themselves to be offended by a depiction of sinners doing what sinners do: sinning. Without the Godless "setting", the impact of the emotional "climax" would be all but eliminated. Sure, it would have been a safer film, but Steve Taylor has never been known for playing it safe. I'm so glad he and Donald Miller (and the tons of fans of the book who donated via a Kickstarter campaign to get this thing off the ground) took a chance and made this movie. If it helps one person to love others the way Christ did, like the single character of Don does at the end of the movie, then it will be worth it.

And that's why I was crying in my car on the way home this afternoon. I'm hoping that maybe, just maybe, that one person will be me.

Visit and find out where it's showing in your area. You'll be glad you did.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

YouVersion - you should have it on your phone

A few days ago I did something I haven't done often. I wrote a "User Review" of an app on the Android Market:
Holy Bible icon
This is the Cadillac of Bible apps. It's designed simply to get you reading the Bible; it has very little in the way of study tools such as cross-references or Greek/Hebrew lexicons. What it does have is just about every Bible translation that the layman has ever heard of, even in audio in some cases, and scads of "reading plans" to help you get engaged with the translation of your choice. It eliminates any excuse you might have for not reading the Bible regularly. The icing on the cake is that it's free!
The app I was talking about is of course YouVersion, which I have mentioned here in the blog several times before. If you have it on your phone, it's probably just called "Bible". If you don't have it on your phone, right away you should visit with your phone and download it! Here's a QR code you can scan to take you there if that's the way you roll:

 YouVersion download QR code
Scan to download the Bible to your phone

YouVersion's Bible app really is the cream of the crop for mobile device Bible reading. Well, I'll temper that statement a little bit: the YouVersion app is free, and there may be paid apps out there that rival it in one way or another. In fact, since I use the Logos software on my home computer, I also have the Logos Android app installed, and it gives me a bunch of study materials that YouVersion doesn't have (the ESV Study Bible notes, for example), and on top of that it lets me split my screen in half and view two translations at once! But I use YouVersion far more often, and here's why:
  1. YouVersion has probably every Bible translation you've ever heard of. It certainly has my favorites... the ESV, NAS, HCSB, NIV, NLT. There are scads of English versions, and a bunch of non-English translations as well.
  2. Romans 8 displayed in the YouVersion Bible App
    This is what it looks like when you're reading on
    Android... how simple is THAT?
    It's easy to use. You open it up, tap the icon that says "Bible", and you're reading the Bible! Changing the passage you're looking at or changing the translation you're reading are intuitive processes (which is something I can NOT say about the Logos app... changing translations or passages in that app is pretty convoluted until you get used to it).
  3. Audio. Not a recreational reader? Staring at a page of text makes your eyes roll back in your head? The YouVersion app has audio files for many of their translations, which means that after you point and click your way to a passage, you can listen to it instead of (or in addition to) reading it. This means that you could listen to the Bible in your car on a daily commute (I've done it), while you're going to sleep at night (done that too), or wherever you are.
  4. Reading plans. YouVersion has tons of daily reading plans that you can choose from. Some of them are only a couple of days or a week long and cover specific topics or books; others range up to long-term plans to read through the entire Bible. And you can use the audio in conjunction with your reading plan, so instead of reading passages from sometimes several different books/locations, you can have them read to you. I'm working on a reading plan that has a two chapters assigned each day from two different books. If I start the audio running on the first chapter, when it reaches the end it proceeds to the second chapter automatically! How cool is THAT? If you sign up for a free YouVersion account, you can track your reading over time, and you can actually read through an app or their Web version and you "get credit" from whichever you use (so you could read from your phone one day, listen to audio on your phone the next day, and read on your computer the next day, and the system tracks your progress from all three). It can also be set up to fire an alert on your phone every day to remind you to read your passage, and if you miss a day or two you can shift your reading program's dates so that today's reading is the only one you have to complete to be caught up. No guilt trip and no scrambling to catch up by reading multiple days... nice! It's the least stressful Bible reading plan system I've ever tried.
  5. Downloadable translations. Some, but not all, of the Bible translations in YouVersion can be downloaded to your mobile device so that you can access them even from places where you do not have data access; other translations (because of restrictions set by the publishers) are not downloadable.
The issue of downloadable translations does bring up the only major problem I've had with the YouVersion app: if you do not have data access, you may have trouble even getting the app to start. There is no public WiFi at my church and the building makes 3G availability a touch and go proposition, and this has given me trouble a few times. Usually if you have a downloaded translation it will start right up, but sometimes it insists on being able to see the YouVersion server on the Internet and it won't open at all. I haven't seen this happen in quite a while, though, so presumably I've either gotten every translation that I use downloaded, the data accessibility at my church has improved, or YouVersion has fixed it (they are pretty active about updating the Android app, and I understand they're good about new versions on other platforms as well). So I suppose your mileage may vary on that, but the fact is that this is an OUTSTANDING way to get yourself engaged with the Word. And even if you use a different Bible app, this one likely can give you access to translations that you don't have in that app. Scan the QR code above or visit your app store directly and download this thing. Tell yourself you'll keep it in your hip pocket when your regular Bible app fails you... but you may find yourself using YouVersion more often than you thought! And if you struggle with getting yourself to read the Bible regularly, the reading plans and/or audio versions may be the thing that enables you to start engaging more often. That's the goal of the YouVersion apps - to help you get into the Bible, wherever and whenever you can. What a terrific goal to have!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Sound Theology

Peanuts comic strip from April 10, 2012

You go, Linus!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Easter Music: David Crowder Band Gives Us Rest

I've always loved Christmas music. Some of my earliest childhood Christmas memories are accompanied by specific Christmas albums which as an adult I have sought out and purchased on CD. At this writing I have probably a couple hundred Christmas CDs in a box that I usually drag out every November or so with the Christmas decorations. As a Christian, though, I've been puzzled at the lack of albums designed to be listened to during the Easter season. I once worked for a man who told me that he pulls out The Master and the Musician by Phil Keaggy every year. Michael Card's Known By the Scars would be a pretty appropriate choice, and I suppose you could make an argument for something like The Jesus Record by Rich Mullins et al. For a number of years I compiled my own CDs with songs like Michael W. Smith's "Hosanna" and Petra's "It Is Finished". But that was a lot to keep up with, and although I still enjoy those mixtape-style compilations I came up with, I still wanted something with a single vision, something I could share with others without them having to cherry-pick songs from music download services. This year I may have unexpectedly run across a winner: the final double-CD album by David Crowder Band, Give Us Rest (A Requiem Mass in C [The Happiest of All Keys]).

In order to appreciate this work of art for what it is, you have to understand what a "requiem mass" is. I suspect most non-Catholic Christians don't even know what a "mass" is - essentially, it's a very structured church service. A "requiem mass" is a mass service in honor of someone who has died. Now, I'm not Catholic, so I'm probably oversimplifying things quite a bit, but I have a bachelor's degree in music composition; in my studies I've come into contact with requiem masses a number of times, because the requiem mass has inspired music composers for centuries. And I'm not talking about some obscure composers with unfamiliar names, either; there are very famous long-form musical pieces based on the requiem mass by Brahms, Mozart, and even Phantom of the Opera composer Andrew Lloyd Weber. These are powerful, emotional pieces of art, typically containing certain sections derived from the traditional Catholic mass, and if there are sung parts, they usually use the Latin texts of the mass. This CD from David Crowder Band uses those structural conventions, and even includes some of the Latin texts. But this is not a mournful album; this album, if listened to closely, deals frankly and completely with the subject of death, but it looks at it in the light of resurrection.

Death, if you think about it, is a very important concept in Christianity. Obviously, especially around Easter, we think and talk a lot about the death of Jesus on the Cross. But in Christian Theology, there are also a number of other critically important deaths. There is the spiritual death of the human race when Adam and Eve first sinned. There is the state of spiritual death that each of us lives in during our life on Earth until we accept Jesus' sacrifice and are spiritually born again. But even after we are born again, our bodies are still in a dying state, waiting for their own resurrection from corruptibility to incorruptibility at the end of time when Jesus returns. And there is the obvious physical death that each of us will one day face until that lucky generation (maybe it'll be us!) has the privilege of stepping from life in this age into life in the next age without crossing that threshold. Maybe the reason that this album is so long is that it deals with every one of those topics, always coming back to the resurrection of Christ Himself and the resurrection that He brings to us every day and ultimately after our own physical death. Not only did they cover all of these Theological topics, but they covered a pretty impressive number of musical genres including rock, orchestral rock a la Muse, big choral pieces, and yes, even quite a bit of the bluegrass music that DCB has always done so enthusiastically and skilfully. It's huge in scope. David Crowder Band bit off a big bite when they took this on, and I see the end result as a humongous work of art.

Let me give you something I was unable to find on the Internet: the track list of the two CDs, organized (as they are on the back of the CD) into the sections of the Mass. I think it's important to be aware of these subdivisions, especially on the first disc, because to my ears, this album is as much a collection of seven EPs as it is one album. Here's the breakdown:

Disc 1
The Entrance (or, the introit)
01. Requiem Aeternam Dona Eis Domine
02. Oh Great God, Give Us Rest
03. Lux Aeternam Shine
04. Come Find Me

The Plea (or, the kyrie)
05. God Have Mercy (Kyrie Eleison)
06. Why Me
07. Fall On Your Knees

The Plight (or, the gradual and teh tract)
08. A Burial
09. Let Me Feel You Shine
10. Reprise 1
11. Blessedness Of Everlasting Light
12. The Sound Of Light
13. Interlude

The Sequence (or, the dies irae)
14. Sequence 1
15. Sequence 2
16. Sequence 3
17. Sequence 4
18. Sequence 5
19. Sequence 6
20. Sequence 7

Disc 2
The Invocation (or, the offertory and the sanctus)
01. Reprise 2
02. Oh My God
03. I Am A Seed
04. After All (Holy)
05. The Great Amen

The Consummation and The Memory (or, the agnus dei, the communion, and the pie jesu)
06. There Is A Sound
07. Oh Great Love Of God
08. Our Communion

The Absolution (or, the libere me and the paridisum)
09. Sometimes
10. A Return
11. Oh My God I'm Coming Home
12. Leaning On The Everlasting Arms'Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus
13. Jesus Lead Me To Your Healing Waters
14. Because He Lives

The first time I listened to this album, I cried. I cried quite a lot. In the past five years or so, we've seen a lot of loved ones die young in my family, and the references to the loss that comes from a physical death were a bit hard to take. But even then I could see the beauty and hope in every song; it's just that kind of album. Let me walk you through the sections and give you an idea of what I see in them; hopefully I won't offend any Catholics or any musicologists who have a better grasp on music history than I do along the way!

The Entrance

This first section starts off with the sound of someone arriving at a funeral being conducted in Latin. The first song, "Oh Great God, Give Us Rest" is a heartfelt cry for help from God by a person in pain; this musical theme runs throughout the two CDs, being reprised several times. But only a minute and a half into this song, which starts off with just voice and piano crying out to God out of weakness, it bursts into a "Let it shine" section that does indeed shine with the hope that God will answer the prayer; it is very like some of the Psalms, which start in weakness but then end by drawing from God's strength. In fact, this whole section does that, going from that funeral scene quickly through a brief interlude called "Lux Aeternam Shine" into a song called "Come Find Me" that fairly explodes with joy - from the perspective of the recently deceased seeing Heaven for the first time! "Today is the day I rise like the dawn, up out of death, to a Son, to a Son; Oh day, what a day! Oh day, I'm yours! Oh, day of resurrection!" I wish the dead in Christ could send a message from Eternity back to their own funerals. There would be a lot less crying in sorrow, and a lot more crying for joy! The song ends with such a musical finality that there is no question in my mind: this is the first act of a performance of several acts. I actually recommend that you stop the CD after each section the first time you listen and take a breather. Get a glass of water. Think about what you just heard.

The Plea
Those of us who haven't had the "Come Find Me" experience of entering Heaven yet still have to live in a fallen world. This section is a prayer for God's help and protection while on Earth, and a celebration of the life and freedom we live in in Christ. "Kyrie elieson" is Latin for "Lord, have mercy", and we need God's mercy to live for God in this evil age. The middle section includes the lyrics, "Oh God, what have I done?" If you've never wondered that and felt the need to plead for God's mercy because of your sinfulness, then you're just not trying to live for God. "Oh we will bend and break/In such a fragile state/We won't be here long/No, we won't be here long." The second track is a very simple guitar and voice recording of the Kris Kristofferson song "Why Me" which starts off with the line, "Why me, Lord?" but then continues with the question, which is not "Why are bad things happening to me?" but instead is "Why has God given me so many blessings when I deserve none of them?" The third and final song in this section is actually the first song on the CD that sounds like what most people probably expect a DCB song to sound like. It's a worship song that celebrates the life we have been freely given by God's mercy, and it's a song that would not feel out of place in a contemporary worship service or a Christian rock concert. "He spoke and stars came out/He spoke and lighting flashed and thunder broke the quiet/He spoke and my heart, it burst to life!"

The Plight
The third section ("movement"?) once again starts out with a funeral. This one is in English (well, most of it is), and is apparently happening in the rain. The song you may have heard on the radio from this album comes on immediately after this "Burial." Here's the tune:

(Aside: here's David Crowder talking about the circumstances under which this song was written.)

This section of the album asks for light for the living and forgiveness for the deceased. It includes the first reprise of "Oh Great God, Give Us Rest", on strings this time, which reminds us that we are looking to God for our strength as we live life on this fallen world. You'll notice that the song titles in this section deal with light; the song "Let Me Feel You Shine" is about God's light in our lives as we live, and the song "Blessedness of Everlasting Light" is about the light of God in which the dead in Christ live in Eternity. Frankly, I'm still chewing a bit on the odd circus-like arrangement of "Blessedness of Everlasting Light" - it's a little creepy, to be honest. The lyrics are a little odd too, touching on the Catholic idea that the living need to pray for the dead; non-Catholic Christians mostly believe that once you are dead, it's Heaven or Hell for you and no prayers from the world of the living can change that. Maybe the two bits of weirdness are related. The section ends with two brief instrumental pieces, one an acoustic guitar solo over a synth pad, the other a piano solo over a string background, both quite pretty.

The Sequence
The "Dies Irae" section of the Mass, also called the Sequence, seems to always inspire composers. I still remember singing the exciting Dies Irae parts of both Mozart's and Lloyd Weber's requiems back in college. "Dies irae" is the Day of God's Wrath. This is a Bible concept that a lot of Christians are uncomfortable with; we are very used to talking about God's love and forgiveness, but the Bible does teach us that God is also a God of wrath, and one day that wrath will have to be faced. It's a terrifying thought! If you don't believe that there is wrath in store from God, check out the book of Revelations (angels pour it out by the bowlful) or Hebrews chapter 10. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!" (Hebrews 10:31 ESV) BUT: the good news is that God's wrath is not aimed at humans, but at our sin. And the VERY good news is that Jesus Christ took that sin on Himself when He died on the Cross! But when Jesus took God's wrath on Himself, He made Himself the target of God's wrath, again, not because of being Jesus, but because of the sin that had been applied to Him. Just like certain perfume might make you the target for bees or mosquitoes, which aren't interested in you but in the scent, when our sin was laid on Jesus, God's wrath against the sin fell on Jesus. The Sequence part of this CD first gives us a glimpse of what might have happened to the human race had Jesus not taken God's wrath on Himself ("Day of wrath/Oh, day of mourning/See the ashes, cities burning/Hear the final prophets' warning..."), then a section in Latin which is about the trumpet in Revelation which announces the unleashing of God's wrath, but then "Sequence 4" is one of the most beautiful songs about Jesus' sacrifice that I've heard. "God You came, God You came, God You came... down." There's a song about the isolation Jesus must have felt when on the Cross, "forsaken" by God, and then a song about His decision to do what the Father was requiring of Him. The lyrics of that song, in their entirety: "I bow low with all my heart." The final song in the sequence (and on the first CD) says, "When all is done, judgement comes, and we will stand right in front of Him. Spare us, oh God; have mercy, oh God." The music of most of the Sequence section is furious and exciting, but this song ends with a single piano note.

The Invocation
The second disc starts off with another reprise of "Oh Great God, Give Us Rest". It does a nice job, especially after the intensity of the Sequence portion, of bringing us back into the present. And then the DCB guys do something totally unexpected: their invocation (an invocation is a prayer) is almost completely prayed in the language of... bluegrass! The songs, which if your heart is beating at all will have you tapping your feet and singing along, have an interesting dichotomy to them: they are musically joyful, and at the same time they talk about how tough it can be to live life in this world. They do a beautiful job of expressing the peace and joy that we as Christians can experience in life, even in the middle of suffering. "I Am A Seed" even talks about how we are planted like a seed in the earth that has to die before it can bring forth great fruit. Sound familiar? I understand that the last full song in this section, "After All (Holy)", will be on Christian radio shortly, so be listening for it. I say the last "full song" because "The Great Amen" seems to mostly just be there to make the point that an invocation is a prayer, by saying "amen." A lot of times. Getting louder and louder each time. They pretty much make their point (you'll see what I mean when you listen to it!)

The Consummation and The Memory
This section has songs that are a lot more like standard standalone DCB songs than most of the album. They are worship songs which you could sing in your church's contemporary worship service, right alongside your Chris Tomlin songs and your Hillsong songs and your Gateway Worship songs and... well, and your David Crowder Band songs. They are about Jesus taking away the sins of the World and a celebration of the spiritual resurrection of the Believer. One of my favorite lines from the album is in this section: "This is not a death, this is us waking, this is a return back to life." And one of my favorite musical moments is in the song "Our Communion" about 1:40 in, when it actually sounds like someone coming back to life. (And hey, who forgot to put that banjo away after the bluegrass set?) That song contains the final reference back to "Oh Great God, Give Us Rest", but this time instead of the world-weary "Oh great God, give us rest/We're all worn thin from all of this/At the end of our hope, with nothing left/Oh great God, give us rest" the lyrics are a  joyfully hopeful "Oh great God give us rest/No more fear from all of this/Oh great God give us rest/Let your light come down on us/Oh great God give us rest!" Worship is a very fitting "memory" of Christ's sacrifice for us, don't you think?

The Absolution
The final section of the album is almost a microcosm of the whole album. "Sometimes" is a song about losing yourself in the love of God in those times when we feel irreparably damaged - when we feel lost in life, we can become lost in Him, and lose our fear in a sea of His love. "A Return" and "Oh, My God I'm Coming Home" invoke the story of the prodigal son, or rather our own prodigal son-like story, when we stray from God but begin to seek Him out and return to Him - you'll be surprised at how emotional you can become over a song that consists of an acoustic guitar, someone singing three lines over and over, and the sound of someone getting into a car and... well, going home.

The last three tracks are songs that wouldn't have felt out of place in the churches I attended as a child - a medley of the hymns "Leaning On The Everlasting Arms" and "'Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus", the classic Bill and Gloria Gaither song "Because He Lives", and in the middle, a new DCB song that would feel right at home on grandpa's back porch after a great Sunday night service. Apparently performed live, they're played in an old timey, traditional country/bluegrass style, very respectful of the way people experienced those songs in decades past. Something about the love that the David Crowder Band puts into these tracks makes them a perfect ending for this album.

What can you say about a musical piece that claims to be about death, but is instead all about life? You can say this: that's what the Bible is about, too. It's about dying to self so we can live for God. Even as I've been listening to the CDs to write this review, I've experienced tears of sadness, but more often tears of joy, because it reminds me so much of what Jesus has made possible. We don't have to experience eternal death. We don't have to suffer the wrath of God. Jesus took that wrath on Himself instead. Isn't that what the story of Easter is all about? I think I may have finally found my Easter CD, the one I can return to year after year.
 I won't sugarcoat it: this isn't lighthearted fare. This is not the CD you'll probably listen to in the car on the way out to a day at the beach. And not all of it is singalong worship music, either. But this album is, unmistakeably and without reserve, a mature work of art. And it is a fitting final album for a band who has brought so much to the world of Christian contemporary worship music. This album essentially says everything that is worth saying about the Gospel: death was our destiny, and in a way it looms over us every day we exist on this planet, but Jesus took the sting out of it. Physical death is not the end of the story; the end of the story for us is not death, but resurrection.

Happy Easter!