Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Answers to the Christmas Quiz

As promised, here are the answers to the Christmas quiz. I hope you did well. Email me and let me know how you did. (The picture is of the grotto at the traditional site of the manger).




1. The name of the mother of Jesus is –

A. Eve

B. Martha

C. Mary

D. Deborah

2. Jesus was born in what town?

A. Nazareth

B. Jerusalem

C. Rome

D. Bethlehem

3. Joseph was a –

A. Fisherman

B. Carpenter

C. Tax collector

D. We don’t know

Technically, however, Joseph may not have been a carpenter in the modern sense of the word. The

word used for carpenter refers to someone who would be a day laborer, which would include many

types of labor, and not just carpentry. In any case, it demonstrates that Jesus grew up in a family that

was most likely impoverished.

4. Why didn’t Joseph and Mary stay at the inn?

A. They couldn’t afford to

B. There was no room

C. They didn’t have a reservation

D. None of the above

Once again, there is somewhat of a technicality to this answer. The inn was most likely not what we

would envision as we travel. According to many scholars, the word for inn actually refers to a stable

area attached to a family’s home. Because the extended family of Joseph would be returning to

Bethlehem to register for the census, the family home would be crowded with guests. Joseph and

Mary may have stayed in an attached stable area, but they would have been surrounded by family.

5. To get to Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph traveled by –

A. Colt

B. Mary rode a donkey and Joseph walked

C. Caravan

D. We don’t know

Though a donkey is shown in most nativity displays, the Scripture gives no mention of any kind of

animal in Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem.

6. After his birth, Jesus was placed in a –

A. Manger

B. Basket

C. Crib

D. Bed

7. A manger is –

A. Wooden table

B. Feeding trough

C. Stable

D. Small bed

8. What animals were in the barn when Jesus was born?

A. Cows, donkeys, and sheep

B. Sheep, goats, and cows

C. Horses, cows, and donkeys

D. The Bible doesn’t say

Again, though animals are shown in nativity displays, Scripture mentions no animals, though one

could assume some would be present as Jesus was in a stable.

9. From which direction did the three kings that visited Jesus come?

A. The west

B. The east

C. The Orient

D. None of the above

Matthew 2:1. Probably from modern day Iraq or Iran. Although the east is the Orient, the Bible

doesn’t mention the Orient; we get that from the song We Three Kings (of Orient Are).

10. The shepherds were told by the angels to look for which sign?

A. A star over Bethlehem

B. A tree with a star on top

C. A babe in a manger

D. None of the above

Luke 2:12 tells us the angels gave this sign to the shepherds – “And this will be a sign for you; you

will find a baby wrapped in clothes, and lying in a manger” (NASV).

11. The words of the angels were –

A. Glory, Glory, Hallelujah

B. Joy to the World, the Lord is Come

C. King of Kings, and Lord of Lords

D. Glory to God in the highest

Luke 2:14.

12. The three gifts given to Jesus were –

A. Gold and silver

B. Gold, jewels, and silver

C. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh

D. None of the above

Matthew 2:11.

14. How many wise men came to see Jesus?

A. One

B. Two

C. Three

D. The Bible doesn’t say

Again, nativity scenes show three magi, though the Bible doesn’t give us a number. The number three

probably comes from three gifts.

16. The wise men met Jesus in –

A. A manger

B. A stable

C. A house

D. The Bible doesn’t say

Though nativity scenes show the shepherds and magi together, the Bible is clear that the magi and the

shepherds did not arrive at the same time. Matthew 2:11 says “And they came into the house and saw

the Child with Mary His mother.” This reinforces the idea that the inn was an attached stable to the

family home. By this point in the nativity story, most of the extended family had probably departed for

home, thus leaving room for Mary and Joseph to come into the house. Staying longer because of the

recovery from childbirth, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus most likely had a longer stay in Bethlehem than the

rest of their relatives.

17. Joseph and Mary were told to go to Bethlehem by –

A. Herod

B. An angel

C. Caesar Augustus

D. The Bible doesn’t say

Luke 2:1.

18. The infant Jesus was taken to Egypt

A. Because Joseph was told in a dream to take him there

B. To meet the pharaoh

C. To go to school

D. The Bible doesn’t say

Matthew 2:13.

19. The Bible says the little drummer boy met Jesus –

A. In a house

B. While Jesus was still in the manger

C. In Nazareth

D. None of the above

Though he appears in a song by the same name, the little drummer boy does not appear in Scripture.

20. In which gospels do we find the stories of the birth of Jesus

A. Matthew

B. Mark

C. Luke

D. John

This may seem a little tricky since this question has two answers, but I never said a question could

only have one answer.

21. Immanuel means –

A. Good news

B. Jesus

C. God with us

D. None of the above

Matthew 1:23.

22. Christmas is celebrated on December 25th because the Bible tells us to

True

False

The Bible never mentions the date of the birth of Jesus. December 25th was chosen during the reign of

the Roman Emperor Constantine. As the first Christian Emperor Constantine sought to Christianize

the empire, so he chose December 25th because it was the date of a large pagan celebration based on

the winter solstice. The modern controversy about Christ being removed from Christmas is not really

a new controversy after all, as the date of December 25th carries with it non-Christian origins.

23. The wise men followed the star all the way to Bethlehem

True

False

This is a tricky question. The magi, we are told in Matthew 2:1-2, stopped in Jerusalem and asked

Herod “Where is He who has been born king of the Jews?” Verse 8 tells us that Herod sent the magi

to Bethlehem, although verse 9 tells us that “the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before

them, until it came and stood over where the Child was.” So technically, they did not follow the star

all the way to Bethlehem.

24. Jesus was given his name by his mother.

True

False

Matthew 1:21 tells us that the angel tells Joseph to give the name of Jesus.

25. Herod was happy to hear of the birth of Jesus.

True

False

Matthew 2:3 says “And when Herod the king heard it (the news of the birth of Jesus), he was troubled,
and all Jerusalem with him.” When the magi came and asked Herod about the location of the

newborn king of the Jews, they probably had no idea the extent of his paranoia. Notoriously

suspicious of threats to his throne, Herod was extremely worried about news of the birth of One who

would be a threat to his rule.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas Quiz

For some holiday entertainment I have a Christmas quiz for you. This is rather tricky, so read the questions carefully. Some of the answers may surprise you, as people have many misconceptions about what the Bible actually says about the birth of Jesus. I'll post the answers in a few days. Good luck, and enjoy!

1. The name of the mother of Jesus is –

A. Eve

B. Martha

C. Mary

D. Deborah

2. Jesus was born in what town?

A. Nazareth

B. Jerusalem

C. Rome

D. Bethlehem

3. Joseph was a –

A. Fisherman

B. Carpenter

C. Tax collector

D. We don't know

4. Why didn’t Joseph and Mary stay at the inn?

A. They couldn’t afford to

B. There was no room

C. They didn’t have a reservation

D. None of the above

5. To get to Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph traveled by –

A. Colt

B. Mary rode a donkey and Joseph walked

C. Caravan

D. We don’t know

6. After his birth, Jesus was placed in a –

A. Manger

B. Basket

C. Crib

D. Bed

7. A manger is –

A. Wooden table

B. Feeding trough

C. Stable

D. Small bed

8. What animals were in the barn when Jesus was born?

A. Cows, donkeys, and sheep

B. Sheep, goats, and cows

C. Horses, cows, and donkeys

D. The Bible doesn’t say

9. From which direction did the three kings that visited Jesus come?

A. The west

B. The east

C. The Orient

D. None of the above

10. The shepherds were told by the angels to look for which sign?

A. A star over Bethlehem

B. A tree with a star on top

C. A babe in a manger

D. None of the above

11. The words of the angels were –

A. Glory, Glory, Hallelujah

B. Joy to the World, the Lord is Come

C. King of Kings, and Lord of Lords

D. Glory to God in the highest

12. The three gifts given to Jesus were –

A. Gold and silver

B. Gold, jewels, and silver

C. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh

D. None of the above

14. How many wise men came to see Jesus?

A. One

B. Two

C. Three

D. The Bible doesn’t say

16. The wise men met Jesus in –

A. A manger

B. A stable

C. A house

D. The Bible doesn’t say

17. Joseph and Mary were told to go to Bethlehem by –

A. Herod

B. An angel

C. Caesar Augustus

D. The Bible doesn’t say

18. The infant Jesus was taken to Egypt to –

A. Because Joseph was told in a dream to take him there

B. To meet the pharaoh

C. To go to school

D. The Bible doesn’t say

19. The Bible says the little drummer boy met Jesus –

A. In a house

B. While Jesus was still in the manger

C. In Nazareth

D. None of the above

20. In which gospels do we find the stories of the birth of Jesus

A. Matthew

B. Mark

C. Luke

D. John

21. Immanuel means –

A. Good news

B. Jesus

C. God with us

D. None of the above

22. Christmas is celebrated on December 25th because the Bible tells us to –

True

False

23. The wise men followed the star all the way to Bethlehem

True

False

24. Jesus was given his name by his mother.

True

False

25. Herod was happy to hear of the birth of Jesus.

True

False


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Richard Roberts - One Down, Several More To Go

It's about time. Richard Roberts did the right thing when he resigned as the president of Oral Roberts University. The Roberts' have brought shame upon the body of Christ with their lavish lifestyle, questionable fund-raising methods, and lack of accountability and transparency.

With other prominent media pastors - Benny Hinn, Randy and Paula White, Joyce Meyer, Eddie Long, Creflo Dollar, and Kenneth Copeland - being investigated by Senator Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) it will be interesting to see who will be the next to fall.

In several previous posts I have written about the need for greater financial transparency in large media ministries and in local churches (I have even posted my salary and benefits). Once again, here is my warning - if a media ministry is not a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) DO NOT GIVE THEM A DIME! (None of those currently being investigated by Senator Grassley are members of the ECFA). Do not give money to any ministry led by anyone who is leading an opulent lifestyle. Mansions, exorbitant salaries, luxury cars, private jets, and closets the size of a house are not marks of a person who is being a good steward of the tithes and offerings of ministry donors.

But this is not just a warning about large media ministers; this is a warning for local churches of all sizes. If your church does not provide regular financial information - including staff salaries - you need to start asking some questions and consider whether or not you should give any money to that church. Our church provides a monthly treasurer's report that is available to anyone. That report lists monthly and year to date information regarding all income and expenditures, salaries, mission giving, and lists every check written on all church accounts. All financial information is disclosed publicly and is distributed openly. The only financial information not disclosed are individual giving records (and by the way, as pastor of the church I do not have access to that information and do not want access to that information. If your pastor knows what you give - tell him/her to mind their own business! Church staff members have no business accessing the giving records of church members/attenders). In recent years many churches have stopped providing some financial information, primarily staff salaries. This, in my opinion, is wrong and sends a terrible message about a lack of financial transparency. I know some of the reasons this is done - to minimize jealousy among staff members and to provide privacy for staff - but none of the reasons are legitimate, in my opinion. Being open about finances extends to any minister, and any minister desiring to keep information from being disclosed must realize they are leaving themselves open to questions about financial and personal integrity.

Before you write another check to a ministry or a church, ask some questions about how the money is handled before you give them a single penny.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Are You Spending Too Much Time Blogging?

As you can tell from the infrequency with which I update this blog, I'm not really into blogging in a very big way. And though I have a few blogs listed on my site, I don't check them very often. The reason - I don't have time, and even if I did have time I find very, very few blogs that are interesting.

When I do check out some blogs and see the long lists of blog rolls that are posted on these sites, I wonder - do these people read all those blogs on a regular basis? If they are, they either have too much time on their hands or they are not spending enough time on more pressing matters.

This is an especially pressing question for ministers. Most of the sites I've seen that are maintained by ministers have very long blogroll lists. Listen up - if you people are reading these on a regular basis you are spending too much time messing around with blogs!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

David Gilmour and Steve Vai


Rainy weather meant no satellite to watch late this evening, so I put a few DVDs in while on the treadmill. First up was Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival and a simply astounding performance by Steve Vai. I don't think the man is human. His technique makes me want to throw away my guitar, burn my amp, and bury everything else. He is light years ahead of where 99.9% of musicians could ever hope to be. If Vai were a scientist he would be Einstein.

Next was Pink Floyd's Pulse DVD. While Vai is burning speed and astounding technique, David Gilmour is pure soul and taste. Though he never plays fast, every note is beautifully played. Vai would be Einstein, but Gilmour would be Michelangelo, creating art that will last far beyond his years in this life. It's not hard to understand why Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon (released in 1973) is the longest charting album in history. David Gilmour could play the phone book and it would be a classic.

I would love to play like Steve Vai. To possess that level of speed and technique must be amazing. But if I had a choice, I would choose the talent of David Gilmour. Not to slight Vai, but Gilmour is just such a fabulous player. I never tire of so many of the Floyd's songs and even have Wish You Were Here as the ring tone on my cell phone. And then there's that solo on Time. A master class in soloing, Gilmour creates a song within a song with his beautiful phrasing and expressive bends. Like thousands of other guitar players, I have learned the solo, but while I play the right notes it just doesn't sound the same. That's why he's on a DVD and I'm just watching.

No Presidential Endorsements Here

I read with much interest, some amusement, and a lot of discomfort as other pastors endorse candidates on their blogs. You will find no such endorsement here. Not for president or any other office. Not even dog catcher.

If a pastor chooses to do so, that is certainly their right - as long as they comply with those sticky IRS regulations. It's not the IRS that worries me, I just don't think it's a good idea.

I have no desire for people to think I am speaking for my church when it comes to political candidates. I never speak for my church when it comes to politics; I'm not sure I speak for them on anything, actually. I am a Baptist - sometimes barely hanging onto remaining a Baptist by my fingernails - and the heritage of Baptist is that we are encouraged to have an individual voice but also that we generally only speak for ourselves.

The reason I do not want to endorse a candidate is because as pastor of a church my opinions are sometimes seen as reflective of my church. It is absolutely not my desire that anyone would think my political opinions reflect that of my church. The church I pastor is very diverse in its political views and there is no way we could come to a consensus on much of anything in the realm of politics. Such is the Baptist way, and that's what keeps my life interesting.

I also don't endorse candidates because I prefer the tradition of being free to criticize any and all candidates when I so choose. I know I can still do this if I endorse a particular candidate, but it doesn't appear to be very objective. Perhaps I will publish criticisms of some of these candidates as the campaign for president intensifies (I did criticize John McCain in an earlier post).

So pastors, endorse away on your blogs if you so choose. But keep this in mind - your endorsement most likely has little impact on how anyone votes, but it does make you appear to associate the Gospel with a particular political ideology that may hurt your witness and your ability to be prophetic. I believe that many people outside of the church are turned off to the church because of the overly strident political positions advocated by so many pastors. While there are certainly times to be prophetic, being partisan is a different matter. You are free to do what you want, but I will take advantage of my freedom to say that I believe you are terribly wrong when you make an endorsement. And don't bother asking me how I am registered or how I vote - I keep that information to myself.

Paige Patterson Portrait at Southwestern Seminary

SBC Outpost has an interesting piece about the new portrait of Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (sbcoutpost.com). The cost was not revealed, although the Outpost reports that a portrait by the same artist set Southeastern Seminary back almost $70,000.

I don't know if Cooperative Program dollars paid for this portrait or not, but does it not seem rather excessive? It is becoming increasingly troubling how some of the presidents of Southern Baptist seminaries are building their own kingdoms on these campuses (and beyond) and how this is helping detach them from reality. If Paige Patterson and the trustees of Southwestern think it's perfectly fine to spend such an exorbitant amount of money on a portrait they are in serious need of a reality check.

When I was a student at Southern Seminary I lived on a diet of rice and Ramen noodles for three years (like many of my fellow students). A trip to Burger King was a tremendous luxury. Many - perhaps most - of the students in SBC seminaries are living near or below poverty conditions while the presidents are enjoying increasingly opulent lifestyles. Do these men stop and think about this? Do they ever consider how this looks to students and even to seminary outsiders? It's about time they do consider it.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Richard and Lindsay Roberts - Another Black Eye for the Kingdom of God


How many more times must we be embarrassed by the (alleged) improprieties of media ministers? The latest - and most likely not the last - is the developing scandal involving Richard and Lindsay Roberts. I won't list the gory details here, as you can find them on almost any news site or in any newspaper.

The skeptics of faith are having a field day, and it's time that we as followers of Jesus start demanding better of the people who are raking in millions of dollars to fund high-flying lifestyles. No one, in my opinion, should be giving money to the Roberts' and I have felt this way for some time. Their lavish lifestyle, funded by the tithes and offerings of millions, have long been an affront to the cause of Christ. No one - and I repeat no one - should be getting rich off the tithes and offerings of people.

And it's not just the high profile of people like Richard and Lindsay Roberts where we find financial questions. I wrote a piece on this site recently about how many churches no longer list the salaries of church staff. Personally, I would never give a dime to a church that does not make such information public. Has the church learned nothing from the scandals of companies such as Enron? The church should be the most financially transparent organization on the face of the earth. To hide information only gives rise to questions, suspicion, and more questions.

If you are a member of a church staff, you will never become rich. The reality is you will probably struggle financially. Paul writes in I Corinthians 4:11-13 that to this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now. He says in I Timothy 6:8 that if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But this is not an excuse for churches to be stingy or to poorly pay those who dedicate their lives to the cause of Christ. In I Corinthians chapter nine Paul makes a case for supporting those who are in vocational ministry - Do we not have a right to eat and drink...Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard, and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock...If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we should reap material things from you...So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel (verses 4, 7, 11, 14). The scandal of the lavish lifestyles enjoyed by a few ministers is what grabs the headlines, but a greater scandal is the number of churches who starve their staff members or seek to manipulate them by holding back tithes and offerings.

Being a minister is not for the faint of heart. It is also not for those who want to become wealthy. If you want to make a lot of money, do something else. Let's end the scandals of lavish lifestyles by people like Richard and Lindsay Roberts be cutting off the donations. But let's not forget the scandal of the scores of faithful ministers who are drowning financially because of churches that refuse or fail to meet the needs of their families.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

John McCain and A Christian Nation


In a recent interview with Beliefnet, Senator and presidential hopeful John McCain made the following comments - I just have to say in all candor that since this nation was founded primarily on Christian principles, personally, I prefer someone who has a grounding in my faith. Senator McCain has been widely criticized for his remarks. While he's certainly free to believe what he wants, Senator McCain must remember that if elected president he would be the leader of a nation of many different religious - and nonreligious - beliefs and as such it is important that he appear not to favor any particular group over all others. Having said that, most of us - including myself - would prefer a president who represents our beliefs.

But the comments that bothered me in his interview are the following - I would probably have to say yes, that the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation. A senator should know better than this. Nowhere in the Constitution, in fact, do the words God or Christian appear. To be declared a Christian nation would require some sort of official action, such as a proclamation by Congress. This has never happened. In fact, I am aware of only one time when the federal government, in an official document, commented on our nation's status as a Christian nation. This came very early in our history when a trade agreement with the nation then known as Tripoli was ratified. This document specifically says that the United States is not a Christian nation.

It is correct to say that the United States is a nation of many Christians. It is also correct to say that the founding documents of the United States were influenced by Christianity. But it is absolutely incorrect to say the United States is a Christian nation. I say this as one who wishes that we would become a Christian nation - not by any government decree but by the free acceptance of the Christian faith by all of our fellow citizens.

No senator/presidential candidate should make this mistake.

Friday, September 28, 2007

So Much for Compassionate Conservatism

President Bush is threatening to veto a bill that expands the State Children's Health Insurance Program, a threat that is receiving a cold shoulder from many Republicans. Even arch-conservative Orrin Hatch has pledged to vote to override a veto by President Bush.

I believe this is the same president that made much of "Compassionate Conservatism." I believe this is the same president who, despite claiming conservative credentials, has thrown truckloads of money at many other causes, some of which are far less worthy than improving the health care of poor children. I believe this is a battle the president will lose.

Republicans, who are busy distancing themselves from the president these days, are not going to vote against a bill that will paint them as being insensitive to poor children. But it will be more than just a fear of voter rejection that will motivate them to vote for this bill; they will vote for it because they believe it is the right thing to do.

And it is, I believe, the right thing to do. Any society, and particularly the leader of any society, who would turn a cold shoulder to the needs of the poor reveals a callousness that deserves to be condemned. Children are those who are hurt most by poverty. A child growing up in poverty has so much stacked against them, including the opportunity to enjoy a healthy life. If we cannot provide decent medical care for poor children we are failing at one of the most fundamental callings we share as human beings, which is to care for the poor among us.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

How To Make Your Pastor's Life Easier - How to Provide Information

In my last post I dealt with the pastor's salary and some of the misconceptions of the pastor's salary package. The topic of this post is how to get information to the pastor in a way that will be most helpful to him.

When you have an announcement, call the church office and ask that it be added to the newsletter or the worship program – do not hand the pastor a hand-written announcement or ask him to make an announcement moments before worship begins. Every pastor has experienced the frustration of trying to make final preparations for worship and being handed notes from every direction or trying to listen to several people hurriedly sharing their announcement. If the information is important, treat it as such by not waiting until the last minute to share it.

The same is true after worship. As I am greeting people after our worship services people will often share information I need to remember. This is certainly understandable, because people will tell me what they want me to know when they see me. But after worship, when I'm trying to talk to many people in a short period of time, with several people telling me something I need to remember, is really not a good time. This IS the time to hand the pastor a note so that he will remember. I don't have the time to write down the information as I am trying to greet people but I am happy to receive a note that I can put in my pocket.

Pastors are overwhelmed with information on a daily basis and sometimes things we need to know gets lost or forgotten. You can help your pastor by taking care to get information to him in the most helpful way possible.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Van Halen Reunion


You can't write about something of earth-shaking importance every time (although some people would classify a Van Halen reunion with David Lee Roth as exactly that). Here's what rockers everywhere have been waiting for - David Lee Roth returning to Van Halen, although minus original bass player Michael Anthony.

Although many will believe it blasphemous to say so, I preferred the Sammy Hagar version of Van Halen. Say what you want about the gifts of David Lee Roth (a great frontman to be sure, but lousy singer and lousy lyricist) Hagar is a great singer, great songwriter, and great - although underrated - guitar player. Even before he joined Van Halen Hagar had great credentials, singing with Montrose and going on to a stellar solo career. Talk about classic songs - his solo material is full of great moments: Heavy Metal, I Can't Drive 55, One Way to Rock, Two Sides of Love, Three Lock Box, Your Love Is Driving Me Crazy, I've Done Everything For You. What does Dave have in his solo canon to rival these songs? And what about that solo career - as Van Halen went on to scale new heights with Hagar, Roth's career had some initial success and then quickly crashed and burned.

I saw the first Van Halen tour with Hagar and Sammy was great. During Why Can't This Be Love Hagar stayed right with Van Halen as they soloed together. Hagar is no slouch on guitar; the man is a serious player.

Enjoy the reunion with Roth. As for me, I'm waiting for Sammy to rejoin.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Are celebrity environmentalists full of hot air?

Reading through some political news I stumbled on a short piece about a well-known actor who has not decided who he will support in the 2008 presidential election. This actor, who I will not name, will offer his support to the candidate with the strongest environmental policy. Well, good for him. We should all be more concerned about our environment, which we continue to destroy, but I am tired of hypocritical celebrity environmentalists.

Out of curiosity I looked up one of the actor's homes on Google Earth (that's right - this environmentalist owns more than one house - not good for the environment, heating and cooling all those empty homes!) As suspected, the house is quite large and appears to have a swimming pool. Here's my questions - is the swimming pool heated? Why does one person need to own a home that is probably at least 5,000 square feet? If one claims to be an environmentalist, shouldn't that philosophy be reflected in one's choice of home?

But it's not just this actor who is guilty - how about the Live Earth concert event that spanned all seven continents last month. How many of the artists flew to the venues in private jets? I know they don't want to be bothered by commoners on a commercial flight, but you can't preach about environmentalism while so blatantly being anti-environment in lifestyle. One band even made it their goal to play on several continents during the 24 hour event, which means they certainly were burning up a lot of jet fuel. Why not just play in one venue and save all the fuel?

It's not just industry that is at fault for harming our environment; it's our extreme consumerism and ravenous consumption of the earth's resources that is one of the roots of the environmental destruction that threatens our very existence. We could all take a lesson from an environmentalist friend of mine - who I will also leave unnamed - who truly lives what he believes and is probably leaving one of the smallest environmental footprints of anyone I know. As to the celebrity environmentalists who live an anti-environment lifestyle - give me a break!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

No Smoking Means No Smoking!

This is really a pet peeve of mine, and if I offend you with this - good! I am constantly amazed at the number of people who stand at the entrances to hospitals and smoke. Yesterday, as I was exiting a hospital, several people were gathered around a sign that plainly stated the area was a no-smoking zone and plainly stated the location of the smoking area. Yet there they were, blowing their smoke on everyone entering and exiting the hospital.

If you want to smoke, be my guest, but please use some common courtesy and avoid the areas that are plainly marked as no-smoking. This is particularly important at a hospital entrance where patients really should not have to walk through a haze of cigarette smoke.

And don't bother telling me about smoker's rights. Yes, we all know you have a right to smoke, but not in all public places. A few weeks ago, as I ate lunch in a restaurant that neither observes a smoking ban or even designates a smoking area, a nearby diner shared her smoke with a number of us while she loudly proclaimed her "right" to smoke. Her attitude betrayed a lack of concern for anyone else in the restaurant and only served to demonstrate rude behavior.

If you're going to smoke, please don't be rude about it - don't smoke where you are plainly told not to smoke!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Pope Benedict XVI and the Only True Church

In another move that demonstrates just how different he is from his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI has stated that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church and that other denominations are not true churches. Emphasizing points in an earlier document, Benedict asserts that Christ 'established here on earth' only one church, and other communities cannot be called 'churches' in the proper sense because they do not have apostolic succession, which is the ability to trace their bishops back to Christ's original apostles.

I am a Baptist, but I understand Catholic theology fairly well. I understand the importance of apostolic succession and the role of tradition in the teaching of the Catholic Church. I cringe when I hear Protestants refer to "the Catholic religion," as though it is a faith that stands apart from Christianity. I find it very extremely unfortunate when some interpret the Catholic Church as being the fulfillment of some of the evil images in the book of Revelation. And I find it discouraging when Protestants - including many Baptists - believe we must send out missionaries to convert Catholic populations.

So on the one hand, I find the Pope's comments discouraging and harmful for ecumenical dialogue. On the other hand, being a Baptist, I believe that everyone ought to have their say and that no one's opinion can violate my soul freedom.

Some, no doubt, will jump all over the Pope's comments and condemn him for, well, condemning others. There is an attitude pervasive in our culture that says you shouldn't condemn anyone else, but that we should all be affirming of one another. I say, if the Pope wants to say I belong to a community that isn't a true church, let him. What he has to say has no bearing upon my or my soul. I am confident in who I am, what I believe, and in the church I attend. While I believe the Pope's comments reflect bad theology, he is certainly entitled to say what he believes. As for me, I will continue to pastor my church and to believe that my congregation is as much a part of the body of Christ as any other church.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Wendell Berry always provides thought-provoking commentary. The following post comes from a piece he published recently in the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Why I chose not to vote

By Wendell Berry

I am well aware of the proposition that citizens ought to exercise their right to vote at every election. Even so, I did not vote in Kentucky's gubernatorial primary on May 27. I did not vote because there was nobody on the ballot whom I wished to help elect. I could not bring myself to submit again to the indignity of trying to pick the least undesirable candidate; nor did I want to contribute to the "mandate" of a new governor, who would be carried into office by corporate contributions, and whose policies I would spend the next four years regretting or opposing.

I am entirely opposed to land destruction by mining, to air and water pollution by factory farming, to unsustainable land use of every kind, to the delusion that our "way of life" can be preserved by liquified coal or by biofuels, to the extreme emphasis on research in our public universities, to education as job training, and to state-sponsored gambling as a substitute for responsible policies of taxation and spending. I consider to be utterly offensive and contemptible any revenue-raising scheme that exploits, and encourages, a human weakness.

Is it not presumptuous for a mere citizen, one voter, to insist that he or she should be offered an acceptable candidate? I am sure it is. Should I, for example, not suspect that I may be too odd to be satisfied with any gubernatorial candidate likely to be presented by either major party? Indeed I should, and of course I do.

But my concern has to do not so much with the candidates' "positions" as with their willful refusal to raise and deal openly with substantive issues of conservation and stewardship, fiscal policy, and the economies of energy, land use and education. There is nothing merely personal about this. It is a fact that voters concerned about conservation and economic responsibility had no candidate in the recent primary. Such voters had a vote but not a choice, for no candidate of their choosing was on the ballot. If you have a vote but no choice, then not to vote is the only available choice.

There has not been in Kentucky, so far, an open public discussion of the ecological, economic and social effects of surface mining or of factory farming -- to name just two issues of paramount importance. There is one reason for this: Money talks. When money talks, people who speak merely with words or facts will not be listened to. You can't have a satisfactory public discussion when money is talking, because money does not listen. Money talks, of course, because political "contributions" become in effect bribes, purchases of power.

So non-voters believe, and so do many voters. If the electorate in general were not convinced that state government is corrupt, and if politicians were not convinced that the electorate is so convinced, then why would gubernatorial candidates conventionally promise to "clean up Frankfort?"

Frankfort always needs cleaning up, because when money talks, only money can talk. This is hard to conceal from citizens, who are at least as smart as their representatives, and this is the reason that so large a number of eligible voters do not vote. Why should they believe that their small preferences might outtalk money when "their" representatives are under obligation to listen to money?

Because Frankfort perennially needs cleaning up, because opponents or critics of the big contributors do not run and are not represented, voters either do not vote or they vote cynically and despairingly. The voters don't trust the government, and they don't feel represented by it. This is a crisis of our democratic system -- to give the people a vote but not a choice is a procedure common to modern dictatorships -- but it is a crisis that has been officially unnoticed for a long time.

That I did not vote does not mean that I no longer believe in voting. I take my citizenship in this state as seriously as I can. I want to vote, but I want to vote for a candidate who I am sure takes seriously the thoughts of mere citizens, and who will not listen only to the largest contributors. I think I have a "right to vote" for a candidate who is at least trustworthy.

Because I do want to be a citizen and a voter, I suppose it is likely that I will sooner or later return to the polls, grit my teeth, hold my nose, and give my vote to yet another candidate for fame and fortune who has done nothing to earn my respect. But such a vote is not a right. It is a humiliation and a disgrace.

What then could be done to restore the confidence of our state's thousands of disaffected or disappointed voters?

First, if the candidates cannot make themselves trustworthy by limiting the size of contributions to their campaigns -- that is, by refusing to be, or to seem to be, bribed by rich contributers -- then all contributions should be outlawed and elections should be supported by public funds only.

Reason for Doubt

We have many reasons to doubt that politicians can be made honest by requirement; there is a fine absurdity in laws against outlaws. But even more absurd is the argument that campaign contributions amount to political speech protected by the First Amendment. This has the curious effect of subjecting our freedom under the First Amendment to a merely quantitative measure: Those who have the most money have the most freedom. And that is precisely the reason for the disaffection of voters.

A second possibility is that of printing an additional entry on the ballot to make it formally possible to vote for "None of the above." This would be cheaper and easier than passing a law to control contributions. It might also be more effective. I admit that, for all anybody can tell, only a few cranks would vote for "None of the above." But it might also happen, for all anybody can tell, that "None of the above" would win the election. If a few of the more exalted state offices were to be occupied for a term or two by "None of the above," there would be less need to clean up Frankfort.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Creation, Science, and Faith


Several of us are having an interesting discussion about creation, science, evolution, faith, and other matters over on Martin Cothran's blog. You can navigate to www.vereloqui.blogspot.com and join in the discussion.

Martin often takes science to task for what he perceives as a level of arrogance and will defend Intelligent Design and Creationism (though he does not necessarily agree with those positions - Martin, I hope I'm not misrepresenting you on this).

My problem with those who defend Intelligent Design (that is, the science of Intelligent Design; I certainly agree that our universe was designed by God) and Young Earth Creationism is that it is science that is molded to fit a theological viewpoint. It's not good science to "back into" a scientific position because it fits with your theology.

Anyway, check out these posts, and I hope you find them interesting.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Dawkins Delusion by Alister McGrath


Continuing on with some book recommendations, this one is for The Dawkins Delusion by Alister McGrath and his wife Joanna Collicutt McGrath. Having already recommended several books by McGrath, this one is a quick 100 pages that are well worth the read (this picture must be of the British edition - mine is slightly different).

I have not yet read The God Delusion, but judging by the quotes in McGrath's book it is a book full of poor reasoning and lacking in any evidence to back the core claims made by Dawkins. McGrath, who obviously admires Dawkins' gift for writing, is withering in his critique of Dawkins for his faulty reasoning and for writing little more than an anti-religious rant.

Although McGrath examines some of Dawkins' ideas in more detail in his book Dawkins God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life (see earlier post) this is probably a better place to start if you want an excellent response to The God Delusion.

As a relative newcomer to the writings of McGrath, I am more and more impressed by the quality of his writing and his theology. McGrath is a theologian of great importance and his books rank among the best works of theology. I rank him as an essential read.

Toby Mac at Ichthus Festival


One of my favorite events is the Ichthus Festival - four days of great Christian music in Wilmore, Kentucky. Ichthus is the oldest Christian music festival in the country, and always has a great line-up of artists. My favorite this year? Hands down - Toby Mac. I've seen Toby Mac a number of times (even back in the day of DC Talk) and he is always my favorite performer. If you're not familiar with him, he was one of the three founders of the late, great DC Talk, and performs a style of music that is a mixture of rock, funk, hip-hop, and rap. Normally, I'm not a big fan of hip-hop and rap, but there's something about the way Toby Mac does it that makes for a fantastic mix. In the middle of his show he does a great medley of old songs - Play That Funky Music, Love Roller Coaster, I'm Coming Up, and more.

I've seen a lot of artists - Christian and secular - and I always enjoy Toby Mac the most. The energy of his performance, the unbelievable talent of his band, and his ability to engage a crowd is simply amazing. Nobody should have to follow him, and this year Switchfoot had that difficult task. I like Switchfoot a lot, and they did a great job, but the contrast was pretty huge. Not to take anything away from Switchfoot, but Toby Mac is tough to beat. If you ever get the chance to see him, don't miss it.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Language of God by Francis S. Collins

Continuing with some book recommendations, this one is for The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis S. Collins. Collins, like the authors in my previous two posts, is a former atheist and now serves as head of The Human Genome Project. This book is his attempt to bring together his belief in science and his belief in God.

Although Richard Dawkins only receives a few passing references, the presence of Dawkins is still heavy in this book. Collins spends a good deal of time speaking to those scientists, Dawkins being the most well-known, who claim that science necessarily leads to atheism.

At times Collins' book gets heavy on science (or maybe it's just me; I did pass biology by just one point) but careful reading will make sense of most of it. Interestingly, Collins has not become a hero to most conservative evangelicals, in spite of his travel to belief from atheism and his championing of faith in the face of science. It doesn't take long to find out why - Collins flatly rejects both Young Earth Creationism and Intelligent Design, claiming they are not only bad science but also bad theology.

Whether or not you agree with Collins on Young Earth Creationism and Intelligent Design - and I do - this book is highly recommended.

God: The Evidence - Patrick Glynn


I've been finishing up some books lately, and want to recommend some that I think are well worth your time. Preparing for my current sermon series, Confronting the Skeptics, I put together a stack of books as resources and have been working through them over the past weeks.

God the Evidence: The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason In A Postsecular World by Patrick Glynn covers some of the same ground as the two Alister McGrath books mentioned in my previous post, although he goes in a few different directions. Like McGrath, Glynn is also a former atheist, and he opens his book with a very interesting story of the unraveling of his atheistic faith. Glynn spends time on the anthropic principle, psychology and medicine, and then on to what I found to be the most interesting section of the book - his discussion of Near Death Experiences as evidence of a human soul.

It's a fairly quick read, with some helpful information, and well worth your time. It's not a criticism, but I wouldn't say it's as essential as McGrath's The Twilight of Atheism, but then, not many books are. To me, anyone who has traveled the road from unbelief to belief is worth reading, and on that account alone, Glynn's book is important.