Monday, December 31, 2012

Yeah! You're a Driver!

Several months ago, my loving wife Cheryl gave me a wonderful birthday present: an hour behind the wheel of a Lamborghini Gallardo. A true supercar. Well, I finally got the chance to do it with the host company, Mile High Drives in Golden Colorado. Let me say first, that MHD is a great company. They bent over backward to make my experience memorable. Instruction was given as needed in a repectful way, that did not make you fee stupid. Like how to shift the transmission, with paddle shifters and a semi-automatic clutch. I highly recommend MHD.

I could give a normal review of the experience, but any car lover has read it before. Both the head and leg room were too short for my 6'3" frame, so I wouldn't want to drive it long distance. The steering was sharp and precise, giving great feedback from the road. Suspension was firm and glued the car to the road. The throttle response from the 5.2-litre V10 end was crisp but smooth. I have to say that the most memorable thing about the car is that in every situation it was just "effortless." It did whatever I told it to do without even breathing hard.

Here she is, the 2012 Lamborghini Gallardo.
Even more fun to drive than it looks.
I got the feel of the transmission within just a couple of blocks, and my "instructor" guide asked, "You're a biker, aren't you?"

I answered that yes, I was. Over 40 years in the saddle. "How did you know?"

He said, "I've seen that bikers get the feel of the transmission right away." Made me feel good.

The ride included a run down a scenic canyon after making sure the road was clear. I pushed the Lambo to near 90 mph through the twisties. I held back some, not knowing what clues the car and tires would give me before sliding out. I said I was sure that I wasn't pushing the car near its limit. My guide answered, "Oh, yeah. You're close." I filed that away as good customer relations.

Near the end of my time with the car, my guide had decided that I was good enough for the final run. He told me to "slow down to about thirty in second gear." I did. "Now punch it. Shift gears at about 6000 rpm. Go until I tell you to back off." Which he didn't tell me to do until after I had shifted the six-speed tranny to fifth gear, and the speedometer was well over 130 mph (and still climbing fast!)

He said to me, "Oh, yeah! You're a driver!"

Back at the shop, the guide told my wife, "It was a great run. I thought he might be a driver right away, and he didn't let me down." I told Cheryl he made me feel good by telling me I was pushing it in the curves, but I didn't think I was even close to the limit. He looked me square in the eyes and said to her, "Oh, no. I wasn't just saying that. He really pushed it close to the edge."

A "motorist" is somebody who owns a car and drives it for transportation. But what is a "driver?" Volkswagen advertised a few years ago, "Drivers Wanted." What were they implying? I've been thinking about what that really means. In my haggard mind, I think the difference between a motorist and a driver is pretty much the same a the difference between a simple believer and a true Christian.

I'll explain more in coming articles. And yes, I promise... they are coming without long waits between.

Friday, December 14, 2012

No Weapons Allowed

"Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man's house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can rob his house." -- Matthew 12:29 (NIV)

The illustration Jesus is making in this verse is on another topic, but my mind is particularly haggard this day. This verse came driving into it, when I heard of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The authorities will be deep into the investigations of how this could happen. "Liberals" will stir up questions about gun control. "Conservatives" will chant about how guns don't kill people, people kill people.

A few little things:
  • I was living in Colorado when the Columbine school shooting happened. I saw a local news story of a Columbine teacher on the scene. He was well trained with guns, and happened to be in a position to stop it just as it started. Problem is, school policy blocked him from having a weapon. The story somehow never made the national news. Politically incorrect, I guess.
  • The news tells us about how thousands of people are getting permits to carry concealed weapons, getting training, and buying guns. Where are these people when a nut decides to go shooting? Afraid to act? Some probably are. Don't actually carry? Many don't, even though they could. 
  • We have become so worried about guns in this country that we actually prevent heroes from stepping up. Hmmmm.....
We have all seen this sign. It appears on doors of shopping malls, stores, and schools all across the country. What does this sign say? To law-abiding citizens, it says, "Don't bring your gun in here."

To a nut looking for what law enforcement calls a "soft target," it says, "Here's your kill zone." These guys may be nuts, but they're generally not stupid.

My point is not to be pro- or anti-gun. I'm a gun owner who happens to support some gun control. Our problem isn't too much or not enough gun control. The problem is, we've gotten stupid about it. We have become so worried about guns in this country that we have tied up the strong man. At the same time, the Church is absent. Oh, the Church is there after the tragedy, offering hope and comfort. But before it happens-- Well, more to come....

For now, my prayers are with the people of Newtown Connecticut. May the Lord and His people comfort and lift up those who have suffered such loss.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Just Because

This haggard mind is full of stuff. I've been educated, influenced, coerced, and guided. In college I majored in Chemistry. As part of that I studied math and physics, and took a class in Logic to help understand it all. Logic is a division of Philosophy, and I became fascinated by the writings of Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, Nietzche, Plutarch, and a bunch of others.

When I found Chemistry-- which was always fun and new in school-- to be skull-numbingly boring in industry, I heard the call again. The call to ministry. I chose a seminary, and found myself buried in a mire of liberalism. It was a fight to stay on track while deluged with the teachings of names like Schleiermacher, Bultmann, Kierkegaard, and Tillich. (Big names. Some hard to pronounce. Most of them hard to understand, too.) I often found myself standing alone in my belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the authority of the Bible.

Finally, though, I started sinking, wondering if I was on the right track. I was afraid that not only would my beliefs be broken down, but my very faith would die. Then I read a familiar story in the Gospels, and it was like the Lord literally opened the top of my head and poured understanding directly into my haggard mind.

Jesus was in town with his disciples, teaching them in parables as he often did. Somebody spotted him, and told some other people that he was there. Soon people were gathering around, and many of them were bringing their kids, asking him to bless them. Jesus' disciples were irritated at this, and told the folks to take their noisy brats somewhere else. (Of course, I'm seriously paraphrasing this, but you get the idea.)

Jesus let his guys know in no uncertain terms that they were wrong about that. He "rebuked" them, which means he royally chewed them out, telling them sharply how he disapproved of their actions. Then he called some of the kids to come to him. He took them in his arms, blessed them, and said to all who would hear, "Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." (Luke 18.17)

I suddenly realized why I fought so hard to defend what I believed. Why all the education in chemistry and physics and philosophy and evolution and quantum theory had done nothing but make my faith stronger. I suddenly understood the main reason WHY I believe in God. I believe in the same way that I believed as a kid in Sunday School.

Why does a child believe? No reason. Just because. That's what Jesus meant. We need to receive the kingdom the same way that a little child receives it.

For all the doubts and confusion and pressures that I have faced, through education and work and life, I believe without a reason. I've studied and questioned, which is what God wants us to do. But really, I don't need a reason to believe. I just do. And that is ultimately what makes my faith unshakable.

"No reason. Just because."

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

How to Grow a Church

How do you grow a church?
One thing this haggard mind has noticed about the world, is that whatever is going on, it's all about the money. And when they insist that it's not about money, then you know for sure that it's all about the money.

I have a "day job" with a manufacturing company. I develop software for them. Everything I do is to benefit the operations of the company-- make their operatins more efficient or keep better track of their resources-- so profit can be maximized. In short, for the company I work for, it's all about the money.

2012 being a presidential election year here in America, we are bombarded on all sides by ads. Ads that cost a lot of money to produce and broadcast. Or we are kept informed about all the fund raising efforts of the candidates, so they can pay for those ads and for their campaign activities. They say its about our country's leadership. But get right down to it, and it's all about the money.

Obviously I don't have much of a clue about how to raise money. Our ministry for third-world widows suffers from one major problem. We don't have the money we really need to care for our first group of twenty-four women, and fund two more groups that want to start, and accept the dozens of invitations we receive to "please come here and help our widows." So even for a Christian outreach, it gets down to being all about the money. (I'm tempted to be jealous of our politicians, who are able to raise millions of dollars in a single day, but I resist.)

"When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power." (1 Corinthians 2.1-5

I have watched countless churches get caught up in the human wisdom of "all about the money." Now, money is a necessity in order to operate and to minister. Church Board meetings, by their nature, must deal with money issues of the congregation. But when a church gets focused on the money, its membership declines. Then when the leadership gets the idea that they need to apply more money to their programs, they continue to decline. When a church's "money people" become its controlling influence, it dies a long, slow, painful death.

Money is necessary. But for a church, it's got to be all about Christ. Pay the bills so the church can glorify Jesus. Fund projects that lift up Christ before the world. Pay a preacher who knows only one message: Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

Social gospel does not grow a church. Political involvement does not grow a church. Activism does not grow a church. Programs, dinners, charities, auctions, bake sales, seminars do not grow a church. A church may feel called to do any or all of these things as part of its ministry. But none of these things grow a church.

Jesus grows a church. It's all about Christ.

Monday, May 21, 2012

After God's Heart

I'm asked from time to time how I justify calling myself "a man after God's own heart." So I feel the need to write on this every so often, so new followers will understand.

In the Bible, that phrase was only applied to one person: David of Bethlehem, the son of Jesse, who would become Israel's greatest king. "The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.” (1 Samuel 13.14) He would unite and expand Israel as no other could do, and would author the greater portion of the Psalms. How can I equate myself to that? Well, I can't, if you think "after one's own heart" means "having the same opinions or interests." (Cambridge Dictionary definition)

Yet David was not allowed to build the Temple. Solomon hinted rather nicely that his father "was not able to build a Temple to honor the name of the LORD his God because of the many wars waged against him by surrounding nations. He could not build until the LORD gave him victory over all his enemies." (1 Kings 5.3) But the ultimate reason was because David was an adulterer and murderer. "Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own." (2 Samuel 12.10)

So if David "despised" God in this way, how does that make him one with "the same opinions or interests" as God? Simple. It doesn't. Now, I give thanks that I've never done either of those things, but I have managed to "despise" God plenty through my own sin.
A little language history-- Our common phrase "after my own heart" comes from our translation of 1 Kings 5.3. That's how it has always been translated, and over about 400 years the modern meaning has changed as our language has changed. Like all of the Bible, we need to try to understand it the same way as the one who originally wrote it. In biblical Hebrew, that phrase is one word, "kil'vavo:"
  • ki is "as, like, as if, according to, after."
  • l'vav is "heart."
  • o is "his."
What does the word "after" mean? It has several dictionary meanings, but the major one is "following behind." And that can mean "pursuing or hunting." As in something we might say today: "I'm going after him!" Now, biblical Hebrew is a "visual" language. Its meanings are often wrapped up in images and examples. When Samuel told Saul that God had chosen a man after his own heart, David was still a high-school-aged kid, not yet a mighty man, a king, or a psalm author. He was a shepherd. He was also a hunter. Put the pieces together, and you come down to what this haggard mind sees as the true meaning, in today's language, of why God chose David: "The Lord has looked for a man who is hunting for His heart."

Whatever the circumstances-- in times of peace or war, whether fighting or hiding, when writing a psalm, or even while murdering his lover's husband-- David always thirsted for, hungered after, and hunted for the heart of God. Like my namesake, in triumph or failure, in right or in wrong, I am always hunting for the heart of God. A man after God's own heart.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Where Strength Really Comes From

A while back, my wife asked me to put a clothesline, so she could hang things out to dry in the fresh air. Good for us, without the dryer sheets' chemicals. Good for the environment, using only wind and solar energy. Good for the bank account, using less electricity.

We had the skeletal remains of an old swingset lying behind the storage shed, and I thought that would be the perfect materials. It's thin-walled steel tubing, lightweight but strong, and easy to cut and weld. Within a couple hours I had fabricated two clothesline poles. I dug holes in the ground, set a base of rocks in the bottom, and set the poles in place with concrete. Solid. After the concrete had set, I ran two coated wire lines between the poles. The clothesline has been serving us well for several months now.

We were in for a big freeze, and our grapevines were in a very fragile state, so we covered them with plastic sheets to protect the budding new fruit. After the cold snap, it rained, and the plastic was wet. We laid it over the clotheslines to dry. But that night, another rain came-- a heavy one-- and rainwater collected in the plastic between the lines. It seems there was a weak spot in one of the poles I had made. A small dent that had gone unnoticed, and it was facing toward the lines. As the weight of the rainwater increased, eventually that little dent gave way. The next morning we found the plastic on the ground and the pole bent over.

I could replace the pole, but that would entail a lot of work, pulling the old one out of the ground with its concrete base. Plus it would be a waste of good materials. So rather than replace it, I pulled it straight. Then I bored a hole on the back side about a foot above the bend. Through that hole I filled the pole with concrete.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, "I can do all this through him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4.13) That's the New International Version (NIV) translation. A better, more accurate translation of this is from the New American Standard (NAS), "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." There is a subtle but important difference in the wording.

We usually think along the lines of the NIV translation, that God gives us strength, which we then use to do something. That's like my clothesline pole with a dent in it. When I made it, I gave it strength, then let it go.

But a very literal translation of Paul's greek is, "In everything I am strong by the one who strengthens me." The real truth here is like the repaired clothesline pole. The pole is stronger than ever now, because of the concrete inside it. The concrete does not give it strength. No, the concrete strengthens it from within. This isn't a play on words or a word game. It's the truth about what our words actually mean.

It makes my mind Haggard when I hear someone pray for strength. "Please, Lord, make me strong enough to do this or that." God doesn't dole out strength as we need it or ask for it. The big secret mystery of our faith is "Christ in you." Because Jesus Christ lives in you, His strength is always there. Don't ask for it! It's already there, inside you! Rather than ask for strength, give thanks for it. Then move forward by faith.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Myth of Resurrection

Another Easter has come and gone. We joined in our local fellowship in praise and thanksgiving for the life we have through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As often happens, this haggard mind got to wandering during the sermon. The pastor said something that set off a trigger in my brain, which set thoughts off onto tangents all their own.

I got to thinking about this event we remember and celebrate every spring. Well... remember isn't quite the right word. I don't remember it. Do you? Didn't think so. We weren't around then. So we celebrate that Jesus was dead, then he came back to life.

Have you ever seen anything like that happen? Me neither. Closest I ever came involved a racoon that had been killed by a car. It came back to life at a most opportune moment. Like when I was close to it. And man was that 'coon ticked off!

Anyway, that kind of stuff just doesn't happen. None of us have ever seen somebody come back to life after having been dead for three days. But we believe Jesus did it, and we stake our hope on it.

Flash back to 1980. I was in Systematic Theology class in seminary, and my haggard heart was stirring inside. The professor was expounding on how Jesus didn't really have to come out of his grave. How the resurrection "story" was simply a "myth" that explained "the experience of the risen Christ in our hearts."

Now, a myth, according to Webster's, is "a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon." In other words, an untrue story that gets passed down over the years in order to justify some irrational belief that people have. So, according to what I was hearing, Jesus did not really come back from the dead. It's just a story that has been told that explains the good feeling we have inside as believers.

Well, I couldn't sit still on that. The professor made the mistake of answering my raised hand, and I proceeded to mess up his lesson plan for the next forty minutes. My basic stance, mixed into lots of great theological arguments, was simple. If Jesus did not come bodily out of that grave, if it's just a mythical story, then I have nothing to believe in. I might as well go back to being a mechanic, and live a good heathen lifestyle.

There are some basic things that I know for a fact about this story. Like how twelve... no, forty... no, hundreds of people suffered horrible tortures and deaths because they insisted they saw and talked to and touched Jesus after he had been killed and buried. There's a simple principal of law that holds to today, "One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses." (Deuteronomy 19.15) So in my haggard mind, if a matter is established by hundreds, it must be true.

And that brings me to my point. Our faith is not groundless. My definition of faith: "Faith is when you choose to believe and follow something that your brain says can't be true." In all appearances and experience, people don't come back from the dead.  My brain says it can't be true. But the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ was established by hundreds of eye witnesses. So my brain also says that it MUST be true. So I choose to believe it, and stake my life and hopes and dreams on it.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Missing Person

My mind is haggard today because it's turned inside, reflecting upon itself. Trying to figure out what has happened, and resolving to turn it around.

I remember a young preacher whose faith was simple. He stood toe-to-toe and face-to-face against the time's leading liberal theologians. He refused to back down against teachings denying the physical resurrection of Jesus. He answered human theology with Bible truth, not just quoting scripture to hide behind it, but expounding on God's Word to expose the Truth. One of those theologians-- a direct student of Paul Tillich, no less-- asked the young man, "Why do you have to be such a renegade?" And the title stuck.

He had his own "Damascus Road" experience. His horse was a motorcycle. The road was a 4-lane highway. Thankfully, he wasn't blinded and thrown off his steed. But the call came from a voice in his ear, and was clear. He went on to defy barriers to his education and ordination. He rebuked demons, both human and spiritual, standing firm on his faith, and they backed down.

He stood on Christ alone. He preached one message, Jesus Christ. It was all about Christ, because he had the faith of a child--
Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Luke 18.16-17
--that is, he believed "just because."

That faith moved mountains that stood in the way. He rode with the Outlaws and the Bandidos, leading their marriages and burying their dead and giving them the Gospel. Hell's Angels opened a space in their riding column to let him join their ride.

He joined with others to lead street youth to hope and new life. A sainted lady took him by surprise when she told him that he is "a mighty man of God."

He was asked to preach in Africa. Thousands came to repentance and salvation. There his heart was broken for third-world widows, and he dedicated his life to helping them.

He did it all because Christ made him strong.

The cares of the world-- making a living, paying the bills, everyday life-- have eaten away at the heart. Worldly logic and reason fight against simple faith. The ministry for the widows has stalled with the economy, and the fact that people are turned on to help children, but turn cold about helping adult widows.

Basically, that young preacher has gone missing. I've resolved to find him and bring him back.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Homesick? No Place for That Here

When your mind is of the wild and untamed haggard type, most everything that passes through it gets questioned. Sometimes, beliefs that I have had for years suddenly seem to be very wrong.
Take for instance: Today I heard this week's Billboard #1 Contemporary Christian song, "Where I Belong" performed by the group Building 429. Don't get me wrong. It's a great song. Trouble is, its message isn't Biblical. It repeats a non-Biblical theme that has been popular in Christian music for decades: "This earth is not my home. Heaven is my home."

"All I know is, I'm not home yet.
This is not where I belong.
Take this world and give me Jesus.
This is not where I belong."

Some popular songs go so far as to declare that we should be homesick, wanting to be in heaven instead of here. That whole concept is anti-Gospel, non-Biblical. In my haggard mind I consider it to be a deception designed to keep us from being what we are called to be.

Other than in John 14.1-3, where Jesus talks about His Father's house, and says "I am going there to prepare a place for you," you won't find anything in the Bible that says this earth is not our home, and that somehow we don't belong here. In fact, even John 14 can be understood without any thought of "home" at all.

This generally accepted message is supposed to express the hope that we have as Christians. And while it's true that all Christians hope to be in heaven after this life is over, that is not the Hope that the Bible says we have.

Our Hope is best expressed by the apostle Paul, all through his writings. I can sum it up with three references. In a section on freedom in Christ, he says, "For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope." (Galatians 5.5) Paul tells the Colossians that he is presenting "the word of God in its fullness," something that once was a mystery, but is now disclosed to God's people: "...Christ in you, the hope of glory." (Colossians 1.27)

What our real Christian Hope is, is to be righteous. No, that's not quite right. That's the way the world thinks about it. No, our Hope is to become righteousness itself. "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5.21) Not that we might be righteous. Not that we might have God's righteousness. No. That we might become the righteousness of God.

Mull that over in your mind for a while. It may take a while for it to sink in. This ain't the "milk" of the Gospel here. It's what the writer to the Hebrews was talking about: "You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness." (Hebrews 5.12-13)

Sure, we hope to be in heaven after this life. But our real Hope is to have Christ living in and through us, making us the very righteousness of God. Here. Today. Being salt and light in a decaying and dark world. Being His feet and hands in a world that needs Him more than ever.
No place here for being homesick.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Church People or Christians?

A small local church is searching for a new pastor. They are an aging congregation with few, if any, families with children. After their previous pastor of six years retired, they are looking for a younger minister with a wife and children, who "can attract young people." Their written requirements are that their pastor will work a minimum of 40 hours a week, leading three worship services a week (Sunday morning and evening, plus Wednesday evening); keep the office operating during "normal hours;" visit the sick and the elderly. Their unwritten expectations are that he will actually put in 60 or more hours a week; be in the church office from 8 to 4, including lunch hour; be reachable 24/7; visit every member in their homes at least twice a year, preferably in the evening; know about every event in every member's life, even when not notified; always deliver life-altering, inspiring messages; and always maintain an appearance that will make the members proud, which includes sharp clothing and a nearly new, well-maintained car.

When a member who is not on the search committee objected about these expectations, and suggested that the church members themselves should be active in the church's ministry, the response in so many words was, "That's what we pay the pastor for."

The compensation package they are offering is $2000 per month plus $600 per month housing allowance. That's $24,000 per year salary. No health insurance. No pension plan. In that area, a house to rent or buy starts about $800 per month for an old cracker box, plus utilities and insurance. Their previous pastor was able to live on $1600 a month and $500 housing, by supplementing with his and his wife's Social Security and previous retirement funds.

Just to step aside for a second, the Church in general wonders why young people are no longer attracted to the ministry. Let's see, it's not uncommon for a newly ordained minister to owe $100,000 or more in education loans. You may find it hard to believe, but this not not an unusual compensation package from a typical small church that a newly ordained minister would serve.

How do I put this? Uh... duh!

When that same member I mentioned above asked about their compensation package, and how a pastor could live on that, the general answer was, "Well, his wife can get a job." Which brings up another set of unwritten expectations. His wife will make up for the lack of compensation, and her job will provide their health insurance. In that area, unless she's a school teacher (and if the school will hire her), the job prospects include local office secretary and... well, that's about it. That means just a little over minimum wage plus (hopefully) health insurance. Oh! And let's not forget that she will participate in all women's activities and possibly teach a Sunday School class. (She'll be heavily criticized for working instead of coming to the women's group that meets after lunch on a weekday.)

By the way, I'm not writing to stir up anything about women's rights and equal opportunity. So please, no comments on that for this posting. But I might as well confirm that even though this church will consider women as candidates, it's highly unlikely any will actually be considered. Not that they have anything against a woman as pastor. They just aren't... well... comfortable with the idea.

In his "Sermon on the Mount," Jesus said, "Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’" (Matthew 7.20-23)

Put another way: Many will say, "Didn't we do this and that in your name?" And his answer will come back, "Well... no." Sure, they did this and that. But in Jesus' name, as truly representing him? Hardly.

This church just interviewd a promising young man who has a wife and child. He gave a really inspiring message. But after the interview, he withdrew himself from consideration. The church people couldn't figure out why he backed out. Amazingly, it wasn't the compensation package that ultimately turned him away. The reason he backed out? Too many church people. Not enough Christians.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Fool Nonetheless

"The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'"
How many times I have read this, in both Psalms 14 and 53. How many times I have heard it. How many times I have said it! And how many times I have patted myself on the back, for there certainly is no way that I would ever say that there is no God.

But every so often, my haggard mind jogs me to attention. Something floats around in my subconcious, sometimes for years, then erupts. How long has this one been floating around in there? No way to know. But this morning it jarred me out of a sound sleep, and gave me a good dope slap. I didn't get up right away to look it up, but the question kept going through my head, "Does that really say, 'in his heart?'"

Now, I'm pretty well versed in what the Bible says. Even got degrees that say so. But I must confess that I don't have great gobs of Scripture memorized. So yes, I had to look it up. And yes, it does say that. The Psalms go on to recite the corruption of those who believe there is no God. But that phrase "in his heart" makes it way more personal.

Jesus said, "A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of." (Luke 6.45). He warned the Pharisees (and also us, as if we are really any different from them), "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts."

On the outside, by my words, and inside my head, I believe in God. In the deepest parts of my being, I know and love Him. But I repeatedly go off on my own, doing things without first turning to my Lord in prayer and supplication, asking for his guidance. How many times have I struggled or failed because I was off on my own? How many times have I acted on something on my own, as if there is no God?

So here I am, "mighty man of God" as someone once called me. And a fool.

"Lord, I'm sorry for acting as if you're not there. Please dope-slap me as needed."

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Make SuperPACs Do Some Real Good!

We are clearly in an age in which money rules. It's all about the money. When someone asserts that it's not all about the money, then you can be certain that it's all about the money.

I'll admit it as far as NewCovenant Ministries is concerned. We are working to help widows in third-world countries to become self-supporting and prosperous. That takes money. So yes, ultimately, even for us it's all about the money. Without money, we cant' do anything.

I think all my readers know that I'm an American, but I remind them every so often, since I have readers in other countries. Right now, we are in the midst of our Presidential election process. We will elect our president in November of 2012. Several candidates are competing for their parties' nominations for the office.

As part of this process, we see the rise of what are called "SuperPACs," or "Super Political Action Committees." More properly, they are "independent expenditure-only committees," meaning that all they do is spend money. They can raise as much as they want, and spend as much as they want, on anything they want. What they mostly spend their money on is "attack advertising" against whomever is running against their favorite candidates. In the state of Florida, one SuperPAC spent over 4.9 million dollars on one ad campaign alone to help their candidate.

This goes beyond putting haggard thoughts in my mind. It just chaps my hide! How is it so easy for these groups to raise millions and millions of dollars to be used mostly for damaging advertising, when we have trouble finding donors for just $600 a month for our widows in Nderu? I already know that I'm not very skilled in fund raising, but really!

Here's an idea! SuperPACs have almost no restrictions on their activities, except that they cannot coordinate directly with the candidates. Well, let's put a requirement on them. Put a requirement on SuperPACs that for every dollar they spend for their candidates, they must donate a dime, no strings attached, to 501(c)(3) charities like NewCovenant Ministries.

Yeah, I know. It probably wouldn't stand up in court. But why not try it?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Things Learned the Hard Way

We established NewCovenant Evangelistic Ministries as an outreach to widows of the third world. We have been working to support a project in Nderu Kenya for over ten years. In that time, we have witnessed how faith in Jesus Christ and support of a loving community can make dramatic changes in the quality of a woman's life. When a woman in an underdeveloped nation loses a husband to death, she loses much more. She loses her means of support, financially, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. She falls to the bottom of the social ladder. She and her children generally live a hand-to-mouth existence, barely having enough for simple survival.

Amazingly, the women we work with all have very a very short wish list. On top of that list is the hope that their children can remain in school through high school, for they know that education is the key to a good life. Our work with them is aimed toward making them self-sufficient so they don't have worries like this.

We wanted to model our operations after successful children's ministries like Compassion International. Our plan was to raise up individual sponsors for widows. Sponsor and widow would be able to communicate and share around the world and across cultural lines.

Well, we have learned the hard way:

  • In some countries, like Kenya, sponsored children may have free education up to about fifth grade. They can read and write, and often learn basic English. But widows are most often unable to read or write. And those who can, usually know no English. This makes communication with a personal sponsor extremely difficult.
  • A sponsorship program operates by funding projects in which the sponsored children participate. Children have no expectations of direct aid. But adults have a different perspective. We have worked with several who want to receive the money from their sponsors directly, so they can spend it. This kind of handout helps no one, and can even make their situations worse. Such expectations can make the project difficult to administer in the field.

We will continue doing what has been successful. Our programs of local projects and support groups in which widows can help each other and learn together will not change.

But now, we will ask our financial partners to sponsor projects rather than individual widows. We will strive to communicate to the sponsors what their group is doing, and how their group is helping widows to a better life and how it is affecting the community. In some cases, sponsors may also receive a report directly from the project group.

So our thanks go out to those who have sponsored so far. We hope you will continue to be our partners. If you have not worked with us in the past, we ask you to prayerfully consider becoming a project sponsor. Together, we can raise up widows, along their many children, to new life.