Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Straight No Chaser - 12 Days of Christmas

Do you like to laugh? Do you like Christmas music? How about acapella Christmas music? Well if you've answered yes to all three of those, have I got a treat for you! Well, even if you answered no to one or more of the questions, I can still guarantee that you will enjoy this video from Straight No Chaser! If you've seen this before, go ahead and click on the link anyway....they add a new twist to "Dreidel"..... Enjoy!

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

On Celebrating His Birth....

I sometimes think that Christmas can become overly sentimental….almost to the point of being “syrupy”. We get so focused, at times, at beholding the birth scene…..pointing all of our attention towards a baby in a manger. Now certainly there’s something here that ought to grab our attention and hold captive our imagination, if only for a short time. First of all, there was never before, nor has there been since, a birth like this one. The woman who gave birth was a virgin – indeed, this birth was a physiological impossibility! Furthermore, there has at no other time been a birth that caused an eruption from a multitude of the heavenly hosts! And then (and I say this at the risk of fostering further syrupy sentimentalism) there was the child himself…..God in the flesh. Upon His birth Mary did something that had never been done before: she kissed the face of God. We don’t know all that much about Mary and Joseph….but what must have been going through their heads as they held this infant…..the Messiah….God in the flesh? When they heard his cry, did they consider the fact that this voice spoke and the world came into order? When they felt his breath on their cheek, did they ponder that this is the same breath that breathed into Adam’s nostrils so that he would become a living soul? Certainly, these (as well as many others) are questions worthy of pondering briefly as we gaze upon this scene in Bethlehem. It gives us some grasp of the significance of the whole thing. But this birth, the birth that we celebrate more than any other event in the life of the Christ, is nothing more than an introductory note to the Gospel records. But what an introduction!

In the brief paragraphs given to us in Scripture relating the occasion of Jesus’ birth, there is a great deal of significance in the sheer number of Old Testament prophecies fulfilled. Indeed, this night was the beginning of that to which all the prophets of old pointed. But let us keep in mind this fact… was only the beginning. As we read through the New Testament, we find that there just isn’t much time spent in dealing with the Birth of Jesus – amazing as it was. No, there is much more time spent in dealing with His life, His message, His ministry, His death, and His resurrection. As a matter of fact, after His birth we only see Christ for a couple of brief moments prior to his entering public ministry as a man in his 30’s. After this, His birth is only referenced in the sense that it occurred. In Philippians we are told to look at His birth as an example of the extreme humility that exemplified His life…..a humility that we are to try to imitate.

This birth offers a moving and beautiful scene and we ought to look at it and marvel. However, let’s not forget the real story…the fact is that without the death and (more importantly) the Resurrection that occurred less than 40 years later, this scene that we now celebrate would be lost to history….insignificant in its standing. If He were not the Lamb of God here to take away the sins of the world, there would be no star, no heavenly hosts celebrating, and no virgin birth. There would be nothing significant to celebrate. It would have been just another birth – most likely occurring some months later in Nazareth rather than in Bethlehem.

Excuse the rambling nature of this article – bear with me as I get to my point now. While we celebrate this birth of Christ – no doubt the most significant birth in human history – let us keep in mind its true meaning: This is salvation from Heaven. Redemptions plan, put in motion in eternity passed, is coming to fruition. The fulfillment of all prophecy is He Who lies wrapped in that rough crib. His purpose in coming is to show us what perfect godliness and love looks like….to show us the one way to God….to introduce us to an adoption like no other. Let our emotion-filled wonder not be fixated on this tiny babe in a manger, but rather on the life He lived and the death he defeated.

My friends, I urge you to celebrate this season, but not because of the small baby that lies in the manger in a cave in Bethlehem. Rather, because of the path that leads from this cave to the Cross. We celebrate because this birth has marked the beginning of His death, His Resurrection, and our life!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Sanctity of Life

I came across an article last night discussing the case of a 14 year old girl. Some time ago she was brought into a hospital with severe brain trauma and she has spent the last two years of her life in an "irreversible vegetative state". The courts ruled that her condition was hopeless and that she should be removed from life support....she was no longer vital and had, essentially, ceased from being a human being. They removed the life support....and she lived. She's now recovered and in court testifying about the abuse of her parents that landed her in the hospital in the first place.

As a I read this, I was reminded of an article I wrote for another website before I launched this blog. I wrote it on the heels of the murder of Terri Schiavo in Florida several years ago. What follows is my article entitled "Life vs. Death".

The Terri Schiavo case has been filled with emotion. It has caused all of us to ask ourselves some difficult questions, requiring us to find a deeper, more meaningful reaction than our first instinct, knee-jerk reactions. We’ve had to face the tough questions and then come to a conclusion that satisfies our emotional, logical, moral, religious, and social consciences. What is life? When does it begin? When does it end? What is quality of life? All of these questions have been asked and answered from many different perspectives, but there is one lingering question to which I’ve not heard a proper answer. Why were some folks so set on seeing this young woman die? I don’t just mean her husband – I’m talking about the tens of thousands of people around the country who supported him and just wanted to see this young woman die.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised. One of the worst punishments of God that we see in the Bible occurs when He simply gives men up to their own desires. It’s almost laughable, but James 1:15 and Romans 8:13 both leave us with the harsh reality that, left to ourselves, we will absolutely and completely self-destruct.

Jeremiah 17:9 records these words when talking about the nature of man: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is incurable; who can know it?” Another translation states that the heart of man is “desperately wicked”. We should never be surprised at the wicked actions that wicked men perform when lost in their wicked natures. However, there is something in us that wants to say that man is basically ... okay. We understand that there is “none righteous, no not one”. We understand that ALL men have sinned and are, therefore, sinners. We know that because of that sin all men are rightfully destined for hell. We know that even after salvation there is a battle raging within us between the old sin nature and the new nature – the righteousness of Christ. We know that the only thing that restrains us is the Spirit of God, but even without that restraint, there is something in us that wants to believe that all men are basically good. And then, something happens to snap us back into reality.

I remember in September of 2001 that what reminded us of the desperate, incurable, deep-seated wickedness of man was the terrorist attacks on the U.S. This year it was, once again, man’s attack on the sanctity of human life, namely, the life of Theresa Marie Schiavo.

The strange thing about the legal sparring is that nobody ever disputed the FACT that Terri Schiavo was alive. There were questions raised about the quality of her life, about her wishes, about many things, but NEVER about her classification as being a living human being. This fact should have fostered many discussions about euthanasia, but those conversations were strangely lacking.

Throughout the 1990’s there was one name that dominated conversations about euthanasia: Dr. Jack Kevorkian. He assisted in over 100 suicides of mostly terminally ill patients. Some called him an agent of death, and others called him an angel of mercy. Regardless, he was sentenced to prison in 1999 for second-degree murder, and he won’t be eligible for parole until 2007. Throughout the legal wrangling over the fate of Terri Shiavo, I kept going back in my mind to this man that people dubbed “Dr. Death”.

Here was a man that was acting “on behalf” of the terminally ill in an effort to end their lives – with their consent. He would provide the means, and the patients would ultimately end their own lives. Yet he is in prison.

The purpose of this article isn’t to call for the vindication of Jack Kevorkian. Rather, it is to ask a question or two. Why is Kevorkian – a man who was clearly acting under the direction of the patients – in prison today? Perhaps a better question is, “why aren’t the judges, lawers, and Micheal Schiavo – the people who are directly responsible for the death of Terri Shiavo - in prison today?” These people fought to kill a woman that couldn’t speak for herself. Ultimately they succeeded, and in doing so, they starved her to death. This was a much more heinous act than any that Kevorkian ever committed. These folks ended another human life by denying her sustenance. They weren’t merciful in the way they destroyed her. It wasn’t instantaneous – it took nearly two weeks. It wasn’t without pain – Terri was administered morphine to deal with the pain that she was feeling as her brain dried up and her body began to shut down.

It occurred to me that the differences between Terri Schiavo and the men that saw to it that she was put to death can be boiled down to one simple fact: she wasn’t able to feed herself, these other men are. Oh yes, there’s one other difference now….Terri’s dead. We can sugar-coat it any way we choose, but the fact of the matter is Terri was executed. Why? Well, she was no longer vital. Her life no longer qualified as being a life that had any worth to it. I read an article recently on MSNBC that referred to her as “no more than the vessel in which her spirit once lived, like a music box that no longer plays”. It troubles me how boldly some can simply dismiss a human life. In fact, it makes my blood boil a bit. Who are we to determine whether a human life has lost its value and usefulness?

These proponents of death are in for a surprise. This life that they have so callously dismissed as being of no importance is proving to be of utmost importance. Never in my lifetime has there been such a rallying around the nature and sanctity of human life as there has been around Terri. While the death brigade won a small victory in this case, the war continues. Terri is dead, but the fight is far from over.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Feasting on the Battlefield.

The 23rd is truly a magnificent Psalm. Perhaps the most familiar of all the Psalms, it is one that most people have known since their childhood. People who have never been to church are familiar with the phrase, "The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want". This week I've pondered several things in this beautiful Psalm, but one of the last portions of it contains a concept I've not considered before. Psalm 23:5a (ESV) says, "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies...".

Have you ever thought about this phrase before? There is such a protection, care, and provision offered by the Lord that, in the midst of the battle, He spreads out a feast and says, "Enjoy!". I think that, too often in my life, I get caught up in the battle....the daily events of life, that I forget to feast on the goodness of our Savior. It's easy to get sidetracked, isn't it? When there are enemies on every side and foes attacking in the areas where we are the weakest, we need to remember the feast that's sitting there for us.

But there's more! That first part of this verse tells us Who prepares the feast for us......our Shepherd. It's not just a quick "grab and go" meal, either. There is a thoughtful preparation....a huge spread....a real feast. When my Dad was still alive one of his favorite phrases when he was ready to go somewhere was, "make that soup into a sandwich and get your butts moving" (that's slightly edited :) ). This is something he picked up in the Army when he was a drill sargeant. The idea was that there is something important to do or someplace pressing to go. In the military sense, there just isn't time to sit and eat...we have to scarf the food down and continue the battle! But that hurriedness isn't present in the 23rd Psalm, is it?

Right in the sight of the enemy, our Savior carefully prepares a table for us....He serves us....and we get to sit down and slowly enjoy all of it!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Another musical treat...

This may surprise some of you who have read me regularly over the last couple of years, but I don't really like CCM (Contemporary Christian Music). The underlying philosophy of the movement as a whole is flawed; much of what the industry produces is theological tripe; and many of the performers themselves seem to want to relegate Christianity to a big emotional gush-fest. No, I honestly dislike CCM as a whole. Now having said that, there are certain singers / groups / "artists" linked with CCM who I absolutely love. These are people who tend to focus heavily on the theology of their music and not so much on the cotton candy crap that tends to define most of CCM. Some of these I've spoken of on here before, while others I haven't. In this blog entry, I just want to highlight one that I've recently discovered.

Sovereign Grace Music is a ministry of Sovereign Grace Ministries, which is led by former pastor C.J. Mahaney. Now if that name sounds familiar, he is also one of the founders of the Together For the Gospel (T4G) Annual Conference. Now, Sovereign Grace features a plethora of contributors - most of whom I've never heard prior to looking through their website. The one contributor I had heard of was one of the founding members of GLAD - another old favorite of mine. I'm not so sure that SG Music would readily identify themselves with CCM, so much as they would use terms like "worship". They have a variety of sounds and styles, but they are consistent in their pursuit of pleasing God through their music. One of the statements they make regarding this is:

"For more than twenty years, Sovereign Grace Ministries has been producing songs for congregational worship. Our goal is to provide local churches with new songs characterized by biblical truth and consuming passion that honors God. While our lyrics cover a broad variety of Scriptural topics, we continually return to God’s glory revealed in Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross—the gospel. Our hearts and lives have been transformed by the Savior, and we can’t help singing about what is “of first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3–4). Like Charles Wesley, we wish we had “a thousand tongues to sing our great Redeemer’s praise.” We pray the songs we write will produce the same desire in you and your church, for the glory of God."

I would encourage you to check them out some time. I've purchased and dowloaded several of their songs from both I-Tunes and Walmart online....obviously you can purchase them directly from their website as well. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Everything's going to be OK.

He won. I doubt anybody was really surprised at the results….it seemed inevitable. In my opinion, there are three things that sealed the fate of Senator McCain (aside from a campaign that seemed poorly managed). First of all, there was the selection of Sarah Palin as running mate. While this certainly energized the base, it seemed more like a stunt than a well thought out decision. Secondly, there was the George Bush factor. Aside from being the least popular President in history, he is arguable the second worst in modern history (Jimmy Carter topping the list). While people like to point fingers at outside circumstances, Party leaders, and other things; the fact is that under his Presidency America has become a less stable country than it was 8 years ago. Job markets are down, bankruptcy is up, the housing market collapsed, the national debt is at an all-time high, and we are engaged in two separate wars. His message to Americans the day after 9/11 was “take a vacation and spend some money” – during the last great American war, the message was “sacrifice”. I could go on, but you get the picture. The fact that McCain is a member of the same political Party as Bush handicapped him from the get-go. Frankly, it would have been shocking for America to elect a Republican President again this year. The third thing that hurt McCain was really the death blow to his chances – he seemed to be overcoming these other two items fine (against all odds). That third issue was the melt-down of our financial markets. I’m not sure that it’s fair for McCain to have taken the hit for this, but he did and it sealed the deal for Senator Obama.

So, what now? I’ve been reading Christian bloggers as well as comments to Christian blogs around the internet and there seems to be an overwhelming fear, sadness, and even anger over the fact that, in a couple of months we will be saying the words “President Obama”. I’m going to make a bold prediction here, folks…..are you ready for it? Here it is:


Presidents tend to go toward the center once in office. Even Senator Obama became more and more “centrist” as the campaign wore on. Granted, he will push some clearly leftist social policies, and he will almost certainly offer up some extremely liberal fiscal policies (not exactly a major change), but our world will likely not change all that much. Think about the last 6 or so Presidents. Outside of Jimmy Carter all these guys worked hard with the other side. Even President Bush did that during his first term (not so much during his second term, though). We’ll know more about how Senator Obama’s Presidency will look in the next week or so as he begins to name his Cabinet. I think you can expect to hear some names like Joe Lieberman and some moderate Republicans and Democrats named to it. If I’m wrong and he names a completely liberal Cabinet….well, we’ll only have him in office for one term.

In the mean time, friends, take heart! The world was supposed to end when President Clinton was elected, but that ended up not being so bad after all. I’ve heard and seen people make claims that President-elect Obama is a radical, Israel hating, un-American, socialistic, communistic, United States hating, terrorist loving, fanatic. I have news for you…..those sorts of guys don’t get elected to become President. Besides, if all that were actually true, his Presidency wouldn’t even last a full term.

On the positive side of this whole thing, it was certainly a privilege to be able to witness such an historical election during my lifetime. Despite all my major quibbles with Obama’s stances on several key social and moral issues, I wish him well. He’s inheriting perhaps the biggest messes that any President has inherited during my lifetime. He’s got a tough job ahead of him, not the least of which is attempting to live up to all the hype. I hope and pray that his is a good Presidency…one of peace and prosperity to this nation.

On a personal note, not many people know that I was born in Mississippi. As a child I spent nearly every summer in one of the more racially intense parts of the state – “Mississippi Burning” territory. Racial segregation was still a way of life down there even 20 – 25 years ago. When I was 10 years old (25 years ago) all the pools in town were “private”. That meant that only paying “members” were allowed in. I was a white kid who wasn’t a member, but I could get in to any pool I wanted. During my teenage years I made several black friends there on the basketball court. When I would go to the pool to swim, these friends would always come by, stand outside the fence, and talk to us….it was normal to them. The white kids got to swim in the nice pools in town; the black kids got to swim in the rivers and creeks. This was indicative of the attitudes of the time….the black man was simply not on the same level as the white man.

When I was back there last year for my Grandmother’s funeral, I noticed that a lot had changed. The old remnants of hard-core segregation are a little more difficult to see now. While there are still some racial tensions there, it’s not as overt or intense. The black man is generally not treated as a second-class citizen there these days. All that said, I’ll have to admit that there’s a part of me that is truly thrilled to see a black man elected as President of the United States of America. It’s historic. While I didn’t stay up to watch many of the election results come in last night, I caught some of the morning news shows this morning. It was moving to see the emotional reactions. A camera panned to Jesse Jackson – a man who spent a lot of time working with MLK during the height of the Civil Rights movement. He was in tears as he was hit with the realization that the first black President of the United States had just been elected. Regardless of how I feel about Jackson or Obama, it was a moving picture. This moment in American history is one we can applaud…one that, when our grandchildren ask about it, we’ll be able to say….”I was there”.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Take THAT!!!

I often wonder how and why those in Christendom have become so critical and, dare I say, hateful towards others. I’ve seen it so often over the years – be it in “back room meetings”, or with off-handed comments, or even with direct assaults from the pulpit – many Christians seem to take a perverse glee in the failure and short-comings of others. There is a condescending, smug, “I told you so” attitude….almost a sense of validation when an “enemy” falters. I remember three and a half years ago, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans right in the mouth, there was a reaction in many Christian circles that was somewhat akin to rejoicing! This is perverse, un-Christian, and downright uncharitable.

Before someone indicates otherwise, I’m not trying to construct some straw-man so that I can attack and systematically tear apart some faceless stereotype. These wicked reactions are reactions that I’ve seen first-hand. Unfortunately, I see it with increasing regularity. I don’t wish to politicize this particular blog entry, but can you imagine what the “Christian” response would be should Barack Obama win the election and then have something tragic happen to him? The only reason there wouldn’t be dancing in the streets is because we don’t dance!

I heard of a situation recently where a small church had an “enemy” within the community leadership. When it was revealed that this community leader had done some illegal and unethical things, and had subsequently lost his job and was facing some legal repercussions, the reaction of the pastor and congregation in that church wasn’t exactly charitable. Rather than reaching out in love to this disgraced man, there was an announcement made in the church regarding the specifics of the situation. While there wasn’t “applause”, per se, there was laughter from the congregants and a peculiar smugness from the pulpit. Several words come to mind when I see and hear of this sort of behavior: Words like, reprehensible, disgraceful, wicked, fleshly……The only upside in this situation is that it occurred during a church service in which there weren’t any “non-regulars” in attendance.

So why have so many of us come to the place where we have forgotten one of the most basic concepts of Christianity – love? We don’t “love our enemies”, neither do we “bless those that seek our destruction”; instead, we hate them. We long for their destruction and we laugh at their calamity. Unfortunately, it gets even worse when those that fall into ruin (or just go a different way) happen to be some of the “good guys”.

A family leaves a local church because the church leadership has taken a hard line stance on something like music and the family finds that the stance of the church leadership is beyond the bounds of Scripture. Regardless of how “quietly” the family leaves, the first reaction of many is, “Well they weren’t really serious about serving the Lord anyway. They’ll learn in a few years when they lose their kids”.

A prominent Bible college closes and the first reaction of some Christians is, “Well if they hadn’t let their standards slip all those years ago…”

I wrote an article recently lamenting the fact that we just don’t seem to be involved in our communities….we don’t tend to make a difference. I think that maybe I’ve come to understand why. We aren’t involved and making a difference because we don’t care! It’s much easier to lob grenades and echo (in a more pious way) the words of the Pharisee, “Thank God that we’re not like them.” It’s hard to reach the world for Christ when we are too busy staring down our noses at it. We criticize those that are different and, quite frankly, we just watch them….waiting for them to fall. And as soon as they do, what’s the reaction? We pounce on them!

I’ll be honest, friends….I’m tired of the whole mess.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"Who should I vote for?" or "Does it really matter?"

With Election Day only 3 weeks away, the rhetoric is soaring to new heights for this election cycle. Expect more mud slinging, more dirt, more snippets from the past of the all four individuals involved (as well as their families in some cases), more denial, more deflection, and more cries of "foul". In the end, someone will win their bid for the White House, and someone will lose. Democracy will win out once again, as the will of the American people is enacted.

Around the country there will be lots of sad people on November 5th. Many will complain about the winner and see it as an opportunity to proclaim that things are going to get worse than ever before. We will see a new crop of bumper stickers with the clever quip, “Don’t blame me…I voted for _____________” (whoever loses this one). But in this election – just like 2004 – there is no way that any of us actually wins. What we will end up with is a different manifestation of the same old crap: bigger government, more socialism enacted, and the continued demise of capitalism.

When it comes to this election and who to vote for, the question is, “which guy is not quite as unpalatable as the other guy?” Is it the guy who will hit us square between the eyes with a socialist agenda that is completely undisguised; or is it the guy who will let it creep in slower? Is it the guy who wants massively big government from day 1 and will mince no words about it; or is it the guy who says he wants smaller government while voting to expand governmental authority into an increasingly larger portion of the private sector? Is it the guy who favors all abortions; or is it the guy who favors only some abortions? Is it the young black guy with an old white guy at his side; or is it the old white guy with a young white girl at his side? Is it the guy who has questionable relationships with some shady characters in his past who were terrorists; or is it the guy who has questionable relationships with some shady characters in his past who defrauded tens of thousands of people out of their money? Is it the guy whose wife has said some very unfavorable things about the USA; or is it the guy who began dating his wife while he was married to another woman? Is it the guy who will say anything to get elected (I’m raising taxes, but nobody will actually be affected); or is it they guy who will do anything to get elected (Sarah Palin for VP???)? Will you vote for Barack Obama, or will you vote for John McCain?

The rhetoric swinging around Christian circles right now about which candidate to vote for is somewhat humorous to me. People (some good people, by the way) are actually contending that there is no way that a Christian can vote for Barack Obama and still maintain a right relationship with God! In other words, the only option for the Christian vote is the McCain / Palin ticket…..this is so laughable that I actually chuckled out loud when I typed it out! Now the logic goes something like this, “God certainly wouldn’t want a Christian to vote for Obama – he wants to make all abortions legal, for goodness sake! So we have to vote for McCain so that Obama doesn’t win.” Now the only issue I have with this “air tight logic” is that one is left with the notion that God would want us to vote for McCain – in other words, we have managed to put God in the position of endorsing John McCain and not Barack Obama – both wicked men with lies, deception, and half-truths carefully woven into the very fabric of their advertising campaigns and stump speeches. I think we’d better be careful before making assertions that a vote for Obama is essentially a mark of defiance toward God.

So the question of this blog entry is, “Can a Christian vote for Obama?” My short answer is….“Why not?” I for one am choosing not to vote for the Obama / Biden ticket. But I’m also not voting for the McCain / Palin ticket. I’ve got major quibbles with both of these choices. Frankly, I don’t know enough about any Third Party candidates to make an informed choice there, so I’ll be exercising my option to not vote at all this election. When it’s all said and done and all the smoke has cleared, we’re all going to wake up to a new President who can’t possibly make us any worse off than our current one has. The sun will still rise, we’ll still be able to go to church and preach the Gospel, and the politicians will all still be what they are. In the meantime, let’s not presume to be able to judge another’s spiritual condition by their vote this election.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Life on an island....

I’ve struggled for some years now through the issue of what “church” is supposed to be all about. Now I understand that, as a general rule, the church service(s) is typically a time for edifying, equipping, encouraging, and educating the members of that particular assembly. What I’m speaking of in this blog entry however, is the actual mission of the local church.

I’ve spent most of my life sitting in churches that are, more or less, islands unto themselves. The problem with this is that, although the view is great, the only interaction tends to be with the few people that already live on your little island. Even the churches I’ve been part of that have a bus ministry and visitation program tend to be the same types of islands. If somebody actually joins the church, they will typically look like the rest of the people who are there, and they will typically be part of the same basic income class as that of the general membership of that particular assembly. I don’t mean any of this as a criticism; this is merely my subjective evaluation and an opinion based on 30 years or so of observation. But I find myself asking, with increasing regularity, some version of the same nagging question: “what are we doing?”

The ministry of the typical local church (IFB) tends to be primarily geared towards the membership of that particular local church. Now, I’m not speaking of the regular weekly services here…..obviously, those should be geared towards the membership. However, if we take a look at the standard church and analyze the various ministries of that church, I think we will find that, even in her ministries, the local church is not typically attempting to fill any real need within the community. In my church for instance, we have activities for young adults, married adults, teenagers, and seniors. In the summer months we have camp, VBS, and teen VBS. While all of these are good things and often centered on a time looking at the Scriptures, they are not really geared towards meeting any needs within the community. Lest you think that I am criticizing these ministries, let me say that I appreciate these types of ministries and I view them as vital for the local church. The sense of community as well as the fellowship offered in these informal times is extremely valuable.

What I’m driving at is this: Why aren’t we getting involved in the community? Why is there not a concerted effort at reaching those who need reached most and attempting to fill a need by meeting the people where they are? How many churches have you seen that are involved in addictions recovery programs and teen pregnancy crisis centers? How many are reaching out to the outcasts and hurting in the community? You know, the people who nobody really wants. How many are involved in hard-core prison ministries – not just preaching once a month, but working with the inmates to get them ready for society? We tend to get so focused on making everything look so perfect within our own house that we miss the fact that the surrounding neighborhood looks like a war zone with all the consequential devastation, poverty, and ugliness that accompanies it!

Outreach is more than leaving a tract on the restaurant table with your tip. To tell you the truth, I dislike the term “outreach” because of the images that immediately pop up in our minds. Instead, I prefer the term “true ministry”. True ministry involves reaching out to the hurting, helpless, and hopeless. It involves getting dirty. It might involve getting out of your comfort zone a bit. It’s easy to sit in our church pew and “amen” the notion that the world has gone to hell and we need to avoid all the damnable trappings that come with it. It’s quite another to get out into the world and do something that makes a difference for Christ.

We pray for our leaders and we pray for our communities, but we make no relationships with them. As a matter of fact, most of the churches with whom I’ve been identified for most of my life have earned a solid reputation of not being involved in the community. The pathetic part of it is the fact that we take some sort of twisted pride in that reputation. The fact that the surrounding community knows us by what we don’t do rather than what we do is something we wear as a badge of honor. We’ve taken a principle of being separated from worldliness and twisted it to mean that we need to be completely uninvolved with the world. I’ve known of precious few local churches in my life that have made true inroads and made legitimate impacts in their communities…at least within IFB-dom. Instead, we tend to sit on our butts and criticize the churches who are trying to make a difference in the community as being liberal, compromising, false teachers who have no concept of holiness.

I guess this article is meant to be more of a challenge than anything. What am I doing to impact my community for Christ? What is my church doing to impact this community for Christ? These are good and convicting questions for each of us to ask. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that in many more cases than not, the answers to those questions is “nothing”. I’ve gotten some very “righteous sounding” answers to these questions before….answers about being “salt and light”. However, being salt and light in a community involves much more than good, clean, moral, ethical living…..that’s not all that difficult. As a matter of fact, I run into good, moral – yet unregenerate – people all the time. Being salt and light involves taking the extra step in order to effect major change in the lives of those around you. It involves people seeing the Lord Jesus reflected in your every action. How can we attempt imitate Him without a concentrated effort of reaching out to the dredges of society? The picture we see of Christ in the Gospels involves Him reaching out to some of the saddest, most desperate characters out there…..the “least of these”, so to speak.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

My Take on the Republican National Convention...

The Republican National Convention (RNC) was the news topic of the last week. Although the Convention was shortened and modified as a result of Hurricane Gustav, it was, overall, a solid Convention. My review will be similar to my last article on the DNC. The GOP didn't put up nearly as many "non-primetime" speakers as the Dem's did. Most of the lesser known speakers were much more difficult to listen to than were the Democrat's choices. That was due in large part to the placement of the teleprompters I think. They were spread so far apart that the speakers had to turn their entire bodies to be able to see each teleprompter on queue.

I will make one other observation here. This is kind of humorous, yet maybe not so much. The Convention had the "look" of your typical fundy church: a whole bunch of well-dressed white people. The men had their hair parted perfectly, the two main families had 12 children between them, and nobody had any a matter of fact, when music with a beat started, everybody looked a bit uncomfortable trying to figure out how to respond! So with that:


Monday night was given to fund-raising efforts for Hurricane relief as well as some of the obligatory formalities to mark the Conventions official start. I didn't catch the speeches, but First Lady Laura Bush as well as potential First Lady Cindy McCain both spoke. Nothing political though. The entire evening was given to Hurricane relief and concern for other Americans. This really served to set the tone for the entire Convention as the organizers set out to present this Republican Party as the truly American Party.


Tuesday was highlighted by two speakers: Senator Joe Lieberman and former Senator Fred Thompson. Thompson spoke first and delivered a solid speech on the life and service of John McCain. Before he got to that, though, he spoke briefly of Governor Sarah Palin. One of his statements, "Let's be clear ... the selection of Governor Palin has the other side and their friends in the media in a state of panic. She is a courageous, successful, reformer, who is not afraid to take on the establishment", began a theme that would resonate through most of the Convention.....the negative treatment of the GOP in general, and Palin specifically, by the media. More on that later.

Thompson went on to spell out in great detail some of the specifics of John McCain's imprisonment in Vietnam. The story was moving and shocking in its detail. Thompson summed it up with these words: "Now, being a POW certainly doesn't qualify anyone to be President. But it does reveal character. This is the kind of character that civilizations from the beginning of history have sought in their leaders. Strength. Courage. Humility. Wisdom. Duty. Honor. It's pretty clear there are two questions we will never have to ask ourselves, 'Who is this man?' and 'Can we trust this man with the Presidency?'" Thompson's speech wasn't especially dynamic, but it was effectively done. He laid out the groundwork for several themes that would be present in the coming days. He presented McCain as, not just a "maverick" but as a man of character, bravery, dignity, strength, and courage. His speech was convincing and solid.

Next up on Tuesday night was Senator Joe Lieberman. Now this was one of the most intriguing speeches of either Convention and certainly one for the history books. Lieberman, a registered Democrat who caucuses with the Dem's in the Senate, was the Democratic nominee for Vice-President 8 short years ago. During his speech he even managed to get the delegation to applaud (ever so politely) former President Bill Clinton! But aside from the remarkable nature of his even speaking at the RNC was the nature of his speech. Word got out from McCain's people that Senator Lieberman's speech would be like nothing you've ever seen at a Convention before, and they were right. Lieberman, who was expected to give a plea for unity between the two parties, actually went further than that. He addressed Independent and Democratic voters specifically and said he understood their unease with Obama and then he explained - quite well - why he thinks they should vote for McCain. In one brief sentence he put an argument that the Democrats spent their entire week trying to make, square on its ear: "My Democratic friends know all about John’s record of independence and accomplishment. Maybe that’s why some of them are spending so much time and so much money trying to convince voters that John McCain is someone else. I’m here, as a Democrat myself, to tell you: Don’t be fooled." The entire week of the DNC, speech after speech tried to paint McCain as being nothing more than an older version of President George W. Bush, yet Lieberman - a Democrat himself - states that it's just not so. He concluded with an appeal to his fellow Democrats who, he claims, are very uneasy about Obama: "I ask you whether you are an Independent, a Reagan Democrat or a Clinton Democrat, or just a Democrat: This year, when you vote for President, vote for the person you believe is best for the country, not for the party you happen to belong to." In all, Lieberman's speech was powerful. Time will tell just how effective it was, but I was certainly blown away as I watched this man (who reminds me of the dad from that old television show "Alf") deliver a speech that might have effectively ended his political career.


Four key speakers were given the platform on Wednesday night - three of them the key competition that McCain had throughout the Republican primaries; Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and Rudy Giuliani. The fourth - and most intriguing - speaker was Alaskan Governor and Vice-Presidential nominee, Sarah Palin. I'll mention briefly Giuliani's speech and then Palin's.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani struck me as more of a "roastmaster" than he did a Convention key-note speaker, but he made some very good points drew a stark contrast between McCain and Obama. Calling this a race of "substance versus style" and "experience versus inexperience". In speaking of Obama's lack of leadership experience, Giuliani concluded that "...This is not a personal attack ... .it's a statement of fact - Barack Obama has never led anything. Nothing. Nada." In speaking of Obam's decision making ability, Giuliani said, "Obama was going to take public financing for his campaign, until he didn't. Obama was against wiretapping before he voted for it. When speaking to a pro-Israel group, Obama favored an undivided Jerusalem. Until the very next day when he changed his mind. I hope for his sake, Joe Biden got that VP thing in writing." Clever! I think the best statement of his speech had to do with the Russia / Georgia crisis of a few weeks ago. "When Russia rolled over Georgia, John McCain knew exactly how to respond. Having been to that part of the world many times and having developed a clear worldview over many years, John knew where he stood. Within hours, he established a very strong, informed position that let the world know exactly how he'll respond as President. At exactly the right time, John McCain said, "We're all Georgians." Obama's first instinct was to create a moral equivalency - that "both sides" should "show restraint." The same moral equivalency that he has displayed in discussing the Palestinian Authority and the State of Israel. Later, after discussing it with his 300 foreign policy advisers, he changed his position and suggested that the "the UN Security Council," could find a solution. Apparently, none of his 300 advisers told him that Russia has a veto on any UN action. Finally Obama put out a statement that looked ... well, it looked a lot like John McCain's. Here's some free advice: Sen. Obama, next time just call John McCain." Good stuff....Giuliani concluded and had given what I expected to be the best, most exciting, rousing speech of the RNC. I was wrong.

After Giuliani spoke, America was to get her first view of Governor Sarah Palin on the national stage. She absolutely delivered. The Vice-Presidential nominee is generally used at the Party Conventions as a an "attack dog" for the other parties Presidential nominee. Senator Biden was extremely successful in this role at the DNC, but Sarah Palin was certainly not going to be outdone. Most of us were hoping she would just get through the speech without falling on her face...well, I guess you could say that she managed to stay upright!

Palin gave a very brief biography of herself and then moved in for the attack. Her best soundbites were spoken early in the speech and were absolutely terrific. In the now famous paragraph, which began her litany of statements ripping on Obama, she said, "I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a "community organizer," except that you have actual responsibilities. I might add that in small towns, we don't quite know what to make of a candidate who lavishes praise on working people when they are listening, and then talks about how bitterly they cling to their religion and guns when those people aren't listening. We tend to prefer candidates who don't talk about us one way in Scranton and another way in San Francisco." This was absolutely priceless in that she, not only made her perceived lack of experience to appear as being greater than Obama's, but she also made one of Obama's top selling points look ridiculous and then she brought back to our minds one of the more foolish statements that any Presidential candidate has ever made. After this, Palin really got wound up, "We've all heard his dramatic speeches before devoted followers. "And there is much to like and admire about our opponent. "But listening to him speak, it's easy to forget that this is a man who has authored two memoirs but not a single major law or reform - not even in the state senate. "This is a man who can give an entire speech about the wars America is fighting, and never use the word "victory" except when he's talking about his own campaign. But when the cloud of rhetoric has passed ... when the roar of the crowd fades away ... when the stadium lights go out, and those Styrofoam Greek columns are hauled back to some studio lot - what exactly is our opponent's plan? What does he actually seek to accomplish, after he's done turning back the waters and healing the planet? The answer is to make government bigger ... take more of your money ... give you more orders from Washington ... and to reduce the strength of America in a dangerous world. America needs more energy ... our opponent is against producing it. "Victory in Iraq is finally in sight ... he wants to forfeit. "Terrorist states are seeking new-clear weapons without delay ... he wants to meet them without preconditions. "Al Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America ... he's worried that someone won't read them their rights? Government is too big ... he wants to grow it. "Congress spends too much ... he promises more. "Taxes are too high ... he wants to raise them."

In all, Palin gave the most dynamic speech of the RNC. As a matter of fact, I think that her speech was more dynamic than any given at the DNC. The most significant part of the speech to me was the fact that, without really saying the words, Palin essentially told the media that they weren't going to get to her. I would say that she shocked the political world and definitely set herself up as a chief player in the political scene for years to come. I've always assumed that Hillary Clinton would be the first woman President of the United States.....I'm not so sure anymore.


This was John McCain's big night. His wife introduced him and he appeared in grand fashion. Senator McCain delivered a speech that was largely - and predictably - boring. About 20 minutes into the speech, however, he began to tell his story. I've heard bits and pieces of McCain's POW experience over the years, but I've never heard it from him. As he told of the beatings and of them breaking him and his shame and pain....well, it was one of the most moving moments of either Convention.

Before he told of his Vietnam experience, Senator McCain spelled out some of the differences between him and Senator Obama and, indeed, between the Republicans and the Democrats: "I will keep taxes low and cut them where I can. My opponent will raise them. I will open new markets to our goods and services. My opponent will close them. I will cut government spending. He will increase it. My tax cuts will create jobs. His tax increases will eliminate them. My health care plan will make it easier for more Americans to find and keep good health care insurance. His plan will force small businesses to cut jobs, reduce wages, and force families into a government run health care system where a bureaucrat stands between you and your doctor." Throughout this first portion of the speech, McCain never used the word "socialist" when referring to Obama, but it was pretty easy to catch the drift! His comparison of his education plan to that of Obama was powerful and brilliant.

Some of the more brilliant lines of McCain's speech were lines that showed his humanity. Statements such as, "I've been an imperfect servant of my country....", and "I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else's", and the very powerful statement, "I’m not running for president because I think I’m blessed with such personal greatness that history has anointed me to save our country in its hour of need. My country saved me. My country saved me, and I cannot forget it. And I will fight for her for as long as I draw breath, so help me God." McCain successfully, in my opinion, did away with the notion that he would be "more of the same" by acknowledging that the Republican party has let the American people down. He didn't openly criticize the Bush Administration, but he certainly hinted at it strongly.

Senator McCain ended his speech with a rousing chorus that got the "troops" all worked up. It was an extremely powerful, dynamic, and moving scene as he spoke the following words above an increasingly loudly cheering delegation:

"I’m going to fight for my cause every day as your President. I’m going to fight to make sure every American has every reason to thank God, as I thank Him: that I’m an American, a proud citizen of the greatest country on earth, and with hard work, strong faith and a little courage, great things are always within our reach. Fight with me. Fight with me. "Fight for what’s right for our country. "Fight for the ideals and character of a free people. "Fight for our children’s future. "Fight for justice and opportunity for all. "Stand up to defend our country from its enemies. "Stand up for each other; for beautiful, blessed, bountiful America. "Stand up, stand up, stand up and fight. Nothing is inevitable here. We’re Americans, and we never give up. We never quit. We never hide from history. We make history. "Thank you, and God Bless you."

It was a moving a scene and a great end to the Convention. I don't think that the RNC was nearly as exciting and fluid as the DNC, but it certainly had it's moments. The "one-two punch" of Giuliani and Palin on Wednesday was better than any combination that the Democrats put together. Palin's speech was more exciting than any of the speeches from the DNC and McCain's speech was the richest speech that either Convention offered. I think the next 60 days will certainly be exciting and, for the first time in a while, I'm thinking that the GOP might just pull this one out!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

My take on the Democratic National Convention.

This entire last week was devoted (news-wise) to the Democratic National Convention (DNC) and the anointing of their candidate, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois. As a whole, I thought the convention went quite nicely for the Dems, despite a pretty boring first day. I doubt that the enthusiasm and intensity of the last night will be duplicated by the GOP next week, but that remains to be seen. I've undergone some interesting changes in the last several years. I've always followed politics somewhat and I've been watching the Conventions (both sides) since I was a teen. However, this is the first time that I've watched the Democratic Convention without getting ticked about everything they said! There are two reasons for this, I think:

First of all, I've come to realize that these are not "bad people" - at least no worse than anybody else. As a matter of fact, I've come to appreciate the passion they have for their country. Granted, I think they are missing the mark on several key issues, but these are people we are truly love their country and want it to be the best it can be. Secondly, the Democrats (at least this go around) are bringing up some extremely valid points. I find myself aligned more closely with the Democrats on some issues than I am with the GOP. This is not enough to get me to cast a vote their way, but I do cheer as they make their case on some issues. Bringing these things to the debate floor is certainly healthy and will (hopefully) bring some much needed reform to several parts of our government regardless of who wins this year.

I watched as much of the DNC this last week as I could. I caught a lot of speeches from people I'd never heard of - some good, some lousy, some outstanding. The only "headliner" I didn't get to hear was Al Gore, but I read the entire text of his speech later. What follows are my thoughts from each day.


There was only one "non-headlining" speech that got my attention. But before I get to that one, I'll mention one of the more disappointing "under card" speeches. I had never really heard her speak before, but when the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi of California, came to the lectern....I guess I was expecting something exciting. I was sorely disappointed. Her speech was mind-numbing, both in content and delivery. How she continues to win her seat back each election cycle is a mystery to me.....

The one under card speech that got my attention was Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr. of Illinois. I liked his enthusiasm and delivery and, while he only spoke for a few minutes, he delivered a very encouraging and upbeat speech. Towards the end he said, "I know that while America may not be perfect, our union can always be perfected. I know what we can achieve when good people with strong convictions come together around a common purpose. And I know what a great leader can do to help us find common ground." Good stuff.

The mains speech of the night was supposed to be Michelle Obama (wife of the candidate) but she ended up getting "upstaged" by the surprise appearance of Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts. The tribute to Senator Kennedy was moving and his subsequent appearance on stage gave the night a much needed emotional boost. I have a lot of respect for Senator Kennedy. He's a reminder of a different era in America. He had that ringside seat as his brothers guided us through the Cuban missile crisis. He's seen tragedy after tragedy after tragedy in his family. One brother killed in a war, two others slain by the assassins bullet, and a nephew tragically killed in a plane crash. Yet through it all, Senator Kennedy has continued to serve his country. Off hand I don't know if I can think of a single social issue upon which the Senator and I could find common ground, but that doesn't detract from the respect I have for this individual who has given his entire life to public service. His speech was powerful and surprisingly energetic. You could almost seem the life rushing into him more fully as the audience cheered him on. This was likely the last DNC that the Senator will be alive to take part in, but it may well have been his most memorable performance. His strongest line was, "Yes, we are Americans. This is what we do. We reach the moon. We scale the heights. I know it. I've seen it. I've lived it. And we can do it again. There is a new wave of change all around us- and if we set our compass true, we will reach our destination-not merely victory for our party, but renewal for our nation." Poetic and motivating.

The headliner on Monday was Michelle Obama. Frankly, I found nothing remarkable about her speech. She speaks extremely well - terrific delivery and expression, although she seemed uncomfortable with the teleprompter. We learned a bit about her and how she met her husband, but not much else. Although all the networks seemed to be gushing over her and her delivery, I think it quite forgettable. But I also know that she's not the politician in the family! The scene that played out afterwords with her little daughters on stage with microphones talking to their father (via satellite) was precious and quite cute. That moment may well have saved her speech!


I'll only mention a couple of speeches from Tuesday.

First of all, Tuesday was the day that my Governor, Kathleen Sebelius, spoke. I thought she did a horrible job. She's given better performances and better speeches.

One speech that I enjoyed, not so much for delivery or content, was that of Robert Casey, Jr. A decidedly pro-life Democrat who touched briefly on that position. He spoke close to the prime-time speeches, so it was certainly a calculated move by the Dem's to show that the pro-choice stance isn't necessarily something that all Dem's need to follow in lock-step.

Now obviously, Tuesday night was dubbed "Hillary's night". But right before she got up to speak a little-known Governor from Montana spoke. His name was Brian Schweitzer. He is a rancher who came to the lectern with cowboy boots and loose bolo tie. He had too many good lines to pick just one to put on here, but his energy and enthusiasm was great! I found myself laughing out loud as he started to get the crowd energized. The C-Span camera kept going to former-President Clinton during Schweitzer's speech and you could see his interest changing the longer the speech went. When Governor Schwietzer first began to speak very few people were paying attention (this is pretty common at these conventions....most folks carry on their own conversations until the headliners take the stage). But the longer Schweitzer spoke, the more people listened. Pretty soon they were all cheering and chanting along with him, "4 more years? How about 4 more weeks.....4 more weeks....4 more weeks.....". By the time he left the lectern, people were cheering, laughing, yelling, and whistling. And nearly everybody who saw the speech thought, "Wow! I'd like to make friends with that guy!" He breathed life into a convention that was, up until that point, fairly flat.

The headliner of the night was Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. This was a much anticipated speech, given the nature of the tight run she had against Obama throughout the primaries. This was maybe the best speech she's ever given. Her delivery was phenomenal and she seemed to connect with the entire assembly there. Her speech seemed almost Presidential and, indeed, some even said afterward that she was "hedging her bets" so to speak....ensuring that she had a clear path for 2012 should Obama lose this year. She didn't have a whole lot to say about Obama, but instead focused on her achievements. She said just enough about Obama to make it appear that the speech was about supporting him. I'm guessing that, by the time she was done, the majority of Democrats around the country collectively said, "Oops"!


Wednesday was "officially" the night that the Democratic candidate for Vice-President was to speak and accept the VP nomination. However, it was perhaps the most memorable night of the convention highlighted by 3 of the best speeches.

First of all there was Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. Senator Kerry was the Democratic nominee for President who lost to President Bush 4 years ago. I never heard him give a speech during that election that was as good as the one he gave on Wednesday night. His comparison of "Senator McCain" to "Candidate McCain" was absolutely brilliant! The best line of the speech was, "Candidate McCain now supports the wartime tax cuts that Senator McCain once denounced as immoral. Candidate McCain criticizes Senator McCain’s own climate change bill. Candidate McCain says he would now vote against the immigration bill that Senator McCain wrote. Are you kidding? Talk about being for it before you’re against it. Let me tell you, before he ever debates Barack Obama, John McCain should finish the debate with himself." This was brilliant! He even managed to turn one of his most colossal mis-statements of the '04 election around on McCain.

My nest favorite speech was actually two speeches. Both Beau Biden and his father Senator Joe Biden of Delaware - the Democratic VP nominee. Beau Biden's speech, when coupled with the tribute video to his father, was powerful. It would be impossible not to watch those scenes without respecting Senator Biden's dedication to his family - even above politics, it would seem. When Senator Biden got up to speak, I found myself wanting him to do well.....and he did. As the speech kept going and you saw the depth of the man, you began to think that maybe Democrats should be running a ticket that has Biden on top rather than Obama. He ended his speech with these words, "Millions of Americans have been knocked down. And this is the time as Americans, together, we get back up. Our people are too good, our debt to our parents and grandparents too great, our obligation to our children is too sacred. These are extraordinary times. This is an extraordinary election. The American people are ready. I’m ready. Barack Obama is ready. This is his time. This is our time. This is America’s time." Biden did a great job of showing the stark differences between the two parties. It was an impressive speech.

Perhaps the greatest speech of the entire Convention took place earlier in the evening. It was a short speech, but a good one. The last Democratic President and the only two-term Democratic President still living, Bill Clinton. There was a lot of intrigue leading up to his speech because of the various news leaks detailing the fact that Obama and him just do not like one another. Reportedly, both the Clinton and Obama camps were afraid that there was a chance that the former President might actually get booed when he took the platform.....such fears were quickly put to rest by a three-and-a-half minute standing ovation. He delivered several powerful lines and towards the end of the speech had his most memorable, "They actually want us to reward them for the last eight years by giving them four more. Let’s send them a message that will echo from the Rockies all across America: Thanks, but no thanks. In this case, the third time is not the charm. My fellow Democrats, sixteen years ago, you gave me the profound honor to lead our party to victory and to lead our nation to a new era of peace and broadly shared prosperity. Together, we prevailed in a campaign in which the Republicans said I was too young and too inexperienced to be Commander-in-Chief. Sound familiar? It didn’t work in 1992, because we were on the right side of history. And it won’t work in 2008, because Barack Obama is on the right side of history." Like him or not, Bill Clinton can certainly deliver a speech.


This was Obama's night. It was to be an historic occasion marked with much pomp. I missed most of the speeches, but have heard soundtracks and read transcripts. Al Gore seemed more animated than he did during the 2000 election...his many plays on words seemed to border on the ludicrous (at least in the transcript of the speech). I was a bit disappointed to see and Susan Eisenhower - a woman with blood ties to both Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon - giving a speech in support of Obama. It would be like Caroline Kennedy showing up at the RNC next's just not right.

Barack Obama was the star on Thursday (obviously). The moved the Convention out to the open air Invesco Field on this night. One of the unspoken reasons, in my opinion, was to move the Convention from being a "Clinton Convention" to being an "Obama Convention". The immaculate set was a bit over the top and there was certainly a "rock star" quality to the entire spectacle. I listened to many of the analysts at the more liberal networks fawning over Obama after the speech saying that he'd finally answered his Republican critics who said that he never tells us how he is going to get anything done. His supporters in the media said that he listed nearly 30 specific policy items in detail. In actuality, Obama listed a lot of things he would do, but there was little detail to it. The speech was unremarkable, but the display was quite remarkable. A lavish set complete with fireworks and Stevie Wonder - it was certainly made for television. Some of Obama's soundbites were quite good. For instance, when he said, "Enough!", I said, "Ooohhhh, that was good." Later, in speaking about McCain voting with Bush 90% of the time he said, "Senator McCain likes to talk about judgment, but really, what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush has been right more than ninety percent of the time? I don't know about you, but I'm not ready to take a ten percent chance on change." Well that was quite clever.

While Obama didn't get into too much detail about any of his stances, he certainly did a decent job of drawing a clear line between what McCain stands for versus what he stands for (at least on selected issues). I was honestly expecting a more enthusiastic speech than he delivered. There was one point where it appeared he was about to beginning "channelling" Dr. King, but he quickly backed off. I suspect that McCain is going to cream Obama in the debates....Obama is the better speaker, but McCain won't let him get away with his "cotton candy" approach to an answer (all fluff with no real content).

I am eagerly anticipating the RNC this upcoming week. The McCain/Palin ticket is an interesting one, to be sure. I'm a bit nervous about Sarah Palin.....we'll see how she does this week with her first real "big stage" speech. And in case some of my remarks here have made you curious......McCain / Palin 2008!!!!!

Friday, August 29, 2008

"We've got spirit, yes we do....."

Back in the early - mid 90's I spent several years working at Christian camps. One of the things I enjoyed most was the cheering.....we would always try to get our team to drown out the sound that the other team was making by utilizing high-octane, loud, annoying screaming.....we had words and rhythm to go along with the screaming and that was enough to allow us to call it cheering!

Now I was a natural for this. As a matter of fact, most of the pictures of me during those three years managed to capture me with my mouth wide-open as I was doing my part to keep the intensity surging through our team. It was great fun and it was very important to me that my team was louder than the other team. If the other team was creaming us, we didn't take it for long! We would find some creative way to take the wind out of their sails.

For instance, during my first summer as a camp counselor at a camp in southern Wisconsin, our team was getting "out cheered" during the first two days of the week. So I came up with a brilliant idea to get us in front of the other team. I put my plan in motion on that Wednesday at lunch. Every day at lunch there would be announcements made and videos shown of the cleanest and dirtiest cabins for both boys and girls. There would also be some points awarded for various other things. After the scoring was announced both teams would simultaneously jump up and launch into loud team cheering. I told my team to just keep sitting down and listen to the other team for a while....The other team came out loud and strong.....and then they started to quiet down a bit. I let it go on for 3 or 4 minutes and then I stood up and motioned upwards like a choir director. The entire team stood in unison and then, on my queue, we launched into the loudest version of "Go Bananas" that you've ever heard! We went on to blow the other team out of the water as far as volume was concerned for the rest of the week!

I haven't thought of that story and my various "gimmickry" for a number of years. But for some reason the news coming out of the GOP today regarding the VP selection brought back a flood of those memories. I hope this is more than a gimmick.....

By the way, sometime this weekend I'm going to get an article posted about the Democratic National Convention as well as a few thoughts about the upcoming Republican National Convention. As a teaser, I will say that I thought the DNC was a pretty decent Convention that had an incredible level of "showmanship" to it. Some of the speeches were absolutely terrific and I thought that some of the points made were very good.

Now, for those of you who think I've finally gone to the other side....check back later this weekend!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Stupid little monkey.....

Christ once said that any who would follow Him must hate their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers. Of course we know that this is really speaking of comparisons. That is to say, our love for Him ought to be such that our love for all others pales in comparison. The last couple of weeks I’ve been confronted with this. It’s an easy thing to say the words, it’s quite another to do the action.

I recently heard a song by Todd Agnew in which he says that “your creation is a temptation to me”. In the song he is lamenting the fact that Christ has commanded us to love Him, and follow Him, and have faith in Him, and cling to Him with all that we have, yet we allow these other things to get in the way: our comfort, our pride, our lust, our love of life. It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic, I think. If you consider the things that keep you from a fuller, more complete relationship with Christ…… well, it’s a bit ridiculous. We give up the beauty of an intimate relationship with the Creator in favor of something temporal on this earth. I’m only going to be around here for another 50 or 60 years at best and I’ve spent my first 35 years clinging to things and people – preferring them above Christ. It just doesn’t make sense.

It’s like that monkey we’ve all heard about in the illustration. He’ll give up his freedom and everything in his happy little monkey life in order to get that little treat in the empty coconut shell. He clings to that treat even as the hunter approaches him with the club. Pretty soon, the monkey is either on a dinner plate or in a zoo all because he abandoned common sense in order to cling to the here and now. In my own life I’ve given up the rewards, benefits, and freedom found in a full, right relationship with Christ all in order to cling onto something temporal. At times that thing has been money, lust, pleasure, family… doesn’t matter what it is. When I’ve held onto it and preferred it above Christ, it has been sin. In truth, those things that seem to bring happiness don’t even come close to bringing the true joy that is only found in Christ. The Apostle Paul got hold of that truth from the moment of his conversion and never let it go. That’s the reason he could pen words like, “everything that was gain to me, I now count as loss”, or “for me to live is Christ and to die is gain”.

I’ve sang songs hundreds – maybe thousands – of times that contained words like, “I surrender all”, and “my life, Lord, is Yours to control”, yet those words have been empty and hollow words as I’ve never let go of everything. In my head I’ve always understood that He is Lord of all, yet in practice I’ve never wanted Him to be Lord of all in my life. What foolishness! What arrogance!

What has frightened me all this time? Am I so arrogant as to think that my plans, my ambitions, my dreams are better than His? Am I afraid that He might take from me what belongs to Him in the first place? Am I worried that the manifold blessings He has allowed me to enjoy in this life will somehow just vanish if I give my all to Him? I wonder….have I thought all this time that following Him fully might bring pain and suffering rather than the true joy and blessings that are found only by abiding in Him?

I look back on wasted years and only one word comes to mind……..”fool”.