Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Cold meal . . . hot wife!

Mrs. Frankly and I recently discovered Alaska: The Last Frontier, one of the new shows on Discovery. It chronicles the exploits of the families of Atz and Otto Kilcher, two of Yule and Ruth Kilcher’s eight children. When Yule saw war clouds rising in Europe, the family patriarch moved the family to Alaska’s Kachemak Bay to escape Hitler’s war machine.

During a recent episode, Otto talked about his wife, Charlotte. He loves her – everything about her, it seems – except her cooking. She has little culinary ability. So Otto does a lot of the cooking.

Though his father has passed away, Otto recalled that once Yule dropped in at their home, and was surprised to find Otto in the kitchen cooking.

Yule asked Charlotte, “Where’s Otto?”

“In the kitchen.”

“In the kitchen!”

Finding Otto at the stove, the incredulous Yule asked his son, “Why are you cooking? You have a wife!”

Otto’s response is classic, and one that I will share with every engaged couple that attend one of our premarriage preparation classes. “I’d rather have a hot wife and a cold meal than a cold wife and a hot meal.

Now there’s a man that gets it!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

This is the body of Christ . . .

My friend, Jamie Wetzel, is the Administrative Minister at Meridian Christian Church. A week ago tonight I joined with he and several others from his church for an "Election Day Communion" service. It was an inspiring way to end the evening. Jamie's words so so exceptionally well crafted. They may be the finest "communion devotions" I have ever heard. With his permission, I share them with the readers of Frankly Speaking.

One of the main functions of this practice of Communion is to remind us of things that we have a tendency to forget. As we approach the table, it draws us back to the truths that we need to hold onto. So tonight, it is valuable to recall what we are doing as we gather around the table. 

We gather around the table: 
  1. To remember the life that Jesus modeled for us and called us to. There’s a number of reasons why we get so tired of the election season, but one reason is because it has a tendency to turn otherwise nice people into raging hate-mongers. The sad thing is, followers of Jesus often fall into this trap as well. The reality is, we need a constant reminder that no matter the situation, we are to embody the same attitude as Christ. When we approach the table of the Lord, we see bread and juice and we are reminded of the life he modeled: a love for enemies, care for the broken and forgotten, denial of self, sacrificial humility instead of grasping for power. Communion then, reminds us of how we are to live in this world. 
  2. To remember that the power of God is the hope of the world. It’s easy to get caught up in the hype during election season that a candidate, or an administration, or a country is the only hope for this world. So much so, that it’s implied if we go with “the other guys” then there will only come gloom and despair. We come to the table to remind ourselves of the truth, that only the power of God gives sight to the blind; only the power of God hears every cry of the oppressed; only the power of God made a spectacle of the powers and authorities at the cross; only the power of God raised Jesus from the dead; and ONLY the power of God can bring hope to this world. Communion reminds us that our hope is found in Jesus through the power of God. 
  3. To remember our sin and the need to repent. We need the table to jar us back to the sobering reality that our sin has separated us from God, that it is real, and that it is serious. Communion places in our hands, for us to hold, and touch and eat, the tangible reminder that our sin deserves punishment. We are reminded that Jesus took that punishment upon himself, and allowed his body to be broken, and blood to be spilled from his body. We need the table to drive us back to repentance, over and over and over. And so we gather together so that we will never forget our sin. 
  4. To remember that God’s grace is available to all. At the table, we are reminded that God does not show favoritism. We are reminded that God’s grace does not discriminate nor divide. The political parties tell us that if we are a woman we will align with them, or if we are a man, we will join them, but the table reminds us that male and female are welcome. The political parties tell us that the other guys are rich and greedy or poor and lazy, but the table calls out to the rich and the poor, “come.” The grace of God is open to all and shatters international boundaries, gender lines, social divisions, and political affiliations. Communion reminds us that we are not to deny to some what God has openly offered to all. 
  5. To re-pledge our allegiance to Jesus. One of the things that bugs me about politics is that we are forced to choose between imperfect candidates. In order to choose a candidate that supports the issues we are passionate about, we have to compromise on the ones they support that we are uncomfortable with. Family values, social issues, economic strategies, and foreign policies are often all over the spectrum, and we have to vote using labels such as “the lesser of two evils.” 
What would it look like for a candidate who “remains faithful forever, upholds the cause of the oppressed, gives food to the hungry, sets prisoners free, gives sight to the blind, lifts up those who are bowed down, who loves the righteous, watches over the alien, sustains the fatherless and the widow, and frustrates the ways of the wicked”? 

How great would it be to put our trust in one who does all that he promises, and will reign in justice and righteousness, mercy and love? 


That candidate exists, and he’s already won the campaign, and his name is Jesus. There is no competition, there is no challenger, there is no recount. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We come tonight to re-pledge our allegiance to him and him alone.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Thanks, Dad


At South Lansing Christian Church, we took a moment to say thank you, yesterday, to our veterans. Like you, I am incredibly grateful for the sacrifices that these fine men and women made on our behalf.

My dad is my favorite veteran. Dad served in the United States Navy Reserve right after high school. He was stationed on the USS Lowry, a destroyer that was an escort vessel to the USS Randolph, an aircraft carrier that operated in the Atlantic. Dad was part of history when he was on the Lowry.

They were just steaming into Norfolk, and were expecting leave when the Captain informed them that leave was cancelled, and they were to undergo emergency resupply and immediate deployment to Cuba. Apparently Khrushchev decided to put some missiles in Cuba and President Kennedy didn't think that was such a good idea. 

Dad said they headed into the Caribbean at full steam to take up station as part of the Cuban blockade. For days they zigzagged across the ocean, trailing a submerged contact. Eventually the sub they were tracking was forced to surface. Dad told me that seeing the hammer and sickle of the Soviet flag on the conning tower of that submarine was the most frightened he had ever been.

The November 1962 issue of Life magazine detailed those fateful thirteen days about that time that shows the Soviet submarine with my dad's ship in the foreground. I take pride in my dad's service, and in knowing that he was willing to lay down his life at such a crucial time in our nation's history.

Each of us knows a veteran. Take a moment today and call him or her up to say, "Thanks!"

Friday, November 09, 2012

A path home

Finally.

After Tuesday's stinging rejection Republican leaders are saying the GOP needs to tackle immigration reform. Its about time.

For too long, immigration reform has been a political football. If Social Security is "the third rail" that politicians have been afraid to touch, then immigration is the subway train. Mention "reform" and you run the risk of getting run over.

There haven't been many in the GOP that were willing to even consider a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. The mere whisper of the idea sets off a howling chorus of "Amnesty! Amnesty!" among the far right. Out come the posters of the handful of immigrants who are convicted murderers. News reports of emergency rooms in border towns being overrun by uninsured Mexicans and South Americans run non-stop on Fox News.

I welcome the change -  even if any turnaround has more to do with the shifting demographics of the electorate than the call to "give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free." If it takes 70% of the Hispanic vote marking their ballots with a big "D" to get Republicans to do the right thing then I'm all for it.

I know, I know. You're thinking: "I thought you said you weren't going to write about political issues; I thought you said that the election was over and it was time to move on." And you're right to note the inconsistency. But this is an issue I've been writing about for some time. In a post back in 2006 I wrote about the dilemma. I've been talking about it much longer.

My first mission trip was with Amor Ministries back in 1998. We traveled to Tijuana to build a house for a family living in a squalid border encampment. Their "home" was four garage doors salvaged from the local dump with a fifth laid across the top for a roof. It had a dirt floor. No running water. A backyard baño.

As hard as their life was, there was a family living up the street with one that was much harder. This family had a tiny seven-year-old daughter. Shorter than the rest of the neighborhood children; she couldn't have weighed forty pounds. Our team brought some gifts to her and the other neighborhood children. A toothbrush and toothpaste. Crayons. Coloring books. She was too sick to show much enthusiasm.

Through our interpreter we asked what was wrong, and learned that she had a heart defect. One that, if not corrected, would likely kill her before she became a teenager. It broke our hearts. We felt so powerless. And though we tried to make some contacts when we got back to the states, Indiana was too far away and were unable to connect with the right people to make anything happen.

I still wonder about that little girl.

The thing is, if that is my little girl, I swim any river, climb any fence; I do whatever I have to do to get her to an American doctor. Just across the border is a modern American city with the finest hospitals, and the finest doctors. Three miles north that little girl gets the heart surgery she needs to change her life. If all that separates my little girl from a life saving surgery is a line, you'd better not stand in the way, because I'd immigrate illegally, and so would you.

There has to be a common sense approach that allows us to embrace people that want a better life for their children. That's how you and I (read "white people") got here, after all. Some ancestor fled a potato famine or a repressive political system. A great-great-grandparent sacrificed and saved enough Shillings or Francs or Deustche Marks to get on a boat and sail west toward hope.

Given how great a body of water the Atlantic is, and how far our ancestors had to come, why are we surprised - and resentful - when someone wades across a drought-shallow Rio Grande?

I say we welcome any and all who will pledge their allegiance to the flag. Any and all who will work hard, pay their taxes, and raise their families to love this nation that has said, since 1903, "give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free."

For too long this issue has been a cauldron of political poison. What do you say we get back to the America our great-grandparents knew - not a boiling kettle of political frustration, but a hope-filled melting pot of ethnic diversity.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Now what?


Another election day is past and America has spoken - or at least 60% of registered voters have, according to initial reports.

Elections divide us. There are winners and losers. They put a spotlight on our differences. And although they provide the opportunity for sincere discussion and compromise, elections all too often end up devolving into partisan entrenchment. We dig in our heels and add fuel enhancer to our vocabularies. According to Rasmussen, about one out of every four people have had a relationship with a friend or family member negatively impacted by this year's election.

So what now? The reality is this: there are Democrats, Independents and Republicans in our church. There are supporters of both Obama and Romney among us. To our credit, we have kept the partisan discourse from dividing our church. But can we go beyond that and find common ground upon which to unite?

I think we can.

I think we can unite around the common purpose of "Connecting our community to God's story, one person at a time." I believe we can focus on our mission to “Help people write the next chapter of their faith story by providing environments where they can seek, study and serve God."

Let that be what unites us. Let the Lordship of Christ and the worship of our Heavenly Father provide the basis upon which we call ourselves siblings. In Christ there is "no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ."

Time to move on. Time to move forward with what really matters: the things that are eternal.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Almost over . . .

The most contentious, most important, most critical-to-our-nation election in the history of this week will be over in about 30 hours. You read that correctly. The most important election . . . this week.


I agree with Brian Roberts. This is not the most important election in the history of The United States. The most important election in the history of this country resulted in the election of Abraham Lincoln. Before that, people owned other people. This election is important, as are all elections. But the most important ever? Please.

Neither is it the most negative.

According to the New York Times, the elections of 1796 and 1800 were much nastier. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams hated one another. Obama's attacks on Romney's ties to Bain Capitol and the far right's obsession with Obama's birth certificate pale by comparison. Jefferson's opponents hated him so profoundly that they characterized him as
a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father, as was well known in the neighborhood where he was raised, wholly on hoe-cake (made of coarse-ground Southern corn), bacon, and hominy, with an occasional change of fricasseed bullfrog, for which abominable reptiles he had acquired a taste during his residence among the French.
No, this is nowhere near the nastiest election ever.

That probably comes as little consolation to the three of every ten people that say the election has caused more stress in their families. According to a Rasmussen poll, 1 out of every 4 people say that "the upcoming election has negatively affected their personal relationship with a friend or family member." Nearly half (45%) say they have "gotten into a heated argument with a friend or family member."

I have not.

I've tiptoed, side-stepped and danced my way around the election so frequently that I'm about to qualify for a spot on dancing with the stars. I've perfected the art of the pastoral two-step, managing to keep my friendships and my family intact.

Its not that I don't have some opinions; I do. I just keep them to myself.

Its a shame, too. Though we live in a country where freedom speech is celebrated, we somehow have become far less generous to the speakers.

The fact is, I ought to be able to have a conversation with my left-wing, lily-livered, liberal whack-job friends without fear of losing said friendship. I should be able to talk about why they want to protect trees but not babies, and they should be able to ask me why I want to kill guys who are locked up for murder, but not allow people trapped in bodies riddled with Lou Gherig's disease to take their own life.

It shouldn't matter if I vote for the big business, tax-the-middle-class-but-give-a-pass-to-millionaires, woman-hating, racist, war-mongering Mitt Romney. or the freedom-destroying, tree-hugging, baby-killing, gay-marriage-supporting, maybe-he-is-or-maybe-he-isn't-a-citizen Barack Obama. Either way, I should be able to have a civil conversation with someone on the opposite side of the fence without lowering my opinion of my friend or raising my blood pressure.

But, it seems we cannot.

At least it will all be over soon. Then maybe we can get to work repairing those strained relationships in time for the Thanksgiving Day family reunion.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

God's Story

South Lansing Christian Church recently adopted 5 Core Values. Over the course of the next five weeks I will write about each of these Core Values at Frankly Speaking.
Core Value: God's Story

I love a good story. A damsel in distress; a down-on-his-luck guy who finally makes it big; the ugly duckling that becomes a beautiful swan. The stories that touch our lives are stories of redemption. Frodo journeys to Mordor and casts a malevolent ring into Mt. Doom and saves Middle Earth. Luke confronts the Emperor and redeems his father, Darth Vader. Vivian meets the charming billionaire, Edward, and trades in her hip boots and tube top for Jimmy Chu and Vera Wang.

But then there is reality. And the reality is this: your story ain’t no fairytale. You’ve lived life long enough to know that you’re not going to pick the Powerball. You aren’t going to bump into your date from the Senior Prom on New Year’s Eve. If your story is like a lot of people’s, it is filled with clogged drains and broken fan belts. It's characters include domineering bosses and disappointed spouses. The chapters contain mountains and valleys, success and failures.

And in between the running toilets and runny noses – if you’re like a lot of people – you probably sometimes wonder how your story is going to turn out. Late at night when you’re lying in bed with just your thoughts, maybe you wish you could skip ahead to the end to see how your story turns out. Because if you knew how this story ended, it would help you write the next chapter. It would not only reassure you that your story is worth writing and worth telling, but it would help make sense of some of the more difficult chapters that you face.

For as long as I can remember, I thought God's story began in Genesis. "In the beginning" are the first three words of the English Bible, after all. It turns out, though, that there is one other place where we read, "In the beginning," and though it was written centuries after the Genesis account it, nevertheless, writes of events that precede the creation of the earth by an untold number of years / centuries / eons.

John wrote, "In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning."

Turns out there is no beginning to God's story, just as there will be no end. All of creation, all of time, all of it is God's story. And the most amazing part of His story is that He invites us to enter into it. God wants us in His story.

You see, it is all about Him. And when you and I rightly understand that our best story is the one in which God is the main character, life begins to make more sense. It begins to be lived with a sense of purpose and destiny.

Jesus is the beginning and end. Revealed in His Word, God invites each of us to enter into His story and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, enables us to bear witness to that story and invite others to enter into it.

Practically, that has at least two implications.

First, when my story connects with God’s story or, more precisely, when I find myself in God’s story, something holy happens. Life begins to make sense. Life begins to have a purpose. When I begin to see God as the main character in my story, then life takes on a completely new dimension. Not only that, but, when my story connects with your story and God's story, that is where we find the church. That's where our story happens.

The second implication is a bit more personal. It is simply this: your story is not over. You and I have no say in the beginning of our stories. But we can have an effect in the ending. Maybe your story has a crummy beginning. Broken home. Unwanted pregnancy. Neglect Abuse. Here's the reality: no matter how lousy the beginning of your story was, God wants to write an amazing end.

What is more, it doesn't matter if you've had some miserable chapters along the way. Maybe you've struggled with addiction. Maybe you've left a trail of severed relationships and broken promises. The beauty of entering into God's story is that you can start right now and write a new chapter that leads to a different ending.

That is the beauty of entering into God's story - this epic adventure without beginning or end in which all who make Jesus the central character of their story write for themselves a story that transcends earth and time!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Taking the risk

When Chicago Cub second baseman Darwin Barney had a hot ground ball two hop its way through the infield grass Friday night, he had a lot to lose. For 141 consecutive games, Barney has patrolled the clay between first and second base with perfection. Not since Ryne Sandberg have Cub fans witnessed such diamond wizardry at second.

Coming into Friday night's game Barney was just nine innings away from breaking Placido Polanco's Major League record for consecutive error free games. When Justin Upton's sharp ground ball forced Barney to range far to his right, he was able to cut the ball off. And, had he just pocketed the ball, his streak would have been intact. It was ruled a hit by the official scorer after all was said and done.

But Barney is a gamer. So, with his momentum carrying him away from first baseman Anthony Rizzo, Barney turned and fired at first base, attempting to throw Upton out. Unfortunately, the ball was poorly thrown, and Rizzo was unable to pick the ball out of the dirt. As the ball squirted beneath his glove, Aaron Hill was able to score from third, having already advanced from second base on the ground ball.

And Barney was charged with a throwing error.

Streak over.

The thing is, nobody would have thought twice if Barney would have simply held onto the ball. I can't tell you the number of times, while coaching my son's little league team, I've shouted to a fielder in the exact same circumstances, "Eat it!"

Just hold onto the ball, Barney, and the runner will have to hold at third. But, more importantly, the streak will be intact. Just three more outs and your name goes in the record book and your glove goes to Cooperstown.

But that is not the way Darwin Barney plays the game. He plays all out. He takes risks. Even risks that have the potential to hurt him, personally, if they will benefit the team, corporately.

After the game, when asked about the end of the streak, Yahoo Sports reported Barney saying,
I've got to make that play. . . It was 5-3 at the time. We're in that ballgame. My job is to make plays regardless of taking risk and I think I've done that through this whole little run. That's just how you play the game. You can't hold that ball right there."
My job is to make plays regardless of taking risks.

I love that.

I wonder how many times I have avoided taking a risk that might benefit my team because the personal downside was too precarious?

Of course, there are those who will point out the hapless Cub's record. They're closing in an 100 losses  this season, after all. Why bother with perfection when your team is 36 games out of first place?

But I would argue that makes his pursuit of personal achievement even more significant, just as it makes the risk he took Friday night more noble. Whenever I subordinate what benefits me to what benefits the team we win even if I lose.

Way to go, Darwin Barney! Thanks for the inspiration, the reminder.

Now, if the Cubs could get a few more guys that field like Darwin Barney and hit like Justin Upton. Can I get an "Amen" from Mark Christian and the Sprunger brothers?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Modest is hottest?

A couple weeks ago I sat in the McDonald's restaurant in Jonesville, Michigan preparing a teaching on the subject of modesty. Part of a series of sermons that are directed towards women in our church,  I was particularly nervous as I pondered how to address this sensitive topic. As I sat near the door - the only place near enough to an outlet to power my laptop - a parade of scantily clad women came and went.

Afterward I drove back to the camp where I was chaperoning my son's marching band. Along the way I got stuck behind a buggy full of Amish women and children. Driving three mile an hour down a two-lane road gave me plenty of time to survey the situation. Three women were wedged together on the seat with an assortment of five or so kids clinging to the sides of what looked like part pick up truck, part carriage.

I couldn't help but notice the difference between the Amish women with their long sleeves and covered heads and the tube-top-wearing women that frequented McDonald's.

When I arrived back at band camp, the marching band was readying for their evening rehearsal. As I situated my chair in the pavilion next to the football field, I noticed a freshman clarinet player readying her instrument. Printed on the front of her shirt were the words, "Modest is Hottest."

I stared at the phrase, turning it over in my head thinking, "How can I work that into my sermon?" Then, "Is that phrase even true?" Then, "Where can I get some of those t-shirts to hand out on the Sunday I preach this message?"

It must have been an uncomfortable few moments for her before I realized that this freshman girl must have thought I was staring - not at the message on her shirt - but at . . . what was directly beneath the fabric where it was printed. I know I felt awkward. I tried to explain to her that I was a pastor, but I think that only made things worse.

Later on I Googled the phrase and came across Sarah Pulliam Bailey's well written, cleverly titled Her*meneutics blog. She contends that the mantra hurts Christian women. "Modest is Hottest," she claims, objectifies women, just in a different form. The approach still reduces the female body to a sexual object.

But woman (and men for that matter) are so much more.

We are also spirit and mind. And, together with our bodies, we have been created to bring glory to God.

Who gets the glory goes to the heart of the issues surrounding modesty. Bailey wrote,
Men and women are urged to pursue modesty by which our glory is minimized and God's is maximized. The body, spirit and the mind all have a created role that is inherently God-centered. When we make ourselves central instead of God we display the height of immodesty.
She's right. But we must not lose sight of the practical issue at work here, too - one that goes beyond the traditional don't-cause-your-Christian-brother-to-stumble conversation. As much as men are accused of objectifying women, women objectify themselves when they view their body as a marketing plan by which one can attract a man.

When a woman dresses provocatively she is marketing herself to every man. The problem with that approach is that every marketing plan assumes that the one doing the marketing can deliver the goods. But a woman should not, cannot deliver the goods to every man. Rather, she should reserve the most intimate part of her being - her sexuality - for only one man, her husband.

When a man or woman uses his or her sexuality to attract, he or she is writing a check with his or her body that the spirit cannot and should not cash.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Christians have hotter sex?

When my friend Dave sent me a link to an article from Psychology Today with the the title "Do Religious People Have a Hotter Sex Life?" it got my attention. I am in the midst of a three-week sermon series that is focused on women and that the third of these sermons addresses how men and women relate in the bedroom.

And then there is my choice in vocation. Most would agree that a pastor qualifies as a "religious person," so it would appear that the article speaks directly to my profession.

Then again, not quite the way I thought it would.

In short, the article suggests that religious people are having lots of sex. Just not with their spouses, unfortunately. Dr. Nigel Barber, the article's author, has the research to back up his claims. Consider these troubling statistics:
  • A study of people that have sex in public restrooms reveals that the "typical" participant is "married and religious."
  • Residents of highly religious states spend more time viewing internet porn than do the residents of less religious states.
  • A study showed that the level of agreement with the statement, "Even today miracles are performed by the power of God" was associated with higher pornography consumption.
  • States that have banned gay marriage have 11 percent more porn subscribers.
  • Finally, residents of states that claim to adhere to old-fashioned family values purchase considerably more porn than those that do not.
Why the inconsistency?

Dr. Barber suggests that one of the causes might be what psychologists call "the white bear effect." That is, tell someone not to think about a white bear, and that becomes all they can think about. With regard to sex, he opines that a similar effect may be at work. The more religions tell people not to engage in illicit sex, the more they want to do so.

Although Dr. Barber might disagree - he recently authored the book Why Atheism Will Replace Religion - I think there is something deeper at work here. A spiritual dimension. Christians call it, "spiritual warfare." The Apostle Paul put it this way:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
The church of Christ in ancient Corinth knew something about spiritual warfare.  In his letter to these Christians who were acting as salt and light in a culture that was imbued with sexual licentiousness, Paul urged his fellow Christ-followers to win the battle of the mind. He told them to "take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ." 

In this respect, maybe Dr. Barber is on to something. The solution is not simply, "try not to think about it." But rather to embrace sexual thinking; to acknowledge the thoughts and redirect them. To take them captive.

For too long Christians have tried to refrain from indulging their sexual appetites when, in fact, we need, instead, to retrain them on the spouses that God gives us to enjoy. Here again, Paul speaks to this:
   Now regarding the questions you asked in your letter. Yes, it is good to abstain from sexual relations. But because there is so much sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman should have her own husband.   The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs. The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife.   Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer. Afterward, you should come together again so that Satan won’t be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
 In short, Paul counsels the Christian husband and wife to have sex, and lots of it.

It would be interesting, and probably more than a little illuminating, to learn how the level of sexual satisfaction within a Christian marriage relates to the statistics cited in the aforementioned article. I frequently tell couples that each of them is their spouse's first and best line of defense against sexual temptation. In other words, something that our great-grandparents said is probably quite true: when the home fires burn brightly, a man (or woman) is less likely to seek warmth somewhere else.

 I suggest you and your spouse test that theory out. Frequently.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Big boys, tiny trains and a REALLY BIG God

They say that the difference between men and boys is the price of their toys. Bitter Creek Western Railroad certainly confirms that sentiment.

Located about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, BCWR is a 7.5 inch scale model railroad. Over a dozen times each year fully grown men descend on Bitter Creek bringing their expensive toy trains with them. Costing thousands of dollars, these intricate replicas burn coal and generate steam - enough that the wannabe engineers can pull true-to-scale box cars, log haulers and passenger coaches along the 1.2 mile mainline.

Oil cans in hand, weekend railroaders wipe smudges from their cheeks with their blue bandanas as they ready their trains prior to riding them - yes, riding them - down the tracks through four tunnels and across six bridges and trestles surrounded by a ponderosa pine studded landscape.

The railroad is owned by Karl, an otherwise regular guy who wanted a place for his friends to meet and play with trains. He has succeeded in making enormously big steam engines small enough for regular people with regular wallets to live out their childhood dreams.

Don't Christians do something similar? Aren't we called to proclaim a transcendent God in ways that finite people can wrap their heads around? We make the infinite accessible - as much as it is possible.

Paul, a first century Christian missionary wrote, " . . . we are Christ’s ambassadors . . . "

Karl Hovanitz is rightly regarded as the preeminent "Model Railroad Ambassador."

As Christians we are scale-model ambassadors of a far greater reality. How? Paul provides the answer: "We speak for Christ when we plead, 'Come back to God!'"

 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Reflections on band camp

The sun is low across the lake. It has been cool all day with an unusually high humidity for an August afternoon. Sound travels far in this heavy air. I'm sitting on a picnic table outside a dorm with a Native American name I can't pronounce.

Fifty yards away, the percussion section bangs out eighth-note triplets. To my left the tubas are practicing scales. I can feel the notes slapping against the wall of the dorm. The trombones are playing the Grand Ledge High School Alma Mater off to my right. The trumpets - out of sight somewhere between the tubas and trombones - are working their way through I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables. And, in the midst of the dissonance, the flag corp is on the outdoor basketball court tossing their flags in rhythm to a Lady Gaga tune. (They've somehow managed to drag a stereo to camp so Gaga can make her contribution to the musical mayhem.)

It is Band Camp 2012 at Kimball Camp.

I wonder what the neighbors' reactions are to this Sunday night cacophony. I wonder if they have any idea how blown away they'll be in about thirty minutes when the sections come together on the hastily marked out football field to play the fight song. When Mr. Blackmer hits the ignition switch on this nearly 200 horsepower music machine with trumpets blaring and percussion snapping out a rhythm that echoes through the meadow down to the water's edge and beyond.

It is an awesome thing when the band finally comes together on Sunday night.

But for now - on Sunday afternoon - they're in the sections. Doing their own thing. Making noise instead of music.

I wish it didn't remind me so much of Sunday mornings.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Enough, already . . .


Question: When did upholding what one believes become hate?

Dan Cathy is a man under fire. So is Chik-Fil-A, the restaurant chain his father founded. In the last two weeks he has been vilified by many in the media and portrayed as a purveyor of hate by the agenda-driven homosexual lobby.

For the record, here is what Cathy said in his interview with The Baptist Press:
. . . as a organizations we can operate on biblical principles. So that is what we claim to be. [We are] based on biblical principles, asking God and pleading with God to give us wisdom on decisions we make about people and the programs and partnerships we have. And He has blessed us.
In other words, Cathy says his organization is based on Biblical values. Admittedly, there are those who read the Bible differently than Cathy does. They suggest that a prohibition against sex outside of the boundaries of the monogamous husband/wife relationship either cannot be found in scripture, or is out-of-date and thus irrelevant.

They’re wrong.

Scripture is clear on the subject no matter how one wants to read it.

Discard it? Okay, I get that. I disagree, but I get it. But you cannot distort part of it or dismiss a portion of it. If you’re going to throw out the Bible’s prohibition against homosexual acts (or sex before marriage, or adultery, or pornographic-induced list, or coveting another’s spouse) then you’re going to have to throw out all of scripture and not just the parts that are unpalatable to the whims of contemporary society.

Had Cathy left it at that, he might have avoided incurring the wrath of the Muppets. But here’s what he said that got Kermit the Frog hot under the collar:
We are very much supportive of the family - the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.

We operate as a family business . . . our restaurants are typically led by families; some are single. We want to do anything we possible can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that. 
Sadly, Cathy is carrying a burden that better belongs on the shoulders of pastors, elders and church leaders. He’s getting hate mail and we’re all just hoping it will go away.

But it isn’t going to.

The scorched earth, shoot-first, refuse-to-even-engage-in-dialogue tactics of politicians like Chicago Alderman Joe Moreno and activist groups like Equality Illinois have left most of us that stand up to preach on Sundays scurrying for cover.

I get that. Nobody wants one more target painted on his or her back every Sunday. Truth is, there is enough pressure on pastors without adding the threat of being targeted by a militant organization that hates you simply for what you believe.

But Cathy isn’t a preacher. He makes chicken. And he knows something about pressure, so I am guessing he was just following his internal moral compass when gave his incendiary interview in which he mentioned homosexuality a total of zero times and spoke favorably of strengthening families and helping business owners succeed through values-based entrepreneurship.

Call what he said old-fashioned. Out-of-touch. Or even sadly misguided.

But it is not hate.

It is simply espousing what Cathy (and billions of others on the planet) believe to be fact – that we are created by a divine being that defines standards of acceptable behavior for his creation. And that a departure from those standards (AKA “sin” – of any kind – not just the sexual kind) results in trouble for the one deviating from God’s plan, and trouble for any culture that applauds, promotes, and welcomes such a departure.

Cathy isn’t going to wake up tomorrow and decide that Chik-Fil-A is going to do a one-eighty on this issue. He is principled. His values and his faith mean more to him than the bottom line and quarterly dividends. It doesn’t matter how many kissing gays and lesbians besiege restaurants this week, Chik-Fil-A would sooner begin serving sausage burgers than reverse course.  

Militant gays can shut down Chik-Fil-A. The company can implode, and the protesters can do a happy dance on the ashes of a corporation destroyed by holding fast to its principles. But what will the gay rights advocates have accomplished? Tens of thousands will lose their jobs. Millions of chickens will save their skin.

But this chicken isn’t concerned about saving his skin anymore. Or losing his job for that matter. I’m standing with Dan Cathy and Chik-Fil-A.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

A failure to communicate

My friend Larry Carter told me about a recent conversation he had with one of his students. Larry is the President of Great Lakes Christian College and works hard to be accessible to their student body. So, as is often the case, he joined a table of undergrads for lunch a couple weeks back.

Larry and I have several things in common. We both love history. We matriculated from the same graduate school. We both grew up in the Christian Church. And we both have a friend in Tom Hensley. Tom and Larry have been friends ever since they were young preachers in DeKalb County, Indiana. While Tom and Larry were forging their friendship at Huntington College (now Huntington University) Tom was teaching a very young Frank Weller as the preacher of my boyhood church. Tom remains close to my aunt and uncle, so I've kept in touch with him over the years.

Tom is also a great golfer. In fact, Tom is a club chaplain at Bay Hill Golf Club in Orlando, Florida.

Arnold Palmer's course.

A few weeks back Tom was able to play a round with Arnie. It was the second time he was able to tee it up with the great one. Matter of fact, Tom counts as one of his greatest moments when Arnie walked past him and said, "Great shot, Tom!" Who wouldn't?

Larry was sharing all of this with his table of students last week. They could see that he was excited for his friend, and excited to tell them of his once-removed brush with fame. But when Larry told them, "My friend, Tom, got to play a round of golf with Arnold Palmer last week," they seemed unimpressed. Lost even.

Then one student, a senior named Paige, brightened an blurted out, "Arnold Palmer . . . Oh you mean the lemonade guy!"

I don't know who felt older: Larry as he told me the story, or me as I heard it.

In either case, since we're both preachers, we learned that we can't take for granted that our listeners have the context in which to understand what we're saying. Clearly not all of them do. And that is the challenge. If I illustrate a sermon with a story from Watergate, more than half of the folks in the room will have no idea what I am talking about.

Even something more recent, say, a blue dress worn by a Presidential intern, is likely to garner several blank stares (my oldest child was a first-grader when President Clinton left office.)

It is incredibly challenging to communicate to an audience that can span as many as seven decades in age. And yet, if we're going to impart biblical knowledge and wisdom to all, my fellow preachers and I need to make sure we are relevant to every generation.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Tom Crean's Postgame Comments

I love what Tom Crean had to say after IU's loss to Kentucky in their sweet sixteen game. Fast-forward to 11:55 to hear his comments about his players becoming the spiritual leaders of their families.