Thursday, May 31, 2007


I have a confession to make.

I hope you don't mind, but I've really got to get something out in the open, and this seems like just the place to do it. Okay, here it is:

I am still a huge fan of Rock and Pop music from the late 70's and early 80's .

Yup. I admit it. Van Halen, The Clash, Billy Squier, The Go Go's, Foreigner, Scorpions, Rush, The Police, Styx, old U2, and- even early Rick Springfield (oh, the humanity!). You name it, I probably like it. (And yes, I agree- that's most likely the first time Rush and The Go Go's were used in the same sentence.)

In 1980, the band Styx released "Paradise Theatre", arguably their last really great album. On it was a catchy little song called "Too Much Time on My Hands". (Come on children of the 80's, do you remember?) It was sort of a tongue-in-cheek song about the ups and downs of having no real purpose. Behind the synthesizer-bass, Tommy Shaw sang about a guy who's outlook changes from depression to optimism- all because he found a place where people would listen to him.

I would have to agree that our perspective on life can change just because we have a place to go where we feel like we fit and people know us (cue the music from "Cheers"). But by the end of the song, the guy admits that the people around him are there primarily because he's buying them drinks. Sooner or later he knows he'll be right back where he started (The last line in the final verse is, "Is it any wonder I'm null and void?") Still, while everybody is with him, he feels like he belongs. And even if he has to buy it and it's temporary, he wants that feeling.

What we're talking about here is community, and when it is built (intentionally or instinctively) on love, acceptance and grace, it is a very beautiful thing. I'm not sure there is really any way to accurately quantify the effects of true community. And when that atmosphere of grace, love and acceptance is Christ-centered (the original and purest example) and the group is open, there are no limits to what God can do in someone's life, or how the community can grow. Of course, this kind of openness and acceptance takes some effort. Sometimes people really don't know how to go about it. And sometimes people just don't want to work that hard. But we all still want that feeling of belonging.

Because of this, people will sometimes attempt to build a form of community around other things. There are several examples, but for the sake of space here, I'd like to mention just one: The common enemy. This can effectively bring a group of people together, even when they can't seem to agree on or be organized around anything else. Don't believe me? Just read our history. After enduring a decade of the Great Depression, a common enemy unified and organized a large enough majority of the U.S. population in World War II that a byproduct was the healing of our nation's economy. If that's too far back to seem relevant to you, just think about how many flags you saw flying and how many people you saw hugging each other during the weeks that followed the attack on the World Trade Center.

This is not a commentary on any particular war, or even on war in general. This moment in history however, does illustrate a point I want to make. Today as I drove my kids to school, I didn't see as many flags out front as I did a couple of years ago, and I didn't notice many people spontaneously hugging each other. Do people not care any more? Of course they do. But national pride must be rooted in the nation, not in an act of terrorism. My point is simply this: A "common enemy" is only a temporary reminder of the value of our community; it is not a sustainable purpose for it.

Here's the problem as I see it: A group that finds community in a common enemy will be united only as long as they have an enemy. It's conditional community. And this is true for ANY community- a country, an activist group, a union, a fraternity, a church.

There are certainly times when we are called to make a stand as believers. But if you find yourself in such a situation, I would like to suggest that you ask yourself a simple question: "Does this group find its purpose in what it is for, or what it is against?" If the answer is "against", please be careful in how you proceed (no matter how positive the "against" is painted). When you decide to join a group that has defined itself by standing against an enemy, you may discover that you need to find new enemies in order to continue to have purpose. Eventually, finding new enemies may quietly become the purpose

"Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. " -2Timothy 2:23

I can remember a week of church camp that illustrates this point perfectly.

I was working as a lifeguard and groundskeeper (for those of you who know me, try not to fixate on the lifeguard part- I don't want you to pass out from laughter). The camp dean had decided that he didn't want to overwork his volunteers, so he gave each adult only one job to do. This worked out to about an hour and a half to two hours each day for most of his staff. For most, the remaining hours were spent under the large picnic shelter, drinking tea and talking. For the first day or so the adults seemed glad to have the time off. But by Wednesday, they began to "notice" things.

It began when one of the ladies was certain that she had discovered fleas in the playground sand and called the group together to discuss whether this might pose a potential health risk to the campers. A closer inspection by the camp staff revealed the bugs to be gnats, which are annoying, but harmless. This however, prompted some of the adults to question whether the camp staff (a common enemy) might be telling the truth about the bugs. By the time the insects were confirmed to be gnats, we had a full-scale problem on our hands.

On my way into the shop while cutting the grass one afternoon, I crossed paths with one of the guys. He was carrying a power drill and a long extension chord and headed for the girls dorm (no, it wasn't a horror movie). He informed me that the "group" had discovered that the ceramic soap dishes mounted to each shower stall did not drain properly, and the standing water might pose any number of threats to the campers. He was going over to drill holes in each of the soap dishes. I have to confess- I think I just stared at him for a minute, in stunned disbelief. Then, as seriously as I could muster, I asked him if he had considered what might happen if he drilled a hole through the finish on each soap dish, allowing the water to soak into the ceramic on the inside. "Instead of drilling out each soap dish and causing them to disintegrate," I asked, "perhaps we could just send someone through to wipe them dry each day?" I got to take the drill back to the shop.

But as I was coming out, another small group of men emerged from the trail leading to the creek, carrying the chainsaw. "We went down to clear a couple of trees that were an eyesore across the creek, but we dropped the (running) chainsaw in, so we weren't able to finish the job." I quietly accepted the dead chainsaw and walked back to the shop, humming an old 80's rock song by the group Styx (Cue synthesizer bass) -perhaps you know the one I'm thinking of...

In Him We Live,


p.s. - To not include a section of scripture that I think perfectly outlines what real community looks like would be sort of ironic, considering what I just wrote about. But it also just seemed better to let it have a separate space- like a mini "part 2" of what is above. It doesn't need any explanation, so I will let it speak for itself:

"They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." -Acts 2:42-47

Friday, May 18, 2007


My refrigerator is an art gallery.

It's been this way for almost a decade now. Both of my girls love to draw and paint pictures, and they're great artists. I know what you're thinking: "Okay Dad, everybody thinks their child is a great artist." It's true, parents tend to be a little subjective in this area. But seriously, these two really aren't bad. I look forward to what they will bring home from art class or up from the basement playroom where we keep the file cabinet full of crayons, markers and water colors.

I especially love the stuff they make just for me. I have cards, notes and lots of pictures on everything from construction paper to Popsicle sticks to rocks, and quite a few randomly-shaped pieces of paper retrieved lovingly for them from the discard pile at the office by a certain wonderful church secretary. Sometimes I'll open a book that I haven't looked through for awhile and find one of those small pieces of paper marking a place with a picture of a stick version of me smiling and holding hands with a smiling little stick person. I love those because I know they were drawn to send me a message, and I like what it says.

Actually, some of those simple pictures mean much more to me than the increasingly difficult projects they do at school. Don't get me wrong- those projects are beautiful and I am both proud of their achievement and impressed with their developing talent. But when that talent is mixed with their heart- even if it's just a couple of stick people smiling and holding hands- then, I am captivated.

I have heard more than one person say, "I don't know what to say when I pray," or "I'm sure God has better things to do than listen to me." As far as I'm concerned, statements like these just don't make sense when I think about those pictures. Complex prayers are fine, but they aren't necessary to capture God's attention any more than the complex art projects are for my daughters to capture mine. And you may think God has better things to do than listen to you, but then again, you're not God, are you?

"In him (Christ) and through faith in him (Christ again) we may approach God with freedom and confidence." -Ephesians 3:12 (New International Version)

Did you catch that? If you have faith in Jesus, you can come into the very presence of God and be confident that He is glad you are there. (For more on this, see Ephesians 1:5-6)

In a way, our prayers are like those pictures. If our hearts are attached to them, it doesn't matter whether it is a complex "project" designed to go into great detail or a simple message, like a couple of stick figures. Especially if that message is saying "I Love You."

In Him We Live,


Friday, May 4, 2007

Lost in Translation

Just a couple of random thoughts this week that came together and made me laugh.

One of the first classes I took last fall was called "Research and Writing for Graduate Studies." It is an online class that is required for all students, but doesn't result in any actual credit toward graduation.

It's a class about how to write papers, use the library, and do research.

Yes, it was every bit as fun as it sounds. (I didn't think you could find a hundred different test questions to ask about using the library, but sure enough...)

One of our more practical assignments was to share two or three web sites that we consider valuable for ministry. After a number of people had posted as a favorite, I knew I wanted to check it out. It is a great web site that allows you to access several different translations of the Bible anywhere you can log onto the web. I'm finding it very helpful while I'm writing papers, lessons, and this blog. It's actually been so helpful that I wanted to see if there were other study helps out there. One of the sites I found is, which provides several really cool resources, like a translation of the Bible in English sitting side-by-side or "parallel" with a translation in ancient Greek. There's also a dictionary for the ancient Greek words so you can look up what they literally mean and see how the English translation compares.

The only drawback for me is that the only English translation provided on that site is the King James Version.

For as long as I've been regularly reading the Bible, I've been using a newer translation, like the NIV or the New Living Translation. I've just always felt that the modern language used in the contemporary versions make them more culturally relevant today. Because of this, I haven't used that site too much.

Or, maybe it's just because I'm stubborn.

At any rate, during my last course something happened that gave me a new appreciation for the old language.

We were talking about redemption and the professor was using Exodus chapter 13:12-13 as an example from the Old Testament:

12 you shall set apart to the Lord all that first opens the womb. All the firstborn of your animals that are males shall be the Lord's. (which means they must be sacrificed.) 13 Every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. Every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem. (This is from the ESV, which is what I think he was using.)

This practice was to be a reminder of the final plague while they were in slavery, of the passover, and ultimately of God's deliverance of the Jewish people from Egypt and Pharaoh.

The lesson was interesting enough, but as he read, I remembered hearing Rich Mullins talk about this same verse; about how one of his professors had made a point of using the King James Version when he taught about it, and how funny it was. Later, I got online and confirmed my suspicions. Here's how it reads:

12That thou shalt set apart unto the LORD all that openeth the matrix, and every firstling that cometh of a beast which thou hast; the males shall be the LORD's.
13And every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break his neck: and all the firstborn of man among thy children shalt thou redeem.

Hmmm... An ass is redeemed by a lamb. I'm starting to think that those King James translators might be more relevant than I originally suspected...

It seems like there's an application to be made somewhere.

Perhaps I'm just too stubborn to see it.

In Him We Live,