The "Others" Are Winning.

A few weeks ago, I posted some comments about the Air Force Academy, and the room marked "other" in their historic chapel. This week, an article published by the Associated Press appeared in the Dallas Morning News. It appears the "others" are beginning to make their voices heard.

Read the complete article here.

In short, it seems non-evangelical Christians are making some noise about an evangelical bias held by the United States Air Froce Academy. If the irony of a mainstream media article griping about a right wing bias is not enough to make steam come out your ears, the spin the article puts on the situation at the USAFA will.

According to the article, the perception of some cadets at the USAFA is that "evangelical Christians wield so much influence at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs that anti-Semitism and other forms of religious harassment have become pervasive."

Seriously? Anti-semitism?

Anti-semitism is a word that has become hip to use again. But it's used as a word designed to garner an emotional response without regard to the original intent of the word. Anti-Semites are those who are against Jewish people. Are we really to believe that this kind of attitude is pervasive (their word) at the USAFA?

If it is, it isn't a problem with evangelical Christianity. It's a problem with discipline at the United States Air Force Academy. Taking away privileges from evangelical Christians will not change the mindset of sick individuals who hold an opinion contrary to mainstream evangelical Christianity.

The issue of relgious "tolerance" is out of control in today's society. The fact that I hold an opinion contrary to yours and have the freedom to say so is one of the freedoms that the cadets of the United States Air Force Academy have pledged to fight for. Tolerance of religion is one thing. Acceptance is another. To forbid "sectarian" prayers (prayers in Jesus' name) is to deny the rights and privileges of every American to speak his or her mind.

So a Muslim is offended by my prayer in Jesus' name. Sorry. I'm offended by his request that I pray to someone or something else. I wouldn't ask him to pray in Jesus' name - he isn't able to ask something in Jesus' name because he doesn't know Jesus. Why should I be forced to pray in the name of the "Great Spirit Above?" I don't need to be generic. I know His name.

Back to School

Dallas Seminary begins Fall classes today. So, it may take me a couple of days to get my schoolwork into my blogging routine. Since I fully expect that the only person to read this blog regularly is my mother, I'm not worried about creating worldwide panic by missing a post or two here and there.

On the other hand, if Pecadillo took more than a day off, worldwide chaos would soon follow. You seriously have to check out his blog... I've given up the funny paper to laugh at Pecadillo. (You know what they say, every family has black sheep. My family seems to have a whole herd).

Future Church?!

I just finished reading "Carpe Manana" by Leonard Sweet. Sweet is one of the "emerging" voices in the Emerging Church movement, and is thought by many to be the spokesperson for the future of evangelicalism in America. Sweet is an excellent communicator who points out what he sees as ways the church will have to change its methods in order to reach the postmodern generation in which we live.

You won't agree with everything Sweet writes or insinuates in this book. But this book illustrates that the church exists in a different world than the world our grandparents grew up in. Teenagers today have more power and information at their fingertips than the most learned scholars had access to a hundred years ago. My grandparents had to travel 30 miles to church, which started at 11:00am in order to give them time to milk the cattle before leaving the house. Today, I can listen to my choice of John MacArthur, Charles Swindoll, Chip Ingram, or a thousand other pastors while I'm milking my cattle if I wish.

Technology is still exploding rapidly. I'm only twenty-five, and when I was a teenager in order to spend time with my friends, we had to go to the mall, or meet at one of our houses. I would go door to door in my neighborhood to see who could come out and play. Today, I just have to login to AOL Instant Messenger, where I receive instant community with whomever else is logged in. The times, they are a changing.

Like I said, you'll disagree with some of what Sweet deems necessary steps in order for the church to Carpe Manana, "seize tomorrow." I certainly did. Sweet believes that the church needs to become more like the culture in order to attract and reach out to the culture. In a culture that values relative truth, moral obscurity, and a reliance on experience over intellect, the ramifications of such a change in the church's philosophy are downright scary. The entire hope of the evangelical church is based on absolute truth, moral law, and the fact that we will not experience the ultimate realization of our hope until after the clock stops ticking.

If the church attempts to reflect today's culture, it really won't be "seizing tomorrow" as Sweet's title indicates. Postmodernism is a passing trend, just as modernism, premodernism, and all other culture isms throughout history. To seize upon the postmodern culture would be to seize today. To truly seize tomorrow demands that we look beyond the postmodern culture to see where it is leading us.

The church doesn't need to be postmodern. The church must transcend secular culture. In fact much of the problem with today's church can be found in that it has decided to reflect secular culture rather than reflecting on that culture. If Peter, Paul, John, Apollos, Silas, and others had attempted to fit the church into the mold of their culture, the church would have died before it left Jerusalem. Why should our understanding of the relationship between church and the culture be any different from theirs?

Despite the differences I may have with Sweet's conclusion and its underlying philosophy, this book was a tremendously helpful read. Although the church should never become postmodern, it must understand postmodernism, and use that understanding to help its influence.

Use of the tools and technology given to us by a specific culture or trend does not indicate the church has identified completely with that movement. For example, my uncle the Pyromaniac disagrees vehemently with the postmodernization of the church, and is definitely not cool enough to be postmodern, although he keeps a blog - the ultimate public diary for the postmodern generation. The difference may seem subtle, but it is monumental.

It is important to recognize that it is completely possible for the church to use the tools of a culture without selling out wholesale to a change of identity that the proponents of the postmodernization of the church seem to want.

The biggest problem in the church today is not that the church is not becoming enough like the postmodern culture. Rather, the biggest problem in the church can be found in the mindset of those who want to model the church after secular culture instead of allowing the Gospel Message of Jesus Christ to affect life-change in individuals who will make an impact on their culture.

Media, Culture, and Godliness

My wife and I finished watching the first season of the hit TV show "24" on DVD last night. I became obsessed, yes I think that's the right word, with the show during the second season, and Kari joined me for season four after we got married. Neither of us had seen season one, so that was my birthday present this year.

Last night we had two hour-long episodes left, and only planned to watch one. But after the first episode ended, neither of us was planning to turn it off. (We both knew the other would sneak in to watch the final episode in the middle of the night).

In the next to last episode, presidential candidate David Palmer (played by Dennis Haysbert) is tempted to commit adultery by an attractive speech writer on his staff. She has been given permission to pursue the candidate, unbeknowst to him, by his wife who believes an affair would give her more control in the relationship. As we watched Palmer give the staffer a key to his private suite, and ask her to meet him there in a few minutes, I had no doubt as to what was coming. Palmer would give in to temptation, commit adultery, and find a way to cover it up.

He didn't. But that didn't keep the expectation I had from nagging me the rest of the evening. At what point did the entertainment industry switch to where the viewer automatically assumes characters will make the wrong moral choice?

And worse, why isn't the Christian community doing anything about it? I'm not talking about picketing, or boycotting. I'm talking about the fact that I watch secular programming and see good television. I watch "Christian" programming and see ladies with cotton candy hair, gaudy gold furnishings, and mullet-clad preachers in white suits "healing" women of their unmentionable problems.

The music industry isn't much better. Christian music is about 4 years behind secular music. Seriously. Britney, Christina, and Jessica came out about six years ago. Four years after they hit the scene, three or four (more modestly dressed) clones started making the charts on the Contemporary Christian Music world.

What is it about Christianity that causes us to react to the culture? What is it about conservatism that prevents us from being a trend setter, a light on a hill, rather than the little brother who wants to be a part of the game, but lacks the talent and ability to make it past the sideline?

Our churches don't need to be postmodern. We don't need to try to find ways to make ourselves more like the culture. (Wasn't that the sin of the Israelites when they demanded God give them a king so they could be more like the cultures that surrounded them?) The church needs to develop its identity apart from the culture, and allow the culture to come to it.

If our God is so great, why are we afraid to tell the world about Him and what He says? If He is the Creator God, why are we so afraid of reflecting that creativity through our own lives? If He created the universe out of nothing, why does Christ's Body feel the constant need to be like everyone else? We champion holiness, purity, love, justice, and righteousness as "godly characteristics" in ourselves (And rightly so). Why are we unwilling to reflect His creativity and proactivity in similar ways?

Take me out to the ballgame

There are few things better in this world than settling in to a stadium seat on a nice summer night. Hot dog in one hand, foam finger in the other hand, with an ice cold Dr. Pepper balanced precariously between my legs... life doesn't get much better than this.

I'm a baseball fanatic. Unfortunately, my team of choice is the Texas Rangers. (I'm also a Dallas Cowboys and Oklahoma State University die-hard, so I've learned how to lose gracefully). With the Rangers 13.5 games behind the Angels, I am thrilled to have the diversion that the Little League World Series provides.

The Little League World Series is real baseball. There are no contract negotiations, steroid scandals, or labor strikes in Little League. There are not endorsement deals. They don't receive celebrity status. They get a free baseball cap, and a chance to live their dreams with kids from all over the world on ESPN. These kids play hard, think hard, run hard, slide hard, throw hard, and hit hard, and they do it for the love of the game. And they leave it all on the field. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and they know it.

Wouldn't it be nice if Christians lived the Christian life the way these kids play baseball? One of the little league coaches told his pitcher yesterday, "Son, no guts, no glory." Isn't that the truth?

Every single day we live is a once in a lifetime opportunity. "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in [the grave] where you are going" (Ecclesiastes 9:10). Play hard. Run hard. Leave everything you have on the playing field. Today is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Roberston is currently running an article about Pat Roberston's comments concerning Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Roberston declared the time had come for American operatives to "take [Chavez] out."

Chavez has thought for some time that the United States is behind plots to assassinate him, and according to Roberston, the time has come to make those dreams a reality.

Frankly, I'm ashamed of Robertson, and am thankful that virtually no one watches his show apart from news reporters looking for a story. Aside from the fact that Robertson regularly puts his foot in his mouth, and makes nearly as many recantation speeches as regular speeches, he has taken a platform that could be used to reach millions with the Gospel and turned it into a hate-spewing circus act that rates right up in my book with Jerry Springer. And I mean that.

Democracy is a privelege, and a blessing from God. As such, Americans should see it as a stewardship entrusted to them, and should be involved in the workings of government to ensure that the government provides us and our children with a safe, secure, free place to live.
However, I don't see a command for political activism anywhere in Scripture. In fact, the vast majority of times that political activists are pictured in Scripture, it's in a negative light (see the Zealots, Pharisees, Sadducees, etc...). Instead, I see commands to "submit to governing authorities" (Romans 13:1), and promises that God holds the hearts of kings in the palm of his hand (Proverbs 21:1).

Christians have another citizenship above and beyond their citizenship in the United States. Our status as people who are "in Christ," (Ephesians 1) is a higher calling than our status as American citizens. Thus when then two conflict, we should defer to our higher calling. In Robertson's case, the two conflict. Calling for the assassination of world leaders from such a public platform is an embarrassment. Claiming that feminism "causes women to kill their children" is unbelievable.

It's time for Robertson to retire and begin working on his memoirs. Out of the public eye. His regular lapses in coherent thought have cast shame on the church in America, and has caused great damage to the ministries of legitimate spokespersons of Christianity who are attempting to make a genuine difference for Jesus Christ in the world.

I'm as patriotic as the next guy. I get chills every time the Air Force does a flyover at a baseball game. I bawl like a baby when I'm at a concert where a band plays the military hymns and asks the veterans to stand up. But I'm prouder to be a Christian. And every time someone like Pat Robertson stands up under the name of Christ, and spews complete polemic nonsense about something totally unrelated to the Gospel, I feel like I'm watching someone burn my flag. And it's time for that to stop.

Some glad morning...

Friday night, Kari and I met some friends for dinner in Fort Worth's "Sundance Square." We have a running date with these friends - two other married couples - who live in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Each month, a different couple organizes the evening, and we have a night of fun and fellowship. Some of our prior outings have taken us to the home of one of the couples for desert, or to a concert, or a nice restaurant. They even persuaded me to go two-stepping. Once.

We ate a rather good Mexican food meal at Mi Cocina, and then decided to go to see Pete's Dueling Pianos. If they had taken the "bar" out of Pete's Piano Bar, this place would have been completely up my alley. I've never seen pianists as talented as the four men who played at Pete's on Friday.

The show would have received an "R" rating for some pretty rank humor and some foul language - something we weren't expecting when we walked in, and that the show wouldn't have missed had it been without. So I was surprised when one of the piano players walked out with his shirt gaping open, revealing a James Avery-style cross necklace hanging around his neck. I said a quick prayer that either no one else saw it, or that he wouldn't be party to the same jokes and language used by the prior two musicians.

The musicians spent the evening playing almost every (secular) sing along song you could think of. The crowd belted out "Piano Man," and "Crocodile Rock." We sang everything from "We are the Champions," to "God Bless the USA." But two songs into his set, the guy with the cross necklace completely floored me by beginning to belt out "I'll Fly Away." The experience was surreal. Here we were, sitting in a dingy bar with a bunch of inebriated college-aged students, singing a song our church sang in worship last Sunday. The song was followed up by Kenny Rogers' "You Picked a Fine Time to Leave Me Lucille," with an added part for the audience... Don't ask. (Suffice it to say, it ain't "I'll Fly Away")

I don't know if my jaw visibly hit the floor or not, but it was one of the most unusual experiences of my life. Here we were, surrounded by drunk college students, who were singing about a "home on God's celestial shore" with more exuberance than I've ever heard a church sing it.

At first, the experience put a damper on the evening. It kept nagging at me... These kids knew the words. Apparently, they stood next to their moms and dads in church growing up, and learned it like the rest of us. They'd been in Sunday School, or Youth Group, or Church Camp, and had sung this song as a part of a body who was singing it for the right reasons. Now, here they were, struggling to stand up, singing the same song again. What happened?

Today, I'm struck with the irony. I can say with relative certainty that absolutely none of the college students at Pete's Dueling Piano Bar showed up on Friday hoping to worship. In fact, one might probably guess that was the last thing on their mind. But there we were, and worship we did. They didn't know what happened. And virtually none of them was consciously singing testimonies about a hope we have in an unchanging God who has promised eternal life to those who place their trust in Him. But on Friday night, the same God who brought Himself glory through the testimony of an ass, (Numbers 22), and Who has the capability of causing inanimate objects to praise him (Luke 19:39-40), brought Himself glory through the testimony of a few hundred drunk college students.

Book Review: Why Churches Die

"Why Churches Die" is a book authored by Mac Brunson, pastor of First Baptist Church Dallas (TX), and Ergun Caner, dean of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. According to the subtitle, the goal of the book is to "diagnose lethal poisons in the Body of Christ." This book diagnoses 12 such poisons to the Body of Christ in a fashion that makes the book an easy read.

Brunson and Caner utilize fictitious case-studies to introduce each chapter, although nearly every reader will swear the authors visited their church once upon a time, only changing names to protect the guilty.

The authors of "Why Churches Die" are spot on in their identification of the symptoms of a dying church. They are, in my humble opinion, extremely weak in their use of biblical exegesis throughout the book. They have attempted to tie each symptom of a dying church to a biblical character who exemplifies that characteristic. In some cases, the examples fit. (For example, using Martha to describe the obsessive-compulsive tendency of some Christians to be distracted by the important while neglecting the essential) In other cases the examples used are, at best, a stretch (For example, pages 34-39 are devoted to explaining how Isaac's life decisions were all made because of a desire to coast on his father's past, a conclusion that is based on conjecture and speculation).

My other gripe about this book, though less substantial, is that the book spends the majority of each chapter pointing out the dangers of the various poisons to the church, and virtually no time diagnosing a solution. If a doctor tells me I'm dying, my immediate desire is not for information about the various permutations of the disease. I want to know how it can be treated.

Though I wouldn't give this book rave revues, it was a helpful reminder of just how delicate is the balance that must be maintained in Christ Body in order for it to remain healthy.

Ask the average churchgoer what the problem is with church today, and you're likely to hear a comment about the music. It's too loud, too soft, too modern, too out of touch. Or you'll hear about the use of technology, the absence of pews, or the length of the Pastor's sermon. But I've found with further questioning, those aren't the problems at all. There are "archaic" churches in America that God is using in marvelous ways, even in the 21st century. Likewise, there are "whippersnapper" churches that are making a global impact in the world for Jesus Christ. Style, format, and programming are the least of most congregants' concerns.

Despite the glaring negatives of the "postmodern" generation, what the church is faced with today is a culture that values authenticity, credibility, and character, more than the trappings of "religion." Today's culture wants content. They need the Gospel. And it's time for the dying churches of America to wake up and start talking about what really matters, instead of the things that have most recently consumed us.

Immunity for Benedict?

Associated Press

VATICAN CITY – Lawyers for Pope Benedict XVI have asked President Bush to declare the pontiff immune from liability in a lawsuit that accuses him of conspiring to cover up the molestation of three boys by a seminarian in Houston, court records show.

The Vatican's embassy in Washington sent a diplomatic memo to the State Department on May 20 requesting the U.S. government grant the pope immunity because he is a head of state, according to a May 26 motion submitted by the pope's lawyers in U.S. District Court for the Southern Division of Texas in Houston.

Joseph Ratzinger is named as a defendant in the lawsuit. Now Benedict XVI, he's accused of conspiring with the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston to cover up the abuse during the mid-1990s. Three boys, identified in court documents as John Doe I, II and III, allege that a Colombian-born seminarian on assignment at St. Francis de Sales church in Houston, Juan Carlos Patino-Arango, molested them in the church in the mid-1990s. Mr. Patino-Arango has been indicted in a criminal case by a Harris County grand jury and is a fugitive from justice, the lawsuit says.

State Department spokeswoman Gerry Keener said Tuesday that the pope already is considered a head of state and has immunity. (End of News Story)

This news completely banishes any hope one might have had of seeing the reform so badly needed by the Roman Catholic Church; at least not under Benedict XVI's watch. The fact that this request was even brought to Washington hints that there is much more to the story than the Vatican wants released.

The Roman Catholic Church is in shambles. I had faint hopes that Ratzinger, because of his conservative, scholarly approach to his religion, might stumble across the ways in which Roman Catholic theology parted ways from its self-professed roots in Augustinian theology. But until the church deals with the sex-abuse issue, it's credibility will remain in the pits. And it should. A church who turns its head while its leaders take advantage of innocent members would is a complete disgrace to the name of Christianity.

Although most protestants would deny that the Roman Catholic Church is preaching the gospel revealed in Scripture, the fallen world system lumps the RCC, the protestant church, and the zany television evangelist in the same boat. There's no wonder the church has a credibility issue.

It's time for the Protestant Church to deal with its issues so that it can stand tall above the counterfeits. Here's one person praying for an authentic Christian Church that is proud to stand as transparent, authentic, real examples of Christ's Body at work on the earth.

Get the door...

"Knock, knock, knock."

"Geez, not again," I thought. I had been locked in my office for three hours hoping inspiration would hit. I was putting together my sermon for Sunday, and needed the perfect illustration to drive home my point. And I was close. Really close.

"Boom, Boom, Boom."

Whoever was at the door was persistent. They were afraid I hadn't heard them the first time. I had. I was toying with the idea of ignoring them, but the last time I did that I found out I had ignored a matrairch of the church who left her casserole dish in the kitchen and desperately needed it in order to entertain company that night. She had driven thirty miles to the church (uphill both ways), and couldn't figure out what I was possibly doing in there.

It wasn't about her, honestly. If I had been certain it was her, I would have been thrilled to answer the door. But I'm the only pastor who offices at the church, and never know who will be on the other side of the large glass doors when I come around the corner. Often it's a delivery man. Sometimes it's a church member, although most of them call before they come. But often, it's them.

Anyone who has spent time in a church office knows who "them" is before they read it. "Them" is the steady stream of people who stop by the church on a regular basis looking for assistance. They always have a story, and it's almost always the same. Their husband couldn't come because he's sick at home. They lost their job two months ago and are living in a hotel. They're down to their last and only need to keep their family off the street. Can I find it in my heart to help them out?

They couldn't do any better if they removed my heart from my chest, tied it in knots, and shoved it back in my chest. These people are good. They're believable. They're polite. They're contrite. And everything in me wants to give them whatever money I have to help them out. After all, their sick husband can't be put out on the street, can he?

But I've been burned before. I've seen these people leave the church, to see them thirty minutes later drinking their sick husband's "medicine" out of a brown paper sack. That hurts, because I know there are people in our culture with legitimate needs. There are people with spouses who are truly suffering, who are truly down on their luck, and who could truly be helped by the token amount I give them. But I can't tell the difference.

Our church gives money to Mission Arlington, who is designed to help these situations, and we send a lot of people there. But most return, having been turned down by Mission Arlington for one reason or another. That makes my decision easier, but still not easy.

In the past, I used to be haunted by James 2:15-17. "If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to themn "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?" Nobody wants to be a hypocrite, especially as a pastor. And I certainly don't want to tarnish the name of Christ because of my unwillingness to give money to someone who may or may not need it.

There's a part of me that even leaned toward giving money to people I doubted, in hopes that Christ might be magnified through my graciousness, and that these people might be drawn to Christ through my willingness to give. But that didn't work. These people have a network, and as soon as you help one of them, the line starts to grow outside the door. Then there's no money left for legitimate needs.

But not long ago, I started looking at James 2:15-17 again, and I have a new philosophy for dealing with my friends who are down on their luck.
Number one, I rarely answer the door. It's dangerous for me to be here by myself speaking to people I'm about to make mad. Number two, I try to listen graciously to their story, and ask as many questions as possible. Sometimes this is enough. When they find out I'm serious about understanding their story, some of them get up and leave. Number three, I only help out with food, shelter, or clothing. Period. James 2:15-17 doesn't say anything about gas to visit grandpa, or hotel stays, or anything of the sort. If I can get someone some bread and lunchmeat for a sandwich, or a coat for the winter, I'm happy to help out. But I don't do cash. I don't want to cause them to fall into temptation when they're standing in Tom Thumb trying to decide between baby formula and Jim Beam. Instead, I buy some $5 shopping cards for Walmart and Tom Thumb. I can distribute those as need be, and they don't work on liquor or cigarettes.

Finally, as they leave, I ask to pray for them. I share the Gospel with them. And I almost always tell them about how bad I've been burned in the past, and how I'm going to pray as they leave that if they're taking advantage of me, God would not allow them to look themselves in the mirror until they made things right with Him. That way, I get to be gracious, and a good steward of the finances over which I've been given care.

Just some ideas. But I should wrap them up... someone's knocking at the door.

Gaza Gaffe

In what could be considered a historic moment in the history of the Middle East peace process, Israel has begun an abandonment of the Gaza Strip. Jewish settlers in Gaza were served eviction notices today, and forced by Israel's military to abandon their homes. The settlers vowed to oppose the pullout using peaceful means, and had formed human chains attempting to protect their homes, according to Fox News. Meanwhile, Jewish men donned their white prayer shawls and prayed at the wall for divine intervention.

Unfortunately, the true sadness of Israel's pullout from Gaza does not come from seeing Jewish settlers being forced from their homes. The tragedy of this story is in the fact that the pullout of these thousands of Israelis will ultimately show to have been in vain when it comes to the overall quest for peace in the Middle East.

Land for peace has never worked, and will never work in the Israeli/Palestinian struggle. The struggle for Palestinian leadership is not about land; it's about the complete eradication of Israel from the world's population. Hamas, the Islamic militant organization is already proclaiming the pullout as a retreat by the Israelis, and is citing militant operations against the Israelis as the basis for the pullout. They don't recognize this as a step towards peace - they recognize the pullout as an indication that their terrorist actions have been fruitful. Israel is egging them on, not taking a step towards peace.

Granted, the rank and file Palestinian is not a bloodthirsty madman who dreams each night of the complete annihilation of Israel. But the leadership of the Palestinians is exactly that. And as long as that remains the case, Israel should take its bargaining chips off the table. Know when to hold 'em, and know when to fold 'em.

But Israelis everywhere are drinking the Koolaid. They see this as a sacrifice in order to protect Jerusalem. They're confident that when Palestinian leadership comes calling, and wants to make Jerusalem the Palestinian capital, they'll accept Gaza instead. Wrong. Palestinians are already chanting "Today Gaza, tomorrow Jerusalem."

As the old saying goes, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." Israel has been fooled too many times by empty promises of peace by the Palestinians. It won't work this time, and it won't work next time. (And there will be a next time). It's time for Israel to stop catering to terrorists, and bloodthirsty lunatics, and to stand its ground.


Last night I got the opportunity to talk to my good friend, U.S. Air Force Academy Cadet Ben Gardner. The title "cadet" is new as of yesterday. Previously he was "Basic Cadet Ben Gardner," which means that his life has been a living nightmare for the past several weeks. But beginning today he's on his way to becoming just like Maverick or Iceman from Top Gun. I tried to get him to go by the name "Goose," but he thought it would mean a few extra push-ups, not to mention that Goose dies in the end. It's okay, Goose is his dog's name anyway.

I've only had one chance to visit the Air Force Academy, which is known for its beauty as much as its status as one of the elite military academies in the world. The crowning jewel of the Academy is the chapel, which stands 150 feet high, and boasts 17 spires which point to the heavens. (I'm told the number of spires is insignificant. The architect decided on 17 because it was the most cost effective).

Inside the chapel, cadets can choose from one of five different worship spaces:

The Protestant Chapel is on the upper floor, accented with beautiful stained glass windows that draw the eye to a huge cross that is suspended from the ceiling.

The Catholic Chapel is in the south section of the ground floor. A large glass mosaic is its focal point, containing a ten-foot image of Mary, and one of the Angel Gabriel. The Holy Spirit appears in the mural as a dove. In front of the mural sits the altar, which holds a large crucifix.

The Jewish Chapel is designed as a circle within a square, which signifies the global mission of the USAF, and the overlasting presence of God. The foyer surrounding the synagogue portion of the Chapel is paved with stone imported from Jerusalem. The synagogue also boasts a copy of the Torah that was saved from Nazi destruction during World War II.

The chapel itself is gorgeous. The meticulous attention to detail and beauty in each chapel has made the USAF chapel a tourist attraction for many who travel through Colorado Springs. But the most interesting part of the chapel barely makes the tour. There are two other rooms in the Chapel, that would go unnoticed by the average tourist who didn't know they existed. That's right, in the extravagantly decorated, meticulously detailed USAF Academy Chapel, there are two rooms in the basement with no decorations, no symbolism, and virtually no beauty. They're simply marked "Other." Cadets who worship in the "Other" rooms can check out religious accessories for their belief system at the front desk.

I guess a part of me is amazed at the bravery of a person who will worship in a room titled "Other." Another part of me is, of course, saddened. But to me what's worse than a cadet who chooses to worship in a room marked "Other," is the people all across the world who worship the god named "Other" and don't even realize it.

It seems particularly rampant in America. We go to churches where "Jesus is our homeboy," or where we're determined to "Git 'er done for God," but where the God of the Bible is rarely mentioned, much less worshipped and revered. Instead, we've put God in a box where we want Him, and by the time we're done wrapping Him up, He's a different god altogether. When god ceases to be worshipped as God, we might as well worship in the "Other" room. Unfortunately, that's what many of today's churches should be relabeled, and yet they don't even know it.

Holiness or Happiness?

Kari has been reading "The Sacred Marriage" for a class she is taking at DTS this fall. It was laying on the coffee table last night as I walked by, and something about the subtitle struck me.

I was awake most of the night last night because I hurt my shoulder last night playing softball and couldn't ever get positioned right in the bed. And Gary Thomas's (or his publisher's) words kept coming into my mind.

"What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?"

I love that. Now, don't misunderstand, I am very happy in my marriage. Kari and I have a great relationship. I married up - God has blessed me with an amazing wife, which I don't take for granted. But I think Gary Thomas is on to something, and I love the way he puts it.

Most couples cite "irreconcilable differences" as the cause of their marriage breakup, which seems to be code language for "I'm just not happy anymore." It seems as though if I had a dollar for the number of times I had heard people excuse their divorce by saying "I'm just not happy anymore," I could retire to a private island in the Caribbean tomorrow. Marriage cannot just be about happiness, an emotion which changes from day to day.

This isn't to suggest that God doesn't intend our marriages to be happy - certainly He does. But it seems our culture in general has faulty expectations when it comes to marriage, and that those faulty expectations are leading to faulty marriages. Happiness cannot be the end in and of itself in marriage or in life.

The overarching will of God for our life is holiness (1 Thessalonians 4:1-3, 1 Peter 1:15), not specifically our happiness. Holiness will sometimes bring earthly happiness, and will certainly produce eternal happiness, but it's holiness that is the goal in everything. Gary Thomas's subtitle may sound trite, or like a meaningless, cute saying, but make no mistake: The difference between living toward a goal of achieving my maximum happiness, or of achieving Christ's maximum glory is night and day.

Trading My Sorrows

Trading My Sorrows
Darrell Evans
I'm trading my sorrows,
I'm trading my shame
I'm laying them down
For the joy of the Lord

I'm trading my sickness, I'm trading my pain
I'm laying them down, For the joy of the Lord

Yes, Lord

I'm pressed but not crushed,
Persecuted not abandoned
Struck down but not destroyed.
I am blessed beyond the curse
For his promise will endure,
That his joy is going to be my strength
Though my sorrows may last for the night,
His joy comes with the morning
As a worship leader, I didn't program this song for years after it came out, because I completely missed the point. On first read the song seems to contain a "prosperity gospel" message, that if you truly put your faith in Christ, you'll never have any problems, sickness, pain, sorrow, or struggle. Although this "prosperity message" is gaining popularity, it doesn't stand the test of Scripture. The world hates followers of Jesus Christ (John 15:18) and will persecute them for keeping His Word (15:20). Jesus promised His disciples "In the world you have tribulation..." (John 16:33).

But Darrell Evans' song isn't denying the first part of John 16:33. It's reminding the Christian that our hope is in the second half of the verse. "Take heart. I have overcome the world." The point of Jesus' comment, and my understanding of "Trading My Sorrows," is about attitude. When we face sorrow, sickness, shame, or pain, we have a choice. We can live life "under the circumstances," and spend our time griping, complaining, and feeling sorry for ourselves, or we can focus our minds on the promise of John 16:33 that Jesus has overcome the world.

I hate broccoli with the white hot intensity of a thousand flames. I'll always wonder why God created broccoli, and beyond that, why He made it healthy. But, I've found I can choke broccoli down if I have a Dr. Pepper in my hand. I hate broccoli, but I love Dr. Pepper. And I've found that if I chew up and swallow a piece of broccoli, and then take a quick chug of Dr. Pepper, the Dr. Pepper quickly washes away the disgusting taste in my mouth that the broccoli left. The knowledge that Dr. Pepper is coming makes the broccoli bearable.

That's the point of the song. In this world, you will have broccoli. But why focus on the broccoli when Dr. Pepper is right around the corner?

Biblical "Scholarship"

An Associated Press article appeared in the Dallas Morning News on August 2 regarding a current controversy over the curriculum selected for an elective course in Bible at many public schools throughout the country. (Read the full article here)

The Texas Freedom Network hired a professor from Southern Methodist University, Mark A. Chancey to review the curriculum produced by the National Council for Bible Curriculum. He was not impressed with the curriculum, primarily for 5 reasons:
  1. It characterizes the Bible as inspired by God.
  2. Discussions of science are based on the claims of biblical creationists
  3. Jesus is referred to as fulfilling Old Testament prophecy
  4. Archaeological findings are erroneously used to support claims of the Bible's historical accuracy.
  5. The course suggests that the Bible, instead of the Constitution, be considered the nation's founding document.

Chancey suggests that the Bible should be taught with a "scholarly" approach "without presenting a personal belief."

"I do it all the time," he said.

How can Southern Methodist University, or Dr. Chancey himself take his title as "biblical scholar" seriously? Regardless of Dr. Chancey's personal feelings concerning the Bible, one wonders how a serious Bible curriculum could teach anything other than the 5 things Dr. Chancey outlines above.

The Bible is stuffed full of claims that it is inspired by God. (Deuteronomy 1:3, 2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:20-21 come immediately to mind). To teach the Bible without addressing the Bible's claims about itself would be irresponsible, if not flat out dishonest.

Chancey gripes that this Bible curriculum bases its discussion of science on claims of biblical creationists. Frankly, what did he expect it would base its discussions on? The claims of unbiblical creationists? The Bible itself begins with the fundamental idea that God created the earth, and therefore exists above and separate from His creation. That fact forms the basis for the rest of Scripture. If a Bible curriculum doesn't understand even the most foundational of the Bible's claims, how can it be accepted as a reliable teaching tool?

The four books of the Bible dedicated to telling the story of Jesus' life and ministry are jam packed with Old Testament quotations. Most of these quotations contain prophesies from the Old Testament which Jesus fulfilled. In fact, most Old Testament scholars count more than 300 prophesies from the Old Testament that were fulfilled by Jesus Christ. Even Jesus Himself claimed to fulfill prophesy in Luke 4:21, when He told the religious leaders he was fulfilling Isaiah 61:1-2 before their very eyes.

Chancey might have a legitimate gripe with his fourth item, if archaeology was the only source biblical historians looked to for their verification of the historical accuracy of the Bible. However, when that external archaeology is combined with the historical testimony of other non- Jewish/Christian writings of the time, and with the internal track record of accuracy the Bible has had over the past thousands of years, claims against the historical accuracy of the Bible are the ones that begin to look erroneous.

Although Chancey's last complaint doesn't chap me on biblical grounds, it's still unfair. I'm no political scientist, but I know the Declaration of Independence came before the Constitution, and began the process of establishing an identity for a nation which would soon draft their constitution. And the Declaration of Independence begins with the foundation that each individual is "created equal," and is "endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights..." That's right, the first official document of the United States of America based the rights and priveleges of America's citizens on those "endowed by a Creator." Those rights, which would be codified in the Constitution, are irrevocable because they lie in the hands of a Creator God. Without a reasonable doubt, the God these authors intended was the God of the Bible.

Scholarly integrity demands that our teachers teach the material they are expected to teach in an honest, forthright way. To teach the Bible in a scholarly manner, but avoid its claims as Dr. Chancey recommends is a ridiculous impossibility, and a request that has at its root an evil desire to exchange the truth of God for a lie.


Recently, The University of South Carolina admitted to 10 violations of NCAA rules with respect to their football program. Five of these violations were considered "major violations" by the NCAA. (See here for more information) Each of the violations took place during the tenure of Lou Holtz, the legendary former coach of Notre Dame who retired from USC before the violations came to light.

On August 2nd, Holtz made an appearance on the new ESPN show "Quite Frankly" where he was asked about the possibility that the violations would tarnish his legacy. The host, Stephen A. Smith asked Holtz if he worried about the way people might remember him after he is gone. Lou Holtz responded:

"They're going to forget all about Lou Holtz...Don't worry about when I die. Three days later people are going to realize that I am not resurrected, and forget all about Lou Holtz."

As I watched Holtz's comments replayed on Sportscenter yesterday morning, I couldn't help but shake my head. Sadly, Holtz's perspective on life and legacy highlights a sentiment that is everywhere today: We're born, we live, we retire, we die. American culture today as a whole is focused solely on the 80 years or so between our first and last breaths.

Concepts such as legacy, significance, and purpose have been redefined to speak of a goal which is acheivable in this lifetime, but irrelavent upon death. Buildings are named for wealthy businessmen who pour their finances into an organization - a sign of success to today's generation, although everyone knows those very same buildings will be renamed or replaced once that donor is no longer useful to the organization. Significance is defined by each individual's 15 minutes of fame, but waxes and wanes with the ever-changing fads and trends of the time.

The refocusing of this culture's priorities has had a counter-effect that no one anticipated, and few have taken the time to recognize. The shift has spawned a generation completely devoid of hope. The reason is simple: If legacy, significance, and success are defined and limited to the span between each individual's first and last breath, hope is limited to the same boundaries.

Maybe it should be natural for the world apart from Christ to think in these terms. Those who are simply born, and only have life in a human body must find their significance and success in the time frame during which that human body is functioning. From the moment the body breathes its first breath, the clock begins ticking away the seconds until that body will expire. There is no hope beyond that.

But Christians should never allow themselves to be limited to such a narrow view of life and hope. According to 1 Peter 1:23 "[We] have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable..."

For those who have been born again of an imperishable seed, we are not in the process of dying - We're in the process of living. Eternal life is a present posession of those who have put their faith in Christ (John 5:24). Life doesn't end at the grave. Significance isn't measured by accomplishments which will only last for a time. And "legacy isn't just a catch word that makes us sound like we're concerned about the welfare of others. As those who are given eternal life, we are given the awesome responsibility of living a life with that timeframe in mind.

Giving In...

After all the lessons, prodding, begging, pleading, and arm twisting the teenagers at Arlington Community Church to not give in to peer pressure, I've done it myself. My very own blog is now up and running.

I've never been a diary guy, so I'm not sure how I'll do with this. But the blogworld seems as good an opportunity as any for me to give some of you who know me an inside track into what goes on in my OCD mind.

Hang on while I figure this thing out. The blog train has left the building.