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Showing posts from 2009

The Two Christmases

As I walked through the front door of the Post Office to make my stamp purchase, I was faced with a choice. On my left was a vending machine, and to my right was the customer service desk, where I could make the purchase from actual human beings. Because there was no line at the moment, I chose the human interaction. I strolled up to the middle-aged, slightly balding postal employee, read that his name was "Rex", and I asked for two books of stamps.

As it was mid-December, Rex asked me "would you like Christmas stamps, or...". Once I realized he wasn't about to complete the sentence, I looked down and saw that he was holding some very un-Christmas-like stamps bearing images of the Liberty Bell and the word "Forever." Knowing that my wife had planned to mail several Christmas cards, I told him "One of each."

To my surprise, the decision-making did not stop there. Rex hit me with a follow-up: he held up two types of stamps: one had a pictur…

Sports vs. the Front Page

I don't post a lot about parenting here. I remember when I didn't have kids yet, thinking to myself that parents seem to be obsessed with the topic of parenting, and I didn't want to join that crowd. I haven't changed my mind. Don't get me wrong: I love being a dad. I love Abby, Jacob, and Zachary with all my heart, and I also know that I have a lot to learn about my role as a father. But I don't want to be one of those people who talks about my kids, or about parenting, all the time.

Having issued that disclaimer, I must say, as a dad, i am saddened at what I see on ESPN.com today. See, my 8-yr-old son Jacob, while not being allowed to surf the entire internet yet, is free to go to the ESPN website. He also gets to read the sports section of the local paper. He likes sports, and I've seen some good things in his life as a result of his role as both a spectator and a participant. Thanks to baseball cards and the stats and standings listed in the paper, he …

Cleaning your own house

I recently heard a liberal who I like saying some things about how mean and ridiculous Glenn Beck is. I’m not defending Beck. I don’t have cable so have never heard him say anything, the sole exception being except a youtube clip where he misinformed about the cars.gov site. However, the comment about him, similar to what I have heard about Rush, O'Reilly, Coulter, and other commentators from the Right, all have one thing in common: they come from people on the Left.

It’s my view-–and this is a view I cannot support with Scripture or anything else–-that people should be more prone to cleaning their own house that the house of others. In other words, liberals should be slamming the rude people who are in line with them politically before they go off on conservatives who draw their ire. And conservatives should do the same.

It’s incumbent upon us on the Right to let Rush, Beck, Coulter, etc. know that their tactics are unacceptable, and it’s up to those of you on the Left to concent…

Book Review: What Difference Do It Make?

"What Difference Do It Make", by Ron Hall, Denver Moore, and Lynn Vincent, is a follow-up to their best-seller "Same Kind of Different As Me". And when I say follow-up, that's exactly what I mean. It isn't a sequel; it's a continuation. It's a way to reveal the bountiful fruit yielded by the first book.

If you have not read the first book, I don't recommend this one. It might be understandable, but it won't pack a punch. That said, for those who have completed SKDAM, the new piece is a valuable read.

In summary, WDDIM is made up of vignettes; we get to hear Denver and Ron speak through chapters individually, in one or the other man's voice. While the book as a whole doesn't have a real defined structure, each chapter does, and each is filled with stories that tell us the effects of the first book on various readers. Some are heart-warming, some heart-tugging, and all are inspiring. In many cases, SKDAM served as a catalyst in the …

If you really want results....

I have to say, this is one of the most exciting passages I have ever seen. God answers people who have confronted Him because their prayers and fasts haven't impressed Him, and haven't yielded the kinds of results they have been looking for. He responds by saying that the problem is that they have been fasting according to their criteria, not His. Their idea of serving God kept them in their comfort zone. In contrast, here's what will please Him:

Isaiah 58
v.6 "Is not this the fast that I have chosen? To loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed ones go free, and that you break every yoke?
v.7 Is it not to break your bread to the hungry, and that you should bring home the wandering poor? When will you see the naked and cover him; and you will not hide yourself from your own flesh?"

And check out the results!

v.8 "Then shall your light break out as the dawn, and your health shall spring out quickly; and your righteous…

Book Review: Donald Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

I could be easily convinced that the phrase "I just couldn't put it down" was coined with Donald Miller's "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years" in mind. Whereas I typically require a month to read a book of this size (250 pages), I started this one on a Saturday and was done by Monday night. (My wife upstaged me: she read it in one day.) From the beginning, this book had its hooks in me and wasn't interested in letting go.

The premise is simple, but unique: some time ago, the author was approached about making a movie based on "Blue Like Jazz", his best-known work. "A Million Miles" is an account of the personal revelation that his own life could be more interesting, and that revelation's aftermath. The result was a number of valuable lessons learned by Miller as he explored the story-creation process, with the main lesson being the importance of making sure one's own life story is a meaningful one.

"A Million Miles&q…

Underappreciated voice

I love music. I love quality music; not fluff, not ear candy. Sadly, many music snobs who pride themselves on their musical taste fall into the trap of not liking most music which actually sells, and that's sad. There are a few vocalists who truly deserve to be described as "artists", whose music leans toward the commercial side, not by choice, but because that's who they are.

One such singer, who gets very little positive critical press, is Ronnie Milsap. Poll any group of pop or country music critics, and he doesn't make the top 20 for most of them. And that's sad, because he's actually quite incredible. I have spent some time this week reaching back into more obscure parts of my music collection, and have been reminded of how powerful this man's talent is.

I found his soul-era (before he became a country singer) rendition of "House of the Rising Sun" and am convinced it's as good as any version out there. I offer this clip: http://w…

Book Review: Max Lucado's "Fearless"

Max Lucado's "Fearless" comes along at an appropriate time for our nation and, I suspect, for many individuals. In his latest work, Lucado lays out Scripture after Scripture which demonstrate that fear of circumstances is ungodly, unwise, and harmful to us. In other words, when God tells us "do not fear", He is doing so not just to pat us on the back reassuringly; His command, when followed, will keep us from doing damage to our souls.

Lucado identifies various areas of our lives in which we commonly let fear have its way, (usually one per chapter). Some, such as death and change, are fairly obvious. Others, such as the fear of disappointing God, were off my radar. In each case, though, the author provides modern and scriptural examples.

As with most Lucado works, the illustrations are the thing. He is a gifted parable composer, and the analogies that he employs are masterful, especially when he personifies Worry in Chapter 4: Woe Be Gone--The Fear of Running O…

The first half of that verse

" 'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.' "

For years, I have heard Jeremiah 29:11 repeatedly. I've got it memorized from hearing it, hearing about it, hearing sermons preached about it, and seeing it on plaques in people's bathrooms. And every time I hear someone start to refer to that verse, what I always think about is what the teachers always teach about: the 2nd half, about how God has plans to give us hope, and a future.

Yes, that's very important, but to focus on half a verse is to gain only half of the riches contained in it. The first part is just as worthy of noting: "For I know the plans that I have for you."

The Hebrew word for "plans" (it's H4284 if you are interested in looking it up in Strong's) can mean a lot of things. It can mean intentions, plans, imagination, purpose, or thought. In fact, many translations…

Book Review: Read and Share Toddler Bible

As a parent of 3 young kids, I am all-too-aware of the glut of toddler bibles available, and the sameness that plagues the majority of them. Happily, the Read and Share Toddler Bible, published by Thomas Nelson, stands out from the crowd.

At first glance, it would seem that this bible contains the usual toddler bible characteristics: (1) short (4-6 page) accounts of the most common bible stories, such as Adam and Eve, Noah, and Joseph's coat of many colors; (2) colorful pictures which portray the "good guys" and "bad guys" accordingly (i.e. Jesus looks friendly, Goliath does not); (3) age-appropriate wording for the stories being told (we are told that Joseph is in jail due to a lie told by Potopher's wife, for example, but the book doesn't go into detail about what that lie is).

But a closer look reveals features which go beyond the norm for this type of book. For one thing, there is a DVD included, and it contains most of the stories that are in the bo…

Movies that matter

The following 9 movies comprise my all-time Top Five. Yes, the math doesn't work, but these movies are absolutely essential to me:

The Fisher King
Man on Fire
Cinderella Man
Lord of the Rings trilogy
Schindler's List
The Princess Bride
Gladiator
Saving Private Ryan
The Kid


Other movies I find very moving. These aren't quite as essential, but I was profoundly affected by them:
The Pursuit of Happyness
Big Fish
Mr Holland's Opus
The Passion of the Christ
The Legend of Bagger Vance
Secondhand Lions
Casablanca
The Cowboys



This has nothing to do with what I think are the greatest movies ever made. But they are the ones which grab me and bore down into me and do their work at the soul level. I still recognize the grandness of, say, The Godfather, and am entertained by a good comedy. But the movies listed above are the ones that matter the most to me.

Book Review: The Noticer

Earlier this week, I finished reading The Noticer, by Andy Andrews. It tells the story of a man named Jones who had a special gift of speaking truth into the lives of people whose lives intersected with his. Although the publisher is Thomas Nelson, the content was not needlessly churchy. The message was delivered in such a way that non-Christians could find value in it, despite the fact that biblical truths and principles manage to weave themselves throughout the narrative from start to finish.

At first glance, the story contained elements that seemed to be lifted directly from several other well known books which have been popular in American Christian culture over the last two decades, including Gary Chapman's "The Five Love Languages" and Rick Warren's "The Purpose-Driven Life", with a similarity in presentation, not content, to Young's "The Shack".

The story starts out describing young Andy, an aimless man with no discernible talents, ambiti…

Painful to watch

Occasionally, we talk about how hard it is to watch someone we love destroy him/herself. We watch our little brother choose the wrong friends. We watch a friend engage in substance abuse. We see our daughter dating that loser. Our neighbor ending a salvageable marriage because he thinks it will make his life easier and end the hurt and teach her a lesson (it won't).

It's hard to watch. It's like watching someone run in front of an 18-wheeler and refusing your pleas to return to the side of the road, out of danger.

Here's what I have just realized: just having one person in your life like that is heartbreaking. But imagine what it's like for God. He loves each of us more than you or I has ever loved anyone. He watches most of us engage in self-destructive behavior over and over again.

One soul at a time, He implores us to take a path which will lead to life. Some listen, but so many times, He sees us go down another path, one which won't bring us joy, which will o…

Up will make your marriage better

We all see movies we like from time to time, and occasionally we like one enough to recommend it to friends. I love movies, so I am careful not to recommend them to people because I would do it all the time. Today I am making an exception. I am imploring all married men to take their wives to see Up. It's supposed to be a kid's movie, but the message is about marriage, keeping promises, and noticing the normally unnoticed blessings of God that are all around you.

Please note that when I say it's animated but more for adults, I'm not comparing it to movies like Shrek or Aladdin which are kid's movies where some jokes are thrown in that only adults will get. I'm saying this is a story for married people, and there are some things in there that make it digestible for kids, too.

That said, when it got to the turning point, the place in the movie which emphasized the blessing that this man's wife had been to him, I looked over and Jacob (my 7-yr-old) was welling …

Being that close, then blowing it

If you've been a Christian for even a short time, you are probably familiar with the following sequence of events:
1. Israelites are rescued by God, led by Moses out of Egypt.
2. Israelites spend 40 years in the desert.
3. Israelites have a chance to go into the Promised land, but 10 of the 12 spies they sent were afraid of the existing inhabitants.


As with many of the most familiar stories, there is much more to this one. Upon a recent re-reading, I encountered some troubling items; troubling because they have highlighted many of my own shortcomings. Let's look at just one.

In Numbers 13, we see God instruct Moses to send out twelves spies to check out the promised land. To be clear: this was God's idea. There was nothing wrong with sending out spies, and by inference, we can say that this is nothing wrong with taking note of the giants, the armies, the challenges which awaited the Israelites. Likewise, there is nothing wrong with strategizing to meet the obstacles that might …

Fear-mongering

I'm getting a lot of emails these days which fit into the rather broad category of Christian fear-mongering. They consist of somewhat alarming messages and warnings of various events--some factual, some dubious--about impending events which have the loosely common thread of somehow being about eroding of freedoms for Christians, with the eventual result of a total lack of freedom to be a follower of Jesus. As I said, some of the events described in the email are based on fact. But it's not the whole story.

The Mavericks basketball season ended last night, but last week, I watched a little bit of one of their playoff games. The camera, of course, follows both teams, but more importantly, it follows the ball.

Imagine, however, you are watching a game, rooting for your favorite team, and the camera only focuses on the other half of the court. For a couple of hours, you only see when the other team scores, and you never see your team make a single basket. If tha…

Mark Driscoll's explanation

Mark Driscoll is the teaching pastor for Seattle's Mars Hill Church (not to be confused with Rob Bell's church of the same name in Michigan). A Google search of Driscoll's name makes it easy to find critics. Theological conservatives don't like his non-traditional methods, while liberals don't like his strict adherence to the bible as the final answer on everything.

ABC's Nightline did a special in which they invited Driscoll and 3 others to debate the question: "Does Satan exist?". View the entire episode (including parts that were cut from the broadcast) here: http://abcnews.go.com/nightline/faceoff

I learned about this event after the show had been broadcast. I read about it in a religion blog where the writer complained that the 4 panelists were not intellectual enough. I couldn't disagree with him more. Driscoll in particular laid out the basics of the Gospel very well in his introduction, and made it clear why the existence of Satan is an imp…

Putting God in His place

Psalm 7


v.1 O LORD my God, in You I have taken refuge; Save me from all those who pursue me, and deliver me,

--when he says “O Lord”, he is just acknowledging what’s true: the Lord really is the Lord. This is fact, and it applies to everyone. But then he follows it with “my God”. This is the first of two personal declarations of God’s authority over him. The second comes right after it: “in You I have taken refuge”. In both of these, he is making a stand about who he (David) belongs to.

It occurs to me that this attitude is very un-American. We don’t want to be “owned” by anyone. We have no problem asking God to help us, but we still want command of our lives, our bodies, and our life decisions. David is having none of that. Although he’s king and can certainly make decisions that stick, he’s choosing to identify himself as a subject of another, better, kingdom.

David’s not willing to play the “God is my co-pilot” game. One doesn’t go to a co-pilot and ask for refuge and protection. When …

Great benefits package

The last two verses of Psalm 5:

v.11 "But let all who take refuge in You be glad, Let them ever sing for joy; And may You shelter them, That those who love Your name may exult in You."

v.12 "For it is You who blesses the righteous man, O LORD, You surround him with favor as with a shield."


After talking about the enemy for 3 verses, David returns to a more positive note. Those who are not God’s enemy are those who take refuge in Him, and they get not only protection, but joy. The word joy appears twice, as the word “exult” literally means to jump for joy.

The benefits to being with God, as listed in these two verses, include refuge, joy, shelter, more joy, blessing, righteousness, favor, and protection. Wow! Where do I sign up?

A memory I am not proud of

Have you ever had a memory pop up from long ago, something you had completely forgotten? It happens to me occasionally, and earlier today, I had a one of my worst-ever memories come to mind. I was actually shaking and almost choked up just thinking about it.

It was 1986, and I was in the Army. We had just gotten into formation. For those not familiar, I mean it was the beginning of the day. I had showered, eaten, and dressed, and we all lined up in a formation; that is, lined up according to platoons and squads. Our company captain (C.O.) spoke to the entire company. He announced that Rock Hudson, who had recently announced that he had AIDS, had died overnight. What happened next, in hindsight, is mind-bogglingly shocking. There was applause. Every soldier in the company, upon hearing of Hudson's death, burst into applause, and cheered loudly. I honestly don't remember if I joined in, but I probably did. Still, I remember that I was very bothered by the outburst.

Thinking abou…

Transparency

When greeting someone at church on a Sunday morning, it's inevitable that I will be asked "How are you, James?". I try to avoid saying "Fine. How are you?" (let's refer to that phrase as IFHAY for short).

Why do I avoid IFHAY? Some who know me will accuse me of bringing my non-conformism into these situations, and I must admit, there's something to that. But that's not the primary purpose for not using that tired phrase. My problem with IFHAY is that it's a little too safe. Someone can have this mini-conversation several times on a Sunday morning, and never get any closer to anyone by day's end. By relying on IFHAY, you convince yourself that you have checked in on people and let them check in on you, but you get to keep your shield up, and you have managed to avoid challenging others to let theirs down, as well. Ultimately, you have done nothing worthwhile in any of these conversations.

The genuine Christian life includes transparency. Callin…

The first 3 verses of Psalms

Psalm 1:1How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
--This not saying to never interact with non-believers. Jesus did that, and instructed His followers to do so in a particular way. It says don’t walk in the counsel of the wicked. Don’t take on their mindset and attitudes. Keep thinking godly thoughts.

How can we do that? The next verse yields a strong clue:

Psalm 1:2But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night.

--getting into God’s written word will change how we walk, and how we think. But notice it doesn’t say “he who reads the law (word)”; it says he who delights in the law. The word “delight” means just that: happiness. When we get to the point where the Word makes us happy, where it’s the central thing in our lives, we are on the right track. Note that this does not mean to become a scholar. You might or might not become one, but that’s not the go…

Is U2 a Christian band?

Ephesians 2:10 "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them"

U2's new CD comes out this week, and it brings up that old discussion among Christians about whether u2 is a Christian band or not. Scripture tells us that all of creation speaks to the glory of God. Mainstream Christians have no problem acknowledging that mountains, flowers, and waterfalls glorify God without actually speaking His name. But we are mistaken if we forget that humans can do the same, simply by walking in their calling. If a country singer, for example, is truly walking in his calling, he can continue to sing about the pain caused by adultery, for example, and it glorifies God every bit as much as biblical tale of David and Bathsheba, which carries the same message about adultery.

If God has created you to be a story-teller (and singers are story-tellers), then be a story-teller, and you will glorify the one who crea…

Picking sides

When U2 performed in the Super Bowl in 2002, the nation was still hurting from the 9/11 attacks. If you take a few minutes to view the clip at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n13CU-NvPMU , you'll note that around the 1:20 mark, Bono says this, twice: "O Lord, open my lips, That my mouth may declare Your praise." This is from Psalm 51:15. The band then launches into "Where the Streets Have No Name."

As the story goes, the song gets its roots in the fact that in Ireland, the tension between Catholics and Protestants is so strong that they segregate themselves by neighborhoods. When you meet a person, you determine if you are going to like them or not when he tells you the name of the street he lives on. Bono, the son of a rare combination of Catholic/Protestant parentage, looks forward to a time and a place where street names -- representative of those things that divide us into opposing groups -- will no longer be important.

Although this message was certainly tim…

My Conservative Politics

It is true that I am an evangelical Christian. However, that's not the reason I lean to the political right. At least, it's not the primary reason. I'm not driven by topics like abortion and gay marriage, despite the efforts of many on the right and the left to elevate those two issues to the top of the priority list.

No, my reason for moving from a liberal in my younger years (my first presidential vote went to Dukakis in 1988; I also voted for Ann Richards for TX governor in 1990) to my current conservative status owes more to the fact that I took a few history and economics classes in college.

The more I understand economics, the more I understand that less government is better, on two levels: a practical level and a deeper level. By practical, I mean that one can easily demonstrate with numbers how an economy will benefit when the government stays out of it. You give a dollar to the government, and it stays there. You give a dollar to a business, and that dollar gets spe…

Fun with double standards

I watched the Oscars last night. Sean Penn is a strong adherent to the value of double-standards. He admonished those who would, for religious reasons, vote their conscience, and specifically mentioned the word "shame". As in: they should be ashamed for voting the way they did. If I understand him correctly, he has no problem with practicing religious intolerance in his quest for tolerance of a non-traditional definition of marriage.

The double-double (double-squared?) standard comes in when one takes note of the fact that Penn made friends last year with the dictator of Venezuela, a country which denies many basic human rights to its citizens, including homosexuals. If memory serves correctly, Penn also spent some time in Iran not too long ago.

Sean, it's a lot more safe to be out of the closet in California than in Iran or Venezuela. I'm puzzled why you choose to spend time in two nations which offer much more oppression, and much less freedom, than we have here in…