Tuesday, February 26, 2008

On "Shifting Borders of Faith"

U.S.A. Today had a very interesting article in today's Life section, entitled "Shifting Borders of Faith." It was an article by Cathy Lynn Grossman on The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey conducted recently by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Much of what was revealed in this survey is not much of a surprise. The 1950s was a long time ago and the cultural and religious character of our nation has been in a flux of change for many decades. However, there were a few observations made by Grossman that caught my attention.

  • "51.3% of Americans call themselves Protestant, but roughly one-third of this group were 'uanble or unwilling' to describe their denomination." Can we say that there is a yearning for genuineness in faith rather than structure and tradition.

  • "Nearly three in four U.S. Buddhists are converts." Consider that statistic for a moment. How many in churches are 'converts'? I would be shocked if genuine converts (not 3rd, 4th, 5th generation believers) number more than 1 out of 10 in most churches.

  • "25% of adults under age 30" are unaffiliated with a church. What does this say about the church in 10 years . . . in 30 years?

  • Those who are "self-proclaimed" pagans (0.3% of the U.S. population) is roughly equivalent to the number of those who belong to mainline Churches of Christ. Read that statistic again. Does that catch your attntion?!!!

I will comment further on these findings in a future posting. I would like to hear your insights on the matter, so leave a comment or two.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

"O Lord, you have searched me and you know me."

Our earliest ancestors tried it . . . to no avail. They had sinned, and when they heard God approaching, they fled and sought to hide. They tried to hide from the one who knows and sees all. In hindsight, rather foolish, but quite human, nonetheless.

We've all tried it . . . I know I have. We run from our sins, rather, we run from an accounting of those sins. In shame, we seek to hide . . . to hide from God and from those closest to us. We hand our heads. We cover our eyes. We deny. We blame. We may even bury ourselves deeper in our sins, because we are unprepared to deal with our folly and the harm our choices have brought.

But, just as certainly as God came into the Garden, knowing full well what Adam and Eve had done and knowing where they hid, God knows us . . . we cannot hide from him.

I love Psalm 139, but it must be one of the most challenging passages in Scripture.

The psalmist prays, "O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord" (vv. 1-4).

The psalmist continues to relate who God is the all-knowing Creator, the one who "created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb" (v.13). And concludes, "Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there" (vv. 7-8).

Psalm 139 is not merely a psalm of praise, glorigying God as Creator, but it is a prayer of confession and supplication. The psalmist invites God into his life, for the Father to expunge all that is dark and void and sin, and to renew what has become corrupted. But, the psalmist is also declaring his own faithfulness and righteousness, sayining, in essence, God you know me intimately, I can hide nothing from you, my life is laid bare before you, and I have no shame. The Psalmist is not arrogant in making this confession; the implication, I believe, is that he has lived his life diligently and conciously opening himself up to God, quick to deal with his sin, not trying to hide from God, but eagerly inviting him to enter his life and to rule over it.

The psalmist cries out, "If only you would slay the wicked, O God! Away from me, you bloodthirsty men! They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name. Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord, and abhor those who rise up against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies. Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (vv. 19-24).

To live transparently before God . . . how freeing . . . how empowering. Much of the worry in life stems from our insecurities, constantly rining our hands over what others and God thinks of us. And, in our efforts to cover up our weaknesses, inadequacies, and failures, we dig deeper holes rather than bury them. To open onesself up to God, to cry out for his assistance and mercy and strength in our times of need (and moral and spiritual failure) is key. When we open ourselves up to God, we invite his tender touch, his mercy, his loving care. It's very difficult for a doctor to heal a stubborn patient and a patient in denial.

Let us us share the praise of the psalmist: "How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you" (vv. 17-18).

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Great Presidents

I had intended to post this yesterday, in recognition of President's Day, but time got away from me.

I love U.S. History and enjoy reading about and discussing the Presidents we have had in our history and considering their place in history and significance to the country. I have a few lists I want to share reflecting my opinions about our Presidents. I have tried to be objective and invite others to share their thoughts and lists.

List #1: The Presidents with the Greatest Signicance to the Country in terms of impact and legacy in the context of contemporary American society (regardless of whether or not I'm a "fan")

1. George Washington (he is after all the "Father of our Country" . . . plus, can you imagine if John Adams was the first president?)

2. Abraham Lincoln (can you imagine the Civil War and its aftermath with any other President at the helm?)

3. Franklin Roosevelt (no, I am not a fan, but who else has had a greater impact on modern society . . . after all who else can we credit more for our "Welfare State"?)

4. Ronald Reagan (he brought an end to the Cold War and ushered in the greatest era of material prosperity our country has ever known . . . and, yes, I am a FAN)

5. Theodore Roosevelt (he ushered us into the "modern world" and began to build our legacy as the world's superpower)

List #2: Our Most Under-Rated Presidents

1. George W. Bush (just wait 20-30 years and see how he is viewed)

2. George H. W. Bush (had he been elected to a second term, I think the world would have been a much different place, and many of the problems in the Middle East would not be as difficult as they are now)

3. Harry Truman (although, during the past decade he has begun to get his due . . . and, yes, this Republican is a fan)

4. James Garfield (okay, I can't really think of any significant accomplishments, but I like him because of our shared heritage)

5. Richard Nixon (yes, his behavior at times was shameful, but the earlier part of his presidency was filled with some noteworthy achievements; plus, he gave a few good men their starts in government)

List #3: Those Who Would Have Made Great Presidents, But Never Were

1. Alexander Hamilton (if he'd only had a "softer side')

2. Newt Gingrich (there's still time with this one)

3. Margaret Thatcher (oh, of course, Britian had her first)

4. Admiral "Bull" Halsey (I've got to think that anyone nicknamed "Bull" would make a great president . . . plus my dad sailed on the ship that bore his name)

5. Sam Houston (he did great for Texas, surely he could run the United States!)

List #4: Those Who I Hope Will Be President One Day

1. Newt Gingrich (is there a more intelligent man in America? . . . imagine the debates!!!)

1a. John McCain (I am not his biggest fan, and in a Republican primary, my vote would have gone to another . . . but do we really have another choice at this point?)

2. George P. Bush (I haven't lost hope in the Bush dynasty)

3. J. D. Watts (Vice-President in 2008?!!!)

4. Carly Fiorna (she ran Hewlett Packard . . . I've bought 20 or so of their printers)

5. Harrison Ford (okay, I wouldn't like his politics . . . but he just has that look)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Two Churches, Two Very Different Styles

I am still on the road sharing the news about Manuelito Navajo Children's Home. I left Gallup on January 22, and my travels have taken me through Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, and back to Texas. I am currently in Temple, Texas. I will finally return home to Gallup on Friday. As enjoyable as this tour has been, I'm eager to get home.

One of the great blessings of this job are the opportunities I have to visit so many different congregations of the Lord's people. I've lost track of the number of churches I've visited during the past three weeks.

Yesterday, I worshiped with two different congregations here in Temple, worshiping in the morning at Western Hills and having the opportunity to speak last evening to the Northside church. These are very different congregations with a common faith.

Western Hills seems to be more progressive of the two. Their worship included a number of contemporary songs, even a few songs I had not heard before, and the service included some elements that were somewhat new to me. I especially liked the "Shepherd's Blessing," a word of encouragement and prayer given by one of the elders near the beginning of the worship. I was also moved by the placement of the prayer for the offering, given aften the collection was taken. It reminded me of Jesus taking the loaves and fish and lifting them up to God, asking for his blessing. A subtle act, to be certain, but powerful. I enjoyed the message, brought by Scott Meyer, and delivered in a very "relaxed/casual" manner.

The Northside church is a more traditional congregation, more long the lines of what I have been accustomed. The friendliness of the congregation was impressive. And the singing . . . even with a small group, it sounded great. I must say, even though I have always prefered "Youth Songs" over the old standbys, I found myself appreciating singing some well known songs (in contrast to not knowing many of the songs at Western Hills). It reinforced to me the importance of striking a balance between the traditional and contemporary. The all and none approach leaves people out, a blending includes everyone.

The primary point I want to make with this posting is that despite the differences between these congregations (and I imagine the differences go deeper than just the distinctions in worship), both congregations share a fellowship grounded in faith in Jesus as Christ. I found a passion for Jesus in both places and a genuiness of faith that was encouraging.

Despite the protestations of some, the New Testament does NOT provide us with a precise model or blueprint of what the church is to be and do. Certainly, we are given principles to follow and we have some examples of the life and practice of the early church, but totally lacking from the New Testament is a book like Leviticus. The minutia of the "old law" was nailed to the cross.

Consider how varied the early churches of the New Testament must have been. Different cultures, languages, and backgrounds must have resulted in a varitety of practices, much of the variety being subtle differences, but differences none the less. For instance, I can imagine that the singing in a predominantly Latin North African church would have varied greatly from a church in Jewish Palestine. Yet, both were praise directed at a common Father and shared Savior.

I am reminded of the song, a "Youth Song" at that: 'We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord; we are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord; and they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love; yes, they'll know we are Christians by our love."

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

What a Night!

I survived a tornado last night!

I grew up in Lubbock, Texas, and have spent much of my life in Texas and Oklahoma, in the vast, beginning stretches of the infamous "Tornado Alley," but I had to come to Tennessee to experience my first genuine tornado up-close . . . and an F-4 tornado at that!!!

I am in Jackson, Tennessee, where I have been attending the lectureship at Freed-Hardeman University. As you have probably heard, Jackson, and many other areas in Tenessee, Arkansas, Kentucky, Alabama and Mississippi, were hit hard by tornados last night and into this morning. The tornado that struck Jackson came right over the motel where I am staying. Fortunately, it had lifted back into the clouds at the precise moment it came over us. It had been on the ground as close as 2 miles to the west of my motel, destroying a small community and killing 2 people. It then touched down again just a mile NE of the motel, on the campus of Union University, destroying several buildings (including dormitories) and entrapping dozens of students. Fortunately, there were only the two deaths in Jackson; unfortunately, at least 54 deaths are attributed to all of the storms across the south.

The randomness of these storms is what has struck me the most today. How the Days Inn where I am staying was not damaged, while destruction can be found to the west and east of us, amazes me. I feel very lucky (no, blessed), and my heart goes out to those who suffered a much different experience.

The power of nature puts a lot into perspective. What takes men many months and years of labor and expense to build, the forces of nature can rip apart in a matter of seconds! Treasure what really matters in life . . . the people God gives us to love and be loved . . . and, yes, that relationship that far surpasses all others . . . with God Himself.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Blessing of Mentors

One of the great blessings I have had in life are the many men who have served as role models and mentors for me. I was blessed today to be reunited with one such person. I was able to share lunch with one of my favorite people. It had been at least 12 years since I had seen him.

Danny Holmes came to the Green Lawn Church of Christ when I was entering my junior year in high school. He came to be our youth minister. That began a good friendship that has lasted for over 20 years! I have always appreciated Danny's humility and his laidback spirit. When he was my youth minister, I especialy appreciated how he went out of his way to give attention to those who were not popular and not in the in-crowd. Some of my fondest memories in life are of small group Bible studies in Danny & Amye's apartment in Lubbock when I was a teenager and of "indoor golf" matches in the Green Lawn youth center. And, I have always been appreciative of the opporutnity Danny gave me to be his intern . . . one of my first hands-on opportunities in ministry.

The people in our lives really are the greatest of the many blessings God gives to us. The wise man of Proverbs once said, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another."

Monday, February 4, 2008

In the News

A couple of news stories caught my attention today. Both ran in the U.S.A. Today.

First, it was reported that as Phil Mickelson came to the third tee on Sunday during the fnal round of the FBR Open in Scottsdale, Ariz., he walked up to Drew Fockler, a young boy watching the tournament with his father, John, and gave the boy his two tickets to the Super Bowl. Mickelson said afterward, "I thought that it would be fun to give them to a father-son. I cherish the time I have with each one of my kids, and I just thought it would be a cool experience for them."

How cool is that. This from the man who a few years ago vowed that he would walk off the course during the final round of the U.S. Open (in which he was in contention), if he received the call that his wife had gone into labor (with what would be his eldest child).

Phil Mickelson has always been one of my favorite athletes. Tiger is certainly the greatest golfer of this generation, and perhaps of all time (Niklaus will remain at the top of that list until Tiger surpasses "18"!), but Mickleson has to be the classiest golfer, no, classiest athlete in the ports world.

Oh, by the way, the cheapest tickets to the Super Bowl had a $700 face value. And, I am certain that the tickets Mickelson passed along were not the cheap seats!

And, to turn a few pages, here is a rather troubling story.

A survey posed high school students with the query, "Starting from Columbus to the present day, jot down the names of the most famous Americans in history."

Here is a list of the most common responses:
10. Albert Einstein
9. Thomas Edison
8. Marilyn Monroe
7. Oprah Winfrey
6. Amelia Earhart
5. Benjamin Franklin
4. Susan B. Anthony
3. Harriet Tubman
2. Rosa Parks
1. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Now, there was a catch: no presidents or first ladies were allowed. But, even taking this into consideration, I find much of this list troubling. Marilyn Monroe? Oprah Winfrey? Amelia Earhart? Susan B. Anthony? Benjamin Franklin is relegated to fifth?

I have nothing against these women. Each was (or is) accomplished and has reached a certain amount of fame. But, just consider all of the great Americans left off the list. How about Paul Revere? Alexander Hamilton? Daniel Boone? Betsy Ross? Eli Whitney? Mark Twain? Henry Ford? Lewis and Clark? Neil Armstrong? Thurgood Marshall? Sandra Day O'Connor? Or, John Wayne? Elvis Presley? Babe Ruth, anybody?

My problem with the list is it reveals something about the ephasis on the civil rights movements of the past few decades (important, though, they have been), and the fascination over celebrity and pop culture to the detriment of teaching on the beginnings of our country.

So, what is your list of the most famous Americans in history?

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Great Game!

What a game! And, hey, I got the point spread right!

Of course, Romo and company will have to knock Manning and crew down a few notches next season.

Go Giants!

Go Giants! That's hard to say for a diehard Cowboys fan, but it is much more a sentiment against the Patriots.

And, as a Cowboys fan, let me offer some praise for Darrell Green and Art Monk. Both were elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame yesterday. There were few Redskins I worried about more than these two; they always gave the Cowboys fits. And, from what I have heard about them away from football, these are two good men.

Giants 30, Patriots 27. That's more of a "want" than a "prediction."

Friday, February 1, 2008

Some Things Never Change

I am on the road. I am in Jackson, Tennessee and will be spending the next week attending the Freed-Hardeman University Lectureship. I will be manning a display booth adveritizing Manuelito Navajo Children's Home.

I drove through Memphis earlier today and ate lunch at one of my favorie restaurants, Corky's BBQ. I had not been there in 12 years! It was well worth the wait.

I lived in Memphis in 1996, while I was attending Harding University Graduate School of Religion. Corky's was a prmary staple of my diet in those months I spent in Memphis. I have the waistline to show for it!!!

Driving through Memphis brought back some good memories. I was only here for the Spring and Summer semesters, but I came to love Memphis. It is a unique place with a lot of charm. Driving by the HUGSR campus and the surrounding neighborhoods, today, I was impressed by how things have remained fairly constant over the past twelve years. There have been some changes on campus (my dormitory is no longer there!), but much of what I saw was as I had seen it last. And, of course, Corky's remains a great place to eat!!!

I am impressed with Jackson. I had not been here before. I am looking forward to my first visit to FHU tomorrow morning.

Pray for my efforts to advertise the Manuelito Home. We need new supporters.
I have been away from Gallup now for 11 days, trvaelling through Texas and Arkansas. I have another 15 days to go before I return home. Fortunately, I enjoy travelling and especially meeting new people and seeing new places.