Tuesday, July 31, 2012

It Will Wait. Or Will It?

Never do today what can be put off until tomorrow.” I don’t know who first said that, but I often find myself doing it. I set up these tasks in Outlook to remind me when it is time to do certain things. That’s helpful when it may be a year between each time the task must be done. The only problem is that Outlook has a snooze button. Rather than doing the task when it pops up, I put it off a few days. I have one task that I’ve been putting off all summer. One task was scheduled to show up at the first of July. I didn’t actually do it until yesterday.

The thing is, I hate procrastination. I put something off and the whole time I’m telling myself that I need to get it done or it will be late. It is so much easier when I just do the task and get it out of the way. I know this, but I still put things off. And it’s not like there are other things that are pressing for my time. Occasionally, that is true, but I could make time for the things I need to do and then I would be free to relax while I did the things I want to do. I’m going to work on that—tomorrow.

What do you tend to put off until later?

Monday, July 30, 2012

Do You Respect People's Opinions?

Do you respect other people? Do you respect their right to have a different opinion than you? Of course you do. But do you respect their opinions? Before you say yes, stop and think about that one.

We respect people because they are our equals. We all came into this world with nothing and we will leave it with nothing. When it is all said and done, we’re all the same. We respect people’s right to have a different opinion because we recognize that we ourselves are sometimes wrong. Even if we know that all evidence supports what we believe, we can appreciate that other people may have trouble accepting the proof that exists.

But respecting another person’s opinions is something different. Respect refers to esteeming or admiring something. It carries with it the idea that we value the thing we respect. It makes sense for us to value people. It makes sense to value a person’s rights. The question is, how do we measure the worth of an individual opinion?

The court system has no problem measuring the value of an opinion. The opinion of an expert witness is valued above that of someone who has read a few books on the subject. Eye witness testimony is valued above hearsay and the opinion of someone who just thinks things should be a certain way is rejected completely.

We encounter opinions daily. Everyone has a right to his opinion, but the value of his opinion must be determined by the source of that opinion. Our respect for a person’s opinion should not be based on how well we like a person or the fact that they agree with us. Sadly, that happens far too often. True respect for an opinion should come from the value of what supports it.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Dealing With People Who Hate You

I left a comment on a recent news article, “I was not aware The Jim Henson Company supported homosexuality. I’m very sorry to hear that.” This brought the ire of some homosexuals who had also read the article. But they used words like bigot and homophobic. One of them took it upon himself to tell me that no one cared about me either. This after he had already told someone else who had commented on the article that no one cared about him. I’ve come to the conclusion that some people hate me. They really, really hate me. And they don’t even know me.

How are we to deal with this? By now, you’ve heard that the Bible teaches that we are to love everyone. If you haven’t, just go look at your enemy’s website. He’ll be sure to tell you that. But let’s look at what Jesus said:

Ye have heard it said, “Thou shalt love they neighbor, and hate thine enemy.” But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. – Matthew 5:43-45

That’s what it says, but what does it mean? First, be fond of them. That’s hard for us to do, but that’s what Jesus tells us to do. Though we don’t like the lifestyle they lead and we don’t like the way they treat us, we should never wish anything bad to happen to them. Why? Because that’s the way God is. Did you know that the Bible says that God doesn’t want anyone to go to hell? He is the one who sends them there, but he doesn’t want to. One of our greatest joys should be that those who hate us become our brothers in the family of God.

Second, bless them. To bless someone is to make statements desiring or expecting good to come to a person. Blessing is the opposite of cursing, which is to make statements desiring someone’s harm. We can’t get behind everything those who hate us do, but we can look for the good things they do and wish them success in those things.

Third, do good to them. Perhaps it is like a family member you don’t get along with, but you buy them a gift for Christmas every year anyway. It isn’t enough for us to just bless our enemies, we need to put our words into action. When we see them in need, let’s help them. As you know, I love the story of Hosea and I used it for the basis of For the Love of a Devil. One of the things I love about that story is that even though Hosea knew that his wife was with other men, he went right on taking care of her. When she refused to accept his help, he went so far as to give to her lovers so they would be able to support her. It wasn’t the situation he wanted and he wasn’t willing to accept her actions, but he did good to her anyway.

Fourth, pray for them. Don’t you think it odd that Jesus would put prayer as the last thing? So often, we talk about how prayer should be the first thing we do and yet, Jesus put it last in this situation. This isn’t a prayer asking God’s will in how you should deal with your enemy. Jesus already told us how to deal with them. There’s no need to pray about that. I believe the reason prayer shows up last is because it is at this point that prayer is all you can do. The word translated as “despitefully use” also means “insult, treat abusively, revile, accuse falsely, threaten.” That’s typically what we see when our enemy is someone leaving a comment on a social media website. Persecution implies a physical action that would make someone flee.

My experience with revilers on websites is that they don’t listen. No matter how nicely you try to respond, they have their mind made up and they will attack anything you say. Even when you agree with them on some point, they will attack because they assume that you are only agreeing so they will let their guard down. If people won’t listen. If people refuse to acknowledge our desire for their good, there really is nothing more we can do but pray. It is within God’s ability to soften the hearts of our enemies.

It is not our place to punish our enemies for their sin. We are to leave that to God and the government structure he has put into place. We are not to encourage people to sin and there is nothing wrong with us saying that what they are doing is wrong, but we need to give special consideration to what it means to love them. It is so easy for us to write them off as evil beyond redemption, but what we really need to do is to demonstrate a better way.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Novel Witnessing Through Villains

Many Christian authors have the idea that they will use their skill at writing to win the lost for Christ. It may be that they don’t like the idea of knocking on a stranger’s door or maybe they fear teaching a Sunday school class, or maybe the just feel that is the best way to use their talent. I can’t say it is a bad idea, but how do we do it?

I’ve seen a few bad examples. Overall, I enjoyed Lori Wick’s novel, The Princess, but I hated the come to Jesus scene. It seemed to me that everyone in the book was saved, so somewhere in the middle of the book Lori Wick introduces a character who isn’t. He is a young boy and he has a family member in the hospital. He does little to move the plot along, but he gives the main characters the opportunity to tell someone how to be saved. I particularly hate that because during what could arguably be the most important scene a reader could read, the reader is anxiously wondering how long before the author will get back to the story.

How do we fix this?

When we realize that it is the villain that is supposed to be the most like the target audience we can start to see ways to witness through the villain. If our target audience is a lost person, then our villain is also lost. Rather than coming out and saying, “our villain is lost,” we should show that he is lost. How? Consider 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” Don’t say he’s lost. Say he’s a thief. Say he’s an adulterer. There are ten types of sinners listed here. Pick one and say he’s that. Or better yet, show it through his actions.

But don’t go overboard. Don’t make him the worst sinner. Make him look like your reader. If he is a thief, don’t have him still the crown jewels; have him “borrow” his neighbor’s yard ornament and not return it. Have him take office supplies home from work. Have him do the things your reader does. Then, through the story, show the problem of his sinful nature. Grow his thievery into something bigger and show how he is hurting your protagonist through his actions.

Now, because he is the villain and not the protagonist, when the opportunity comes to share the gospel with him, do so, but have the villain reject it. Let his sin grow worse and worse, so that it is harder and harder for the protagonist. And when the end comes, let the protagonist succeed and leave the villain utterly defeated. Leave him with no hope. Allow the reader to come to realize that if he continues down the path he is on that he also will end up defeated and without hope. Then, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, we can hope that he will realize that what he needs to do is to accept Christ rather than reject him as the villain did.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Villain Is Me

How often have we heard that the reader must identify with the protagonist? He must be a likeable character—save the cat and all of that. But what about the villain? We often see villains as evil itself. And as we think about the perfect villain we may come up with a character that we despise in the worst sort of way. This is not the way to write a book.

The villain is the most important character in a story. Even when he isn’t in a scene, he is driving what happens. Look at Satan, the great villain of the Bible. Remove him and the story would be very different. Eve would’ve never eaten the forbidden fruit. Job wouldn’t have suffered. Israel wouldn’t have turned against God. Jesus wouldn’t have died. Victory over dead would have never occurred. But with him there, we see how great a victory it is that Jesus accomplished. We may question why God has allowed Satan to do what he does, but that may be our answer. Satan shows us contrast between evil and good.

Now, stop and think why that is important. If we identify most with Jesus, the protagonist of the story, then Satan is just an evil person who causes us trouble. If, however, we identify most with Satan, then we see that the contrast points us in the right direction. It begins were we are and shows us victory that will lead us into what we will become.

When we look at normal villains, we find that the purpose of the villain is not to cause the protagonist trouble, but the villain shows us who we are. As we cheer for the protagonist to overcome the villain, we begin to realize that the villain is me. For the protagonist to win, he must defeat the person that we are. It introduces a change that should take place in our own lives.

Think of the superhero stories in which the villain is bent on taking over the world. Our hero puts a stop to it and the story is over, but look at how we identify with the villain. We may not want to take over the world, but we often consider what we would do if we were in charge at work or in some other organization. We want to implement our ideas and show people how much better it would be. The villain taking over the world has just pushed that to a greater level.

Or consider a jewel heist. Hopefully, you’ve never robbed a jeweler, but have we not considered what life would be like if we had more money than we have now? Just how much could we get away with? But we don’t really identify with the gumshoe because we don’t go around solving crimes. And we don’t really identify with the victim because that would make it too close to home. I learned a few years ago that people who have gone through divorce didn’t care to read my books when my protagonists dealt with that issue. The villain is me.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Who Is the Villain?

Those of you who read yesterday’s post know where I stand on the Chick-fil-a issue. I’ve probably said more than enough on the core issue, but as a writer, I see something more interesting at play here. Who is the villain?

Often, we think of the villain as the bad guy who eats nails for breakfast and has no purpose other than to make the life of the hero difficult. In real life, that character doesn’t exist and we certainly don’t see it in the Chick-fil-a situation. Let’s look at the cast of characters. First, there is Dan Cathy who said nothing about homosexuality at all, but stated that they were guilty as charged in their support for the traditional family. There is the news media, who took that statement and turned it into a statement about homosexuality. There is Lisa Henson of The Jim Henson Company who has decided to terminate The Jim Henson Company’s relationship with Chick-fil-a. Lastly, let’s consider Boston Mayor Tom Menino, who today is taking heat from the Boston Herald Editorial Staff for saying that he would block permits if Chick-fil-a tried to build in Boston.

Dan Cathy, seems to be the media’s choice for a villain in this situation. At least he did until they saw what an outpouring of support he was receiving for his stand. Whether you see him as a villain or not will largely depend on the point of view from which you write the story. Is this a story about guy who has the courage to stand up for what he believes, or is this a story about people who want to be allowed live the lifestyle they choose?

The New Media, could fit the bill when you consider that Dan Cathy’s statement said nothing about homosexuality, but there again, it partly depends on the point of view from which you write the story. They were just trying to sell newspapers. What’s wrong with that?

Lisa Henson fits the bill if you see her as the person who is yanking toys out of kids hands. But look at it from her perspective. It appears that she believes support for the traditional family is a harmful attitude. When I remove the nature of the issue involved from consideration, I admire her for standing up for what she believes. She’s doing nothing more than what Dan Cathy is doing. They just happen to be on different sides of the issue.

Mayor Tom Menino is probably the closest thing to a character who “eats nails for breakfast.” I don’t know if Chick-fil-a has plans to place a restaurant in Boston, but Mayor Tom Menino has made a preemptive strike. But he may have good reason. He is the mayor of a city that has 50,000 homosexuals or about 12% of the population. Considering that the major cities are dealing with only about 3% of their population being homosexual and the country as a whole has less than 1% percent, I kind of see why he would take the stand he did. If he is relying on that 12% to swing the vote for reelection, he won’t want to offend it.

I believe this tells us something about writing. The villain of a story is defined as much by the theme of the story as he is by his actions. Every villain believes himself to be a good guy, but he is a villain because he stands in opposition to what the writer claims is good.

Monday, July 23, 2012

What Disturbs Me About Last Week

The great topic of discussion last week was Chick-fil-a and their position on gay marriage. The really silly thing is that they never said anything about gay marriage. All that was said was that they were in favor of the traditional marriage. The news media blew that way out of proportion and accused them of hating gays. So now, we have people who ought to be ashamed of themselves firing shots at Chick-fil-a’s stand for godly business practices. We have people like the mayor of Boston saying that he won’t allow Chick-fil-a to open a restaurant in Boston. That is un-American, but that isn’t even the most disturbing thing.

In all the discussion last week, the thing I found most disturbing was reports of The Jim Henson Company cutting their ties with Chick-fil-a and giving the money they had received from Chick-fil-a to G.L.A.A.D. My first thought was, “You mean the Muppet people?” I thought back on watching the Muppets as a kid. And I thought about Labyrinth. At one time, that was my favorite movie. How awful that a company that has touched the lives of so many children when they are at such an impressionable young age would be so adamant in their support of such a nasty business.

It is fortunate that they no longer own the Muppets, but they are still involved in many well produced movies and shows. They still have influence in the lives of many children. I grew up in the country, so I don’t remember having much of a talk about the birds and the bees with my parents. A child who is around animals for very long will discover some things without the need to be told. Even so, I’ve always had a belief that there are some things that a child shouldn’t learn about until they are old enough. There are some things that I still don’t think I’m old enough to talk about. Fornication and homosexuality are among them. If I find it disturbing to consider what is involved when these things happen, I think you can understand why I find it so disturbing that a company that has created so many characters beloved by children would take such a strong stand in encouraging homosexuality. And all this because Dan Cathy believes a man being married to the same woman for life is a good thing. Well, I've got news for you. It doesn't matter if you think it is okay for someone to practice homosexuality or not, it is still a good thing for a man to be married to one woman for life.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Boy Scouts and a Higher Standard

Once again, the Boy Scouts of America has upheld the ban on homosexual leaders. Though the board’s decision was unanimous, it saddens me to see that the news media is reporting that two of its members, James Turley and Randall Stephenson have indicated a desire to change the policy. Even though I spent only a few months in the program, as a former Boy Scout, I see great value in the things Scout leaders teach the boys they mentor. To me, that is the crux of this issue; leaders are mentors.

I’m reminded of the instructions Paul gave to Timothy and Titus concerning the qualifications of church leaders. Today, people want to measure a preacher by how well he preaches or how much education he has had. That’s not to say that is wrong, if that involves his doctrine, but one of the things Paul said was that a man should rule his house well. He also said that he must be the husband of one wife. What a man does in his home is important because it indicates how a man will lead the church. Leaders are asked to uphold an even greater standard than the average person.

Scout Leaders are not pastors, but I believe it can be said that what they do at home indicates how they will teach the boys in their care. If Scout Leaders are going to teach boys to be leaders of good moral character, they must also be leaders of good moral character.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Change That Isn't Change

Computers have changed significantly over the years. When I was a kid, we had a computer at home, but most of my friends didn’t. These days, people carry more computing power around in their pockets than we had available to us on our computer. Back then, people were convinced that they would lose their jobs to a computer. Today, most people wouldn’t know how to do their job if they didn’t have a computer.

But there are also many ways that computers have stayed the same. For all the improvements we’ve seen in computers, the job for the man behind the curtain hasn’t changed all that much. When I was a kid, I was using BASIC to program the TRS-80. The Commodore 64s also used a form of BASIC. Later, when I went to college, I began to learn other languages. We started out with Modula-2, then it was C, a slew of other languages and before I graduated I had learned C++ and Java. There are even more languages today, but one thing I’ve learned is that computer languages are very similar to each other. I’ve also learned that while user interfaces have improved over the years, we manipulate the underlying structure in much the same way as we always have. At a very basic level, programming a computer is about moving data from one location in memory to another. The hardware interprets the data we pass it and causes other actions to take place.

Today, we do a lot with websites. Conceptually, we may think of this as a cloud. We don’t really think about the hardware because we get the same results whether we’re using a personal computer or a phone. But somewhere, there is hardware involved. Sometimes it is a server that runs code that will give you the results you request. Other times, it is your own computing device that runs the code. Though this seems different from running a program on your computer, the job for the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz is still the same. He writes some code that runs on a machine.

Many times, people fear change because things look significantly different. If you look hard enough, you can often find things that won’t change, no matter how things look on the surface.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Be Oily

Oil is an interesting thing. A single drop in just the right spot can make a huge difference to the world. I’ve been riding my bicycle recently. My bike is over ten years old and has seen better days. I replaced the cables last year, but they’re starting to rust again. I recently had to replace the tires. The latest problem was a squeaky wheel. Everything seemed fine while I was riding, but when I would come to a stop, it would make a noise loud enough that the neighbors would look up from what they were doing. A little oil and the problem went away. Once more, I feel more comfortable about waiting to buy a new bicycle.

Sometimes we feel unimportant. We look around us at people who seem to be doing more, accomplishing more, making more money, and we wonder why we aren’t them. The things we do go unnoticed while the things they do are awarded with high praise. We need to learn to be like that drop of oil. A small thing done in the right place and in the right time can change the world.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Measuring Spirituality

It worries me that so many people assume that the people who provide the most platitudes are the most spiritual. How often have we seen people going through a tough time and someone tells them, “God will see you through.” Or we ask someone how they are doing and they say something like, “God’s been good to me.” We walk away thinking, “That person is unashamed of his faith.”

Until recently, I hadn’t given it much thought. These people used phrases that I normally don’t, but if they’re comfortable with it, what’s wrong with it? Then in Sunday School I heard someone talking about people some of these people being much more spiritual than most of us. “I don’t think I could ever reach that level of spirituality.” And I began to realize that people are measuring spirituality by personality rather than faith.

While it is true that “God will see you through” and “God’s been good to me,” the words are weak if they don’t have specific meaning behind them. In reading the Bible, we find that God seeing us through a situation may mean that we suffer until death, but heaven is a much better place. If you’re speaking to a mother who has lost a child, that probably isn’t what she wants to hear. Though she make take comfort in knowing she’ll see that child in heaven, it isn’t very comforting to know she might have to wait sixty years before she sees him again. Is she somehow less spiritual because she doesn’t feel like saying, “God’s been good to me?”

I don’t think we’re to be in the business of measuring spirituality, but I believe the true measure of spirituality is one’s faith. While platitudes give the appearance of communicating one’s faith, true faith can only be measured by action. A person can tell you all day that he believes a chair will hold his weight, but only the person who sits in the chair demonstrates faith. A person can make spiritual platitudes all day, but actions reveal the truth of what a person believes. I see people who would never deliver a spiritual platitude, but their actions reveal far more faith than some of those who do.

Friday, July 13, 2012

What They Can't Take Away

Like most people in the United States, I’ve been trying to lose weight. How much weight? I don’t know. I haven’t stepped on the scales. But I’ve been having some success. I’ve noticed my clothes fitting better and I was feeling pretty good about it. Well, I was until I pulled one particular pair of jeans out of the closet. The tag says they are the same size as I wear every day, but when I put them on, they didn’t fit. I could fasten them, which is better than the last time I tried them, but they still don’t fit. Funny how a pair of jeans can change you outlook.

Our expectations flavor how we feel about things. I put those jeans on with the expectation that they would fit, since I had accomplished so much. When they didn’t, I felt like I hadn’t accomplished anything. I think the same goes for authors. An author writes a book and feels a great sense of accomplishment. It takes a lot of time and effort to write a book. When you finish one, you feel great. Then the author sends it out to agents and editors. The response isn’t as enthusiastic as the author hopes. Now, the author feels like he hasn’t done anything worthwhile.

The thing is, if you’ve written a book, you’ve written a book. No matter what other people think of that book, they can’t take that fact away from you. So maybe it isn’t that great of a book. Maybe it is a great book, but the people trying to make money can’t see it. Whatever the case, a lot of work went into that book. You can’t stay on cloud nine forever, but you can still feel good about the work you put into it.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Christian Profanity

NOTE: In order to discuss the topic, the following contains some language that is improper in polite conversation.

A recent discussion got me thinking about the use of profanity in Christian writing. The discussion was on Steve Laube’s blog and it was triggered by an article by Rachel Held Evans. To put it simply, Rachel Held Evans doesn’t like it that Christian bookstores, like Lifeway, are removing books and movies from their shelves because of profanity in the material. It has been common practice for a long time for Christian bookstores to be selective about the literature they sell. And more than a few kids have had the experience of their Christian parents washing their mouths out with soap. The question is, which is right? Is the long held assumption that we shouldn’t use profanity correct or is there some basis for Rachel Held Evans’ crusade for profanity in Christian literature.

The only way to answer this is to go to the Bible. Without it, it becomes a matter of personal preference. First, let’s consider what we’re really talking about. Rachel Held Evans would have us believe that we should use profanity in Christian literature because the Bible uses profanity. She points to Philippians 3:8 in which Paul says, “Yea doubtless, and I count all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them dung, that I may win Christ.” Rachel Held Evans replaces the word dung with the more offensive word. And frankly, I can’t find anything wrong with that, other than she purposefully uses the word with the most shock value. The original word, the translator’s word and her word can all be used to refer to excrement. But is that enough for us to conclude that the use of profanity in our writing is okay?

There are several ways that words that may be found offensive can be used. First, there is the original meaning. Take the word hell, for example. We use the word hell to refer to that place of torment where unrepentant sinners go. Another way hell might be used is as a curse word. An example of this is when someone says, “Go to hell!” This is different from using it as a swear word. We see this when someone says, “There’s a snowball’s chance in hell that he’ll come up with the money.” Then there is the use of a word as a byword. For example, “Hell, I don’t know.”

You won’t find any evidence in the Bible to indicate that a word should not be used in the first form. This is the way Jesus used such words. This is the way Paul used such words in Philippians 3:8. While it may be uncomfortable for us to use some of these words, using them to refer to the thing that defines them is at times necessary. We may need to consider younger audiences and when it is appropriate for them to consider the topic, but there is nothing wrong with using the words when they reach an appropriate age.

Curse words are a different story. Consider what Jesus said in Matthew 5:22. “…But whosoever shall say, thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” There’s a thought. In God’s eyes, just using what most people would consider a minor curse word is worthy of hell.

Jesus had something to say about swear words too. “But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be Yea, yea, Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.” (Matthew 5:34-37)

That leave one form, the use of bywords. What is intended by a byword? Is it to use the word as originally intended? What does a person mean when he says, “Hell, if I know?” I believe this is a shortened form of swearing. Instead of the longer form, “May I go to hell if I know,” the speaker is drops the first as if it is implied. The shortened form has been used so long that we’ve forgotten what is implied, but it is still a swear word.

So, I don’t believe Christians are wrong for wanting to remove profanity from Christian books and videos. It isn’t our place to go around cursing people and we don’t want to encourage others to do so. Neither do we want to go around swearing by things we have no control over and we don’t want to encourage others to do so. I believe we can arguing for using the same words when they are used in a form other than as a swear word or a curse word. That is why I went ahead and included some of these words in this article, but even then, some people may find these words uncomfortable

Often, we don’t need to use these words anyway. With a little creativity, a writer can get a point across without crossing that boundary that make parents question whether they should be letting their kids read the author’s books.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Water and Money

Money is like water. It only has real power when it is in motion.

I grew up near the Mississippi River, but I also grew up near a swamp. The swamp just sits there and grows stale. The Mississippi River is constantly flowing with millions of gallons of water. One might wander where all that water comes from. It comes from a bunch of smaller rivers and streams, which are fed by rain water. And rain comes from clouds which come from the ocean evaporating. But the ocean is filled by rivers like the Mississippi. You’ve heard it all before. It is just one big cycle.

And so it is with money. Big corporations pay their workers, who go out and buy things from store owners, who buy things from big corporations. We use terms like trickle up economics and trickle down economics to address the question of whether money flows from companies to the people or from the people to the companies. Usually, we are asking the question of whether it would be better to give corporations money or to give individuals money, if our goal is to grow the economy. Maybe neither.

Imagine, if you will, that the economy is a garden hose with both end connected together. We don’t measure how much water is in the hose but how much water passes a certain spot in the hose. If we put a clamp on part of the hose, it isn’t just that section of the hose that has a reduction in flow, but the flow slows down for the whole system. To increase the flow, we have to remove the blockage.

In the economy, handing out money is not always the best solution. Instead, our focus should be on reducing the blockage that prevents the flow of money. Roads are a good example of this. If people are willing to spend money but it is difficult to get the product to the people then there is a blockage. Communication is another example. People won’t spend money if they aren’t aware of products to buy. And the confidence that more money will be available is another issue. If people aren’t sure that more money is available then they will put a clamp in place so they can hold back on the flow of money.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How Is Heaven Like Yeast?

The Kingdom of Heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till the whole was leavened. – Matthew 13:33

Jesus spent a great deal of time talking about “the Kingdom of Heaven”. This is one of the shortest stories he told about it. You might ask what “the Kingdom of Heaven” is. The best I can tell, the Kingdom of Heaven is closely related to what many people call “the church” today. It seems to be all the Christians in the entire world. This is different from what Jesus called the church or the assembly, which is a local body that assembles together for worship and service. Even so, “the Kingdom” includes us.

In the Bible leaven is symbolic of some evil. It is the nature of sin to start small and grow into something big. The same is true of leaven. In this case, we see a small amount leavening three measures of meal. The Jews Jesus was speaking to would have recognized the three measures as being the amount needed for the feast of unleavened bread. The irony is that this woman tried hiding the leaven in the meal that was to be used for unleavened bread. When dealing with symbolism, the Bible often uses women to represent false leadership. So what does that tell us about the Kingdom of Heaven?

With this very short statement, Jesus is warning of the problem of church leaders hiding sin. I don’t believe he is talking to women only. If anything, I suspect he was talking primarily to men, but the problem is the same. Today, we see church leaders who are hiding sin in various ways. I’m not saying they are having an affair or something like that, though that would be one example. It could be as simple as them ignoring Bible passages that talk about sin because they’re afraid they might scare their church members away. Let’s all smile with big teeth and love one another and not talk about sin and doctrine. By doing that, they hide sin that is in their churches.

What starts out as one sin that a pastor chooses to ignore can grow into many sins committed by many different church members. What one person gets by with, everyone gets by with. Soon, a church is good for nothing because it is full of sin. Unfortunately, there are far too many churches that ignore sin and the whole church is full of it, all because they’ve allowed bad leadership to lead them astray.

Monday, July 9, 2012


These days it is in vogue to wear any old thing to church. At some point people decided that it would be good to dress down for church because we don’t want other people feeling uncomfortable. After all, we aren’t supposed to be trying to impress other people by what we wear to church anyway. It is God we are to worship. It sounds good, but I don’t think that argument holds water.

First, I’m a guy and I don’t spend a lot of time trying to impress people with what I wear. I’m sure some people do, but I don’t think dressing down will change people’s desire to impress those around them. If it isn’t with their clothes, they’ll find something else for that purpose.

Second, how many people do you know of that will refuse to go to church because the people dress too fancy? I’ve heard people use that excuse, but I’ve also seen people with very little come to church anyway.

But here’s what really gets me. If a person were invited to the White House, no matter which party’s candidate were in office, he would probably wear his best suit. He might even go out and buy a new suit. This isn’t to impress the President; the President sees people in suits all the time. A man would dress up to visit the White House out of respect for the office of the President of the United States. The President is part of our government and deserves respect, even if we disagree with some of what he does. Now, consider that Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords. Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is higher in authority than the President and the church is Jesus’ bride. If we show respect the President or the Governor by how we dress, is it not logical to assume that we should show respect to Jesus in the way we dress?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Meet Their Expectations

My pastor asked me to transfer a VHS tape to a DVD. The main reason he wanted this done was because VCRs are less commonly used than they used to be. I told him I would see what I could do. My first concern was that the equipment wouldn’t allow me to make the transfer. Many VHS tapes have a message encoded into the tape that tells the recording equipment not to store the video. Once I determined this was not the case with this video, I sent a request to the copyright owner for permission to copy the video.

The copyright owner for this video is a company that has a website. Their contact page consists of a form into which you can put your personal information and a message, and a mailing address. Hoping for a quick response, I used the form. I submitted the request on a Saturday, so I didn’t expect a response till Monday, but this particular company isn’t the kind that would have a lot of correspondence, so I expected to receive an e-mail on Monday. Monday came and went. Tuesday came and went. Wednesday came and went. Still no response. I went to their website and used the form to ask them when I could expect a response. I was afraid that my original request might have gotten lost. How would I know? I had never received any feedback from the form.

Then Thursday came. Maybe there’s some significance to that. Thursday, the day our Lord was crucified. Perhaps not. Anyway, on Thursday, I received a let in the mail. It cost them 45¢ to mail it. The letter said that I could make a copy of the VHS.

My thought on this is that you should always respond by a similar method to that by which you are contacted. If I had sent them an letter through the mail, it would have been better for them to respond by a letter than by e-mail or some other form. But I sent them an electronic message. The appropriate thing for them to do was to send an e-mail back to me. Even if they had simply said, “We are mailing a response to your request. You should receive it in a few days.”

We need to be considerate of the people who contact us. People have an expectation of how long it takes to respond. E-mail is a nearly instantaneous form of communication, so people expect a quick response. The postal service takes a while, so people are willing to wait longer. It can be upsetting to people when we don’t meet their expectations.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Why Do You Exist?

After several years of having the same website design, I’m sure our church website is due for a change. As website designs go, it has held up very well. That’s part of why I’m struggling with creating a new design. As is, it has all the things, and more, that you would expect from a church website design, so it isn’t easy to identify problems that need to be fixed.

Mike Anderson, one of the developers of MarsHill.com, recently blogged about 5 Principles of Church Website Design. They are:
  1. Tell Them Why You Exist
  2. Give ’Em A Hook
  3. Cast A Wide Net
  4. Don’t Fake A Vibe
  5. Show The Story
I’ve talked about all of these before in previous posts or in the book, in one form or another. Today, I want to focus on the first one. Mike Anderson’s solution was to put the statement “It’s all about Jesus” under the name of the church. My question is, is this enough?

Granted, Mars Hill is not one church but several under one name, so we can expect they may have different needs and different goals than a typical church. But even with them, I suspect that “It’s all about Jesus” is much too broad of a statement. Of course it is all about Jesus, but how does that make them different from any other Christian group?

Our church’s purpose statement is better (if it weren’t so long). It reads: Out purpose is to win people to Jesus Christ and enlist them in ministry, by the aid of the Holy Spirit, for the glory of God. For a website, I would rather it read: Winning people to Jesus and engaging them in ministry. But I wonder if even that is too broad. In the city of Fort Worth, there are probably hundreds of churches that could plaster that statement on their website. What does that say to someone who is looking for a church? Does it have any value for a church member?

I suspect it has more value for church members than it does for people who are looking for a church. A church member who happens to be looking at the church website has one more reminder of our purpose. The newcomer sees nothing that they haven’t seen on other church websites. I want to ask what makes us different from other churches, but that implies I know what other churches are like. A better question is what is it that we are trying to do as a church that few, if any, other churches can do?

Allow me to brainstorm for a moment. We are:
  • Sharing the gospel with the people of south Fort Worth, Crowley, Edgecliff Village and Burleson.
  • We are reaching out to youth and children through various programs.
  • We are teaching the scriptures through sermons and classes.
  • We are helping to spread the gospel through the whole world through our support of the efforts of the Baptist Missionary Association.
  • Our prayers for each other and those outside of our church are facilitated by our prayer meeting on Wednesday night, the church prayer list, the Sunday school class prayer lists, and e-mail mailings.
  • We visit people in the hospital, care for those who are grieving, attend to shut-ins.
  • We worship the Lord through music, with our choir, our brass band, and our praise team.
  • Volunteers clean our building and take care of the upkeep on our lawns

If you can understand why we do those things, you will understand why we exist. Is it “all about Jesus?” Perhaps, but it is more than that. Some people say our church is more loving than and more true to the scriptures than many of the churches they’ve visited. But like I said, I don’t know much about other churches. I wouldn’t want to put that on the church website. I do, however, believe we have a love for God, a love for his word, a love for each other, and a love for those around us. I would like to think that is true of most churches. I’ll leave it to those who have been in other churches to decide if that is true or not.

I very much doubt I can sum up what drives us into a simple statement that gets the whole point across. I rather think that is something that should come through when people see real church members involved in real activities on our church website. If they can see our dedication to the things we are called to do, they will understand who we are as a church.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

God's Most Unusual Name

No matter how many times you read it, the Bible always has something that you haven’t seen before. Sometimes it is some deeper meaning that you haven’t seen. Sometimes it is something simple that you just hadn’t noticed before. This was the case for me last Wednesday night.

We all know that God has many names. Perhaps you’ve participated in a worship service in which banners showing the names of God are carried in. You probably saw names like Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Prince of Peace, Jehovah, Emmanuel, Jesus, the Everlasting Father. There are so many beautiful names of God. Each one tells us something about the nature of God. It is an act of worship just to see those names before us and to read them off. But there’s one name for God that you aren’t likely to see on one of those banners. I believe it is God’s most unusual name.

I don’t know why I hadn’t noticed it before. We were studying a passage that I’d read multiple times before. We were looking at the passage in which God gives Moses the Law for the second time. You recall that the people danced around a golden calf the first time God gave Moses the Law, so Moses broke the tablets and forced the people to drink it. But Moses went up to the Lord a second time and the Lord again wrote the Law on two tablets of stone. And God promised to drive out the people in the land he had promised Israel and he commanded them to tear down the altars, and images, and Asherah poles. And here is the reason, “For thou shalt worship no other god; for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God….” (Exodus 34:14)

“Whose name is Jealous.” I don’t know how many times I’ve read that passage, realizing that God is saying that he is jealous (not envious, mind you, but jealous) and I didn’t catch that God said that his name is Jealous. If a man tells me that he is jealous of his wife’s affection, I would say that is a good thing, but that is not the same thing as a man saying, “My name is Jealous.” Why then, does God say that his name is Jealous?

I believe this is God making a point. He wants Israel to understand that his jealousy is so strong that he will not separate it from his name. This isn’t some minor thing. This isn’t something God is one day, but not the next. It isn’t like when he blesses a person one day but not the next. God is always Jealous. Jealous is his name. God wants our worship and he will not stand for someone or something else to get it. If we give it to someone else, then we will suffer the consequences.

Monday, July 2, 2012

If It's Fun, What's So Wrong With It?

Recently, I read an article by Tony Reinke that compared homosexuality to idolatry and made the argument that it leads to unhappiness. I don’t want to dwell on the issue of homosexuality alone, but broaden the discussion to all sin. So often, the basis for immorality is that it makes people happy. Two teenagers go out on a date and end up in bed together, but they enjoyed it, so what’s wrong with that? It is a childish argument. We’ve often heard children say to their parents, “you just don’t want me to have any fun.” And on the basis that immoral activity is fun (which is usually is when we’re doing it), it seems that morality is not fun. So we end up arguing for moral action on the basis that it is what God commands. It becomes a legalistic argument and we are trying to make it to people who have no concern for what God’s law says.

What are we doing?! Have we forgotten the songs we learned growing up? “There is joy in serving Jesus!” “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart!” I don’t remember thinking as I sang those words that they weren’t true. Even now, I’m reminded of how true they are. My greatest pleasure in life is in serving Jesus.

Let me give you an example. I am an assistant teacher for an adult Sunday school class. The primary teacher sings in a southern gospel quartet. He usually knows when he’ll be singing at another church weeks ahead of time. But sometimes he has things come up. I’ve had him call late on Saturday or even on Sunday morning, “I can’t be there. Can you teach the class?” Insufficient preparation time or not, I’m happy to teach the class.

Look at a sin like gluttony. Which is more enjoyable, to be overweight with health problems or to be fit and unafraid to look in the mirror? Sure, it is fun to eat that second slice of cake at the time, but it isn’t fun later. Look at adultery. Having a relationship with someone you shouldn’t seems exciting, but you won’t enjoy the conversation with your spouse and children when they discover what you’ve done. I love seeing these couples who have been together for sixty years and are still enjoying each other’s company. They don’t need the excitement adultery brings because they have something far better.

Sin is fun for a short time, but morality leads to greater happiness.