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 ( 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.