Friday, August 29, 2008

Mike Roe 77s Interview

Lots of bands have great music, but not much soul and lots of bands have great soul, but not much music.

Mike Roe of the 77s and the Lost Dogs has both and that's why he's one of my favorites.

Right now, there's a good interview with Mike online at Greater Than magazine.

And check out the new 77s release, Holy Ghost Building.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Snake Visits Our House

Recently my wife and was doing laundry in the basement and out of the basement window she saw a bull snake.

I went outside and shot this picture of him. He's 3 1/2 foot long. After sunning himself, he slithered into a hole under the foundation of our air conditioner.

The kids got quite a scream out of seeing him.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

New Look at the Parsonage

This summer the Congregational Church family did some remodeling work at the parsonage where my family lives.

New siding was put all around the side.

It looks really beautiful.

Thank you church family!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Harsh Language of the Bible

You want to know the dirtiest verse in all the Bible? It's right here.

Sorry, I won't tell you what Ezekiel said. Go ahead and call me a prude. Besides, I bet you clicked the link because curiosity got the best of you.

So, why does the Bible, that book where every verse is inspired by God, why does Scripture sometimes use harsh, shocking, cursing, dirty language? Especially when the Apostle Paul commands, "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things" (Philippians 4:8)

Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, provides good insight in the above video, and will address the question more in depth at an upcoming conference.

But I also like what Pastor Douglas Wilson, in a frank book to men called Fidelity, says about the topic:
"We laugh at dirty jokes on the television shows we watch, but woe betide to the poor idiot who tries to tell the same joke in the church foyer the next morning. His sin is not the joke, which half the church enjoyed in the privacy of their own homes, but rather his unwitting exposure of their dishonesty...

(When) Ezekiel rails against the adulterous idolatry of the Israelites by using sexual imagery of the most graphic sort... (he) uses obscenity to reveal the real obscenity of doing such things in defiance of God's law. A modern analogy is the practice of pro-life activists using pictures of dismembered children in their literature. Obscene? Yes, but the point is to expose the real obscenity, which is the practice of dismembering them.

Ezekiel was more concerned about the obscenity he was exposing than the obscenity he was using... He is being obscene, but not sinful...

My point is simply to show that godly obscenity exists... (Sometimes) scientific or medical language is not suited for prophetic rebuke."

Monday, August 25, 2008

Review: The Reason for God

Tim Keller's The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism is the perfect title for a book that offers a logical and refreshing apologetic for Christianity.

As Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, a C.S. Lewis fan, and an admitted "egghead" philosopher, Keller has eagerly engaged inquirers, skeptics, strugglers, and critics for many years and is uniquely qualified to write this 2-part book. The first half, entitled, "The Leap of Doubt," tackles seven questions often raised against Christianity:
  • There can't be just one true religion
  • How could a good God allow suffering?
  • Christianity is a straitjacket
  • The church is responsible for so much injustice
  • How can a loving God send people to hell?
  • Science has disproved Christianity
  • You can't take the Bible literally
In short, Keller's answers these questions showing how everyone operates with a world view, even the secularist who claims no religion, and probes the result of such a view. So on the question of a good God allowing suffering, Keller writes:
"People, we believe, ought not to suffer, be excluded, die of hunger, or oppression. But the evolutionary mechanism of natural selection depends on death, destruction, and violence of the strong against the weak--these things are all perfectly natural. On what basis, then, does the atheist judge the natural world to be horribly wrong, unfair, and unjust? ...If you are sure that this natural world is unjust and filled with evil, you are assuming the reality of some extra-natural (or supernatural) standard by which you make your judgment."
Part two, entitled the "The Reasons for Faith," methodically works it way toward Jesus Christ and the hope Christian faith offers:
  • The clues of God
  • The knowledge of God
  • The problem of sin
  • Religion and the Gospel
  • The (true) story of the cross
  • The reality of the resurrection
  • The dance of God
  • Epilogue: Where do we go from here?
The approach in this section corrects common misunderstandings of the Gospel and goes on to present an affirmative case for the Gospel. For example, in the section on religion and the gospel, Keller illustrates the internal difference between the Christian and the moralist:
"Religion operates on the principle 'I obey--therefore I am accepted by God.' But the operating principle of the gospel is 'I am accepted by God through what Christ has done--therefore I obey.' Two people living their lives on the basis of these two different principles may site next to each other in the church pew. They both pray, give money generously, and are loyal and faithful to their family and church, trying to live decent lives. However, they do so out of two radically different motivations, in two radically different spiritual identities, and the result is two radically different kinds of lives."
The Reason for God is an instant classic. As a narrative, it draws you in. As a dialogue, it makes you think and allows you to draw you own conclusions. Above all, it lifts up an orthodox view of God and gives good reasons to believe.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Concerts I've Attended

One of my favorite theologians is Ben Witherington, a prolific author and professor at Asbury Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. Lately, he's been on a rock-n-roll nostalgia kick. He's written about his 10 favorites shows, his favorite song writers, favorite guitarists, favorite vocalists, and favorite albums. Which got me thinking...

Earlier this summer I was going through a box of old stuff and inside I found an envelope of ticket stubs from concerts I've attended over the years.

Here's a list of shows:

The Who, Devo, Joan Armatrading, Love & Rockets, The Ramones, Talking Heads, Adrian Belew, Big Country, PIL, Genesis, Bruce Springsteen, Kansas, Blackfoot, Pretenders, Phil Keaggy, Allan Holdsworth, John Renborn, The Bears, Robert Fripp & the League of Gentleman, John Cougar Mellencamp, ZZ Top, the Call, Simple Minds, the Eagles, Steve Miller Band, Eddie Money, Bruce Cockburn, Firehose, Husker Du, Peter Gabriel, Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Replacements, Faith No More, Echo & the Bunnymen, Miles Davis, Frank Zappa, Eric Clapton, Lime Spiders, B.H. Surfers, Beatlemania, Beach Boys, Undercover, Altar Boys, Hall & Oates, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Richard Thompson, Tubes, Utopia with Todd Rundgren, the Monkees, James Brown, Martha and the Muffins, Daniel Lanois, U2, Tommy Emmanuel, 77s, Lou Reed, K.D. Lang, Lyle Lovett, Leo Kottke, Sun Ra, The Choir, Elvis Costello, Sam Phillips, Lost Dogs, REM, Aaron Shust, Steve Taylor, Matthew Ward, Waterboys, Kings X, Luka Bloom, Newsboys, Toby Mac, Newsong, Charlie Peacock, Tonio K., Daniel Amos, Mike Roe, Doyle Dykes, Cornerstone Festivals, Icthus Festivals, and the list goes on.

Mom once said, "All those show are going to make you go deaf!"

I'm glad I can still hear. Because there's this show coming up...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Review: Good to Great in God's Eyes

Is being both humble and great a contradiction? To be honest, I've thought yes. But that assumption gets challenged in Chip Ingram's book, Good to Great in God's Eyes.

After reading Jim Collin's best selling business book, Good to Great, Ingram got to wondering: What are the 10 most common practices of great Christians? Here's what he discovered:
  • Think great thoughts
  • Read great books
  • Pursue great people
  • Dream great dreams
  • Pray great prayers
  • Take great risks
  • Make great sacrifices
  • Enjoy great moments
  • Empower great people
  • Develop great habits
On the surface, this book looks like any other self-help book that could mudslide into a Joel Osteen book, basically telling you to just try harder. But Ingram roots his advice in Scripture, illustrates his points with good stories and advice, and doesn't promise you'll be rich in the end.

My only criticism is someone can do all these things, yet Ingram doesn't explicitly discuss the role God plays. Whatever great things we accomplish is entirely due to God's sovereignty. One's giftedness also is a factor. Practicing these 10 attributes certainly puts us in a position to bear fruit, but it doesn't guarantee it. Jesus says the good seed multiplies, "thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times." My point is this: Even the degree of people's "success" is a matter determined by God.

For someone like me, who isn't a type-A driven personality, struggles with vision, and doesn't frequently feel successful, knowing that God ultimately determines our success makes it tempting to just be mediocre, go with the flow, and not really make a plan. But is that really an alternative? The most persuasive reason Ingram offers to go from "good" to "great" in God's eyes is in the introduction:
"When I ask believers if they want to be great Christians, they seem afraid to answer the question... (it seems) arrogant... Yet what's the alternative? Should we aspire to be mediocre Christians? Is it really prideful to want to honor God with lives of great faith and excellent work?"
I'm going to let that question sink deeper into my spirit.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

My Pop Culture "Vita"

How should Christians respond to culture? Go with the flow? Barricade themselves? Or engage it?

The challenge, I think, is to be "in" the world, but not "of" the world (1 John 2:15-17 and John 17:15). When it comes to pop rock culture, I enjoyed several years "mixing it up" with the world when I was manager of a record store in Ohio. Being "salt and light" in that environment was challenging, but fun. Moments of faithfulness and failure. Here are my pop culture highlights:

Ending up in a Lou Reed video, "Busload of Faith."
One day a friend came into my store and said, "I just saw you on MTV." What? Later, he brought in a video he recorded off the television. There I was in a Lou Reed video. Apparently, when I saw him in concert in Columbus, Ohio, they were filming. My appearance is at :59. The camera pans the crowd and then zooms in and out very quickly. In the middle of the crowd, zoomed in, is me. Ironic that me, a Christian believer, appears in an anti-god song.

Hosting an in-store autograph session with the Ramones.
In 1986, the Ramones spent an hour in our store signing autographs and promoting their newest LP at the time, Too Tough to Die. When they played on the campus of Ohio University that night, Joey the lead singer said between songs, "This one goes out to Schoolkids records for having us today in their store."

Talking on the phone to Kate Bush.
When Kate signed on with Columbia Records, I was invited to participate in a conference call in 1989. I asked her, "Tell us about your spiritual influences." She didn't mention Jesus.

One among thousands at the tragic Who concert in Cincinnati, 1979.
My friend and I arrived late and we went through doors on the other side of the coliseum. We didn't know what happened until we got to our car. My family was very worried that night. 11 people died in a crush of humanity because coliseum doors never opened until late before show time.

Meeting David Byrne backstage after a show.

A music icon. Met him after a show in Cleveland in 1990, when he toured for Rei Momo.

Meeting Adrian Belew backstage after a show.
I mention this because I'm a King Crimson fan. Belew is truly a good guy. Met him at Bogarts in Cincinnati after a Bears show.

Crossing paths with Charlie Peacock at significant moments.
Charlie is the conscious of Christian music. A great spokesman, thoughtful critic, and darn good musician. Met him at his first appearance at Cornerstone Music Festival, where he dedicated a song to my friend. Years later, I saw in concert in Columbus, Ohio when one of his singers, Vince Ebo, made his first profession of faith in Jesus.

Striking up a friendship with Mike Stand of the Altar Boys.
AB came to Athens in 1987 for an outdoor concert, during the "Against the Grain" era. I introduced Mike to Midnight Oil and he really dug them. Back in the 80's, AB earned a hearing of the Gospel because they played authentic rock-n-roll and did it well.

Bringing Mike Roe of the 77s to Little River, KS for a concert.
My favorite "Christian" band for years has been the 77s. Honest lyrics about faith and struggle. In 2004, Mike came to our little town to play at our high school baccalaureate service, followed by an acoustic concert. Afterwards, we went to McDonald's for Mike's favorite, a hot fudge sundae.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Record Store Tour

I wish I thought of this...

A guy hopped in his car and drove 1,700 miles touring the country to visit America's coolest record stores.

Having managed School Kids Records in Athens, Ohio for six years, I love-- to use a now archaic term-- "record stores." Schoolkids, in in my not so humble opinion, was a pretty cool store. We had a great selection, low prices, and a friendly and helpful staff. The years in the store shaped me in many ways-- as a Christian, a business person, and a pop culture dude. It was a great way to spend my single years. While I love the internet, I'm sad how it basically wiped out the music retail business, including Schoolkids.

My family wouldn't consider a tour of record stores a vacation.

But I know an old friend from college who'd gladly go with me.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Links to Warren-Obama-McCain Forum

Joel Belz of World Magazine: "All three men were very, very good. I predict it will be ultimately demonstrated, though, that Warren, one way or another, will prove himself the big winner of the evening, with McCain not very far behind."

John Mark Reynolds
: "Tonight at the Saddleback Civil Forum Obama was good, but seemed to be playing it safe while McCain, dear old John McCain, brought his A game. I am stunned, because I did not know he even had a B game."

Barack Obama, in an interview with CBN's David Brody, says the National Right to Life Committee is lying about his position on infants born alive during an induced abortion.

Denny Burke replies: Obama is lying.

The Wall Street Journal questions the inexperienced Barack Obama questioning the inexperience of Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas.

Byron York on how McCain won over voters at Saddleback.

Star Parker doesn't like the fact that Pastor Warren hosted the forum: " We need political leaders that are more moral, not church leaders that are more political." Personally, I like idea. The OT prophets were moral leaders, but also political.

Hugh Hewitt shows how Obama wasn't totally forthcoming in his answers, such as marriage and Senate ethics reform.

Obama and Abortion

If there's one issue that magnifies the difference between John McCain and Barack Obama, it's abortion, the greatest moral failure of our country.

When moderator Pastor Rick Warren asked in Saturday's forum, "At what point does a baby get human rights," McCain was unequivocal in stating life begins at conception. On the other hand, Obama said:
"… whether you’re looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity … is above my pay grade."
It's too bad that for all of Obama's apparent uncertainty about when life begins, he's very certain that abortion should be available at anytime throughout a pregnancy-- even after the child is "accidentally" born during an abortion attempt.

If Obama truly is uncertain, I suggest he consider this moral tale that I heard Dr. Norman Geisler once tell years ago:
"If a hunter is walking through the woods and he sees something ruffling in the bushes, but isn't absolutely certain of its identity, is he wise if he shoots it, or wise if he waits to be sure what it is."
If a zygote or fetus is allowed to go full term, it always end up a child.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Reacting to the Rick Warren Saddleback Presidential Forum

So what did you think about the Saddleback forum with the Presidential candidates?

Kudos to Pastor Rick Warren who asked lots of hard questions. Like, "What's your greatest moral failure and what is America's greatest moral failure?" and "What Supreme Court justices would you have not nominated?" and "Who is rich? Give me a number." and "What would you do to end religious persecution around the world, like in China?" If there's a big question Warren overlooked, it was the issue of immigration. But hey mainstream media, take note.

Barack Obama was relaxed, smooth, and elegant. And he scored a funny when he teased Warren about rich guys being those who sell millions of books.

He gave honest answers. He's pro-choice. The rich make over $250,000. He wouldn't have nominated Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.

But as Obama said in response to one question, "the devil is in the details."

He's pro-choice, but seeks to "reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies." That sounds good, but Obama wouldn't even vote to protect the life of a child born alive during an abortion.

He would commit troops to protect "national security." Apparently, Iraq isn't a national security issue since Obama has opposed the war throughout. I'm still wondering, when does Obama commit troops?

John McCain didn't look quite as comfortable. He was a bit stiff, his voice was monotoned compared to Obama, and he seemed to offer more canned political sound bites. But McCain gave substantive answers. His reputation was on display-- a straight shooter. He told good stories. And, he got more passionate as the interview went on.

McCain said a baby is entitled to life at the moment of conception. Marriage is the union of one man and one woman. Evil? Defeat it-- naming it radical Islamic terrorism. All the liberal judges? He wouldn't appoint any of them. Parental choice in public education. "I don't believe in class warfare." He doesn't want to raise anyone's taxes. The Russians must respect that territorial boundaries of Georgia.

McCain ranted about Washington's failure over the years in big spending and not drilling for oil. I appreciate the argument, but I'm not sure how much McCain has been part of the solution, especially on spending.

In total, both candidates displayed character and strength-- they looked Presidential. And to the discerning listener, the differences between Obama and McCain on the issues were clear.

If there's a "winner," it's probably Obama. He woos to his Democratic side evangelical Christians who otherwise vote Republican. But McCain inspired and reassured teetering evangelical Republicans who are tempted to stay away from the polls because of McCain's moderate views.

What I'd Ask If I Was Rick Warren

Tonight, Rick Warren, pastor of mega-huge Saddleback Church and author of mega-selling book, The Purpose Driven Life, has the privilege of asking questions to both presidential candidates, Barrack Obama and John McCain.

Here are some of the questions I would ask:
  • When does human life begin?
  • Should the definition of marriage be expanded?
  • What is the proper use of military force?
  • What do you propose to do about border security and illegal immigration?
  • How much money is the government entitled to take from its citizens in taxes?
  • Who are the people who have most significantly shaped you-- as a person and as a politician?
  • In what ways can the United States be a force for good in the world?
  • Who is God? What role does He play in your life and in your decision making?

Friday, August 15, 2008

John Edwards

Yet another political leader, this time John Edwards, admits to infidelity. What should we think?

John Mark Edwards (no relation!) at the Scriptorium writes:
Having ignored warning signs for so long, the culture’s fascination, even delight, in the destruction of yet another political leader is sickening. I don’t know if John Edwards is sorry for his sins, but I do know that only a fool or a saint can afford to be unmerciful or delight in his fall.

A fool likes any prurient story because it is entertaining. This fool reads of the fall of great men with no sense of discomfort because he believes that his own vice is “not so bad.” For the fool, self-knowledge is always delightful and easy. He is puzzled why Socrates made such a fuss about it.

A saint can advocate justice without mercy, because his virtue leaves him without any need for grace. He can simply ask for justice. Strangely, Jesus, when faced with His own John Edwards, did forgive absolutely. The man who could judge didn’t, which suggests it must be better so.

Should we forgive John Edwards?
Read the rest of the article here. It's an excellent meditation.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

School Starts

Today is the first day of school in Little River. My son has his first day of preschool tomorrow. On September 2, I start teaching an Old Testament Introduction class at nearby Sterling College.

So in honor of the start of school, here's a joke from 777 Great Clean Jokes:
Early in the morning, a mother said, "Son, it's time to get up and go to school."

"Mom," her son replied, nobody at school likes me. The students don't. The teachers don't. The bus drivers don't. I don't want to go to school!"

Mom then said firmly, "Son, you must go to school. You are healthy, you have a lot to learn, and besides... you are the principal!"

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Olympics and the Kingdom of God

I can't say I'm following the Olympics all that closely, but seeing if swimmer Michael Phelps can win 8 gold medals is a compelling story. That 4 x 100 victory was truly amazing.

When you see the above picture--the four swimmers, their gold medals, and the flag--I'm reminded how the Olympics is far more than just the individual quest for glory. It's also about bringing prestige to your country.

In many ways, Christians are like Olympians. We are called to excellence. Our actions are not just a reflection of ourselves. We represent God and His kingdom. Our purpose is to make God look good.

Go for the gold.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

When You Do Wrong

Here's some excellent counsel from Perry Noble on working through guilt:

If you are wrestling with conviction then your only choice is repentance! If God is convicting you that something is wrong then I promise He isn’t going to change His mind.

But, if you are wrestling with condemnation then your only choice is recognition of what Christ did on the cross…complete payment…and in Him you and I are brand new!!!

Read the rest of his entry here.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Bill Bright and Campus Crusade for Christ

Who were the people most influential in your coming to faith in Jesus?

For me, it started with my parents. They took me to church every Sunday at the Lutheran Church around the block from my home during my childhood days in Cincinnati.

Martin Luther and the Lutheran Church gave me a strong doctrinal foundation. But it was Bill Bright and his Campus Crusade organization that injected passion and personal application into my Christian faith, especially during my years as a student at Ohio University.

Aside from Billy Graham, no person has impacted the spiritual landscape of America--post World War II--than Bill Bright. Plenty of books have been written about Graham, but few about Bright. Correcting this oversight is John G. Turner who has produced what looks to be an excellent read in his work, Bill Bright and Campus Crusade for Christ: The Renewal of Evangelicalism in Postwar America.

If you're like me, your knowledge of Bill Bright and Campus Crusade comes from your few years of experience at college. Turner though provides the big picture-- how Bright started Crusade, it's growth, and the troubles along the way.

Turner isn't shy about critiquing Bright and his organization. According to Christianity Today:
Indeed, Turner admits in the introduction that some Crusade insiders who reviewed the manuscript "in some cases vehemently disagreed" with his conclusions. But Turner's book succeeds precisely because he recorded the first-hand observations of so many Crusade insiders...

"While I respect Campus Crusade for boldly and aggressively pursuing its objectives," Turner writes, "I also highlight the ministry's period anti-intellectualism, its infatuation with large crowds and statistics, and the messy ways Bright connected his mission to partisan politics."
Bill Bright and Campus Crusade has influenced my Christian faith in so many ways, nearly all for the good. Turner's history and analysis looks interesting.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Faith of Barack Obama

Yes, Barack Obama is no longer a member of the United Church of Christ.

But, his faith was born and molded in the UCC.

For this reason, The Faith of Barack Obama will be of interest to those of us within the denomination.

The book is written by Stephen Mansfield, who also wrote The Faith of George W. Bush.

Mansfield probably didn't get much criticism in the evangelical community for writing about Bush, but he certainly is for writing about Obama. And while Mansfield is upfront that he doesn't agree with Obama politically, he argues that the conservative church community has no right to hate Obama simply for his politics.

I'll provide a full review of Mansfield's book.

That is, if the publisher comes through with their promise of a free copy.


Our family has been enjoying some special guests. My Mom and Dad drove in from Ohio to visit for a few days.

In this day and age of broken families, it sure is a blessing to have parents who love each other and love you. And it's been that way since the beginning. Truly, God has been kind to our family!