Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Matthew Broderick's Day Off

Ferris Bueller's Day Off is one of my all time favorite movies and Honda's new commercial is just too good not to share. It was originally set to air for the first time during the Superbowl but someone let the cat out of the bag and Honda posted it on YouTube. Enjoy:




Monday, January 30, 2012

Putting God first in marriage

Our Wedding

Brad Kautz shared some very interesting thoughts on the purposes of marriage yesterday. (I have shared my friend and fellow seminary alum's thoughts before here and here.) He shared the importance and difficulty of maintaining the proper balance between love of God, spouse and self:

"What should marriage be based on? Our culture would say that 'love' is the be-all and end-all of marriage. When two people feel consumed by their love for each other, and perhaps feel complete only with each other, then moving into marriage would seem to be logical step. And while our society has generally held that marriage is the highest form of personal relationship, the Christian intending to enter into marriage needs to remember that as strong as their love for their potential spouse may be, it should not exceed the love that they have for God. In the first commandment Deuteronomy 5:7 teaches,

"'You shall have no other gods before me.'

"It is very easy to put our spouse ahead of God, and to put our needs within marriage ahead of God, and either choice is a form of idolatry. Again, I am not a model of sanctity but as my wife and I moved towards marriage God was gracious to us and moved us to pray that he would reveal his will for us as a couple. That prayer, that God would make it clear to us if we should not marry, and a desire to be obedient to him even if the answer was 'no', was one of the hardest prayers I have ever made. And now, being married, I frequently pray that our marriage would be kept in its proper place before God."

Maintaining that balance can be very difficult to do. I know that it is something that I struggle with at times. We are all sinful and have a tendency to place other things before God. I can easily see how putting other things that are harmful for me before God is bad. But it can be very difficult to see how my love for my spouse or my marriage can take away from my love for God. That is what makes it such a difficult thing to balance.

Brad's final thoughts help me to understand this much better:

"And thirdly, what should the purpose of marriage be? Marriage may feel like the 'next step' we are to take as we journey from adolescence into adulthood. Marriage may provide a framework for the raising of children. Marriage may bring delight to those whom are joined in it. These may have been among the reasons that Seal and Klum married. The last of my reasons was very present when my wife and I married. But there is a higher purpose in marriage, and that is in providing glory to God.

"Question-and-Answer 1 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism says,

"Q. What is the chief end of man?
"A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

"I think that this statement means that all of our lives should be lived to the glory of God, and perhaps especially marriage, as the Bible, in Revelation 19, uses the image of marriage to portray the consummation of the relationship between Christ and the church."

It is not that any of those reasons that Brad gave as purposes for marriage are bad. Rather that they should all take a back seat to bringing God glory through my marriage. I think that Brad gives some very sound–although not necessarily simple or easy to follow–advice for having a Godly marriage. The whole post is worth reading. 


Friday, January 27, 2012

An Uphill Battle

This is one of those news stories that is too disturbing to ignore. While we as a nation have made great strides in racial harmony it shows just how far we still have to go. And I fear that–if world history is any indication–that we may never get there. According to the story in the Chicago Tribune:

"The three teens, who are white, allegedly put a noose around the neck of (Joshua) Merritt, who is black, and hurled racial epithets at him before one of the boys held a knife to his throat and threatened to kill him, police and Merritt said Thursday."

This isn't something that happened in the racially charged environment of the Civil Rights Movement in the South. It happened last month in the Chicago neighborhood of East Beverly. It seems that the three white teens were upset that Merritt was dating a white girl. So they lured Merritt over to one teen's house and then proceeded to engage in an activity that was assuredly meant to convey the image of a lynching. Fortunately Merritt was able to escape without any serious physical harm.

Unfortunately there is assuredly other longterm harm that has been done. There is longterm harm that has been done to Merritt and to other within the minority community as well. Lynchings were not designed to just punish one person. They are meant to send a message to a whole group of people. It is also unfortunate that while it is a shocking and surprising story, it really isn't nearly as surprising as it should be.

I find it interesting that only one of the three teens was charged as an adult. They were all charged with very serious crimes and this cannot be merely passed off as teen boys being teen boys. This crossed a line. The two younger teens (16 and 17 years old) are old enough to know that they crossed that line and not by a little bit. Although I have to admit that I am not a legal expert and do not fully know what the difference will be for those two young men being charged as juveniles rather than adults.

The other thing that I find interesting is that all three are charged with committing a "hate crime." I understand what is meant by the term "hate crime" but I have always felt that it is a very poor term. All crime comes from some sort of hate. In fact all crimes comes from some sort of prejudice as well–a love of self that is far greater than a love for others. In this case the crime was allegedly* motivated by the fact that the three white teens disapproved of the behavior of Merritt simply because he was not white. And anytime a crime is committed for this type of reason we have a very serious problem.

The very heart of the problem is that there is a problem with the heart. We can make laws that make racially or other prejudicially motivated decisions illegal. We can create educational programs that work towards teaching others about these issues. We can do all sorts of things to try and right these wrongs. But we cannot get into someone's heart. We cannot make these changes for someone. We see racially motivated crimes and wars happening all around the world. Some of them have been going on for thousands and thousands of years. And this is why this particular crime isn't as surprising as I would hope it to be.

There is a young man with hopes and dreams that now has to deal with something that no one regardless of age, race or creed should ever have to deal with. While we can deal swiftly and harshly with the men that put a literal noose around this young man's neck, this story is a reminder that dealing with the figurative noose is still a longterm and uphill battle.


*I use the term allegedly not to convey any doubt about whether or not I believe that these crimes were racial in nature. I have no doubt that they were. Rather I use the term because they have not yet been convicted in a court of law.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Losing Our Taste for Grace

I have been following a series on the Desiring God blog that is about staying Christian in seminary. On the face it might seem a silly notion that one might struggle with their faith in the very place designed to train pastors. But alas it is a very real possibility. Seminary is not all about spiritual formation and deepening your walk with God. Rather it gets into both the minutiae of doing theological work as well as theory of ministry work. Along with the profound and deep revelations that come up are the mundane and tedious. (While the third round of Greek vocabulary flashcards might teach one the value of patience and persistance, it really starts to feel mundane and tedious.)

But I don't think that it is just seminary students that struggle with staying Christian throughout their walk. It can (and I believe it does) happen to everyone. It might not always happen in the same way for everyone but I think that at the foundation of it all we lose that sense of wonder that surrounds the grace of God that first grabbed us. In the third post of the series author David Mathis writes:

"Grace is no peripheral thing in Christianity. God’s astoundingly lavish favor toward us terribly undeserving sinners, because of Jesus, is at the very center. Lose our taste for grace and we have no good business calling ourselves Christians, much less putting ourselves forward as leaders in the church."

It is easy to lose that desire for God's grace. We lose it for many reasons. Our lives seem devoid of grace as our world comes crashing down around us. It may be due the loss of a job and the threat of losing our home and security. It may be due to problems at home with a spouse or a child that just never seem to get resolved. It may be due to the unending pressures of work or school. It may be due to the overwhelming trouble that we see in the world. It may be due to the loss of a dear loved one. It may be due to any number of things that would make trying to list them all out impossible.

Mathis makes the point that we need to be intentional about being sensitive to the grace that God has provided to us. It is not about what God has done for us in this world but it is an eternal thing. Mathis suggests taking time to dwell in Ephesians 2:1-7. It reminds us that we were once dead in our sin but that God's grace has made us alive again. God's grace, while it does have consequences for us now, will be lavished upon all those that call on Jesus name in the heaven and the life to come.

Mathis concludes with an exhortation to never take God's grace for granted:

"Don’t be under the delusion that seminary automatically makes you grow in grace (2 Peter 3:18). In fact, it can have quite the opposite effect. Beware of so frequently handling such holy things as the Scriptures and good doctrine and the gospel itself. And especially don’t be flippant with grace. For God’s sake, your own sake, and the sake of the people you’ll one day serve, don’t ever take grace for granted."

That isn't just good advice for those going through seminary. It is something that we should all keep in mind.


The other posts from the series:

Introduction: Seminary: Life or Death

Know Your Value of Values

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

"Don't be evil."

Romans 1

"Don't be evil" is Google's unofficial motto. It is a nice little catch phrase that is easy to remember and supposed to bring reassurance to users of the Google products. Google has become pervasive in everything interwebs. There is a good chance that you use their mail service, search service, and calendar service. In fact if you are reading this you are using their blog hosting service. And the photo on this page...hosted by a Google product. There is a very good chance–assuming that you use the Internet with any regularity–that Google knows more about you than you know about yourself. So Google has this motto in order to assure you that even though they hold on to all this information that they won't do anything "evil" with it.

So imagine my surprise when I saw this headline:

"Con Artist Starred in Sting That Cost Google Millions"

So I read the first few lines of the article (because I don't have a WSJ subscription to read the whole article) and was shocked, shocked to find that evil might be going on here...

"Wearing leg irons and guarded by federal agents, David Whitaker posed as an agent for online drug dealers in dozens of recorded phone calls and email exchanges with Google sales executives, spending $200,000 in government money for ads selling narcotics, steroids and other controlled substances. 

 "Over four months in 2009, Mr. Whitaker, a federal prisoner and convicted con artist, was the lead actor in a government sting targeting Google Inc. that yielded one of the largest business forfeitures in U.S. history."

I don't recall hearing about the sting but apparently Google was caught taking ads for illegal prescription drug sales (among other things) from Canadian Pharmacies. There was even evidence that co-founder Larry Page knew that the ads were illegal but did nothing to stop them. Google admitted no wrong-doing but settled the case for $500 million. But the company is keeping the rest of the revenue from those illegal ads. Google gets to profit from facilitating the sales of illegal drugs. That sounds "evil."

We can have all of the mottos and mantras that we want about not doing evil or wrong. But the problem arrises when we do not have a stable foundation for those mottos. Paul tells us that our foundation of obedience comes through our faith in God.

"Through whom (Jesus Christ) we have received grace and apostleship to bring about obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations."

What is important is that the obedience brought about by faith is only brought about by an active faith. It is not merely agreeing with the main principles of the Christianity. Rather it is brought about when we seek after God on a daily basis. It is only then that we will be truely obedient to God. It doesn't mean that we will instantly be perfect. What it means is that we will continually attempt to become more obedient. It also means that when we do evil that we admit to it and make it right rather than profiting from it.


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, January 23, 2012

Are Cool Celebrity Christians good for Christianity?

I came across this article on the Fox News website a couple of weeks ago. The headline asks what can be considered a fairly provocative question. "Are young, religious stars like Justin Bieber and Tim Tebow making Christianity cool?" The intro to the article chronicles how Justin Bieber, Demi Lovato and Tim Tebow have all been in the news lately regarding their Christian faith. Author Jo Piazza then asks the question:

"So are these young, hip and very public Christians in the worlds of music, television and sports are making it cool for the highly connected Generation Z to embrace Christianity?"

It strikes me that this question–while it may be a valid question–makes two categorical mistakes about Christianity. The first is that celebrities might be good for Christianity in general. The second is that Christianity needs to be perceived as cool in order to be embraced–particularly by young people.

Celebrity Christians create a complex set of issues. First celebrity status is so fleeting so those that are popular today can quickly fade into oblivion. On top of that the news cycle today is so short that we usually do not get much more than soundbites from people. This means that complex thoughts and belief systems are distilled down into just a few sentences at most and sometimes end up being just a phrase or two. Then there is the "sensational news sells" mentality that is pervasive in our culture. It is far bigger news when a celebrity couple goes through an ugly divorce than the existence of Mr. and Mrs. Average's happy marriage. What this then means is that it is far bigger news when a Celebrity Christian stumbles than if they continue to live a solid life. The sordid details of a stumbling Celebrity Christian are shared far and wide while the repentance and restitution details are either ignored or viewed skepticism.

I don't share this as a complaint against the state of the media; that is a completely different post. I share this because it isn't a matter of if a Christian is going to stumble. It is only a matter of when. We all make mistakes. Being a Christian doesn't mean being mistake free rather it means that our mistakes are forgiven in the eyes of God. It also means that we should be taking steps to correct our mistakes and quite often those corrections come over a long period of time. Unless we are a close personal friend, we never observe Celebrity Christians on a personal level over a long period of time. 

While Tim Tebow sounds like a great guy that is living an authentic life (I really don't know much about Justin Bieber or Demi Lovato), we should not really be holding him up as an example of how to live a Christian life. That role should be left for those that we observe on a daily or weekly basis. It is far more important to watch someone going through the ups and downs of life and handling them well. It is far more powerful to watch someone go through the long process of getting up, dusting off and walking again after they have made a mistake than to observe a Celebrity Christian for a short period of time. It is far more powerful to watch someone endure a period of suffering and pain only to come out stronger on the other side than it is to watch a sports figure point to the sky after a great play.

Christianity is not about being cool enough to be acceptable for young people. There may be those that decide to investigate Christianity because some celebrity said it is what they do. But the staying power of Christianity will not come from a cool factor it will come from everyday people living lives that are obviously transformed by their faith in Christ. Without that authenticity, young people will only be around until the next cool thing takes hold. And in this day and age then next cool thing won't be too far away.

Friday, January 20, 2012

What should we see when we look at the cross?

 In his well known hymn When I Survey The Wondrous Cross, Isaac Watts wrote:

"When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride."

Those are very powerful words that speak of how we should not find pride in our own accomplishments because in the end they are meaningless. But should we as Christians hold up the cross as one of our main symbols or icons?

An icon–in the religious sense–is a graphical representation of a person or a scene that is used in a prayerful or devotional way. This a practice that is mainly found in the Eastern Orthodox Church. For the moment let us put aside any debate on whether or not using icons is a form of idolatry. Instead let us consider these types of objects in a symbolic way that is not meant to be our focus of worship but rather as a way of focusing our attention on the true God. We actually do this all the time without giving it a second thought. Most churches have a cross in them. And when we look at those depictions of a cross we are not worshiping them. We are not even worshiping the true cross that they are supposed to represent. Rather they are in our churches and homes in order to remind us of the price that Christ paid on the cross for our sins.

But is the cross something that we should be looking to for our inspiration?

In the introduction of the letter to the Romans, Paul gives a very concise summary of the Gospel message. This introduction gives us an idea of both the content and the style of what is to follow. Romans is one of those books where you cannot just merely jump into the middle of it and really understand what is being said. Instead it is a very logical argument that continues to build throughout. The same can be said for Paul's introduction. He starts off by giving his own credentials–Paul had not visited the church in Rome so he wanted to make sure they understood his authority. Then Paul tells how the coming of Christ had been foretold in the Scriptures (what we call the Old Testament); was a descendant from David; was declared to be the Son of God by the resurrection; and finally what that means for us in our lives.

What is interesting in that summary is that Paul does not explicitly refer to Christ's death on the cross. Rather Paul states:

"And (Christ Jesus) was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord."

Now I am not going to make the argument that because Paul failed to mention the cross here that it means that it is unimportant. That is what we call an "argument from silence" which can be a dangerous thing. In fact I would argue quite the opposite. To Paul the cross is an essential piece of our doctrine. The reference to the resurrection from the dead means his death on the cross. Rather what is important here is that we cannot stop at the cross. We must continue our gaze beyond the cross and even beyond the empty tomb (in fact the cross is just as empty as the tomb) and look to the one that was resurrected.

We cannot stop and wallow in the sorrow that is found in the cross. Yes it is important for us to remember all that Christ was willing to give up for us. But is is equally important to remember that Christ gave all that up and was willing to die on the cross so that he would be raised up again. Christ's sacrifice on the cross means absolutely nothing without the resurrection. 

We do not serve a dead lord. We serve a Lord that even has power over death.

Whenever we look at the cross we need to remember that it is empty and the sorrow that it contained only lasted a short moment. But the glory that comes with the resurrection–that lasts for an eternity.


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.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

What's in a name?

When I started reading the book of Romans this morning I paused at the very first word. 


It seems like such an odd way to start a letter. Generally we start our letters with "Dear Soandso." We might even be familiar and intimate with someone and therefore start the letter "To Whom It May Concern." Or if we are sending an email we might not even include a salutation. But how often do we start a letter with our own name?

More often than you might initially think. Take it from someone that has recently written a few cover letters. Every good business letter starts with your own name and address. The first thing someone needs to know when reading a letter is who sent it. Unsurprisingly we read letters from different people differently. The relative power of the letter is held in the name. So it is understandable that every letter from Paul that we have in the Bible all start with the same word. 


But what is in a name? What is the importance of a name?

Our name is our name and it contains our identity. A lot can be communicated by our use of names. We can either convey respect and dignity or distain and derision. Think about when you go into a business. There is a great difference between hearing: "Mr. Manning it is good to see you again.  How can I help you?" and: "Next!" But there is even more than that. 

I know that I am not the only Michael Manning to have ever existed. My father has the same name. And so did his father. But beyond that there are other people named Michael Manning as well. This became clear to me just out of high school. My parents had just moved to a new town. Some kids from our church youth group were trying to call my brother but they did not have our new phone number. So they called the operator and asked for the phone number for Michael Manning (my dad) in the new town we lived in. When they called the number it was a completely different Michael Manning. It was the first time that I ever considered that there might be someone named Michael Manning that was not related to me.

Today if you search "Michael Manning" on the web you will find a fair number of relatively famous people with that name and none of them are me. In fact there are a fair number of them that I really would not want to be confused with. But that name contains my identity whenever someone uses it in reference to me. None of those people are this "Michael Manning."

The same is true for Paul. When Paul started those letters and wrote his name he was referring to a particular Paul with a particular identity.

This Paul started out his life with what would have been considered the perfect pedigree. He was "circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless." This Paul also had a life changing experience with Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus. After that he considered his only true identity as being found in Christ Jesus. Paul decided that all of those things that he could have used to find his identity as being worthless compared to the identity that he found in being a servant of Christ.

Far too often when I look for my own identity I look within myself. I look at the things that I have done. I look at the things I hope to accomplish. What I need to do is to do a better job of find my identity the same way that Paul did.

"Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God."


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, January 18, 2012

Gone Fishing

Today I am helping my sister-in-law set up for her art show. Normally the shows are open to the public but this show is aimed at wholesale customers. So some of her art might be showing up at a home decor store near you.

In the mean time you can check out her artwork here

We will return to normal blog programming tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Right Stuff for undying dreams.

XCOR EZ Rocket

One of my childhood dreams–the ultimate dream that trumped all other dreams–was to be a naval aviator; a fighter pilot. My dream predated Tom Cruise and Top Gun. (I still maintain that the first 4 minutes of Top Gun may be the best cinematic creation ever. How many of you that grew up in the 80s can honestly watch fighter jets being launched off an aircraft carrier without thinking of the opening notes of Highway to the Danger Zone? Duh da da duh da duh da duh da da da...But I digress.) My dream even predated The Right Stuff. Even though both of those movies came out when I was a teenager and had realized that the dream was just a dream, they both stoked the fire.

My plan was to be a naval aviator then a famous test pilot and finally an astronaut. The idea of the excitement of flying both fighter jets and space ships still causes something to stir within. Of course this comes from the guy that needs to take Dramamine when flying. But I just know that piloting a fighter jet would be very different than riding in a passenger jet...

This dream is why I still stop and read articles like the one I found this morning. Brian Doherty of reason.com wrote an article about the current push for consumer space travel.

"I’m at the Mojave Spaceport—the private general aviation airfield where SpaceShipOne, the first private vehicle to zip twice between space and back, first took off in 2004. That’s the same year that Mojave became certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as the nation’s first private 'spaceport,' certified to send vehicles and people out of this world. Seven years later, more than a handful of commercial space companies operate out of this sprawling complex of runways, hangars, and airplane bits, and it’s no longer the only private spaceport in America."

Doherty is visiting a company called XCOR. According to XCOR's website:

"XCOR is focused on the research, development and production of safe, reliable, reusable launch vehicles (RLVs), rocket engines and rocket propulsion systems...These successes have launched XCOR to the forefront as a leader in the commercial space transportation industry and our principals are recognized experts in the field."

Why wouldn't someone want to visit a company that was successfully creating vehicles that could send civilians into space. It only revives the dream of going to space that some of us have had since childhood. Doherty states:

"All this activity is to give people experiences that were impossible less than a lifetime ago, and are still absurdly...rare. As Massee says, space travel is still stuck in the days right after the Wright Brothers. But this spaceport is already bustling—I drove past a handful of other space-oriented companies such as Scaled Composites and Masten Space Systems on the way into XCOR’s humble, security-gates-free World War II-era wooden  hangar."

While I may never get the chance to be a naval aviator or an actual NASA astronaut the dream of space adventure is still alive. Even though it still may be absurdly rare and outside of my grasp:

"Still, (XCOR President Jeff) Greason opens a window into his dreamier side. 'Imagine going back to the age of sail, and tell[ing] them we now have…two other planets we can go to,' he says. 'It takes days of sailing to get to one of them; the other takes many months of sailing to get to—do you think that might be worth something? They would look at you as if you lost your mind. They are just there waiting for us, and don’t even have hostile natives!'"

Yes, imagine...


Monday, January 16, 2012

Encouraging the Encouragers

Every one has a story to tell. We can all tell the story of how we became the person that we are today. The las week or two I have been working on my story and there are two critical people that have led me to be where I am today. I thought that I would take a few moments and share a part of that story which highlights those two people.

I was born and raised in a Christian home. One of my childhood memories is of my Dad sitting in his study chair preparing Bible Study lessons which led me to wonder who, what, why and how. All of those books he would read fascinated me and the one that I found most irresistible was his lime green Strong’s Concordance. It had so many pages of strange words that were not even shaped the same way as any words that I knew. I remember playing with the other kids while our parents engaged in Bible study and always being mindful of the discussions that would keep the adults captivated for hours. I look back and see the fire that burned within my father to properly understand and apply the Bible. It makes me wonder about the content of those studies. In a lot of ways it helps me understand these same passions that burn within me. My father passed on those books to me when I started leading Bible studies as a young adult. Those books now captivate me–including the lime green Strong’s Concordance–as much as they captivated him. I thank God for my father, who laid this foundation in me and continues to encourage in me.

In 2004 I married my best friend. Onya and I met when I was working as a youth pastor in Chicago. She was one of the adult volunteers that helped me and was a big part of the youth ministry. During that time we were not romantically involved at all but we slowly built a solid friendship that eventually turned into our getting married. At the time of our wedding I was working for a captive finance company. It was quickly clear to my wife how unhappy I was working in the business world. She encouraged me to think about what it was that I was passionate about. Through our discussions and prayers it became clear that what I was most passionate about and best gifted to do was some form of ministry work. That led to me go to seminary to pursue my Masters of Divinity and now on to full-time work. My wife not only made that possible but she has been my biggest supporter during my studies. She is still my biggest supporter and encourager as I am going through the job search process.

Both my father and my wife have played a large role in shaping me into the person that I  am today. This is not to minimize the very helpful and influential roles of others like my father's wife; my brother and his wife; my aunt and uncle; my cousins and cousin-in-laws; my brother-in-laws and their wives; my father and mother-in-law; and my many classmates, pastors, and friends. But I wanted to take a moment and share how two of them have specifically shaped me. It is good for all of us to take a moment and think about how those around us have shaped us. Sometimes they shape us for the good and sometimes for the bad. What we need to do is recognize those that shape us for the good and to make sure that we encourage and increase their influence on us. 


Friday, January 13, 2012

Proclaiming the Word and Caring for the Poor

A number of months ago I shared the story of the Blue Van. In that story I shared how I failed to live out Matthew 25:31-40 and help a couple in need. Undoubtably there is an aspect of Christianity that is about taking care of the needy. We could list verse after verse that tells us to do so. But one of the greatest struggles that I had with my seminary education was that at various points we spent more time talking about social justice issues rather than about teaching the Word of God. I am not saying that caring for the poor is unimportant but where should it fit in our overall theology?

There are three passages in Acts that I would like to look at. The first two are Acts 2:42-47 and 4:32-37. Both of these passages tell of how the Early Church "had everything in common." These passages state that the members of the Early Church did not keep their possessions as their own but rather they were willing to give them up so that everyone in the Church had their needs taken care of. Acts 2:45 says:

"And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need."

So the Early Church did think that it was important to help those that were in need. But that leads to two further questions; at least in terms of these passages. The first is to whom were they helping out? The second is to what end were they doing so?

Acts 2:44 says:

"And all who believed were together and had all things in common."

This is telling us that it was those within the Church that had all things in common and 4:32 expounds upon this a little further:

"Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of these things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common."

So these passages are specifically speaking about how the church treated each other. Specifically in these passages the Church was making sure that their own members were properly cared for. But why were they doing this? They were doing so because God commanded them to do so. The Matthew 25 passage makes that very clear. A fully devoted follower of Christ needs to be obedient and to give of what they have in order to care for others. It is important for us to do this as a Church and these passages make it clear that we should be especially mindful of those within our own midst that need the help. But where should it fit into our overall theology?

That brings us to the third passage–Acts 6:1-7–that I would like to look at. It says:

"Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, 'It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer to the the ministry of the word.' And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. 

"And the word of god continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith."

I don't think that it is any mistake that these three stories are told at the very beginning of Acts. They were formative as to the structure of the Church that persists today. Most churches have two sets of leaders. One set to oversee the spiritual needs and the other to oversee the physical needs. But what I find telling is that the Twelve–the disciples that walked with Jesus and became the spiritual leaders of the Early Church–felt that it was important that taking care of those in need did not eclipse the preaching of the Word of God. And it is because of this that it is my opinion that the preaching of the Word of God should always be the primary goal of the Church. This doesn't mean that we can neglect other duties of the Church like caring for those in need. But our concern over social issues should never diminish our bold proclamation of what Christ's death and resurrection mean for us in a spiritual sense.


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.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Religious Freedom and the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court made a big ruling yesterday regarding religious freedom. The case of Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC may go a long way in protecting the religious freedom of churches and para-church groups to choose their own ministers. From a Christianity Today article on the ruling:

"The First Amendment provides, in part, that 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,'" Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the unanimous opinion. "We have said that these two Clauses 'often exert conflicting pressures,' and that there can be 'internal tension … between the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause.' Not so here. Both Religion Clauses bar the government from interfering with the decision of a religious group to fire one of its ministers."

The court was unequivocal: "We agree that there is such a ministerial exception," Roberts wrote. "Requiring a church to accept or retain an unwanted minister, or punishing a church for failing to do so, intrudes upon more than a mere employment decision. Such action interferes with the internal governance of the church, depriving the church of control over the selection of those who will personify its beliefs."

Imposing unwanted ministers and telling religious organizations who they can hire and fire violates both religion clauses of the First Amendment, the court said. It violates the free exercise of religion because a religious group has the "group's right to shape its own faith and mission through its appointments." And it violates the establishment clause because it gives "the state the power to determine which individuals will minister to the faithful."

"It is not just a spectacular win on multiple issues and with multiple (indeed, all) justices on board, but it is the Court's sweeping language that is so very important," said Carl Esbeck, a law professor at the University of Missouri. "The words in the various justices' opinions ring out like a Liberty Bell for religious freedom. Already I can envision scores of legal briefs being churned out in the future mining the Court's passages reaffirming religious freedom as the First Freedom of the Republic. Of cardinal importance: the Supreme Court relied on the Establishment Clause as well as the Free Exercise Clause as a fountainhead of religious freedom—a contended point until now."

The case may have wide ranging religious freedom implications. I will be interesting to see how things start to play out in the future. I highly commend reading the full Christianity Today article.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Bill Mounce's "Biblical Greek: A Compact Guide" Giveaway

Just a quick fyi:

Bill Mounce, the Biblical Greek expert, is giving away one of his books. It is called Biblical Greek: A Compact Guide. You can go to his site and leave a comment in order to try and win it...or you could not try and let me have a little better odds.

Face to face with the Lion

The zoo allows us to come face to face with wild animals in a way that we would never be able to do in the wild. The video of this three year old little girl going nose to nose with a lion illustrates this very well.

Of course we call them wild animals for a reason.

1 Peter 5:8 reminds us that we face an adversary that has been compared to a lion.

"Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour."

It can be very easy to forget just how dangerous it is to be around evil and sinful things. We might think that we are protected like that little girl but there is no safety glass to keep us from getting mauled. It is best if we just try and steer as clear as possible from these things.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Systematic Abandonment of the Youth

World Magazine has a very interesting article titled The Other Unreached People Group. I found that this article intersected well with the post that I shared last week on the importance of parents in my youth ministry. Mindy Belz writes in the article about the difference between the 10/40 Window and the 10/30 Window. Ms. Belz tells us that:

"The 10/40 Window, that geographic band between 10 and 40 degrees north latitude that's home to the largest unreached people groups—and the poorest and most spiritually impoverished—in the world. Its billion account for the majority of the world's Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists."

This part of the world contains some of the greatest socioeconomic issues and the least amount of access to the Christian message and resources. But Belz shares that Eric Larson and Jonathan Taylor are now identifying the 10/30 Window. They feel that Christian missions should not just look at things geographically but also in terms of generations. The 10/30 Window is the group of people in the world that are between the ages of 10 and 30. Taylor says that this age range presents Christians with a unique challenge:

"(It is) the largest unreached people group in human history, larger than the 100 largest geographically defined unreached people groups combined."

The article identifies three main challenges being faced by this youthful demographic. The first is the extension of adolescence and the second is the globalization of this generation through social media on the Internet. Where this article intersects with my understanding of the importance of parents in youth ministry comes because of what Larson says is the abandonment of youth by their parents:

"Towering alongside these new trends is what Larsen calls 'the systemic adult abandonment of the young.' The very things that unite young people divide them from adults. They learn the day's conversation topics from a social media website, not the dinner table. They go to YouTube for direction on how to change the oil in the car, not Dad. If they have a question about who took the first walk on the moon or what is an HPV vaccine, they're more likely to google it than to ask in the car on the way home from school. 

"And clearly parents have turned away from youth, particularly in the West (and often in pursuit of extending their own youth). Even in our Christian circles adults often are no longer a treasury of wisdom and experience for children but a directory of services. The Christian school or the homeschool curriculum educates and disciplines them, the youth group entertains them, and clinical experts are there to rehabilitate them when they fall."

One of the things that I look back on in my youth was the importance of my parents–especially my father–in terms of my own faith development. But it also goes beyond that. My parents were a large influence in my life in a number of areas and I wonder how different my life would be today if they had been more detached. I have also witnessed the importance of adults within the church taking an active role in the lives of youth. In many cases these adults stood in as a sort of surrogate parents. They helped out where the biological parents needed help. All adults in the church play an important role in the lives of the youth in the church.

"Larsen's plea is simple and direct: 'We are calling on an entire adult population to turn its hearts to the young.'

"His plea is not only to parents but to what he calls a covenant community of adults who will recognize the value of training the next generation in all things at all levels—and not as in 'we hire some people and we say we have done it.'

"Larsen believes it's significant that the Old Testament ends in Malachi with the promise of the prophet who will 'turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers ...' (Malachi 4:6) and that the New Testament begins with the birth of a baby, an infant savior, Himself born to parents who today would be considered part of the 10/30 Window.

The role of reaching the youth does not belong to the "hired" youth pastor. It lies in the hands of all of the adults within the church.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Hypertension in Cats & the Words We Use

The words that we use mean things. We convey our message through them which others can then interpret and understand. It is something that we understand instinctively and the system breaks down when we start using alternative meanings for our words. Just talk to a teenager for a length of time and you will get a pretty good example of how the conversation breaks down.

But it breaks down other times as well.

I had an example of this recently while dealing with our veterinarian. Velvet, who is as best as my wife can remember, is about 20 years old and is quite old for a cat. While she is in good shape for her age–as in breathing with regularity–she is starting to have problems. One of them is high blood pressure. 

I didn't know that cats could have high blood pressure. 

I am sure that the stresses of her life don't help. She has really big decisions to make such as whether to eat, sleep, meow, or one of the three "p's." If you've owned a cat or dog (or raised a baby for that matter), you know the three "p's." Each of those tasks present further stressful situations. For example, should she sleep on the bed, couch, cat tower or one of two office chairs? Should she let loose the hairball in Mike's shoe, sandal or slipper?

In the quest to treat her high blood pressure our vet wants to have her blood pressure regularly. I wasn't sure exactly how they would do that. I figured that a people sized blood pressure cuff would just make her head swell up like a balloon. I would guess having a super-sized head that wouldn't be very helpful to the situation. But the technological and logistical issues that would come with a cat sized cuff and stethoscope seem almost insurmountable. Besides cats usually don't like to have their paws messed with and come equipped with razor sharp claws and teeth. 

They also don't have a real big problem with using said claws and teeth when someone wearing a white lab coat starts poking and prodding. Just ask our previous vet. Velvet bit a couple of his tongue depressors in half. 

When the vet checked Velvet's blood pressure and it was in the "I have no idea how this cat is still alive" category. We were given a one month supply of medication to control her blood pressure. The vet told us that we should not stop giving the medication to her because she could have a stroke without it. It was then "recommended" to me that we might want to have Velvet's blood pressure rechecked in about a month. When I went in to the office to refill her medication I was told that they would not refill it without her being scheduled for another blood pressure test.

It was at this point that I realized that the vet's meaning of the word "recommended" was very different from what I understood the meaning to be. I understood it to mean that the vet was recommending that the test be taken while the vet meant that the test had to be taken. I was not planning on having the test done again partly because of the expense but mostly because the visit to the vet is the single biggest source of stress for the little fur-ball. But I understand that giving medication to lower blood pressure without monitoring the blood pressure can be just as dangerous.

The problem lie in the fact that what was communicated was not what I understood as being communicated. And that problem goes far beyond just this particular incident with the vet. I too can say things where I try to "soften the blow." It is very easy to obscure our meaning behind the words that we choose and that is not fair to our listener. Jesus said:

"Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than this comes from evil."

I am not saying that on the part of my veterinarian there was any intentional miscommunication with me; upon reflection it does strike me as the way that a doctor would use the word "recommend." But I know there are times when I have been intentional about being vague or deceptive in the way that I communicated with others. When we are intentionally vague or even deceptive with how we say things, it is wrong. It is in fact a type of lie. We can and should do better than that.

Now if I can just get Velvet to lay off the deep fried tuna with a side of chili cheese fries...

Friday, January 06, 2012

The Trap of Our Words

My wife has been watching a BBC show called Downtown Abbey which is the story of a fictional aristocratic family. The show starts out just after the sinking of the Titanic. The sinking of the Titanic has created a problem for the family because the law states that the estate can only pass to a male heir. The family only has daughters and the oldest daughter was engaged to marry her cousin. This would allow the estate to remain in the family but he died on the Titanic. Because of this loss the next closest male heir is another distant cousin. Unfortunately for the family this cousin–Matthew–is not an aristocrat. Matthew is part of the upper-middle class and is about to start a job as a lawyer. When Matthew and his mother come to the abbey there are a number of culture clashes which includes the handling of servants. 

The servants in the abbey have a hierarchy that has its own set of rules and an honor system. One of the higher positions is that of being the valet to the Lord. The servant that was serving as Matthew's valet felt very disrespected in that Matthew did not allow the valet to perform his duties. The valet finally approaches Matthew and he makes the comment, "Well it seems that those things are beneath a grown man."

Matthew immediately realizes that he deeply insulted the valet. The valet was merely doing the job that he was hired to do and one of the best jobs that he could get. Matthew apologizes profusely but the damage had been done.

It shouldn't come as any surprise that the things that we say can hurt people. I am sure that everyone can relate a story where something that they have said hurt someone. And I am sure that everyone has been on the receiving end as well.

But there is a flip side to this as well. While our words can have power over others, others can have power over our words as well. I came across a story like this the other morning. The story is found at the end of Mark 11. Jesus has entered Jerusalem for the final time and is in the week between Palm Sunday and Good Friday. The beginning of the week is marked with conflict between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders.

Just the day before Jesus had cleared all of the money-changers and people selling animals out of the temple. "Surprisingly" this didn't sit well with the chief priests, scribes and elders. So they came to challenge Jesus:

"By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?"

They didn't like what Jesus was doing and were trying to do anything to discredit him. The question was most likely a trap. The leaders figured that they could catch Jesus saying something that would cause him to either lose his popularity with the people or to greatly anger the Roman authorities. If Jesus lost his popularity with the people then the leaders could get rid of Jesus without angering the people. If Jesus upset Rome then Rome could get rid of Jesus and the people would be angry with Rome. Either way the Jewish leaders figured it was a win for them. But they didn't count on how Jesus would respond:

"Jesus said to them, 'I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.'"

The Jewish leaders found themselves in a dilemma. They realize that if they answered that John's baptism was from heaven then they would be in trouble for not believing John. If they answered that John's baptism was from man–which is what they believed–then they might anger the people and they were afraid of the people. The Jewish leaders were more concerned about maintaining their position of power by saying what they felt that the people wanted to hear rather than seeking the truth. 

It is a very easy trap to fall into. Our words can easily be controlled by what we want others to think of us rather than by our seeking and speaking the truth. When that happens we have given other people power over our words. We have a balancing act to do. We must speak in love whenever we speak in truth. We cannot say something hurtful and fall back on the excuse of it being the truth. We also cannot say something untrue because we think that it will cause someone to think better of us.

It strikes me that what we see in the story about Matthew and the valet along with how the Jewish leaders were trapped points out the importance and power that we find in our words. We need to not only be careful about what we say but also about who we allow to control what we say.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

A Joyous Sadness

One of my favorite people passed away on Friday and today I will be going to her funeral service. My wife and I affectionately referred to Lydia as the "coolest old person." She was a marvelous person and we will greatly miss seeing her every week at church.

I found Lydia to be so special because she was always so encouraging. She encouraged me as a youth pastor. She encouraged me as a seminary student. She encouraged me when I preached. She encouraged me when I led worship. Whenever she saw my guitar she would ask me: "Are you going to play for me today?"

I also loved how Lydia related to people regardless of their age or place. She would strike up a conversation with the other seniors in the church as well as with the youth. Her comfort level with everyone is a model that I am trying to emulate. I think that her persistent smile and winsome manner are what ingratiated her to everyone. I cannot remember ever seeing her when she was in a bad mood.

But the last year or so had been extremely hard on Lydia. You could see it in her face and in her demeanor. It was obvious that she was slowing down and having great difficulty. Yet that smile was still on her face every time I saw her at church. The woman that would be at church every Sunday suddenly started to miss church more and more. At 93 years old she finally lost her battle with a tumor and pneumonia.

It is very sad to see such an example of how to act like Christ pass from this world. I will miss her greatly.

But it is very joyous to know that she is now with the very person that she emulated. While there will be sadness for us while we celebrate her life, it will be wonderful to know that her new life in heaven will be a great celebration.

Lydia, my wife and I are so glad that you are living in the splendor of the King and singing how great is our God.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

The Importance of Parents

Mount San Antonio, California
I hope that everyone had a great holiday week. My wife and I had a wonderful time with family and friends. We also were able to spend some time away from the busyness of the holidays in order to just rest. Half of the time we spent in sunny and warm Claremont, California and half was spent in cold and windy Chicago.

Over the course of the holidays I did not do any writing but I did a fair amount of reading. I never got to the book that I was intending to read but I did read a number of articles and blogs. One that really caught my eye was an article by Tim Challies entitled I Am Unalarmed. It is an article about how different surveys have found that anywhere from 60% to 94% of those that attended church during high school end up leaving the church shortly after leaving high school. As a former youth pastor, it is a very alarming statistic. But Challies writes this article from his perspective of being a parent rather than from the perspective of being a pastor. He says:

"These statistics are alarming, and particularly so to those of us who are raising children and earnestly praying that the Lord would save them. It has often been my prayer that the Lord would save my children while they are young, long before they desire to taste the world’s pleasures as unsaved adults. According to these reports this is unlikely. Statistically speaking, I can have little hope. 

"Each of these studies appears to show that Christians are doing a very poor job of reaching the children in their midst. Ironically, the statistics are used to support solutions that reach from one end of the spectrum to the other: they vary from more programs for teens to fewer programs to teens to abolishing all programs for all children. 

"These statistics are widely quoted, widely believed, but I remain unalarmed by them. I remain skeptical about the results. Allow me to explain myself."

Challies goes on to detail how he believes that these youth that are falling away are doing so because they are not seeing the true Gospel in action within the church or in their own homes. It is a case of people making a mental assent to what the Bible teaches but not living it out in practice:

"If 7 in 10 young people leave the church it may well be because 7 in 10 parents are not immersing their children in the gospel from a young age. They are not preaching that gospel to their children and they are not living as if that gospel is true. That may be an overstatement, but I do not want you to miss the point. Many, many children, a disheartening number, are raised to believe they are Christians by parents who just as erroneously also believe that they, the parents, are Christians. Many more are raised by parents who never model the beauty of gospel living. Such children barely stand a chance."

Challies is not trying to minimize the seriousness of youth walking away from the church. What he is pointing out is that the youth are walking away from hypocrisy.

One of the most important–and hardest–lessons that I learned throughout my youth ministry experience is the importance of parents. When I first started out my view was to include the parents whenever I was in need of help. The parents were important because they could help me out. But as I matured and gained a better understanding of how family systems work I started to ask parents to help out because they were important to the youth ministry.

It was my great fortune both early and late in my youth ministry career to have parents and other adults that were so willing to go out of their way to help me out. Their extraordinary efforts made all the difference. They gave up time, food, money and prayer.

It has become clear to me that the success of a youth ministry does not rest in the youth pastor. Yes a good youth pastor is important. But it is highly likely that the youth ministry will be ultimately unsuccessful if the youth do not see Christianity being lived out as Christ intended it to be lived out in the lives of their parents and in the lives of the other adults in the church.

Yes there are those kids that beat the odds both for the good and the bad. There are those kids that have poor influences that turn out to be stellar. And there are those kids that have solid parental influence that end up rebelling to the point of having very serious problems. But it is still parents that have the highest influence in their kids lives. It means that if we want the youth of the church to remain committed to the church as they move into adulthood then we first need strong and committed parents and other adults in the church. It means that if we want to have a strong and successful youth ministry then we as adults and parents need to make extraordinary efforts to be involved. 

There is a reason that we say that the apple does not fall far from the tree.