May 30, 2006


And in the "I Can't Believe Someone Got Paid to Research This" Category, I present you this mind-boggling story. Was this ever in doubt? I think not.

And now for the real reason I am posting today... I figured I could win your favor with a humorous story and then really get up on my soapbox. Just a side explanation before I let loose: I love blogging. But there is always the fear that you are going to irritate the wrong person. I read about several people who have been fired for putting negative things in their blogs about their employers. I also know that a variety of people read this blog. And everyone will not agre with me. But that is kind of what you expect from a blog. Enough rambling and stalling.

I am not a big fan of traveling evangelists. I have had a problem with them ever since Cowboy Ken came to my elementary school, did some fancy lasso tricks, signed some Bibles, and told us all we weren't saved. Every year we had a Spiritual Emphasis Week, where we brought in some big name guy (big name to the teachers - the students didn't care) to tell us all about the horrors of Hell and to rant about how evil we all were. And every year, a bunch of kids would race down on the last day with tears streaming down their faces - trying to avoid the pitch blackness of Hell. It usually was the same kids too. One year I got so terrified I went down, even though I had gotten saved already. My brother told my mom about it, and she talked to me about it that night. As a kid, the graphic scenes and descriptions that are a part of the Bible are very hard to process. When it is coupled with the whole "you are going to hell" bit, it really can send you into a tailspin. I remember going to a musical about Daniel with my family. We all left because I got so scared during that part - mostly because my dad was not saved. They put a partial Passion Play on for us in Elementary school one year, and the visual of a person getting nails rammed through their hands (through stage tricks) made me sick. I guess that fear is a pretty good motivator for kids - and the religious community has figured that out.

Well, that scare tactic doesn't end with kids. Just about every Youth Camp, Disciple Now, youth rally ends with a sermon where emotional tricks and fear tactics are employed to get those students to race down the aisles. And with adults, the same methods are used. We have huge dramas re-inacting in gory detail the Easter story, ones where people are confronted by angry demons and dragged to hell, others where people are faced with a very disturbing and close-to-home tragedy via stage. Perhaps the most traumatizing of all are the traveling evangelists. They are almost like professional spiritual hitmen. They come to a church, accuse the members and guests of all kinds of sin and immorality. They tell them they aren't saved, that Satan has tricked them. They tell horrifying stories of death and eternal punishment. Then they have an altar call with more emotional manipulation. And at all these events people flood the stage and make commitments, get baptized, join the church. The members get thrilled about what "God just did." And it justifies all of what just happened.

But, really what happened? At the end of these events, revivials, dramas, sermons are things any different? Churches will take much offense at that and huff that, "Yes, things are different. Twenty people are going to Heaven that weren't before." That is the sticking point. Those people like me (and there are many) who have a problem with the way these traveling evangelism shows operate are always confronted with these "decisions" and told to stop causing trouble. However, there are some severe issues I have that are not answered by that response. In fact, my issues are compounded in that argument. Here are my arguments:

1 - Fear is a Terrible Way to Start Your Walk with God. That same fear that got you to run forward is now the foundation for your beliefs. If this angry and vengeful God was going to obliterate heathens everywhere, what is He going to do to you? I mean, you just got saved and should know better. Yes, a healthy fear of God is important - no, essential - to a legitimate spiritual walk. A huge problem in today's Church is that it bought a cheap grace from a sissy God - they don't take Him or His Word seriously. However, the kind of fear in these services is not a holy reverance of God. It is a terror attack on unsuspecting and troubled souls. And it is a shaky foundation.

2 - Discipleship is Sacrificed for Decisions. Churches love Matthew 28:19-20. That is the Great Commission - the order from Christ that led to missions efforts and evangelism everywhere. However, most churches don't read that passage. It says, "Go ye therefore and MAKE DISCIPLES of all nations." That is not the same thing as "Go and get decisions from all nations." It means to find people who need Christ, lead them to Him, and then walk with them to help them understand what it means to follow Him. Salvation is the first step. We have it all backwards. We try to build a relationship so that we can one day lead that person to Christ. We are supposed to continue that relationship after that. Pushing for a decision is like delivering a baby and then leaving it there on the steps. But churches and evangelism shows do that all the time. There is no discipleship. And when the people who make decsions through these tactics don't follow Christ right, we tell them that their decision wasn't good because they didn't mean it. Does a baby know how to eat on its own, or how to clean itself up, or how to function in this world? No, it takes training and years of teaching - and then they become teenagers who STILL don't know how to eat healthy or how to clean or how to function (though they think they do). Spiritual babies are the same way. But the evangelist doesn't have an investment in making sure those people are followed up with. He's back at his headquarters in Nashville getting ready for the next cruise.

3 - There is No Biblical Precedent for This Position - Some will argue this by pointing out that Paul went all over the place. Yes, he did - and he spent 18 months to multiple years at each location - training pastors and people. And he continued to write those churches and check up on them. He never disconnected with those churches. These modern evangelists come flying in to a church, at great financial gain to themselves, throw a few grenades around, and then leave the church to pick up the pieces. They are located in Nashville, Atlanta, Dallas in a office building. They never have to disciple anyone. They never have to deal with broken people left by their whirlwinds. They make between $2000 and $10,000 PER APPEARANCE. Take a moment to think about that! If they speak 40 Sundays a year, they would make $80,000 to $400,000 just on speaking fees. But most of these people have figured out how to maximize their earnings. They do weekends and cruises and revivals - multiple day events where they can double and triple their fees. They sometimes get a part-time job at a local church doing a mid-week service or rally. So now, they pull in a salary from that church, plus all the speaking gigs. And, of course, they have books and cds and dvds and mp3s for sale at every location. Where in the Bible do you find this? People will hold up the spiritual gift of evangelism, and how Paul talked about how some are called to be evangelists. Do you honestly believe this is what Paul meant? He and Peter were the two biggest bigshots in the Early Church. Wouldn't they have modeled this kind of behavior?

4 - Most Evangelists are Mean Spirited. - Yes, this is a generalization. But it is one with good backing. I have worked at churches for close to ten years. I have gone to church since I was five. I went to a Christian school for six years. I have gone to state conferences, and national conferences. I have heard dozens of evangelists and "guest speakers." And one characteristic of just about all of them is a bitting view of people. They make fun of "weirdos" - which could be people with tattoos or earrings or weight problems or breath problems. They throw around insulting names and categorizations like a whip. The say everyone is involved in every kind of sin imaginable. And if you dare confront them, they hide behind churchy sounding comments like "the Word of God is offensive, get over it" or "people with the spiritual gift of evangelism just call it like it is" or "that is just conviction." Or they cloak their viciousness with humor, so that their saracsm is just part of their delivery. How is this allowing every word to be seasoned with grace? The reality is that they are angry and judgmental, and they like to take it out on people. The only evangelist who I have heard who is not like that is Billy Graham. But he also tries to get people to disciple people making decisions, doesn't resort to fear tactics, and still has some humility.

5 - Most Evangelists are Egomaniacs - They tell all the places they have talked, how many people have heard them, how many have gotten saved. It is like they have their own resume always ready to give as an answer to someone who questions them. They are trying to use their own credentials as why you should book them and use them and believe them. However, they miss out on the point of why we are doing all of this. This is all supposed to bring God glory and advance His Kingdom, right? We are supposed to be less so that He can be greater. How does that match with pounding your chest about how great you are?

This is a hard place for me. I am about to begin a ministry that travels around and works with churches - and then goes back home. We are trying to work out our fee schedule and how to present ourselves. So I don't want to go throwing stones and rocks and then end up hitting myself. But I also hope that we point people to Jesus instead of ourselves. I want our ministry to leave people better off than when we found them, and I want to give them tools to continue making progress. I know that I just sound like a bitter little twit. I just am tired of these guys who bring doubt and fear instead of bringing hope and love. I am sick of hearing about how great they are instead of how great God is. Obviously, I had a wonderful encounter with another one of these on Sunday, which began all of this rant. And I was once again left with the aching feeling that this is not right - this is not how God wanted His Church to operate.

May 23, 2006

American Idol Finale Blog

Well, it is the final episode of this year’s American Idol. I am watching because I have too much invested in the year to ignore the ending. That, and there in nothing else on television tonight. My personal opinion is that this year was tremendous and horrible. It was the most difficult to handicap ever – with five legitimate contenders (Paris, Chris, Elliot, Kat, Taylor). That makes it a great season because there was true drama. But it was horrible because no one – not even my favorites – ever stepped up and really nailed it. They never took that leap that at least one contestant did every other year. Everyone was very good – but no one was great. And here’s the thing. Even though all five of those finalists were so good, are any of them going to really be chart-busters? All of them are niche performers.

Paris was an expert at that retro-R&B stuff. Chris was really a hard rocker. Elliot was a very smooth crooning R&B artist. Kat is also a crooner. Taylor is the soulful one. Of those five, which one is really in touch with modern music? Katharine is the closest. I think Elliot could have been wedged in because he was so talented. If I was Clive Davis, I would be terrified that Taylor will win. “I have to pay this guy a million dollars? To make Doobie Brothers albums?” Anyway, the show is starting. Everyone is screaming. Ryan is looking fly. Let’s get it on.

8:05pm – Ryan Seacrest: “And here is the person who will have the best career of anyone here tonight – Chris Daughtery!” So he could have won and gotten stuck singing “Moment Like This,” or been given an open invite to head up Fuel. Good choice, my friend.

8:07pm – Katharine sings the song that she sang while writhing around on her knees the first time. If this is going to be a “best of” show, we’re in for a looong night. For the first few weeks, Entertainment Weekly kept commenting on how Katharine McPhee dressed down her beauty. And they were right – except she was dressing very modestly. Kellie Pickler was the “sex symbol” for the first half the season. Well, when Pickler pickled out, all the sudden McPhee started to dress more provocatively – which she has continued doing. Tonight, it is a mesh shirt and bra. Good job McPhee – keep them standards high my friend.

8:11pm – The first uncalled for booing of Simon.

8:13pm – Uh, what the heck is going on with Taylor’s jacket? Seriously, purple velvet?

8:15pm – La, la, la, la la la. I hate it when contestants pick songs with little or no lyrics. That just becomes an opportunity for them to scream without having to put themselves into the song.

8:16pm – What is the deal with Taylor making it his own? That just means that he sings every song like Michael McDonald. Paula then begins her ritual spaz attack. And Simon tells the absolute truth. “What do I know?” That’s the problem with this show. The only person who KNOWS what he’s talking about is Simon. And he gets booed. We’re taking advice from Paula “Cold Hearted Snake” Abdul and Randy “I Played with Journey” Jackson? Are they just going to sing retreads this week? Come on, people.

8:23pm – Kat with “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” This girl sings better sitting down. That is kind of weird. Her best performances have all been that way. Ryan said this was the song that stunned the judges. Huh? I thought that was Ace’s Queen song.

8:25pm – Did she forget the words? That’s like three weeks in a row. How can a person forget the words and still be in this competition? I may be an insensitive punk, but her dad crying was touching a few weeks back. But now it is just blatant manipulation. Right before the camera swings there, someone jabs him in the eyeball with a pin. Hmmm, I’m not crying right now. Paula is wrong – aaaaagaaain. I’m heartless.

8:27pm – She’s funny. I do like McPhee. Don’t get me wrong. She’s goofy. I just am bitter that Chris and Elliot are watching this instead of destroying these two. Taylor’s favorite song is coming up. My guess is that it is one where he can flail around like Mel Gibson getting electroshock in Lethal Weapon.

8:32pm – What? That first line sounded like some guy mumbling my order in a speaker. If I remember, this was not one of the seizure imitating songs by Mister Hicks. I guess you can put me in the same category as Simon – What do I know?

8:34pm – He has a good voice, but am I the only person that can’t get over the fact that he sounds like Michael “Doobie Brothers” McDonald? Is he destined to sing theme songs for telephone companies forever? Did Paula really just say that “what you consider pitchy is the essence of who Taylor is?” Good night, she is the more stupid person I’ve ever met – uh – via television. Oh, Bucky, I take that back.

8:40pm – Fox promo: “The search is on for America’s best dancer.” What happened? Is Savion Glover missing or something? Is this another reality show, or is it another procedural drama? CSI: Dancefloor.

8:41pm – Katharine’s first single, “My Destiny.” They should have had Darth Vader announce that. Aren’t they licensed by the same companies? Tears. This song is nice, but it still isn’t that big breakthrough song. Is this season really going to end without any of these singers just absolutely knocking it out of the park? Was that shot of her mom covering her mouth because she mangled that note so badly? I really hate to say this, but I hope Taylor comes out and just cranks it so that SOMEONE will deserve to win.

8:45pm – This is the best part. The judges can’t rip the song because it is going to get released. Randy just called the song average. They are going to destroy the ratings for that piece of trash. HA HA HA. How can you trash that girl because the producers made her sing that song? What a hoot. That’s funny. It would be a riot if they did what they did in years past and made Taylor sing that song too. I bet he would get halfway through, and just flip out.

8:52pm – Taylor’s final song: “Do I Make You Proud?” Let’s hope so. He was pretty good – very restrained. I think that Idol is contractually obligated to include a gospel choir in the final show. Remember Clay and Ruben – both dressed in white suits with the big ole choir? That was funny.

8:54pm – Which judge will say he made them proud? Who will it be? Hmmm. None of them. I am shocked – just shocked. Now they trashed both songs. That is pretty funny. I agree with Simon that Taylor should win the competition. He was the best tonight. If he doesn’t win, it will be because he doesn’t look as good in a dress. Well, I can’t really say that since I’ve never seen him in one. That would be funny. Hee hee.

8:57pm – Ah, the recap. It is really impossible to judge who wins based on those clips.

8:59pm – Nice twist. Daniel Powter live to finish the show. You know that at some point his agent told him that Idol wanted to use his song and he crunched up his face and got all uppity about it. Then about four weeks into the show he realized they were going to play it every single week when the show ended and he started to realize that maybe it was a good plan after all. Then he watched that little song skyrocket up the charts and up the iTunes download chart, and he probably just started laughing. So when all his legitimate musician friends come by to mock him, he just smiles at him, shakes his head, and gets into one of his four Benzes and drives away.

Well that’s that. I was not overly impressed. The finale was like the whole season – solid but not spectacular. I think Taylor should win, but you can never underestimate the power of middle school boys. So we’ll have to see tomorrow. I of course will see tomorrow via tape delay. I will be busy watching Lost. So, until next time, do I make you proud? If so, it is my destiny.

May 16, 2006

The Counterfeit

I want to talk about The Counterfeit - not counterfeiting in general - but the one being who is the great counterfeit. That being would be Satan. He is a liar, and he has made it his goal throughout history to create lies about God - and offer false imitations of God to mankind. Why? Think about it, if I were to go up to someone and flat out ask them, "Do you want to follow God or Satan?" - what would nearly everyone say? Most people aren't going to go and pick Satan - "Hmm, purity and goodness or evil, what to choose, what to choose." So Satan had to cheat - and lie - and come up with all kinds of lies about God.

It began in the Garden of Eden. He came up to Eve and questioned three things about God. He questioned His Message, His Meaning, and His Motives. First, he said, "Did God really say you couldn't eat of every tree?" He twisted God's words, and that led Eve to rethink what God actually said. Then he asked, "Did God really mean that you would die?" Now he was urging Eve to question whether or not she had understood God correctly. Finally, he flat out called God a liar and said that God only wanted to stop the fruit-eating because He didn't want humans to be wise like Him. And the whole process worked so well, he has been doing the same song and dance ever since.

I think I came up with an idea for an extremely interesting Bible study. Go through the Bible and take everything that God ever called Himself. (I supposed you could go through one of those Names of God type books and save a step.) After you have compiled the list, go back through and look at what lie Satan fabricated to counteract that characteristic. Let's just take four of the biggies -from the New Testament, no less. First, look at John 14:6. Jesus says, "I am The Way, The Truth, and The Life. No man comes to the Father but by me." Here we find three of the huge characteristics of God - ones that we all must accept.

THE WAY - Jesus was saying that He was the only road, only door to the Father. It is a straightforward statement, but one that has caused so much trouble. If there is one thing that people do not like, it is being told that there is only one way to do things. (That's why I hated Geometry - I wanted to do things my own way in proofs.) Look at the trouble Mel Gibson got into by leaving this verse in The Passion of the Christ. That was the line that everyone harped on during his interviews. So Satan has convinced us that there is more than one way to God. On State Road 50 in Orlando, on the way to downtown from UCF, there is a huge billboard claiming that Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism is all the same thing. "Many different paths, one God. Let's get together and talk about peace." In the world of Postmodernism, which drives most people, this is a cornerstone philosophy. Everyone who is passionate and good gets to Heaven. What an effective lie.

THE TRUTH - Numerous times, we are told that God is Truth. And we, as Christians are told to wield this weapon. The Word of God (The Truth) is as sharp as a two-edged sword, able to separate soul and spirit. In Isaiah 61:1, we are told that this Truth is what will free captives and heal the brokenhearted. But Satan has created the lie that there is no such thing as The Truth. Absolute truth does not exist. We have no right to tell anyone else that what they believe is wrong. If the last lie was one of the foundational points of Postmodernism, this one is the banner it flies. Everyone is okay; what everyone believes is right. (Ignoring the massive philosophical and logical problems that statement causes.) As a result, if we meet someone who is passionate and educated, they must be right. Why has The Da Vinci Code been such a resounding hit and such a troublesome thorn to the Church? It sounds true, it claims to be true, and Dan Brown did such a good job in writing it that most people are sure it is true. Again, quite an effective approach by Satan.

THE LIFE - Ah, life the most precious of commodities. Jesus' claim to be The Life resonated in verses like John 10:10, where He said He wanted to give us abundant life. Also, He is the resurrection and life, so even if we are dead we will live. Death and public speaking are the two greatest fears in America. Jesus' claim takes care of the first one. We don't need to fear death or life. How could Satan fight this? By teaching people that life is not important or to be valued. Instead of a sanctity of life, there is a focus on quality of life. If your life is not quality (Who judges that? Is there a scale?), then you don't need to live. With that lie, we see an explosion in the beliefs for abortion, and cloning, and euthanasia, and assisted suicide, and genocide, and ethnicide. Instead of merely offering a counterfeit of The Life (which he also did by pushing the epicurean lifestyle), Satan also tried to just remove the importance of all life.

The last biggie I want to look at is found in 1 John. It is here that God claims to be Love. What a powerful concept and image. Love - it is what every human wants and needs. As dcTalk once sang, "We all want to be loved." Love is what set God apart from all the gods of the world. They didn't love their people. The Ancient Greek and Roman gods saw people as playthings and creatures to be tormented and used. The gods of the ancient world were harsh - requiring sacrifice of children, cutting of flesh, homicide of virgins. The one true God offered love - not torment. And this love was free of anything we could do. How would Satan fight this most powerful and attractive of God's characteristics? Let's look at the three Greek words for love and how Satan attacked those.

EROS - Sensual love - It is weird to discuss this facet in light of God, but He is the one who created marriage and this aspect of love. And Satan has done a doozy on it. He has offered lust instead. Lust is not caring about the concerns and needs of the other person. It is selfish. It is about meeting YOUR needs and YOUR desires. It is seeing other people are tools to bring yourself satisfaction. That is lust. We see it in movies, magazines, websites. Little boys are trained to look lustfully at women by their fathers, big brothers, and neighbors. Girls are taught that to get a boy's attention they need to dress provocatively and flaunt their bodies. And the entire world becomes a sphere of shattered people - wounded by perhaps the fastest growing and most destructive lie of Satan.

PHILOS - Brotherly love - This is friendship love. It is what we see as Aaron holds Moses' arms up. It is described as iron sharpening iron. We find this as we study David and Jonathan - two men whose hearts were linked for life. How has this been poisoned? Satan offers us the love of contacts and networks instead of true friendship. It's not what you know, it's who you know - and who you can use to advance yourself. He also offers us homosexuality. It is funny, people do not talk about David and Jonathan very often in church any more because it has been so often pushed as biblical "proof" of gay relationships. How tragic. And how many men are standing alone in the world because they don't want to open up to another guy for fear of being labeled gay? The lion loves to find the isolated animal to pick off.

AGAPE - Unconditional love - This is the Love God portrays. What a wonderful and heartwarming thought. He loves us - period. The End. Thanks for coming, tip your waiters and waitresses. There is not something we need to do to get it, or anything we could do to lose it. So Satan gives us raging egomania - unconditional self-love. We love ourselves and everyone else becomes a way to get what we want. There is no service, no ministry. Even those people in charge of ministry use it as a way to get ahead and get a raise or promotion - a book or speaking gig. As a result, this love is such a foreign concept to us, we wouldn't recognize it if we saw it - and don't have any clue how to do it.

So, Satan has given us counterfeits. And we fell for them. I know I have - especially in the realm of love. I don't love people. I am very self-centered. And I have to break that - and so do you. How do you do it? We've all heard how the U.S Treasury Department learns how to spot a counterfeit - they know the genuine article so well that anything false jumps out. So we need to know God in an intimate way - and learn about Him - and grow so close to Him that any deviation from Him pops out at us. That's my challenge that I must now face. My journey of self-discovery has ended with me here. It is like I worked through a gigantic video game, beat the last level boss, and walked into a gigantic cipher. Instead of hearing some midi go "Bwoo, bwoo, bwoo" - a whole new challenge opened up. I just beat the console game only to enter a massive one without an ending. I now have to begin the long process of undoing 18 years of doing it wrong. I have to discipline my mind and bring every thought captive and learn to take my eyes off myself and put them on God. And instead of thinking everyone circles around me, I have to realize I'm here to touch their lives and show them Jesus. I guess I finally learned how to see. So instead of the journey ending, all I did was finish the prologue. The book just started.

May 11, 2006

Do What I Can

I guess about a year ago, I read a brilliant book by a brilliant man. I love meeting and listening to brilliant people. Well, I love and I hate it. I love it because they espouse such wonderful stuff that my brain has never been able to even address. But, I like to feel I'm the smartest person in the room, so I hate having to admit that I'm not. This is why I don't get into discussions with my brother or my wife about science. My brother has a Doctorate in Bioinorganic Chemistry from the University of Georgia and just finished a stint with NASA's Astrobiology Unit. My wife is graduating this December with a degree in Micro and Molecular Biology and is planning to attend Medical School. I got a degree in teaching history, took one science class, and now make pretty brochures for a living. Not a fair fight.

Anyway, back to the brilliant book and person. The person was Dr. Jay Strack and the book was The Three Success Secrets of Shamgar. I would highly recommend it. All the great qualities of a great book - it was short, it was a fast read, and it was thought provoking. The book was about Shamgar - the Old Testament character who, according to Judges 3:31 and 5:6, killed 600 Philistines with an oxgoad. Dr. Strack's basic premise was that Shamgar was able to accomplish this because he followed this simple statement: Do what you can with what you have where you are. It was so idiotically simple that you knew it was true. So, I started thinking about how I needed to try to do what I could with what I have where I was.

So, recently I began really diving back into God and trying to draw closer to Him. Little did I know that what God was doing was helping me to take an inventory of those three things. And, as I looked back on this old blog, I realize that I already addressed two of those things. The first was Where I Am. If you study literature, you realize that one of the absolute essential elements is setting. The setting of a story is where it takes place - but that is not limited to just a location. It also applies to a time, a mindset, an atmosphere. To say that Saving Private Ryan's setting is just France really limits the story. But to really be accurate you need to say that it is set in France, during World War Two, as the Allies make a last ditch effort to defeat the Axis, and as the small group of soldiers are sent on a bizarre and probably suidical mission. All of that plays into the setting. So Where I Am also included Who I Am. It was not just an exploration of the location of my body, but also the location and condition of my mind.

The next thing was What I Have. I did that recently as I began to explore God's Truth. What I have is the undeniable and incredibly powerful Word of God. God took great pains to show me that His Word is enough to free captives and to break the chains of sin. He also wanted me to realize that it is not something to be ignored or tossed aside. It should be the most important thing we have.

Well, recently I unknowingly was moved into an exploration of What I Can Do. And that is what this post is all about. As I wrote in those two other posts I mentioned, God has a way of making things pretty clear, even to brilliant people. After hearing the same message in numerous sermons, and in books, and from people, I guess I needed to start listening. (I know that this was an extremely roundabout way to get here, but bear with me - I'm still working all this out in my head.)

Here's how God decided to get my attention on this thing:
  • My wife took a class this past semester about ethics in science. The teacher was a liberal. And she went on numerous rants that, had I been in the class, would have caused me to "start a scene." But my wonderful wife sat there, got angry sometimes, and listened sometimes. So she started to ask me what I thought about certain social issues. I, as a good Baptist, immediately consulted the typical Southern Baptist Republican Religious Right Conservative Handbook, 2006 Version and tried to refute the professor while making her appear to be unstable. The only problem was, on several issues she was right. And that didn't match my Handbook. Which was very disconcerting to me. I began to realize that maybe my Handbook was not always right.
  • I have a friend named Tiffany. She's a weirdo. I say that in the nicest way - weirdos are fine by me. I say she's weird because she thinks the opposite of me in so many ways. Well, she keeps on talking to me about stuff, and it really started to make me think. She does all this socially conscious stuff. She doesn't eat meat and takes part in these things to build awareness. She gets mad at me because I throw toner containers away instead of sending them to a recycling place. So I poke fun at her (to her face) because that's what I do with people who make me feel uncomfortable. So then I started to listen to her and realize that in many things, she was right. And that got me thinking about my Handbook again.
  • I read Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. I had been avoiding it for years. Literally. I had the book because a ton of people I knew had read it. But several of my friends who read that Handbook had labelled it heresy and said that Miller was a wackjob. So I had assumed that it was to be avoided. Well I finally read it. And I realized why people felt like they did about the book. It was because it made you think about why you do what you do. And people don't like doing that. They just want to follow the Handbook.
  • I listened to some more Dallas Theological sermons, and they started to take a different stance. One guy talked about 1 Peter 3:15 (one of my favorite verse and one I've taught several times). But he didn't take the stance I usually do. Instead he talked about how we should witness. Then I listened to a guy about how Christians need to engage the culture, and often on their terms.
  • I took a good hard look at that Handbook and who the author was. And unlike what I had been led to believe, it wasn't written by God. It was written by a bunch of guys who were trying to do the right thing. And I realized that I needed to rethink how I approach life.

I don't witness to people. Part of that is because I don't know very many unsaved people. I live next to some, and I buy smoothies from Juice It Up from them, and I shop at the Publix with them. But I don't tell them about God. I also don't give money to God or His Church or His people. Well, sometimes I do, but I don't all the time. I have come up with an astounding argument against the concept of tithing that is espoused by the modern Church. I still think my argument is right, but I never give money - which is wrong. I don't help people in general. I ignore most social causes because they are headed up by liberals or actors. I drive by homeless people as fast as I can. I don't think about saving the environment. I pay very little attention to places like Darfur or New Orleans. Mostly, thinking about those things make me uncomfortable. And I don't like being uncomfortable. So I ignore those things because, honestly, I don't want to feel those pains. I have enough to worry about with my own life.

That was one of Miller's point in Jazz. He said that people are horribly self-absorbed and selfish. And he is right. I am that way. I always look at situations in light of how they affect me. And if they don't directly affect me - and if dealing with them make me feel bad - I ignore them. So I took a good honest look at myself and realized how far away I am from what Jesus was. Yes, I'm a good person. I work at at church, I teach Sunday School and am pretty good at it, I write Christian essays, I am starting a ministry to help people. I'm a good guy. But, for the second time in my life I have gotten to become a very good mediocre Christian. This time, I'm much further along than I was when I was 20. But I am far from being like Jesus. I write off sin as something that happens in my life. In fact, I feel worse about eating ice cream at night than about thinking impure or angry thoughts. I ignore the hurting people all around me so that I can focus on helping the hurting people far away from me. I am passionate about helping people in Montreal and Australia see God, but don't ever contact my high school friend who is in prison. Jesus hung out with the prostitutes and tax collectors and lepers and dirtbags. I walk on the other side of the sidewalk. I fight semi-racist thoughts about lots of people. I think all liberals are always wrong.

God has been trying to show me that I need to break out of this current view of the world - you know, the one with me at the center. I need to start being aware of the world and people around me. I need to contact Ellis in prison. I need to be free with my money with God. I need to be careful with how I look at the environment. I need to stop being a selfish pig and start worrying about all those people out there. I need to reconnect my sensitivity button and let God show me where people need help. Even as I'm about to embark on this new mission to rescue people from being addicted to the lustful sirens of the Internet, I need to really really HURT for those people.

About a year ago, when I read Dr. Strack's book, I tried to come up with my answer to that challenge. What could I do, where I was, with what I had? The problem was that I was doing the wrong things, in the wrong place, with the wrong mindset, and with the wrong tools. Sure, they were "good things." But they were not the right things. God wanted to move me into a completely different place. So now, when I look at that question, my answer is completely different. As I answered that, I realized that it did not include those identifiers that I had always found so vital. It was a new and uncomfortable thing. And it is great.

I am a child of God who is standing on the precipice of an unknown adventure. I am armed with only the Truth of God, and the skills that God gave me to wield that Truth in battle for Him. And God wants me to go into my world and start to make a true difference for Him - not for me - for HIM -- and for those people who so desperately need to feel the freedom only He can offer. I need to care for them, and reach out to them, and to love them. I need to let their pain hurt me. I need to trust God completely to give me what I need. And I need to follow Him with abandon - and abandonment of my comfort zone, my prejudices, my Handbook. I need to rely on His Book, and His Love, and His Mind.

I don't know if any of that made sense, and three days from now I may be completely mortified by what I wrote. But right now, that's the best I can do to put a handle on what is churning in my soul.