Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Jesus - Day Five

Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature.
Colossians 1:13-15

Monday, February 27, 2006

Jesus - Day Four

Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.
Revelation 1:17-18

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Jesus - Day Three

And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Philippians 2:8

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Jesus - Day Two

For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.
1 Corinthians 15:3-4

Friday, February 24, 2006

Jesus - Day One

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Isaiah 53:3

Thursday, February 23, 2006

FW: Danger FYI: Warning - Terrorist plot on 28th!

Subject: FW: Danger FYI "Warning. Terrorist plot on 28th."

Don't go to the bathroom on February 28th. CIA intelligence reports that a major plot is planned for that day. Anyone who uses the facilities on the 28th will be bitten where it counts by an alligator. Reports indicate that organized groups of alligators are planning to rise up into unsuspecting American's toilet bowls and bite them when they are doing their dirty business.

I usually don't send emails like this, but I got this information from a reliable source. It came from a friend of a friend whose cousin is dating this girl whose brother knows this guy whose wife knows this lady whose husband buys hotdogs from this guy who knows a shoeshine guy who shines the shoes of a mailroom worker who has a friend whose drug dealer sells drugs to another mailroom worker who works in the CIA building.

He apparently overheard two guys talking in the bathroom about alligators and came to the conclusion that we are going to be attacked. So it must be true.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Pentagon intercepts Osama E-mail!!!

From: Bin Laden, Osama [mailto:osama@taliban.com]
Sent: Monday, November 19, 2001 8:17 AM
To: Cavemates
Subject: The Cave

Hi guys. We've all been putting in long hours but we've really come together as a group and I love that. Big thanks to Omar for putting up the poster that says "There is no I in team" as well as the one that says "Hang In There, Baby." That cat is hilarious. However, while we are fighting a jihad, we can't forget to take care of the cave. And frankly I have a few concerns.

First of all, while it's good to be concerned about cruise missiles, we should be even more concerned about the scorpions in our cave. Hey, you don't want to be stung and neither do I, so we need to sweep the cave daily. I've posted a sign-up sheet near the main cave opening.

Second, it's not often I make a video address but when I do, I'm trying to scare the most powerful country on earth, okay? That means that while we're taping, please do not ride your razor scooter in the background. Just while we're taping. Thanks.

Third point, and this is a touchy one. As you know, by edict, we're not supposed to shave our beards. But I need everyone to just think hygiene, especially after mealtime. We're all in this together.

Fourth: food. I bought a box of Wheaties recently, clearly wrote "Osama" on the front, and put it on the top shelf. Today, my Wheaties were gone. Consideration. That's all I'm saying.

Finally, we've heard that there may be American soldiers in disguise trying to infiltrate our ranks. I want to set up patrols to look for them. First patrol will be Omar, Muhammed, Abdul, Akbar, and Richard.

Love you lots,

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Vision

So this guy comes up to me and says,
"What's the vision? What's the big idea?"

I open my mouth and words come out like this...

The vision?
The vision is Jesus:
obsessively, dangerously, undeniably Jesus.
The vision is an army of young people.
You see bones?
I see an army.

And they are free from materialism.
They laugh at 9-5 little prisons.
They could eat caviar on Monday
and crusts on Tuesday.
They wouldn't even notice.
They know the meaning of the Matrix;
the way the West was won.

They are mobile like the wind;
they belong to the nations.
They need no passport.
People write their addresses in pencil
and wonder at their strange existence.
They are free, yet they are slaves
of the hurting and dirty and dying.

What is the vision?
The vision is holiness that hurts the eyes.
It makes children laugh and adults angry.
It gave up the game of minimum integrity
long ago to reach for the stars.
It scorns the good and strains for the best.
It is dangerously pure.

Light flickers from every secret motive,
every private conversation.
It loves people away from their suicide leaps,
their Satan games.

This is an army that will lay down its life for the cause.
A million times a day
its soldiers choose to lose
that they might one day win
the great "Well done"
of faithful sons and daughters.

Such heroes are as radical
on Monday morning
as Sunday night.

They don't need fame from names.
Instead they grin quietly upwards
and hear the crowds chanting
again and again:

And this is the sound of the underground
The whisper of history in the making
Foundations shaking
Revolutionaries dreaming once again
Mystery is scheming in whispers
Conspiracy is breathing...
This is the sound of the underground.

And the army is disciplined.
Young people who beat their bodies into submission.
Every soldier would take a bullet for his
comrades at arms.
The tattoo on their backs boasts
"For me to live is Christ and to die is gain."

Sacrifice fuels the fire of victory in their
upward eyes.
Winners. Martyrs.
Who can stop them?
Can hormones hold them back?
Can failure succeed?
Can fear scare them or death kill them?

And the generation prays
like a dying man with groans beyond
talking, with warrior cries,
sulphuric tears and with great barrow loads of

24 - 7 - 365.

Whatever it takes they will give:
Breaking the rules.
Shaking mediocrity from its cozy little hide.
Laying down their rights and their
precious little wrongs,
laughing at labels,
fasting essentials.
The advertisers cannot mold them.
Hollywood cannot hold them.
Peer-pressure is powerless
to shake their resolve at late night
parties before the cockerel cries.

They are incredibly cool, dangerously
attractive (on the inside).
On the outside?
They hardly care!
They wear clothes like costumes:
to communicate and celebrate
but never to hide.

Would they surrender their image or their popularity?
They would lay down their very lives,
swap seats with the man on death row;
guilty as hell.
A throne for an electric chair.

With blood and sweat and many tears,
with sleepless nights
and fruitless days,
they pray as if it all depends on God
and live as if it all depends on them.

Their DNA chooses Jesus.
(He breathes out, they breathe in.)
Their subconscious sings.
They had a blood transfusion with Jesus.

Their words make demons scream in shopping malls.
Don't you hear them coming?

Herald the weirdos!
Summon the losers and the freaks.
Here come the frightened and forgotten with fire in their eyes.
They walk tall and trees applaud,
skyscrapers bow,
mountains are dwarfed
by these children of another dimension.

Their prayers summon the hounds of
heaven and invoke the ancient dream of Eden.

And this vision will be.
It will come to pass;
it will come easily;
it will come soon.

How do I know?
Because this is
the longing of creation itself,
the groaning of the Spirit,
the very dream of God.

My tomorrow is his today.
My distant hope is his 3D.
And my feeble,
faithless prayer
invokes a thunderous, resounding, bone-shaking great
from countless angels,
from heroes of the faith,
from Christ himself.

And he is the original dreamer,
the ultimate winner.
(from The Vision and The Vow by Pete Greig)
And to this all I can add is that total dedication to Jesus is not limited to one generation- never has been, never will be. Just because I'm on the downward slide towards 40 does not mean that I'm washed up on the shore, that God no longer has a purpose or a plan for me or others that are my age. Eventually, the current generation that is getting so much attention from "prophetic" ministers and the "emergent" church, that is insisting that old ways are passe and new wineskins are needed, that is getting millions of church budget and book publisher marketing dollars thrown its way- the "new generation" will become the "previous generation" pretty dang quick. And then they will finally realize that it isn't about how old you are or how young you are but what you do about what Jesus did. And indeed is still doing. There won't be a new "Jesus Movement" but there will be a new move of Jesus, which in reality won't be new but simply a fresh retelling of the old, old story.
"Don't trust anyone over thirty" was Abbie Hoffman's gig. It no longer applies.

Formula for a Burning Heart – A.W.TOZER

1. Get thoroughly dissatisfied with yourself. Complacency is the deadly enemy of spiritual progress. The contented soul is the stagnant soul. When speaking of earthly goods, Paul could say, “ I have learned … to be content”; but when referring to his spiritual life, he testified, “I press toward the mark.” Stir up the gift of God that is in thee.

2. Set your face like a flint toward a sweeping transformation of your life. Timid experimenters are tagged for failure before they start. We must throw our whole soul into our desire for God. “The Kingdom of God suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.”

3. Put yourself in the way of the blessing. It is a mistake to look for grace to visit us as a kind of benign magic, or to expect God’s help to come as a windfall apart from conditions known and met. There are plainly marked paths which lead straight to the green pastures; let us walk in them. To desire revival, for instance, and at the same time to neglect prayer and devotion is to wish one way and walk another.

4. Do a thorough job of repenting. Do not hurry to get it over with. Hasty repentance means shallow spiritual experience and lack of certainty in the whole life. Let godly sorrow do her healing work. Until we allow the consciousness of sin to wound us, we will never develop a fear of evil. It is our wretched habit of tolerating sin that keeps us in our half-dead condition.

5. Make restitution wherever possible. If you owe a debt, pay it, or at least have a frank understanding with your creditor about your intentions to pay, so that your honesty will be above question. If you have quarreled with anyone, go as far as you can in an effort to achieve reconciliation. As fully as possible make the crooked things straight.

6. Bring your life into accord with the Sermon on the Mount and such other New Testament Scriptures as are designed to instruct us in the way of righteousness. An honest man with an open Bible and a pad and pencil is sure to find out what is wrong with him very quickly. I recommend that the self-examination be made on our knees, rising to obey God’s commandments as they are revealed to us from the Word. There is nothing romantic or colorful about this plain downright way of dealing with ourselves, but it gets the work done. Isaac’s workmen did not look like heroic figures as they digged in the valley, but they got the wells open, and that was what they had set out to do.

7. Be serious – minded. You can well afford to see fewer comedy shows on TV. Unless you break away from the funny boys, every spiritual impression will continue to be lost to your heart, and that right in your own living room. The people of the world used to go to the movies to escape serious thinking about God and religion. You would not join them there, but you now enjoy spiritual communion with them in your own home.The devils ideals, moral standards, and mental attitudes are being accepted by you without you knowing it. You wonder why you can make no progress in your Christian life. Your interior climate is not favorable to the growth of spiritual graces. There must be a radical change in your habits or there will not be any permanent improvement in your interior life.

8. Deliberately narrow your interests. The Jack-of-all-trades is the master of none. The Christian life requires that we be specialists. Too many projects use up time and energy without bringing us nearer to God. If you will narrow your interests, God will enlarge your heart.“Jesus only” seems to the unconverted man to be the motto of death. But a great company of happy men and women can testify that it became to them a way into a world infinitely wider and richer than anything they had ever known before. Christ is the essence of all wisdom, beauty and virtue. To know Him in growing intimacy is to increase in appreciation of all things good and beautiful. The mansions of the heart will become larger when their doors are thrown open to Christ and closed against the world and sin. Try it.

9. Begin to witness. Find something to do for God and your fellow men. Refuse to rust out. Make yourself available to your pastor and do anything you are asked to do. Do not insist upon a place of leadership. Learn to obey. Take the low place until such time as God sees fit to set you in a higher one. Back your new intentions with your money and your gifts, such as they are.

10. Have faith in God. Begin to expect. Look up toward the throne where your Advocate sits at the right hand of God. All heaven is on your side. God will not disappoint you.

If you will follow these suggestions, you will most surely experience revival in your own heart. And who can tell how far it may spread? God knows how desperately the church needs a spiritual resurrection. And it can only come through the revived individual.

Friday, February 17, 2006


My thanks to the Slice of Laodicea blog- one mention and I got 75 hits yesterday. I hope I gave you something to think about.

I received two comments which I want to address before I close the book on this topic. One person thought that I was being too judgmental in addressing the negative issues involved in why churches possibly stopped growing. I’m sorry that you feel that way; I don’t believe that I was judging, just throwing out possibilities as to why these churches might be losing members. Your mileage may vary.

Another person wanted to know where Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral fit in. In 1984 they were 16th on the list, with an average Sunday attendance of 5,200. It is interesting that the same attendance would have put them 154th in 2006. In 2006 they were 481st, with an average attendance of 3,000, making a loss of 2,200 people in 20 years. I firmly believe that 1987 and 1988, with the fall of Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart, marked the end of the old order of superstars leading the way. Schuller, Falwell, Hyles- they all lost people for various reasons. It should have marked the end of superstars altogether, but alas, it was not so. Benny Hinn Ministries is listed as a church, with an attendance of 5000. He is definitely a throwback to the old-school healing evangelists.

And then there is Joel Osteen. I think I mentioned before that Lakewood Church made the list in 1984, coming in at number 10 with an attendance of 6,600. John Osteen died in 2001 and Joel took over, changed the focus of the preaching, and the place exploded. They now stand at an average attendance of 30,000.

The number of people attending these megachurches has skyrocketed as a whole. In 1984, if you were to total the attendance of the top 99 churches (remember the typo, one church had been mentioned twice), it would have come to 389,994. Total the attendance of the top 99 churches in 2006 and you come out to 1,041,186, just shy of three times as many people. The #99 church in 1984 was Willamette Christian Center in Eugene, OR, with an attendance of 2,000. The same attendance would have put them at 956 on the 2006 list. Between 1984 and 2006 they were one of the churches that gained in attendance, by 500 people. Their 2,500 put them at #761 in 2006.

Are that many more people attending church? The only way to know for sure would be to factor in the attendance from every church in the country for both 1984 and 2006, and although the figures for that are surely available somewhere, I’m moving on to other topics :) Just a cursory glance at the respective top 100s would show you that there are a wider variety of churches in our time as opposed to twenty years ago. African-American churches (The Potter’s House, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, Church of the Harvest), “Word of Faith” churches (World Changers Ministries, Word of Faith International Christian Center, the aforementioned Benny Hinn Ministries), churches oriented to the young (Mars Hill Bible Church, North Point Community Church)- there are brand new spices in the church stew. The times and styles have changed. The reasons for all of this are as varied as the churches on the list. For the good? For the bad? Ask God- he knows, I don't :)

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

God the Builder

I did some digging around the web and found a top 100 list of church attendance data, this time from twenty years ago. I put it in my spreadsheet and started to do some comparisons.
First, the top 10 churches from 1984:

1 First Baptist Church Hammond IN 18,700
2 Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa Santa Ana CA 12,500
3 Thomas Road Baptist Church Lynchburg VA 11,000
4 Grace Community Church Panorama City CA 10,000
5 Highland Park Baptist Church Chattanooga TN 9,800
6 Calvary Temple Springfield IL 8,832
7 First Baptist Church Jacksonville FL 8,000
8 First Baptist Church Dallas TX 7,000
9 North Phoenix Baptist Church Phoenix AZ 7,000
10 Lakewood Church Houston TX 6,600

37 out of the top 100 churches were Baptist, six out of the top 10. The ration would probably be higher if we went back ten more years to the 70’s. It wouldn’t surprise me if most of these churches were of the Independent Baptist variety. They have traditionally been obsessed with numbers- how many in church, how many in Sunday School, how many baptisms can we get in a week, etc. When I was a fundamental Baptist and attended Victory Baptist Temple there were regular contests. We would go door to door inviting people to church and sharing the gospel, and if we could get people to say the “sinner’s prayer” we got a point. get them to church, another point. Lead them down the aisle to make a public profession of faith- you got it, another point. And if you could get someone to go through with baptism, that was the pinnacle. After a certain length of time the points were totaled and the winner was declared “Soulwinner of the Month”; or if we were engaging in a team competition, the winning team would have dinner served to them by the losers. I was on the winning team :)

The same churches would send busses out to pick up kids for church, and there would always be a hook, a promotion to make church attendance that week attractive. A free candy bar. A chance to eat from a 200-foot banana split. A goldfish. It’s funny how we were constantly being exhorted to not resort to “worldly” measures to make church more attractive to people, yet when it came to getting kids on the bus, I’ll be darned if those methods weren’t what was used.

The same book had a list of the top 100 churches in reported church membership. This is how the top ten shaped up:

1 First Baptist Church Hammond IN 77001
2 Highland Park Baptist Church Chattanooga TN 58383
3 First Baptist Church Dallas TX 24429
4 Lakewood Church Houston TX 20000
5 Thomas Road Baptist Church Lynchburg VA 19000
6 First Southern Baptist Church Del City OK 17803
7 Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa Santa Ana CA 15625
8 Bellevue Baptist Church Memphis TN 15000
9 First Baptist Church Jacksonville FL 14100
10 Crenshaw Christian Center Inglewood CA 13974

Notice the disparity. First Baptist Church of Hammond, IN reported a membership of 77,000 people, yet they only had an average attendance of 18,000- a difference of 59,000. If I were to line up the top 10 churches that were on the membership and attendance lists, the top 4 would all be Baptist. Highland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN had a difference of 48,500. First Baptist Church in Dallas, 17,000. How could this be? Were they deliberately lying about the numbers? Not exactly. When a person is baptized in a fundamental Baptist church, they are added to the membership roll. Doesn’t matter if they are 5 or 55 or 105, they are on the list. That person may not ever darken the doors of the church again- they are counted as a member. When I attended Victory Baptist Temple they boasted of a membership of 2,000 people, yet they only had about 550 to 600 people on any given Sunday, and of that number one-third were children who wouldn’t be financially supporting the church anytime soon. Although I respect the efforts of churches who go to great lengths to see people attend services, the emphasis on numbers can be quite misleading.

Now let’s compare the 1984 list with the 2006 list. The 100 churches listed in 1984 were all in the top 1300 list of 2006. 35 had an increase; 4 had no change; 60 had a loss ranging from -25 for First Baptist Church in Atlanta, to -7800 for Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, VA (And yes, I know that only adds up to 99; I discovered one church listed twice as I was typing this.) Why did two-thirds of these churches lose members instead of gain them? Well, in several instances the churches with the greatest losses had highly visible and sometimes controversial leaders. When the leader got in trouble or passed away, the church floundered. Here are some examples:

Thomas Road Baptist Church, with a loss of 7800, is led by Jerry Falwell. Controversial? An understatement. I would be willing to bet the bleeding started when he took over the PTL ministry after Jim Bakker stepped down and kept on going as the influence of Baptist churches on church growth techniques took a dip in popularity. More on that later.

Highland Park Baptist Church, with a loss of 7800 as well, was pastored by Lee Roberson, a Highly respected figure in American Fundamentalism. When he retired as pastor, people probably retired with him.

First Baptist Church in Hammond, IN, with a loss of 6700, was pastored by the closest thing the independent Baptists had for a Pope, one Jack Hyles. The people who were devoted to Hyles were/are an interesting breed indeed. They are totally devoted to him; they would do anything he said, and anything he did was right- end of discussion. Jack Hyles died in 2001, and as is often the case in movements with dominant leadership, when the leader dies the sheep either circle the wagons or scatter. The pastorate was assumed by his son-in-law Dr. Jack Schaap (think “chop”), which proves that nepotism is indeed alive and well in fundamentalism. But he doesn’t have the draw of his wife’s father.

Who were the churches that gained attendees between 1984 and 2006? Lakewood Church was a Pentecostal church in 1984, pastured by John Osteen. They were unapologetic tongues-talkers, and John was a down-home country boy who could preach it old-school. John Osteen died in 2001, and the new pastor became his son, Joel Osteen. The rest is history. Lakewood Church is the new leader with a gain of 23,000 members in 20 years. The emphasis changed from Pentecost to positive thinking; Joel published a book, Your Best Life Now, which rocketed up the charts, and people flocked to see the young new superstar on the scene.

Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa is pastored by Chuck Smith, who founded the Calvary Chapel movement. Their growth has been steady since the 70’s. Even though Chuck Smith is well known in Christian circles, I don’t think Calvary Chapel’s growth can be chalked up to the “superstar factor”; Chuck Smith doesn’t have that kind of personality. His preaching style gives off a gentle, grandfatherly aura. I think Calvary Chapel is a good example of a church that does things right- they aren’t too wild, they preach the Word, they take care of their people. Of course, your mileage may vary.

Crenshaw Christian Center had the second biggest gain, from 5,000 in 1984 to 17,000 in 2006. They are located in Inglewood, CA, and several years ago, in order to have more facilities, they purchased the former Pepperdine University in California. They meet in a domed arena, not unlike the Compaq Center in Houston which houses Lakewood Church. Crenshaw is led Dr. Frederick K.C. Price, a preacher who can switch from soft to sarcastic on a dime. My belief is that Crenshaw is experiencing growth for the same reason that churches like The Potter’s House in Dallas, TX (18,500) and New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA (18,000) are experiencing growth. There is a new breed of pastor and church rising up in the African-American community, with TD Jakes and Eddie Long leading the way. The African-American church has traditionally been very socially involved and quite often was the center of the neighborhood. Jakes, Long and Price all offer social programs in their churches to help families gain a foothold economically and break the welfare cycle. More churches should be like them.

(And now a disclaimer- I don’t like using terms like “black church” or “African-American church”; there should just be “church”. Yet the churches I described in the preceding paragraph do have congregations which are predominately African-American, and have a great deal of influence within their communities.)

I think I am going to wrap up here and possibly hit this subject one more time. I’m interested in examining other reasons for the growth and decline of certain types of churches. Is God building a new breed of church? Are people simply building churches that “tickle their ears”? Stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Fun With Numbers

Yesterday I was tooling around the ‘Net, and stumbled across a website for the Harvard Institute for Religion Research. They have a list of the top 1300 churches by average Sunday attendance (located here). Being the Excel geek that I am, I looked at the list and immediately thought “spreadsheet”. Once in spreadsheet format I had a lot of fun with it, pathetic life that I lead :) Here are some of my findings.

First, the top ten:

1 Lakewood Church Joel Osteen Houston TX 30000
2 Saddleback Valley Community Church Rick Warren Lake Forest CA 22000
3 Willow Creek Community Church Bill Hybels South Barrington IL 20000
4 Fellowship Church Ed Young Grapevine TX 19500
5 Southeast Christian Church Robert Russell Louisville KY 18757
6 The Potter's House T.D. Jakes Dallas TX 18500
7 Calvary Chapel Robert Coy Ft. Lauderdale FL 18000
8 New Birth Missionary Baptist Eddie Long Lithonia GA 18000
9 Crenshaw Christian Center Fred Price Los Angeles CA 17000
10 Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa Chuck Smith, Sr Santa Ana CA 16500

No surprise here that at least seven of the top ten have a strong media presence. Joel Osteen has a bestseller on the charts and his church just bought the former home of the Houston Rockets to serve as their church building. (I don’t think the Houston Rockets ever had 30,000 people attend a game even when they won the NBA Championship.) If you haven’t heard of Rick Warren and The Purpose Driven… fad then I think you’re dead. It’s everywhere. Purpose Driven Life. 40 Days of Purpose. Purpose Driven diapers. You can’t miss it. Willow Creek Community Church topped this list a few years ago, before John Osteen died and Joel Osteen mania took over. I don’t think they are as influential as they once were, the coming generation having relegated them to the “been there done that” pile, but they still drive the seeker-sensitive train and draw the numbers. T.D. Jakes, Eddie Long and Fred Price are the only African-Americans in the top ten. They are respected not only in the church but in the African-American community as well, for their efforts to improve the lives of countless thousands. Chuck Smith might be the oldest pastor in the top ten, having founded Calvary Chapel in the 60’s.

Most of these churches, if they don’t have radio or television on their agenda, have a good grasp on the influence of the Internet. Of the top 50, only three don’t have websites; in the top 100, five; of the top 200 churches, 18 don’t have websites. The number increases as the attendance figures go down. 11 of the bottom 50, 20 of the bottom 100, and 45 of the bottom 200 don’t have a presence on the Web. Is there a connection? Of course there is. Advertisers spend millions of dollars a year to place brand names before the public. Why do you think so much attention is given to Super Bowl commercials? Because the Super Bowl is the most widely seen program of the year, $2 million spent on 30 seconds of time can pay huge dividends if the commercial is memorable. In the same way, a good website, a television and/or radio program and a presence in the surrounding community can put butts in the seats.

At this point I realize that I am turning the focus of church growth on the marketing. “Jesus said ‘Upon this rock I will build my church’”, someone will tell me. “Jesus builds the church, and he doesn’t rely on marketing or surveys to do it. There is too much emphasis on numbers.” I will agree with the latter statement to a point. If the emphasis is solely on attention-getting attendance figures instead of the people those figures represent, then we need to turn our outlook upside-down. Regarding Jesus building the church apart from advertisements and media ministries, I agree, Jesus draws people unto himself and makes them a part of His body. BUT… he works through us on the earth. We have to get to know people, love them and give them Jesus. It’s like the statement that the Holy Spirit chooses the Pope, so it doesn’t matter who the “favorites” are. Sure, the Holy Spirit drives the machinery, but if you think politics and lobbying play no part then you are fooling yourself. The Holy Spirit must have really liked Italians to have them as Popes for 400 years.

And speaking of the Catholic Church… there are no Catholic churches on the list. Is that because the Catholic Church didn’t submit attendance figures? Is that because the Catholic Church doesn’t keep attendance figures? How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll© center of a Tootsie Pop©? The world may never know.

Denominational affiliations are listed for most of the churches on the list but not all.

Foursquare Churches- 15
Assembly of God- 85 (and yes, Pastor Crow of North Ridgeville, Ohio, the Assemblies of God are definitely a denomination)
African Methodist-Episcopal- 10
Baptist- 123 (although keep in mind that some Baptist churches listed themselves as independent, and among the Baptist churches there are many flavors)
Calvary Chapel- 55 (I was very surprised by this; I didn’t realize that Calvary Chapel’s influence ran that deep)
Christian- 52 (although I hope they’re all Christian)
Non-Denominational- 287 (although this figure can be misleading; I see some churches among the 287 that are definitely part of denominations. Some of the churches that don’t have an affiliation listed are probably part of this group as well.)
Southern Baptist- 216 (the largest number of churches affiliated with one denomination in the whole list; I believe they are the largest group in the country as well)
United Methodist Church- 68 (this really surprised me; I didn’t think that many people attended mainline churches anymore)
Vineyard- 12 (I love the Vineyard, so I would have mentioned them if they only had one)

California and Texas, being the biggest states in the union, have the most churches in the list. Hawaii has five, including one with 12,000 members (I didn’t know there were 12,000 people in the whole state). My home state of Ohio has 51, including one church I’ve actually been to, Church of the Open Door right here in Elyria. I think every state is represented, although I’m not going to count them all :)

Other fun facts:

Number of pastors named George- 15
Number of pastors named Dick- 3
Number of pastors named Benny Hinn- 1
Congregations with the word “church" in their name- 965
“center”- 79
“fellowship”- 67
“family”- 24 (so if you’re single, do they just tell you to go to hell?)
“temple”- 26
“tabernacle”- 15
“Baptist”- 349
“missionary Baptist”- 18
“Abyssinian Baptist”- 1
“Christian”- 147 (as opposed to the churches on the list who are Buddhist)
“Christ”- 107 (see above)
First Baptist- 81
Second Baptist- 5
Third Baptist- 1
“victory”- 11
“defeat”- 0

As you can see, I have way too much time on my hands :) Time doesn’t permit me to go through all the possibilities and configurations that I did last night. I’ll have to pick it up again next time.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Speaking in tongues, pt. II

1 Corinthians 12:4-11

There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.

1 Corinthians 12-14 give us an in-depth look at spiritual gifts, the good and the bad. Paul had just finished rebuking the Corinthians for turning the Lord's Table celebration into a drunken party. He then starts chapter 12 by saying "Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant." There are some things that need to be set straight. First, there is a diversity of gifts but one Spirit who distributes them to each one as He wills. Not everyone will have everything. the rest of the chapter is a development of that idea. "Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way." (1 Cor. 12:30-31) Now wait a minute, Paul. We aren't supposed to pursue the gifts, but the Giver. We need to seek His face, not His hand. At least that's what the latest revival websites tell me. Not everybody is going to have everything, but we are encouraged to desire the gifts nonetheless. Both times that tongues are mentioned here interpretation is right afterwards.

Paul tells us to earnestly desire the best gifts, and in 1 Corinthians 13 he tells us about the greatest gift- that of love. You've heard it at every wedding you've ever been to. Chapter 13 continues the theme of doing things in order to benefit one another.

1 Corinthians 13:8-12

Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

"Ah ha!" the cessationist will declare. "Where there are tongues, they will pass away, when the perfect has come. We now have the perfect, the Bible, the Word of God." In the words of the ancient prophets, "Context, people, context!" In verse 9 Paul says "For now we know in part and we prophesy in part." In verse 12 he mentions knowing in part again. "For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known." He is contrasting. Before and after. Now we see dimly- then we'll see face to face. Now I know in part- then I shall know just as I am known. Has anyone here seen Jesus face to face? Sit down, Benny Hinn. The perfect isn't the Bible, it is the second coming of Christ. This chapter can't be used to "prove" the cessation of tongues.

1 Corinthians 14: 1-5

Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification. (emphasis mine)

Paul is not downplaying the gift of tongues two chapters after he just said that God gives the gift to people as He wills. I emphasized two portions to make a point. He is talking about gatherings of the church here. The person who speaks in tongues speaks not to men but to God. Huh? Wait a minute. If the gift of tongues is merely for the establishing of the church, and it means a definite known language in every instance, then why is Paul telling us that the tongues-speaker is talking to God? Doesn't God understand every language? Does God need the gospel preached to Him? Because that's why the gift of tongues was given, according to the anti-charismatic. No, Paul is saying that in the church we need to speak words of exhortation to each other. Tongues mean nothing if no one interprets.

Let's go on.

1 Corinthians 14:9-11

So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. There are, it may be, so many kinds of languages in the world, and none of them is without significance. Therefore, if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to him who speaks, and he who speaks will be a foreigner to me.

Why would Paul say that unless I know the meaning of the language I shall be a foreigner to him and he shall be a foreigner to me? The whole point of the gift, according to those who rail against the gift today, is that the speaker will be understood by the hearer. Just like the 2nd chapter of Acts. Unless... there are two types of the gift of tongues that are being spoken of in these passages- one unknown that is being spoken to God, and one along the lines of the beginning of the church, where people spoke in tongues to further the gospel.

1 Corinthians 14:13-19

Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding. Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say "Amen" at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified. I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue. (emphasis mine)

Paul isn't teaching either/or, he teaching both/and, with the caveat that if you are in the church you had better be understood. Paul said that he speaks in tongues more than all of the Corinthians believers he was writing to, but in the church he would rather speak words he understands. So if he is speaking words of understanding in the church, where is he speaking in tongues? He uses the phrase "pray in a tongue." If the gift of tongues was a special miracle for the preaching of the gospel in known languages, why would people be praying in tongues. And yet here is Paul telling the Corinthians to pray in the spirit and pray with the understanding.

So let's mop up here. I think I've made a good case that the Bible talks about two different types of tongues- prayer tongues and Book-of-Acts preaching tongues. Yet even the person who is following me up to this point might say "Sure, they had tongues back then, but they passed away with the last apostle." Really? How do you draw that conclusion? Because the Scripture was completed then and the "perfect" had come? I shot that down earlier in the essay. Because they radically faded off in importance as church history progressed? Things have faded and regained prominence in church history that people don't say need to be buried. How many people had Bibles and read them for 1500 years of church history? Tongues may have been slim to none and slim has left town, but that doesn't mean that they have passed away. That's letting experience dictate your interpretation of the Scripture. Hmm... where have I heard that argument before? From the cessationist's very own lips. They will say that the charismatic/Pentecostal believer is interpreting Scripture by their own experience when that person prays in tongues and says it's God; but aren't they doing the very same thing when they see someone obviously faking tongues and they say none of it is from God?

Listen. I have been around the block and seen some wacky things. Just read the archives to find out more. I know that there are people out there who are not praying in tongues but trying to ascend the ladder of prominence in their church. But even if there isn't one genuine instance of speaking in tongues to be found in the world today, that doesn't mean that the gift has passed away. Now your theological system may say that they have; but Scripture says no such thing.

At the same time, if someone isn't interested in speaking in tongues, that's cool. They just have another gift is all. So Phil Johnson, John MacArthur, Dallas Theological Seminary- lighten up. I like your writings, you obviously are intelligent and well-educated, but in this area you need to relax.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Speaking in tongues

“It would be an arbitrary and strange interpretation of Scripture that would make tongues-speaking in the New Testament anything other than known languages. There is no trace of Scriptural evidence that tongues were ever heard by anyone as incoherent, incomprehensible babbling.”-Lehman Strauss, “Speaking In Tongues”

“All these things being true, it is not difficult to see why God would use the speaking in tongues to express the greatest, most wonderful experience that mortal man could receive. In the baptism of the Holy Ghost, His Spirit and yours become one. He uses your tongue and voice to express it. It is a wonder of wonders, chosen not by man, but by God, the sovereign ruler of the universe. Why be found fighting against Him? Believe His Word, accept what He says and you too can receive the baptism of the Holy Ghost.”-Fred E. Kinzie, “Why Did God Choose Tongues?”

“Finally, I must conclude that I am convinced both biblically and experientially that when people receive the Holy Spirit they do indeed speak with other tongues. Now it is not tongues that we should seek for. As I heard one preacher say, "You don’t go to a shoe store and buy tongues. You buy shoes and the tongues come with the shoes." So it is with the Holy Spirit. We should seek to be filled with the Spirit and when we are we will speak with other tongues.”-William Arnold III, “Why I Speak In Tongues”

“Some gifts were intended to be temporary. I Corinthians 13:8—“where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.” Notice tongues is associated with prophecy and knowledge. They always go together. These three gifts were given for the introductory stage of the church until the complete revelation of God was given. We now have that revelation in the Bible and we have no reason to expect any new revelation. Since there is no new gospel truth, there is no need for these gifts.”-Randy Childress, “Why I Don’t Speak In Tongues”

Interesting. One says that tongues are for today, one says they aren’t. They both turn towards the Bible to buttress their claims. The "cessationist" says that speaking in tongues means speaking in an actual language that someone understands. The miracle of different languages was needed in the beginning for the furtherance of the gospel, and was meant for the apostles to found the church. Once they died, tongues disappeared. Are they right? Let's see.

MARK 16:14-18
Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

The general argument against speaking in tongues usually begins by saying that the word “tongues” in the Bible means languages. It most certainly does. In this passage it may mean languages; it may mean a private prayer language. But this passage doesn’t support the claim that they were only for the apostles. Jesus in this passage makes a connection between preaching the gospel, seeing people baptized, and seeing them perform miracles. “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe….” The cessationists will argue that tongues have passed away; if they have, then why do they still baptize? Has that passed away also? Most certainly not. Yet the order here is “believes- baptized- signs.” "These signs will follow those who believe.” It isn’t saying that the signs are only for the apostles, only for the preaching of the gospel. The signs come after the gospel has been preached. They follow the belief.

ACTS 2:1-8
When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born?

This is a definite case of people speaking in actual languages. Some have suggested that the miracle here was that the crowd heard the apostles in their own language; I would differ. The passage says that they (meaning the apostles and their posse) spoke in other tongues. But that’s neither hear nor there. These people were from many nations, yet they all understood the preaching. Mark one up for the cessationists here.

ACTS 8:14-19
Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

This passage doesn’t specifically mention tongues, but let’s look at it a minute. Samaria had received the word of God and they were baptized. There wasn’t a need for a miracle to further the preaching of the gospel; it had already been preached. And Simon had already been following Phillip and conversed with the apostles; he didn’t need the use of another language to understand. So how did Simon know that the Holy Spirit had fallen? Was there some tangible sign that He had? Based upon all the passages in the book of Acts where the Holy Spirit fell, I believe that the sign was speaking in tongues that were unknown to all present.

The entirety of Acts 10 is devoted to the story of Cornelius, a centurion in an Italian regiment. He saw an angel who said that Simon Peter was coming. At the same time Peter saw a vision concerning animals that Jewish people considered unclean. A voice said “Rise, Peter; kill and eat” three times, and when Peter refused the voice said “What God has cleansed do not call common.” The message here is that Peter needed to preach to the Gentiles and not avoid them.

vv. 24-28
And the following day they entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends. As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I myself am also a man.” And as he talked with him, he went in and found many who had come together. Then he said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.”

Notice that Peter conversed with “them”, meaning that Cornelius wasn’t the only one that spoke Peter’s language. There wasn’t a need for a language miracle to preach the Gospel, as we see in vv. 34-35:

Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.”

And vv. 36-43 are the rest of Peter’s sermon.

vv. 44-46
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.

How did “those of the circumcision” know that the Holy Spirit had fallen upon the Gentiles? “They heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.” Remember, they all spoke the same language. I propose that the only way they knew the Holy Spirit had fallen on the Gentiles was that they were speaking in languages unknown to both the speaker and the hearer. Why? You’ll have to take it up with God.

Next time I will cover 1 Corinthians 12-14 and further show that there is a definite difference between the tongues on the Day of Pentecost and tongues in the regular life of the church.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The last political rant

I had been sitting on a blog titled Cold War Letters for awhile, not using it but wanting to reserve the title. Finally I decided that now was the time. I wrote a long introduction, and then attempted to slide into that smarmy, obnoxious, arrogant tone that most bloggers who cover political content have in their repertoire. I tried, but I failed. The harder I tried, the more uncomfortable I became. I am just not cut out to blog on politics- but commenting on others blogs is another story :)

Anyway, I wrote this piece as an introduction, and I liked it so much that before I deleted the other blog I saved it for presentation here. This is absolutely the last time I am covering politics in length here.

And so it begins

I've been sitting on this blog for a few months, not sure if or when I would ever write, but I really liked the title I chose and wanted to reserve it. The title "Cold War Letters" refers to a book of letters on political subjects Thomas Merton circulated in mimeograph form, when he was ordered by his monastic superiors to stay silent on such matters. I chose it as a symbol of how I feel as a Christian who holds to few, if any, of the "acceptable" Christian opinions on the political subjects of the day; if you aren't professing the wonders of God, guns and George, your relationship with God is called into question, as if Jesus died to make us all short-haired, tie-wearing, flag-waving Republicans.
I am a Christian. I became a born-again Christian in 1982 and have been on a roller coaster journey ever since. As I grew more familiar with American evangelical Christian culture I began to take on many of its trappings, including the political worldview they espoused. In 1984 I voted for Ronald Reagan, and couldn't believe it when a Christian friend of mine didn't share my affection for the Great Communicator. Oh well, she was a Lutheran, and they're liberal anyway, right? (wink, wink) 1988- George H.W. Bush. 1992- Ross Perot; I didn't like the elder Bush anymore, and Clinton was a sleaze. 1996- Bob Dole; we certainly didn't need another four years of President Clinton and her husband, did we?
And then there was the year 2000. I proudly cast my vote for George W. Bush, and waited with baited breath as voters in Florida couldn't read a simple ballot and the results of the election were put on hold. Oh, God help us if Al Gore became President! It didn't matter to me that he won the popular vote, it wasn't the popular vote that won elections, so I was very happy when the Supreme Court ordered a stop to the vote counting, effectively handing the presidency to Dubya.
September 11th, 2001. The date that has become a buzzword, a symbol wraught with different meanings depending on the crowd in which you hang. The date that patriotism became commercialized and shoved down our throat. Buy now! Collections of patriotic CDs were sold at the drug store. T-shirts that Abbie Hoffman was figuratively crucified for wearing were now being sold next to the wrestling t-shirts at Giant Eagle. You can buy your “official” God Bless America car decal through this special TV offer, and patriotic panties were prominently displayed in the circular for the local department store. The country was engulfed in a mob mentality, where verbal stones were thrown at anyone daring to disagree with the President. But I digress.
We invaded Afghanistan. OK, that was justified. I'm not against war outright; we do need to defend ourselves. What I'm against is the celebratory attitude many Christians take towards war. So let's go ahead and hang Osama Bin Laden by his stones. (Are we even still looking for him?) Then, in 2003, we declared war on Iraq. And the attitude of Christians, who were absolutely gleeful, who prayed in church services that bombs would fall on the right targets, who prayed that Hussein's sons would be found and killed, began to bother me. It didn't bother me that people supported the president and his decisions. It did bother me that the conservative worldview was being pushed as the only acceptable one for Christians to follow.
This was the chink in the armor for me, the hole in the wall in which the water began to pour through. I have always been one to ask the questions that no one wanted to hear, and I turned my sights toward the relationship between evangelical/fundamentalist Christianity and American culture. How can the church speak prophetically to a nation when they have become so wedded to the culture of that nation that they can no longer provide a prophetic voice to it? Did patriotic songs have any place in a church service, when St. Paul exhorted us to sing "psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 3:19)"? How could a believer born in China, for instance, come into a church service in America and say "Amen" to our prayers of patriotic praise?
These thoughts swirled around in my mind as the calendar turned and the 2004 presidential race was in full swing. I only had one thought as I investigated the potential candidates- there was no way in hell that I was voting for George W. Bush. It was actually a tough decision to arrive at. I am against abortion, but I am also against the war in Iraq. One party supported death, the other party supported death. Bush was pro-life but endorsed the killing of Iraqis. Hardly a pro-life worldview to me. I finally settled on Howard Dean. He was an outsider to the process and seemed like he could be the man to effect change. And I wasn't the only one- Dean was the front-runner for the Democratic nomination.
Until the "Dean scream." The supposedly liberal media (liberal media bias, my a**) mocked him in the same way Dan Quayle was mocked for mispelling potato. The Democratic party threw him under the bus. John Kerry rose up the ladder and eventually was chosen as the Democratic nominee. I wasn't real excited about him, but I really wasn't excited about four more years of the Bush regime and a war which should rightfully be called "Bush's folly." No WMDs were found, no connection was found between Sadaam Hussein and Al-Quaeda (and don't write me, you don't know how to spell it either), and the Downing Street memo later suggested that the intelligence had been fudged to advance Bush's agenda for war, but the American people didn't give a crap. "America- love it or leave it!" "United we stand!" "We support the troops!" Sound bites replaced intelligent political discourse as the order of the day. And Christians were at the head of the pack. Yellow ribbons replaced WWJD bracelets in the bookstores and the National Anthem replaced "Amazing Grace" (both literally and symbolically). My feelings towards church and Christians began to change (as discussed in "It's starting to get ugly in here" and "Hitting the fan").
One of the coolest days of my life happened on November 1st, 2004. A buddy of mine and I stood in downtown Cleveland for 7 hours with 50,000 other people to see Dennis Kucinich jump around, Stephanie Tubbs-Jones wave a pink slip in the air, John Glenn speak articulately (for a l-o-n-g time), Bruce Springsteen sing, and the next President of the United States John Kerry exhort the throng. All from about 20 feet away. The next day was Election Day. I would vote for a Democratic candidate for the first time in my life. I couldn't wait.
Well... we all know how it turned out. Voters in minority-dominated areas had to wait for hours to exercise their right and duty, while white dudes like me sailed through their lines in about 15 minutes. Bitter? Hell, yeah. I cried when John Kerry conceded. I didn't even cry when my children were born. And the Christians I conversed with online and in person stuck their thumb to their nose, waved their fingers and said "na-na, boo-boo." Or the editorial equivalent at least.
The last year and a half has seen popular opinion turn on President Bush. (Where were you people on Election Day?) The war is a quagmire. Bush himself has said that the war on terror can't be won. And indeed it can't be won. "Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Gen. 6:5) Doesn't matter to Dubya, though- God is on his side. Sure. Whatever you say.

Guest Blogger: my brother

My brother, Marc MacNair, has sent me some absolutely hilarious e-mails which I've saved. On the occasion of his birthday I present one to you.

I hate (hate, hate HATE) anything forwarded through e-mail, but my sister forwarded me one of these "unanswerable questions of the universe" things this morning and I endeavored to answer them. Marc *******************************************************
> > > >Who was the first person to look at a cow and say, "I think I'll squeeze these dangly things here, and drink whatever comes out"?
Well seeing as how calves drink regularly from the dangly things and survive it seems like a natural decision, especially for some nomadic farmer in 5,000 BC or so who was probably suffering through a drought or something.
> > > > Why do toasters always have a setting that burns the toast to a horrible crisp which no decent human being would eat?
They don't. They do however, as any mechanical device will, malfunction.
> > > > Why is there a light in the fridge and not in the freezer?
The cold of the freezer would damage the bulb.
> > > > If Jimmy cracks corn and no one cares, why is there a song about him?
Jimmy cracks corn and *I* don't care. It takes a truly self-involved person to go from *I* to *no one*.
> > > >Can a hearse carrying a corpse drive in the carpool lane?
Why would it have to? Hearses get police escorts.
> > > >If the professor on Gilligan's Island can make a radio out of a coconut, why can't he fix a hole in a boat?
Two different skills are involved. Why not ask a brain surgeon why he can't extract a tooth or ask a painter why he can't sculpt?
> > > >Why do people point to their wrist when asking for the time, but don't point to their crotch when they ask where the bathroom is?
Do you always USE your crotch when going to the bathroom? There are a couple of different possibilities there. And suppose you just need a mirror or want to wash your hands? No crotch required for those activities.
> > > >Why does your OB-GYN leave the room when you get undressed if they are going to look up there anyway?
It's polite.
> > > > Why does Goofy stand erect while Pluto remains on all fours? They're both dogs!
Pluto doesn't speak and is therefore not an anthropomorphized character. Goofy has the role of a sentient creature with the power of speech and thought. Pluto is a pet.
> > > >What do you call male ballerinas?
"Ballerina" implies femininity and therefore there ARE no male ballerinas. However, male ballet dancers are generally called male ballet dancers.
> > > >Why ARE Trix only for kids?
They aren't. It's a marketing phrase.
> > > >If Wile E. Coyote had enough money to buy all that Acme crap, why didn't he just buy dinner?
Why doesn't Ted Nugent buy venison from some specialty butcher insteead of bow hunting for it? There is value in the challenge.
> > > >Why is a person that handles your money called a 'Broker'?
They aren't called brokers because they handle your money. They are called brokers because of some service they provide. As money is exchanged for goods and services the name of the good or service does not refer to the medium of exchange.
> > > >If quizzes are quizzical, what are tests?
Quizzes aren't necessarily quizzical. Something is quizzical when its nature implies that there are questions to be asked. Quizzes don't IMPLY this. Quizzes EXIST for questions to be asked. However, there could be some ineffable quality to a quiz that makes it quizzical and a test could be quizzical for just the same reason.
> > > >If corn oil is made from corn, and vegetable oil is made from vegetables, then what is baby oil made from?
Baby oil is FOR babies, not FROM babies just like motor oil is for motors. Some things are named for their source and some things for their destination. There's nothing particularly quizzical about this.
> > > >If a man is talking in the forest, and no woman is there to hear him, is he still wrong?
If what he says is wrong then he's wrong. If what he says is right then he is right. It doesn't matter who or what is there to hear it. Some truths are universal. And men are not blithering idiots despite feminist propaganda to the contrary. If your husband is such a ridiculous moron, why marry him in the first place? At least he looks to see what he's sitting on before he sits on it (see: toilet lid controversy).
> > > >If electricity comes from electrons, does morality come from morons?
Electricity doesn't come FROM electrons. It's named after them. There's a difference.
> > > >Is Disney World the only people trap operated by a mouse?
Disneyworld is operated by people. The mouse is a character.
> > > >Why do the Alphabet song and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star have the same tune?
Twinkle, twinkle little star is the English name of a popular French melody named "Ah! Vous dirais-je, Maman". It was first published in 1761. The Alphabet song is a popular method for speakers to learn the alphabet of a given language. It was first copyrighted by C. Bradlee of Boston, Mass. on February 4, 1834 and titled "The Schoolmaster". The reason they use the same melody is obvious. People already KNEW the melody and setting something to a rhyme or melody that is already familiar makes it easier to remember.
> > > >Do illiterate people get the full effect of Alphabet Soup?
The full effect of alphabet soup is to enjoy small bits of pasta in a tomatoey broth with vegetables and sometimes bits of beef. Illiterate people can enjoy a good broth just like anyone else.
> > > >Why do they call it an asteroid when it's outside the hemisphere but call it a hemorrhoid when it's in your a**?
The word "asteroid" comes from the Greek meaning "starlike". The word "hemorrhoid" comes from Latin by way of Greek and means "to flow with blood" or more generally "to flow". "Star" and "flow" have no particular connection to "hemisphere" or "a**", they're just accidents of etymology.
> > > >Did you ever notice that when you blow in a dog's face, he gets mad at you but when you take him on a car ride, he sticks his head out the window.
One thing can be interpreted as an act of agression and one can not. Also, there's a difference between a focused stream of air and a wide flow of air like the wind.
> > > >Why is it that when someone tells you that there are over a billion stars in the universe, you believe them, but if they tell you there is wet paint somewhere, you have to touch it to make sure?
Because one thing is something you have to believe or disbelieve on faith, unless you want to get into the study of astrophysics and another is something you can test with your finger.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


Oh time, sticks to me
and it tears from my skin
So that I can't remember
just how long it has been.

Whoa but in my mind I can see you
and I think of you so kind
and I know it was my fault
that I fell so far behind

So God take this prayer
I send to you
and I hope it finds you well
as for me, well I'm all right
as far as I can tell
as far as I can tell
---Eli, "Letters"

Monday, February 06, 2006

All That You Can't Leave Behind

As usual, I'm up too stinking early. And as is my habit, the first thing I do is turn on the computer and start running through websites. Ebay- check. E-mail- check. Then the blogs. I check my own to see if anyone is reading- I see Winnisquam, Independence and Claremont, and I'm happy. Off to the others.

And this is where I begin. I'm not going to name the blog this time because I've critiqued him in the past and I don't want it to look like I'm picking on him. He did an article on Bono's speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, and how it was a big mistake, having a rock star at a prayer breakfast and all, and we don't even know if he's a Christian. I did a double take. We don't know if Bono's a Christian?

I think it was 25 years ago when I saw the movie Teachers. At one point in this movie the teacher's union was fighting for an extra two minutes of break time, or time at the beginning of the day. Later in the movie Nick Nolte's job was on the line, and because of various situations the union wasn't defending him. He shouted, "Are those two minutes all we have left to fight for?" A great line which I've used frequently.

Have we lost legit causes to fight for, that we have to keep the topic of Bono's salvation alive? (And the real beef is usually with his politics, with concern for his salvation as a convenient front.). What's next, jokes about televangelists? That's so 80's, man. How about backwards masking. Remember that one? "Stairway To Heaven" says "Here's to my sweet Satan" and "Another One Bites The Dust" says "It's fun to smoke marijuana", all heard when you spin the record backwards with your finger. (Oh man, remember LPs?) It might even be easier to do in the digital age. What would Mariah Carey say backwards? In either direction, crap is crap.

What do people know us for? I've spoken of my admiration for Witness Lee in the past, but one of my huge beefs with his posse is that they make big spiritual issues over things like celebrating Christmas or having different types of music in their meetings. When the final chapter is written about the Lord's Recovery, will they be thought of as dedicated Christians who loved the Lord, or will they be known in history as the church who didn't celebrate Christmas and sued everyone? Sadly, I fear the latter.

If Bono's salvation is an issue, God help us all when they get to mine. The world can't hold the volumes that could be written about my sin.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Have you stopped beating your wife yet?

Yesterday I read an article by Brian McLaren online about homosexuality, and later read follow-ups by different authors giving commentary. "McLaren is soft on the gay issue," one says. Another decries the absence of doctrinal purity in Christianity and uses Brian McLaren as an example. "The Bible says that homosexuality is a moral evil!" another one thunders.

What is my position on homosexuality? I'll answer that, but first, let's sit in the living room with a couple of lattes and just chat. I want to tell you a story.

Growing up I didn't realize that I had a relative who was a lesbian. We will call her... Eleanor. The subject was never talked about in my family. It wasn't until my teenage years that I finally put the pieces together and figured it out. Was I shocked? Was I appalled? Was I converted? None of the above. Eleanor was not and is not my "lesbian relative" any more than I am her "straight relative." She is just my relative. No qualifiers.

Several years ago my beloved aunt Evelyn had two heart attacks. I called Eleanor in order to get the latest information, but it was her partner who answered the phone. She, who was right in the middle of the situation, set aside her grief to see how I was doing. That made a lasting impression on me. My aunt Evelyn died that day. When I went to church the next Sunday, at a conservative Baptist congregation, I mentioned Evelyn's death when prayer requests were solicited. And again the next week. No one expressed any condolences or concern for my grief. Screw them. Kind of funny how the woman whom these Baptists would keep out of the kingdom of God expressed more Christian charity than they did.

At the memorial service and for several years after I got a chance to meet Eleanor's friends. Marilyn. Jim. Craig. Rick. Whether in person or by e-mail, these men and women treated me kindly. Oh yeah, one slight, unimportant detail- they were all gay or lesbian. And they didn't even try to recruit me. Gee, I don't think they're filling their quota.

It's kind of interesting when you meet people that you've stereotyped for years- they end up blowing your expectations out of the water. For example, when I first started going to a fundamentalist Baptist church I met my first "Bible-thumpin' fundies" for the first time. I looked for the horns and tails but couldn't find any. They were just regular people with stories like the rest of us. One woman had a husband in prison. One had a daughter with Down's Syndrome who died at four years of age. Granted, I later took issues with their theology and practices and decided that I couldn't follow that way, but I never hated them as people. And I still don't. My former pastor is still a good friend. I am always greeted at their church with open arms.

Eleanor was raised with the notion that you always had to do the right thing. If you didn't stand up for yourself now there would be hell to pay later. Eleanor's courage to always do the right thing made an impression on me last year. Her 86-year-old mother suffered a stroke, and Eleanor put her life on hold in order to act as nurse and cheerleader. Her mother proved to be from hearty stock, and she battled through grueling therapy, Eleanor constantly at her side. In April of 2004 her mother moved back into her apartment in Oakland, only to suffer a second stroke. At that point she knew that it was time to join the husband she walked through life with for 57 years, and she decided to die. Eleanor made her comfortable, gave her support, and did the one thing that it pained her most to do- she watched her mother die.

In the times in which we live we talk a lot about what makes a person a hero. We have heroes in the midst of tragedy, we have athletic heroes, we have war heroes. I believe that the courage Eleanor expressed in her mother's final days qualifies her as a hero. She would never allow me to use such language in describing her actions. She would immediately say that she was only doing the right thing- just as her parents taught her through their life.

What is my position on homosexuality? People never really want to hear my answer to that question, they just want to hear their answer. It's a loaded question without a "yay" or "nay" response. It's like asking someone "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?" when they don't even beat their wife. If they say no then they are in fact admitting to spousal abuse at some point. If they say yes, then they are still committing a heinous act. Either way they can't win.

So what is my position on homosexuality? Sorry, I'm not going there. I don't need to have a position on everything. I plead the Marines pseudo motto on this one- Love 'em all and let God sort 'em out.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Trip to the Christian Bookstore

Thanks for tuning in. I've been busy putting together another blog, a politically-oriented one, and trying to figure out which ways to go with it.

I took a trip to the Christian bookstore today. We have a very large Family Christian Store in our town out near the mall, and every once in awhile I get bored and go in. 20 years ago we had 5 Christian bookstores within a twenty minute drive; now we have two. Time has not been kind to the mom-and-pop variety Christian bookstore. These days, unless you are part of a big chain or you serve some specific constituency (Catholics, African-Americans, fundamentalists), you can't survive.

When I first got saved Christian bookstores were a lifeline for me. I hooked up with the latest bands (when Christian music was about ministry) and see a decent variety of books. After awhile I was even helping other consumers with knowing bands and musical styles. These days the variety of music has greatly expanded, but the selection of books haven't. Whereas in times past you might see two copies each of thirty different books, classics and modern ones, these days you might see thirty copies of two different books. You likely will see few books from more than five years ago, unless it's purpose-driven or asking what Jesus would do.

And the subjects have changed. I saw a book today entitled The Naked Christian, which encouraged an authentic and honest faith. I respect the sentiment and agree with it, but I remember about 15 years ago when the band The Seventy-Sevens released an album they wanted to title Pray Naked. It was released with the band name as the title and the name of the song "Pray Naked" blotted out. How things have changed.

And is it just me or are there a lot of books about sex in the Christian bookstores these days? I guess that's a sign that the subject is no longer taboo, that we feel freer in discussing it. OK, I guess. Or it could be a sign that Christians are just obsessed with the subject to a degree on par with the rest of society. Moving on....

You want the fad books, you got 'em. The Purpose-Driven this, the Purpose-Driven that. WWJD merchandise has been relegated to the discount rack to make more shelf space for Joel Osteen. Attempts are still being made to cash in on current trends in popular culture. "Desperate Housewives in the Bible"? Yeah, that's going to make people forget about Spurgeon. Emergent church, emergent worship, emerging as a post-modern emergent emerger- check.

I'm also not comfortable with the number of politically-oriented books that populate the shelves. I think it perpetuates the myth that to be a Christian means that you need to be a conservative flag-wearer. Maybe they think that the liberals don't bother with Christian retail outlets and get all of their books at Borders or Barnes and Noble. Well, you certainly can get them cheaper there. But I digress.

I remember the day when I could go into the Christian bookstore and get something of substance, something that would make a change in my life, something that would hit my spirit hard. These days it's like cotton candy. Sure, it can fill you up, but it's all empty calories.

I bought my son a couple of birthday presents, and then I actually did pick up a book for myself. A Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McClaren. There might be a blog entry out of this book. We'll see.