Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Stupid church or stupid church people?

This past Sunday morning I was listening to my pastor preach a sermon and he gave an illustration about an annual business meeting. It was a meeting he attended shortly after becoming a Christian and he was all excited about the opportunity to be a part of God's business.

Well, the meeting turned out to be one of those knock-down, drag-outs, with members and leaders yelling at each other. Our pastor was very confused and dissappointed. He looked to an older friend for explanation.

"Don't worry" came the reasoning. "The church is fine. Just some of the people are stupid."

This got me thinking. Since I joined the blogging community, I have been challenged by friends who have mostly left "the church" institution. I hear many comments about the dumb attitudes and policies that church leaders promote, but not nearly enough about why the church, by itself, as an institution, is stupid.

So, that is my question. What makes the church a stupid institution?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Prayer Works Again

I just want to give God thanks for the following two recent miracles.

My father-in-law had pneumonia, whooping cough, and valley fever (a Phoenix area sickness that can lead to death in extreme cases) all at the same time. He went to the doctor for a scan of his lungs and they found the tell-tale spots of the fever. Because these spots can be cancerous, they scheduled him for a biopsy. When he went in for the biopsy, they wanted to get a second scan to pinpoint the exact locations and to see if things had changed.

Well, a few friends and our family laid our hands on dad and prayed that God would remove the spots and heal him completely. We also prayed that God would give dad peace. He was very worried about having surgery.

The scan was complete. The doctor examined it and found NO spots! He said he couldn't explain it - they were completely gone. Dad told the doctor it was because of prayer and the doctor just smiled.

A student in my youth group was with his school on a paintball outing. He was playing capture the flag. When he grabbed the flag he rolled his ankle. At the hospital, an x-ray revealed that he had broken it. The doctor put a cast on his leg from his ankle all the way up his thigh.

He was told that he would be in a wheelchair for the next six weeks and absolutely could not put any pressure on his ankle or leg. He was warned that if he did this, the bones would not set right and they would have to re-break it in order to try again.

A bunch of people prayed for his healing, including myself.

A couple of days after the break, he went into the hospital for a follow-up x-ray to determine if they had set it correctly. When the doctor looked at the picture, he said he could not believe it. He could not tell there had even been a break!

At the doctor's recommend, he is still in the wheelchair and cast, but the student says he feels great. Praise God!

"Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and wonderful results." - James 5:16, NLT

So what do you think is responsible for healing? Is it the faith of the person praying? Or does that matter at all? Does God just decide to heal outside of prayer's influence?

Monday, May 22, 2006

Chaddy Brown loved the devil.

I really miss my Grampa. He passed away on July 9th, 2002 of leukemia at the age of 80.

I will never forget the smell of his pipe or his distinguished, "downeast" (Maine) accent. "Wanna play caahhds?" I won't forget his love for animals or people of any kind. In fact, I will never forget one time when he came to visit us kids in the cellar (basement) of his house in Kennebunkport, Maine. We lived down there because my dad had discharged from the Air Force and we had no place to go. Grampa let us build a rough apartment in it.

As he was sitting on the couch he was talking to us and decided to give us a lesson on love. He said, "I love everybody, even the devil because he keeps the earth warm." As a second grader, I didn't understand the devil part, but I certainly learned from Grampa that it was important to accept and love everyone and everything that was living.

To my knowledge, my Grampa, Chaddy Brown, did not know Jesus Christ when he died. Well, my father spoke with him about God, but there wasn't a repeat of any "sinner's prayer" or anything like that. Before I get to my thoughts on that, I want to ask a question.

How much do our personal stories affect our theology?

Here is what my Uncle Larry wrote about my Grampa's life:

Chaddy Brown was quite a boy.

He was independent, old fashioned, curious, generous, shy, witty, and humorous. He got a kick out of people and people got a kick out of him. He enjoyed a challenge. He challenged life and was challenged by it. He was never dissuaded. He enjoyed beating the odds.

He was a talented athlete in his youth, excelling in golf and bowling, but once he met these challenges he left them behind to move on to others. His analytical mind enjoyed the logic of contract bridge and he played with a methodical passion. Chaddy was well known in local bridge circles and was a sought after partner in regional tournaments where he slowly accumulated points, a fraction at a time, until he was recognized by the American Contract Bridge League as a life master. After reaching this pinnacle he seldom if ever played again. He preferred to play cribbage with his family and grandchildren, often cheating to let them win. He teased Sheila by saying her victories didn't count- it was just practice when Grampa lost.

He challenged the English language throughout his life. He was sparing in his usage of various parts of speech. I have never heard him use the verb "to be" for instance. I remember that Chad hoped to win the lottery by buying a "Magnavox" ticket every Saturday. He decried the use of "phonographic" pictures on the internet.

He spent his life in Kennebunkport except for his service during WWII. Those years found him aboard ammunition ships in convoys crossing the Atlantic and into Murmansk Russia where the survival rates were as low as one in three. Chad Brown faced death at an early age and rarely spoke of it.

To meet Chaddy Brown was to like him and to remember him. His work at the Post Office and at Smith's Market gained him a large circle of friends and acquaintances from all walks of life. From bankers to bums, he found something to appreciate in most people he met. It was not the external attributes of a person that mattered to Chad, but their inner qualities that he appreciated and that's what endeared him to so many.

My wife Barbara once wrote a college paper expressing how family storytelling can instill values in future generations. Of course she wrote about her Dad. I quote it now.

"Many of these stories include a mentally handicapped man that my family took various places when I was young. He always wore an official sheriff's badge and my father loved to try to get into fairs or the racetrack for free. These stories present a fun-loving, but very compassionate side of my father. I share these stories so my daughter will understand her grandfather and know I value compassion above other attributes. To ensure that she does not miss the point, I have told her what happened the time I grumbled about how often this man tagged along. The edge to my father's voice was unmistakable as he squelched my complaint with a single sentence: "Emmy has to have a life too."

I came to know him as a somewhat private man who had a life long love of animals. He was a friend of every dog he ever met and a few ponies as well.

When I think of Chad Brown, the words of the poet come to mind:

Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it has ended.

The leaves are all dead on the ground,
Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow
When others are sleeping.

And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
The flowers of the witch hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question "Whither?"

Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love for a season?

- Robert Frost about Chad Brown

In trying to come up with a short summary of his life his children write:

"We found there was much about our Dad we didn't know. We decided that Dad was successful at living life on his own terms. He was glad to help family, friends, or strangers. He saw the positive in everyone that he met. We all share different memories of him, which is probably a function of the range of our ages but it might be from the fact that he loved us as the individuals he saw us to be. We will all miss him in ways that we will never be able to express."

He enjoyed many of the people and things that others didn't see or took for granted. He found humor and pleasure everywhere and with most everyone. Chad was a kind and generous man. He embraced life. When faced the inevitability of his final illness, he first ignored and then embraced death. He courted it and encouraged it unafraid. He bowed and accepted the end with strength and grace.

I miss him so much. What a great man, with great qualities. He was kinder than many Christians I know. Damn me if I judge his final destination based on the doctrine of the tidy "sinner's prayer." Only God knows. My father is at peace with it.

So, how do your personal stories affect your theology? Dig deep and be honest.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Is Ridicule The Answer?

As I was studying for the message I delivered in youth group tonight, I came across a very interesting article on the famous French philosopher Voltaire by Robert G. Ingersoll. My message was about how the Bible has survived over time, persecution and criticism. I wanted to share with the teens how their faith can also endure, like the Bible has. As they get older their faith can be consistent, it can endure persecution, and most importantly - it can stand up under criticism. Their actions can match their beliefs and like the entire New Testament, they can exist with very few variants. Unusual comparison, I know.

Voltaire challenged the Bible on every front (science, archeology, prophecy, promises, etc.). After he began to gain notoriety for his anti-religious views he was inspired and predicted that within 100 years of his death the Bible and Christianity would vanish from the earth and into history. Interestingly, within 50 years of his death the Geneva Bible Society used his printing press and house to print stacks of Bibles.

The more I read the article by Ingersoll, the more I began drawing a comparison between Voltaire and my current blogging friends. He had many of the same issues with the established church of his time as my friends do with the current church. And he used the same method they use to point out the inconsistencies and hypocrisy - ridicule.

Which brings me to my point. Is ridicule the answer to a church gone astray?

Here's what Robert G. Ingersoll feels about it:

"But in what way can the absurdity of the "real presence" be answered, except by banter, by raillery, by ridicule, by persiflage? How are you going to convince a man who believes that when he swallows the sacred wafer he has eaten the entire Trinity, and that a priest drinking a drop of wine has devoured the Infinite? How are you to reason with a man who believes that if any of the sacred wafers are left over they should be put in a secure place, so that mice should not eat God?

What effect will logic have upon a religious gentleman who firmly believes that a God of infinite compassion sent two bears to tear thirty or forty children in pieces for laughing at a bald-headed prophet?

How are such people to be answered? How can they be brought to a sense of their absurdity?

They must feel in their flesh the arrows of ridicule.

So Voltaire has been called a mocker.

What did he mock? He mocked kings that were unjust; kings who cared nothing for the sufferings of their subjects. He mocked the titled fools of his day. He mocked the corruption of courts; the meanness, the tyranny and the brutality of judges. He mocked the absurd and cruel laws, the barbarous customs. He mocked popes and cardinals and bishops and priests, and all the hypocrites on the earth. He mocked historians who filled their books with lies, and philosophers who defended superstition. He mocked the haters of liberty, the persecutors of their fellow-men. He mocked the arrogance, the cruelty, the impudence, and the unspeakable baseness of his time.

He has been blamed because he used the weapon of ridicule.

Hypocrisy has always hated laughter, and always will. Absurdity detests humor, and stupidity despises wit.

Voltaire was the master of ridicule. He ridiculed the absurd, the impossible. He ridiculed the mythologies and the miracles, the stupid lives and lies of the saints. He found pretence and mendacity crowned by credulity. He found the ignorant many controlled by the cunning and cruel few. He found the historian, saturated with superstition, filling his volumes with the details of the impossible, and he found the scientists satisfied with "they say."

Perhaps ridicule does have an affect on mankind, but is it a good method for those within the Church to use on their own?

What scares me is that Voltaire threw it all away. Because of the corrupt, superstitious church of his time, he resigned to believing only in the God of Nature. But, after witnessing the loss of many believers in an earthquake, he decided there could not be a loving God who would allow such suffering of his own children. Who knows how he really ended up, but one thing's for sure, he hated the church and the Bible.

Even though we may hate the status quo, would it not be better to use loving correction on our own rather than ridicule?

Isn't it human nature to dismiss every idea of those we ridicule?

I've heard it on blog strings already "If they believe that God is really like that...then I don't want anything to do with Christ or their religion." Eventually there is nowhere left to go but to the worship of humanity and self. To their folly, men dare to protest in God's face thinking that their morality is superior.

Just something to chew on. I don't want to end up like Voltaire.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Why the Sex Books?

Kathy and I are hosting a True Love Waits Banquet this Friday night at our church. We are really looking forward to spending time with the teens and their families. So, I have been doing a lot of reading on the subject of sex and purity.

The approach we’re taking isn’t “Just Say No To Sex” before marriage and then have them all sign purity pledges. Instead, I am going to speak on purity for the whole family. Purity isn’t just about sex, it’s about trusting God to help us keep our minds like a child.

How can we expect our junior high boys to not look at porn on the internet if dad is doing it all the time? Why is that important? God will forgive dad for his problem, but it isn’t just his problem. He is leading a child down the same destructive path.

So, I am challenging the parents to look their kids in the eyes and say they will do their best to run their house and lives with purity. Mom and dad will fail at times, but the family needs to know that everyone is trying and trusting Christ.

It’s time to stop making excuses.

Monday, May 15, 2006

My Brain Is Fried

I think I have been officially broken in to this blogging thing. I can't describe how low I feel right now, due to some naivete on my part. I almost quit blogging for the second time, but I enjoy it so much I have decided to just erase my original blog site and start over. Nothing happened on my site, it's just that I didn't want to keep the name of it because it would only remind me too much of the person who inspired it's name.

I feel much better about this. I am really looking forward to just being myself and relaxing while I blog. Maybe I'll just use this site as a journal of sorts.

Well, I've got to get busy reading and studying. Right now I'm reading: Evidence for Christianity (McDowell), Sex Has A Price Tag (Stenzel), Sexy Girls (DiMarco), Why Christian Kids Rebel (Kimmel), QUESTIONS YOU can't ask your Mama About Sex (Gross & Foster), Wait For Me (St. James), Boundaries With Teens (Townsend), and More Ready Than You Realize (McLaren). Just for fun I'm reading Piercing The Darkness and re-reading Monster, both by Frank Peretti.