Friday, October 28, 2011

The Twitter age and relationships

Bears fans know all too well the instant analysis that is available on the Internet. Jay Cutler was scrutinized on Twitter by both analysts and other players for leaving a playoff game before the game had even ended. The firestorm that ensued followed Cutler into this season. That one snippet branded Cutler as a soft player even though the course of his career showed otherwise. It took a game on Monday Night Football where he was taking a pounding and kept bouncing back for the "Jay is soft" talk to start subsiding.

Even today I came across an article that was talking about how Apple had slipped to the number 5 mobile phone producer in the third quarter. The article was pointing out that the slowdown was due to Apple changing their product lifecycle. Instead of introducing a new phone in the summer as had been customary, Apple introduced their new model in October. What I found interesting wasn't the talk about Apple or the reasons behind the numbers rather what I found interesting is how the analysts are looking at a companies performance on a quarter by quarter basis.

It is the business equivalent to the Cutler instant analysis.

It should be no surprise to anyone that pays attention to modern American culture that our lives have been reduced to the soundbite. A political campaign or career can hinge on a single statement or action. Stocks can rise or fall on mere rumor or conjecture. Yet if you really think about your relationships with those that are close to you, none of them are based upon a soundbite.

On the one hand my relationship with my wife completely and drastically changed on the utterance of two words:

"I do."

And with that we were married. But our marriage has never been based upon that single soundbite. Rather it was built through years of friendship that lead up to the point where we both decided to say those words. No relationship is truly built or destroyed on a single action or soundbite. A relationship grows or decays over the course of time. We may live in the age of the soundbite but that is not how we actually live our lives...if we want to be healthy.

The same is true with our relationship with God. It is not based upon a quick statement or simply praying the "sinner's prayer." Rather it is something that takes time to grow and should always continue to grow.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Difficult passages and the different genres of the Bible

How we should handle difficult passages can be an interesting and difficult process in and of itself. When we were dealing with the Abraham and Isaac passage in our Bible Study (part one of this discussion can be found here) someone asked a very good question.

"Can we understand this passage as a parable?"

Parables are short and simple stories that Jesus told in order to communicate a deeper spiritual or moral truth. Sometimes the story itself is very easy to understand but the meaning behind the story can be very complex. For example the Parable of the Sower found in Matthew 13 taken at a very basic meaning is fairly easy to figure out. And that is if you plant seeds in areas that are not good for growth then the seeds won't grow but if you plant the seeds in good soil then they will grow and produce well.

Jesus later explains to the Disciples that he uses parables to explain deeper spiritual meanings because it is easier for people to start with the simple truths. So when we start to investigate the deeper meaning of the parable we find that Jesus is not actually talking about farming but about how different people react to his teaching.

The thing about parables is that while they may be based in truth (there certainly are people that plant seeds), they are not tied to an actual event (Jesus was not referencing a specific person planting seed at a specific time.) So in terms of dealing with the story of Abraham and Isaac we have no indications that this story is a parable. It is a story that is told about specific and actual events.

So while it might be very tempting–and easy–to explain away the story as a parable, the passage does not allow us to do so. We have to deal with this passage in a different way than we would a parable.

But the question about how understand the story of Abraham and Isaac is an excellent one because it points out a very important fact about the Bible. It is not a singular work. It is a collection of books that were written by different authors that used very different styles of writing. On top of this the Bible uses different types or genres of writing within each book that need to be read with different lenses. There is Historical/Epic, Law, Wisdom, Prophecy, Poetry, Apocalyptic, Gospel, Parable, and Epistle/Letter. And that is not a complete list. Each of these genres are to be understood a little differently.

It is very easy to see this in the above parable example. We do not read the Parable of the Sower and think that Jesus was talking about a specific person or that he was an agricultural guru. Rather when we read it we take its meaning at face value. Jesus was communicating a truth through a story. We also see this in everyday use. If we came across a headline that said "Bears maul Packers" we would understand that headline in very different ways in different sections in the paper. We take the headline at face value. In the Sports section it has a different face value than if it were to appear above a story about a couple of animals running loose in a meat processing plant.

The same goes for the Abraham and Isaac passage. It is a very difficult story for us to understand but we have to take it at face value. It is a story about how God tested Abraham by giving him a command that seemed contrary and out of character for the type of command that God would normally give.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


For all you Blackhawk fans out there I have just one word: PATRICKKANE! The Hawks may be the only thing that I really miss about not having cable.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Insulting Christians and turning the other cheek

I usually don't give much thought to what Hollywood has to say. Unfortunately I find that most times TV Shows and movies can be fairly predictable or even formulaic. I often still enjoy the entertainment because I realize that I need to suspend reality while watching. However I have noticed a few shows that I usually enjoy getting away with some blatant derogatory stereotypes. If these stereotypes were applied to certain groups of people there would be a national outcry.

But because the target is Christians everything is deemed all right.

Both a recent episode of The Big Bang Theory and an episode from last season of the Office that I have recently watched portrayed Christians in a very poor light. They were shown as being combination of unthinking, judgmental, close-minded, bubbly and vacuous. They are shown as that stereotypical cheerleader for Jesus type.

Let me be the first to say that Christians can be all of those things. And it is absolutely not right when we are. But Christians do not have a monopoly on those character traits. On top of that, those things are not all that Christians are. And that is what has bothered me.

This portrayal of Christians has not been limited to just one episode of The Big Bang Theory and The Office. Rather it has been a fairly persistent stereotype especially in The Big Bang theory. I don't expect Hollywood to become Holywood...but a more accurate and balanced portrayal would be nice. How about showing a Christian character that isn't over-the-top weird? How about showing a Christian that is willing to help someone out not because they are trying to proselytize but rather because they are simply willing to help out?

I find it very interesting but at worst it is an insult. There is no great injustice done to me if Hollywood decides to inaccurately portray Christians. Yes I might very well have to deal with undoing some preconceived notions that people have. Beyond that there is no true harm done.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:

"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you."

Far too often I have heard this used to say that Christians should be pacifists or should just lie down and take it. But what is interesting is that this passage is actually talking about how we should deal with insults. The point is that I shouldn't take any actions against someone insulting me that would unnecessarily escalate an insult to something more violent. And I think that it is very good advice in a situation like this.

I really do not like that Christians get portrayed poorly by Hollywood...we tend to do a good job of poorly portraying ourselves as it is. But the answer isn't to rage against the machine. Rather the answer is to do a better job of being the type of Christian that I would like to see portrayed in Hollywood. If we as Christians do that then those inaccurate portrayals will be seen as being inaccurate even by those outside the church. And that will do more to change those portrayals than anything else that I could try and do to change them.

By the way, if the Matthew 5:38-42 passage is meant to advocate pacifism then why did Jesus tell the Disciples to buy swords?

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Ignoring The Grapes

Just as the Israelite people were about to enter the Promised Land, God had Moses send out 12 spies to do a bit of reconnaissance. They were to check things out. It was a smart move. They were about to take over the land that God had promised and it made sense for the people to have an idea of the task that was in front of them. When the spies came back they gave a mixed review. "The land is flowing with milk and honey (it sounds sticky). There were plenty of fruit like pomegranates and figs. And the grapes were as big as soccer balls."


"The people there are huge and strong. We look like grasshoppers in their eyes. They will squash us like those soccer ball sized grapes."

This past Sunday at my church, Pastor Chris' sermon did an excellent example of pointing out how we can tend to do the same thing that the Israelite people did in ignoring the positive report and focusing on the negative.

I have to admit that I am guilty as charged. Right after listening to his sermon I proceeded to be an excellent example of this. I was leading the singing at church and we had a guest play during the offering. This guest is a very good pianist and singer. Right after the offering the pastor gives a blessing to the people and then we play our last song. I turned to the guest pianist and gave him the music for the last song. My initial thought was that he was sitting there at the piano and it might be good to have him play along.

I am an intermediate guitarist and singer. Not great but good enough to lead the singing at our church. This guest is really good. Intimidatingly good. For a variety of reasons we switched drummers for the last couple of songs. So now I am leading a song in church with a pianist that I have never played with and a drummer that I had not practiced with. All of this struck me in the brief moment that it took to turn around after handing him the music. And I was intimidated. Very intimidated. So I proceeded to announce to the people that this might not go well because we had not practiced. 

I made this announcement hoping that the church would give me a bit of grace if things didn't go well. And in making that announcement I ignored the fact that this church has grace in abundance. If the normal grace that people have is a grape then my church has grapes the size of soccer balls. 

Part of being human is that it can be far to easy to look at the negative or the intimidating. In a certain sense it is only natural. It is part of our built-in self-defense mechanism. Courage is not the absence of fear. It is when we do something in spite of having fear.

Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 5:6-8: 

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

He is saying that we can have courage because the intimidating things that we can see are absolutely no match for the promises of God. Our courage comes from the fact that no matter what happens in this life, when we place our trust in God, that in the next life we will be in heaven with him where every tear will be wiped away and every ill will be healed. 

“Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

Friday, October 21, 2011

Diabetes King

Kudos to the guy or girl that did this.

Owly Images

Fast food is quick, easy and has the illusion of being inexpensive. It is also not the healthiest of choices.

Source: COPCWa via The Consumerist

Thursday, October 20, 2011

How should we handle difficult passages?

The story of God telling Abraham to sacrifice Isaac has always troubled me. It is one of those passages in the Bible that I could do without. And in a certain sense I would be happier if it was completely absent. Of course the next best thing would to be able to explain it away somehow.

This passage was the passage that we looked at last night in Bible Study. We discussed a couple of possible lessons to learn from this story and one that was somewhat satisfying for me was that at the end of the day God will provide. He might not always do so as we expect but he will provide. But there was a large part of the conversation that centered on why God would ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.

And my conclusion is that I don’t know. This passage has all sorts of crazy in it. To me it seems crazy that God would ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. It seems crazy that Abraham would go along with it. Just a few chapters earlier we see Abraham standing up to God when God declares that he is going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. We don’t have any record of Abraham wrestling with God over this command which doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen.  But we don’t see it and I want it in there. Finally it seems crazy that Isaac would go along with everything. Abraham is over 100 years old at this point and Isaac was old enough to carry the wood for the sacrifice. I’m guessing that he would be strong enough to fight back against his father, which I think would be a natural and understandable reaction of self preservation.

It is very important to point out that from the context of the passage that God never intended for Abraham to actually sacrifice Isaac. God was only testing to see if Abraham was obedient to God to the point of giving up the promise of God. Abraham was promised to be the father of a great nation through Isaac. It was quite a promise that contained a lasting legacy. To this day Abraham is known as the Father of Israel. God wanted to test Abraham to see if his obedience lay in the things that God could provide for Abraham or if his obedience lay in the fact that God is God.

But still. There are parts of this passage that just do not make sense and there are parts that I do not like.

And that is ok.

The Bible is the revelation of God and I cannot shape God in my own image. I cannot simply black out the parts that I do not like. In a certain sense I have to accept them and live with the tension. I also cannot sweep them under the rug. When someone challenges me on my beliefs based upon this passage it is perfectly fine to say that I don’t understand it and I don’t necessarily like it.

This is a passage that we need to take on faith. It is not a blind faith trusting that God will simply wave his hands and make everything disappear. But rather it is the faith that God was ultimately in control and that one day when we see him face to face that we will understand. There are difficult passages in the Bible that cannot be ignored or explained away. We need to face them head on and make as much sense as we can of them. But we should not ignore them or try to explain them away.

Further Reading:
Why did God tell Abraham to sacrifice Isaac?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Blue Van

I've told this story a number of times before but our church is taking part in the Crop Walk this coming Sunday and I thought that it would be good to share it again. It is one of those moments where I fell short of what I needed to do and I like to come back to it every once in a while to remind me that I need to take matter how small it might seem.

A few years ago I was out walking my dog early one morning and I saw a strange blue van parked on our street. It wasn’t one of the regular cars on our street. There were all these boxes and items stacked in the front seat. It wasn’t an item or two on the front seat, it was filled. With that much stuff in the front seat, there was no way someone could drive. I found it to be very odd. The next morning when I was walking the dog I saw the van again. This time there was a young couple moving all the stuff from the front seat of the van to the back. As I walked back past the other way, he was fidgeting in the back and she was eating a piece of fruit. I suddenly realized they were living in their van.

A couple of nights later they were parked on our street again. It was a cool summer night and we had the windows open to take advantage of the breeze. It must have been around midnight when the couple had a rather loud argument. As I lay in bed looking at the ceiling and listening to homeless people argue I was conflicted between calling the cops so that I could get back to sleep and wondering how I could ultimately help their situation. When I was walking the dog the next morning the woman had obviously been locked out of the van and crying all night. She was still whimpering. After that day I didn’t see the van again for a number of weeks. Finally it was parked again on our street one night. I had been troubled that I had not actively sought to help the couple out and had decided that in the morning I would stop by the van and see if there was any way for me to help. That night the couple again got into a huge fight and this time someone called the police. The man stammered something about just parking there for the night because they ran out of gas. They were gone by the next morning and I never saw that blue van parked on our street again.

I had the opportunity to care for and help this couple. Yet I did nothing. I kept thinking about how the problem is bigger than just bringing them something to drink or eat; bigger than just saying a kind word. But is it really any bigger than that? Yes we may have these same problems on a global level and solving the problems on a global level are going to require us doing things on a grand scale. Yet as followers of Christ, we have the responsibility to not only love God but to love our neighbor. Loving our neighbor means that we need to help those in need even if it means simply bringing someone a glass of water or helping those that we do not necessarily want to help.

Unfortunately I know that this is something that I will struggle with all of my life. Christ told us to make disciples and teach people to obey all of his commands. But correct belief is hollow and empty if it does not actively shape how I live my life. What good is it if I state that God cares personally for people and that he demands that we love one another if I do not take the opportunity to provide a cool glass of water or some refreshing food or even a tank of gas for a hurting couple that are living out of their blue van? What good is a discussion on the difference between justification and sanctification if it does not make a difference in how I act in relationship towards God and towards other people? Being a follower of Christ is not about having everything worked out; it is a journey that requires us to grow in both knowledge and in action.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Are Evangelicals Dangerous?

Albert Mohler—the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary—gave his answer to the question “Are Evangelicals Dangerous?” in an article written on

He concludes by saying:

Above all, evangelicals are those who believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and are most concerned about telling others about Jesus. Most of America’s evangelical Christians are busy raising their children, working to support their families and investing energy in their local churches.
But over recent decades, evangelical Christians have learned that the gospel has implications for every dimension of life, including our political responsibility.
We’re dangerous only to those who want more secular voices to have a virtual monopoly in public life.

And I am sure that—if the 70+ pages of comments are any indication—people on both sides of the argument are going to hotly debate the issue. But there was something else he said that caught my attention.

The New Yorker accused Bachmann of being concerned with developing a Christian worldview, ignoring the fact that every thinking person operates out of some kind of worldview.

The idea of operating out of a worldview is something that is relatively new to me. The first time that I started to pay attention to the term was only about 10 years ago. It was one of those light bulb moments. Once I heard the notion of a worldview explained it made all the sense to me. Quite simply it is how our beliefs shape how we look at and interact with the world.

It is also interesting to note how our worldview in action does one of the best jobs of defining what we truly believe.

If Evangelical Christians do not engage in the realm of political and cultural ideas then what are we saying about our beliefs?

Let me use a non-religious example. Let’s pretend that we have discovered that the use of a gizmothingabob is very dangerous. Its danger is not always immediately apparent but their use—in the long run—is always disastrous. But the use of the gimothingabob does not just affect the individual; it also affects those that the person comes into contact with. The problem is that not everyone agrees with the threat assessment of gizmothingabobs. I, as a concerned citizen, have two basic options. I can either warn people about the use of gizmothingabobs even if they do not think the same way as me. Or, I can just keep quiet and let people use the gizmothingabobs at their own risk.

My actions either way speak to how I really view the danger of the gizmothingabobs as well as how I view other people.  In the first option I view the danger as very real and people’s safety as very important. In the second option I don’t view the danger as being all that bad and I don’t view the safety of others as being as important.

The same is true when it comes to our beliefs about the implications of Christianity on life in general. If we do not allow it to shape our actions in every aspect of life then that speaks very loudly about how important we really believe our religious convictions to be. I don’t consider it a bad thing to be considered “dangerous”* by those with an opposing view point, rather I find it disturbing when those same people do not consider me to be at least a little “dangerous.”

*Just to be clear, I absolutely do not mean dangerous in an assault & battery sort of way. I mean it in the sense that those with opposing view points find my views to strongly conflict with theirs. For example I hope that an Atheist would find my views on the existence of a God to be dangerous and challenging towards their views of the non-existence of a God.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Our Golden Calves

It's easy to condemn the Israelite people for telling Aaron in Exodus 32 to make them a god to worship but we do the same thing. The difficulty in identifying our false gods is that we are not always obvious about it.

This is a sermon given on 10/16/2011 at Faith Community Reformed Church. It is part of a series journeying through the Old Testament. The scripture passage is Exodus 32:1-20 and read from the English Standard Version.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Should I vote for a Mormon?

With the political silly season quickly approaching I have seen a number of posts from an Evangelical Christian perspective regarding Mitt Romney's Mormon beliefs. There is a great debate about whether or not a Christian should vote for a Mormon. What complicates the matter is that there is also a debate about whether or not Mormons are Christians. And it is in this second debate that we hear the big "C" word:

"Mormonism is a Cult."

Unfortunately this statement is both true and false at the same time. It is important that we define our terms which include defining what we mean by "Christianity" and what we mean by "cult." Amy Hall of Stand To Reason does a great job of showing how the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) and Orthodox Christians are using the same term "Christian" in two very different ways:

The word "Christian" actually means something. It doesn't simply refer to a person who follows the ethical teachings in the New Testament, nor does it refer to everyone who uses the name "Jesus." Christianity entails an entire worldview—a particular view of God, man, salvation, purpose, heaven and hell, etc.

She goes on to detail just how different Mormonism and Christianity are on key beliefs. The views of the nature of God, Christ and man are different enough that they are obviously not the same religion.

The other term that needs to be defined is "cult." The most basic definition is "a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies." So every religious belief system is technically a cult. Mormonism also fits the definition of a cult in relationship to Christianity in that it differs significantly from the orthodox view. The problem is that, as Denny Burk points out, we do not usually use the term in this manner:

In popular usage, the word cult is associated with bizarre and sometimes threatening behavior (think David Koresh and Jim Jones). The term is seen as pejorative and an unfair attack when applied to groups who don’t live in exclusive communes and commit mass suicide. Most people would acknowledge, for instance, that the average Mormon cuts a different profile than a Branch Davidian.

So it seems to me that we need to be careful about the words that we use and how we are using them. I would strongly argue that Mormonism, as much as they may protest otherwise, is not a Christian denomination or sect. However I would hesitate to use the term cult simply because of the connotations that are contained in the word.

And that brings me to my original question. Can I, as an Orthodox Evangelical Conservative Christian, vote for a Mormon?

The simple answer is yes.

First, Christianity is a religious belief system. While it does inform my political, social, economic and other views of the world, it does not require a particular person to be my national leader. It doesn't even require a particular form of government. When asked about paying taxes to the Roman government, Jesus said: "Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God that which belongs to God." In other words there are things that fall into the realm of civil government and there are things that fall into the realm of God's kingdom. Without getting into a great debate here about what belongs in which realm, suffice it to say that they are separate from one another.

Second, our nation is not a Christian nation. We may have been founded on Judeo-Christian principles but we are not a theocracy or a religious based nation.

Given a choice, I would much rather vote for someone that was a Mormon that would uphold more of the principles that I see fitting into the overall Christian worldview on governance than for a Christian that would not.

For further reading on this debate:
The Theological and Political Errors of Pastor Jeffress
A Vote for Romney Is a Vote for the LDS Church
Mormonism 101

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Sermons, Blogs and Chick-fil-A

So I am writing a sermon this week. And unfortunately I have not been able to balance writing a sermon with writing for the blog. I missed posting yesterday, not because I didn't have time but because I kept wanting to post my sermon stuff to my blog. So as I work on balancing those two activities here is a video to hold you over.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I Want To Be Like...

There was a catchy little tune that those of us growing up sports fans in Chicago in the 90s will remember. Actually I am guessing that you will remember it even if you didn't grow up in Chicago or were that big of a sports fan.

It is a really catchy tune that was designed to sell Gatorade. That song popped in mind when I saw an article stating that St. Croix had sold out of their $175 black mock turtle necks.

Whuh? Yikes. I don't know that I would spend $175 on a mock turtle neck regardless who wore the same style. Spending that type of money on a phone that he helped design and market? Maybe so.

St. Croix via The Consumerist

Monday, October 10, 2011

Accountability and Judging Others

I can be a very impatient person. Unfortunately my impatience can get me into trouble and this past week was a good example. I ended up doing something that I should not have done. When I mentioned what I had done, a friend of mine immediately busted me. It didn't take much. There is a saying that “a word to the wise is sufficient.” He merely reminded me that what I had done was wrong.

Admitting that I have done something wrong can sometimes be very difficult. And sometimes the hardest person to admit it to is myself. (It's my Superlative-Self at its worst.) In this instance a fellow Christian held me accountable and I think that as Christians we sometimes fall down in this area. Far too often we want to sugarcoat sin and wrong doing. We do this through not admitting that even the smallest little thing that seems fairly inconsequential is still a major thing in God’s eyes. We also do this by saying that “we are all sinners and we all do things wrong” in such a way that minimizes the impact of any individual sin.

In this instance the system of accountability that God wants us to exhibit worked well. Unfortunately I don’t always see this happening on a large enough scale. Part of becoming a Christian means that we are to obey all of Christ’s commands which includes submitting ourselves to correction by fellow Christians. Jesus warned us to “Judge not, that you be not judged” which really seems to tell us the opposite of holding one another accountable. If we are not to judge then how are we to hold one another accountable?

But this interpretation is taking Matthew 7:1 out of context. Reading the full context of Matthew 7:1-5, we see that what Christ is warning us against is hypocritical judgment. In this particular case it would be as if I were trying to hold someone accountable but not allowing that person to hold me accountable for the same exact behavior. Jesus gives us some guidelines in Matthew 18:15-17 on how to handle corrections within the church. My friend followed these guidelines and directly called me out. I immediately saw where I was wrong and I took steps to correct my behavior. It is how accountability is supposed to work. We shouldn’t just welcome someone holding us accountable, we should expect it.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Hank Williams, ESPN and Free Speech

Hank Williams Jr. compared President Obama to Hitler and as a result ESPN pulled William's iconic song "Are You Ready For Some Football" as the opening for Monday Night Football. I am sure that there are those that heard Williams' comments and had steam coming out of their ears, those that rolled their eyes, those that cheered, and those that simply shrugged their shoulders. I'm not going to get into a debate over the validity of Mr. Williams' comments. Suffice it to say that while I am not much of a supporter of President Obama's policies and ideas, I don't think comparing President Obama to a man that systematically eliminated millions of people based upon their race, creed, beliefs or physical/mental condition is particularly valid.

What struck me as interesting about this whole thing was Hank Williams Jr.'s response:
"After reading hundreds of e-mails, I have made MY decision. By pulling my opening Oct 3rd, You (ESPN) stepped on the Toes of The First Amendment Freedom of Speech, so therefore Me, My Song, and All My Rowdy Friends are OUT OF HERE. It's been a great run."
Mr. Williams is claiming that ESPN violated his free speech right and he is absolutely wrong. ESPN did no such thing.

First of all, the First Amendment has all sorts of restrictions to it. Try claiming your right to free speech after getting arrested for joking about a bomb being on an airplane. Or try claiming your right to free speech after getting arrested for making a threatening statement to another person.

Second, ESPN did not prevent Mr. Williams from saying what he said or holding his particular view. They just decided that he is not the type of person that they want associated with their company. I would bet that most of us know that if we start bad mouthing our boss or employer in public that we will soon have nothing to complain about except being out of a job.

And that brings me to the third point. ESPN is a private company and not the government. The First Amendment specifically applies to the government of this country. Every company, private or public, can terminate someone's employment because of something that the employee said.

The First Amendment does not give us the ability to say whatever we want to say. There are limits to what can be said and it has been the responsibility of the judicial system to determine those limits. Whether or not the Supreme Court has always ruled properly on free speech cases is something that we can argue about freely.

Source of the Hank Williams Jr. quote: Sports Illustrated via The Consumerist.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

The Ignorance of Westboro on Steve Jobs

Disclaimer: I had absolutely no intention of blogging about Steve Jobs today. I figured that there would be enough chatter on the web that I wouldn't have to add to it. Just to clarify, this post is about judging others wrapped in the thin candy shell of Steve Jobs.

I came home from our midweek service at church last night to find out that Steve Jobs, former CEO and Co-Founder of Apple, had passed away. My first thought – after the shock of his passing – was to marvel at his timing even in death. He was the ultimate showman in terms of his keynote speeches that introduced a new technology. He wasn’t flashy or boisterous. Rather he had a great sense of timing that increased the desire and anticipation of a new product. So his passing after new Apple CEO Tim Cook introduced the new iPhone struck me as just another example of Jobs not wanting to upstage the product. I get the sense that he knew that people were never really that interested in him at those keynote speeches but rather the product was the star of the show.

Fast forward to this morning…I came across a posting from the website Big Government that was detailing how Westboro Baptist Church is going to picket Steve Job’s funeral and the irony of posting their intentions on Twitter via an iPhone app.

I don’t want to spend too much time on the irony but it is worth taking a moment to simply enjoy it…

I also don’t like giving Westboro any publicity. (They tend to get enough already through their inane actions.) But there is a mistake in their theology that is evident within this simple post.

Steve Jobs, as far as I know, was a Buddhist and not a Christian. So to be upset at him for not giving Glory to God is silly. To be upset with him because he “taught sin” is silly.

Let me explain.

A fundamental belief of Christianity is that we are all sinners and are all guilty. 1 John 1:10 states: “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” We are all sinners and this includes all Christians…even those at Westboro.  Paul states in Romans 3:10-20 that no one is righteous and no one seeks God. We don’t give God glory on our own. And in a certain sense we all “teach sin.” It is only because of the work of God that followers of God even attempt to give glory to God and to teach anything other than sin. So why would we expect those that do not follow God to give him any glory?

In 1 Corinthians 5 we see Paul condemning the Corinthian church for allowing a member of the congregation to have a sexual relationship with his stepmother. He goes on to say in verses 9-13: 
“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing you to not associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. Purge the evil person from among you.”
Paul is stating that we should not judge those outside the church by the same standard that we judge those inside the church. We should have absolutely no expectation that a non-Christian would live up to the religious standards of Christianity. 

Update: I changed the title to be more accurate as to what I was trying to convey. While one might argue that certain actions are idiotic, my post is more about pointing out the ignorance of Westboro's theology in this matter. I also apologize to the people of Westboro Baptist Church for the inflammatory nature of my title. While I strongly disagree with Westboro's actions in many cases, my intention here was merely to correct a misunderstanding of theology.

Further Reading:

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Demanding a Day Off

Whether or not a pastor should be given a day off was the topic of an article by Brian Croft that I came across via Tim Challies. The timing of coming across the article is interesting in light of my recent post on the Sabbath and a conversation that my Senior Pastor and I were just having. In the article Pastor Croft gives three reasons that a pastor should take a regular day off every week.

The first is because "Sunday is a work day for a pastor." Croft goes on to point out that while Sunday is a day of relaxation for most people, it is a work day for the pastor. My pastor and I had a conversation in the past week on how draining Sunday can be. My experience is that I have exerted more mental and emotional energy on the days that I preach than I exerted in any single day of working in the business world. I am not saying this to deny how difficult and stressful working in the business world can be (it can be far more stressful than I ever experienced in my 4 years of finance company work and 10 years of retail management) but rather I say this simply to dispel any notions that Sunday is an easy work day for pastors.

The second reason that Pastor Croft gives is that "a pastor never really leaves work."
"Regardless how we spend our evenings or how hard we try, the pastor never completely checks out...there just is not a clock we ever punch that magically causes us to forget about the burdens of caring for souls until 9:00 am the next morning."
Even in social settings most of our church members call our pastor by the title "Pastor." It is a sign of respect for him as well as for his office. But it is also a subtle reminder of his work and that he is always on the clock. He might not be actively functioning as a pastor at that time but someone is always watching and evaluating him as a pastor.

In the same way, the elders at our church have decided that our pastor does not need to preach on the Sunday immediately following a vacation. In the past our pastor would get back from vacation on Friday or Saturday and have to preach the following Sunday. This meant that during his time off he wasn't actually off. Even if the sermon was already written he was still spending part of his time off preparing for work.

The third reason that Pastor Croft gives is that "a pastor needs a weekly day where his family comes first and they know it." One of the qualifications of an Elder is that "He must manage his own household well." This is impossible if the pastor is not allowed to take time to be with his family.

I think that we as a church should not just allow our pastors to take days off but rather that we should demand that they do so. The elders should keep the pastor accountable for both taking a day off as well as using it as a day off. Not only do our pastors have a responsibility to the church but the church has a responsibility to be good stewards of our pastors.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Are God's commands more than a list of "Do's and "Don'ts?"

In discussing the role of Jesus in my Credo I state the following about the commands that he gives to us:
Jesus also tells us how we should live. His commands—The Sermon on the Mount being a good example—are more than just a list of “do’s and don’ts.” However, it is very easy to look at these commands and to start categorizing them like we do with the Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses and think of following Jesus in terms of “Thou Shalt Not…” It is very easy for me to fall into that trap and in a certain sense I am guessing that it is only natural. But Jesus did not simply come to tell us about all of the things that we do wrong. Rather, Jesus' instructions help us to live a better life (but not in a self-help way) and how to show care and compassion towards others. When Jesus tells us not to do something it is usually because whatever he is telling us to not do is bad for us.
For example in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us not to worry:
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing…And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life…Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."
Matthew 6:25,27,34
I have purposely left out a number of verses from Jesus statement on worry and normally I really dislike taking verses out of their context. But I did it here for a reason. I think that those other verses help to put this command into the “Thou Shalt Not” category and miss part of why Jesus was giving us this command.

Here are just the omitted verses:
“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they…And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
Matthew 6:26,28-33
Looking at these verses makes it very easy to pick out a number of reasons that Jesus is telling us not to worry:

  • By worrying we are not trusting God to take care of us.
  • By worrying we do not believe that God values us.
  • By worrying we are not seeking after the most important things in life.

These are all true and very valid reasons, but there is also a more practical reason why Jesus is telling us to not worry as well. Jesus asked, “Can you add time to your life by worrying?” No. We cannot. In fact we have come to learn that worrying actually shortens our lives. Chronic worry – or stress – can also make us very unhealthy. Jesus’ commands are more than “because I said so,” they are our guide to living a better life. We might not always have all the things that we want but if we followed all of his commands – like taking care of the poor – life would be better for us as well as others.

Further reading on the effects of stress:
Stress symptoms: Effects on your body, feelings and behavior by the Mayo Clinic
Stress: Constant stress puts your health at risk by the Mayo Clinic
The Effects of Stress on Your Body by WebMD

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.