Archive for December, 2009

Messy Spirituality

Saturday, December 26th, 2009

The book Messy Spirituality by Michael Yaconelli calls Christians to come out of hiding and stop pretending that they’re flawless.  We should refuse to lie, or to allow others to believe that we are something that we are not.  If we’re suffering from depression, we should admit it, even if our “spiritual” friends believe that Christians shouldn’t have depression.

Unfortunately, many in the church have become self-appointed “Kingdom Monitors,” guarding the Kingdom of God, and keeping out the riffraff.  The church has falsely communicated that competence is one of the fruits of the Spirit.  The church is indeed a place for the incompetent, the unfinished, the unhealthy, the odd, the unfashionable, the unconventional, and the counter-cultural.

Yaconelli boldly proclaims that the Christian life is not a life of success.  Rather, it is a life of faithfulness, and difficulties.  God’s love is forever there to pick us up when we fall.  Yaconelli calls His love “annoying,” even when we don’t feel like accepting it. He even refers to God’s grace as “sticky”–a “conspiracy of grace” that is dependable, and somewhat contagious.

We should stop seeking perfection and start seeking God.  He is omnipresent in “the tangledness” of our lives.  If you want a quick read for encouragement, try Messy Spirituality, God’s Annoying Love for Imperfect People.

What If A Pastor Doesn’t Feed His Flock? (Ezekiel 34:8-10)

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

The Bible often uses the analogy of a shepherd tending his flock in order to demonstrate how a pastor should tend the congregation that God has placed under his care.  Ezekiel 34:8-10 sends a stern warning to our pastors:

“… because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock…  I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves.  I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.”

We try to color coat the way today’s churches are drifting away from the basics of Bible study and prayer.  We like to call it a new paradigm, but the truth is that many churches today lack a shepherd to teach them the truth of God’s Word.  As a result, many churches have indeed been plundered and their congregations have become food for the predators in shepherd’s clothing who use them to satisfy their own appetites for power and money to feed their own egos.  These predators care more about themselves than they do about their flock–a new paradigm indeed.

Wow, God is very blunt here.  How would you like to hear God tell you that He is against you?  He says that He will hold these false shepherds accountable for His flock.

Christianity is a personal relationship with Christ, and each person is accountable for his own belief in the gospel, and for the individual decisions that he makes in living the Christian life.  Still, this passage brings into focus the corporate aspect of our faith.  We don’t live isolated lives, and God has put a particular process into place for helping individual believers to bring the maximum amount of glory to God.  This process includes a pastor-teacher who is to care for the spiritual needs of his flock.

God’s dire warning to wayward pastors is that he will remove them from their leadership roles, leaving the members of that congregation without the resources that they need to feed themselves.  Just as in the physical world, the ignorant sheep are constantly in need of a shepherd who will lead them to new pastures with fresh grass to fill their stomachs.  Instead of this analogy, many pastors today are instead feeding themselves off their own flock.

However, God promises to rescue these sheep from the mouths of such pastors.  He will not let this situation continue forever.  The sheep will somehow be able to find sources of food.  However, it’s the wayward pastor who should be nervous about his future.

How I Learned to Live With Failure

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

I hate to fail.  Failure seems to reflect poorly on me as a person.  It says that I was incapable and / or incompetent.  It seems to imply that I wasn’t smart enough, although it’s often just the result of poor judgment.  Sometimes I seem to fail at the most important things, and succeed only at the little mundane tasks for which I seem over-qualified. 

I feel the same way about sin.  I hate to sin, but I keep doing it, and confessing it to God.  I find myself repeating the same sin, and having to confess it over and over again. 

Well, sin and failure are just part of our lives because we still live in the flesh.  However, they also represent how we learn.  We learn through our mistakes. 

I’ve recently been dabbling in Internet Marketing, and I’ve learned a lot from my mentor.  One of his favorite slogans is that we should learn how to “fail fast.”  We should expect failures, learn how to recognize them, and then quickly move on to another project. 

Failures shouldn’t leave us with guilt and self-pity.  We should chalk them up as a valuable learning experience, and be glad that we won’t have to make those same mistakes again.

The Path of Least Resistance – Matthew 10:14

Friday, December 18th, 2009

Matthew 10:14 says, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town.”  I think this teaches us something about taking the path of least resistance. 

Have you ever wasted time pursuing something that probably was never important enough to pursue?  I do this all the time, but I need to stop it.  I keep hitting roadblocks on my little pet project.  I think that these roadblocks are an indication that I’m “not welcome” to go down that path.  When I hit such a roadblock, I need to ask myself whether or not this project is really worth spending my time on.  If not, I need to cut my losses (in the time I’ve already spent on it), and just move on to a more worthwhile project. 

Of course, we need to consider whether or not Satan is placing the roadblock in our path.  If so, we need to keep pursuing, but we just need to make this judgment call when we hit the roadblock. 

On the other hand, sometimes (maybe while even pursuing a certain project), some other project just falls into our lap, and we can quickly step right through it, with everything seeming to just fall into place. 

We just need to learn how to discern what God wants us to be doing.  This comes through experience.  We need to take a look back once in a while, and survey where we’ve been productive in our Christian lives, and where we’ve only spun our wheels.

Have We Gone Pet Crazy?

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

I’ve had pets for most of my life, and I understand the value of their companionship.  However, I think that we’ve gone a little pet crazy in recent days, and I’m aware that my opinions will infuriate some pet lovers.  The love and compassion that some people have for their pets seems to equal that which they have for their own children.  Have we really become incapable of discerning the difference between a relationship with an animal and one with a fellow human being?

It even makes me uncomfortable to hear people tell their pets that they “love” them.  Do they mean that they love this animal in the same way that they love a fellow human being?  If so, doesn’t this belittle the effect when that person then tells another person that he “loves” him?  If not, then is this “love” another one of those words that actually needs further clarification?

We already spend billions of dollars on health care for our pets–so much that many pet owners now feel that it’s necessary to buy health insurance and even auto-injury insurance for their pets.  I recently read about a cat receiving the H1N1 vaccination even when most high-risk humans hadn’t yet received it.

Animal activists have become quite concerned about the methods of animal euthanasia, such as when a dog pound becomes over-crowded.  They’re fretting over whether carbon monoxide poisoning or lethal injection is more “humane” for these animals.  Incidentally, I find it odd that dictionaries have updated the term “humane” in recent years, to include compassion for animals as well as for other “human” beings?  Doesn’t it seem like we need a different word for this, since “humane” is just “human” with an “e” on the end?  To me, a term such as “compassionate” might be more appropriate.

In a recent episode of “Grey’s Anatomy,” surgeons were able to use certain body parts from pigs in order to correct certain ailments in humans.  Afterward, the story centered on the deep compassion of one of the doctors who was heart-broken to have to put the pigs to death after the required body parts had been successfully extracted from them.

When Michael Vick was convicted, most people were more concerned about his cruelty and abuse of animals than they were about his involvement in an illegal interstate dog fighting ring.  Even after he paid for his crime with 18 months in prison, many pet lovers not only wanted him banned from professional athletics, but they seemed to wish that he had received a life sentence without parole.  Hmmm, I wonder if this incident might have even changed the minds of some liberals about the death penalty.  After all, isn’t it logical that if a human being abuses an animal, the human being should be killed?  Now how would one justify such a code of morality?  Certainly not from the Bible.

Recently the local news in Dallas reported on a burglary where the intruder stole the family dog.  The owners said, “He is family to us,” and the reported ended his report by saying that the owners would never be able replace the dog, as it was “…the only thing they really valued.”  Really?  A dog is the only thing they really valued?  Isn’t that one toke over the line?

Post-Rapture Pet Care

However, speaking of the Bible, I recently read an article at entitled “No Rapture for Rover?”  It dealt with the end-days scenario where, as many Christians believe, Jesus Christ will return to earth to rapture (take up) His Church into heaven.  However, it added a new twist, citing that those Christians’ pets will be left “homeless,” without an owner to care for them.  The article spoke about a man named Bart Centre, an atheist and co-owner of Eternal Earthbound Pets, which is offering a post-Rapture pet care service.  It’s a satirical venture, since he believes in neither the Bible nor the rapture, where he would care for the wayward pets when their Christian owners are raptured.

Centre has a website where Christians in 22 states can sign up for his service for $110, which covers the 10-year period following the rapture; and, he’s even had some paying clients.  When a Christian signs up, Centre arranges for the post-rapture care of their pets, using his network of atheist family and friends (who will be left behind).  He also makes arrangements for any special needs of each pet, to make sure that they are comfortable during the tribulation–the seven years of trouble on earth which many Christians believe will follow the Rapture.

Of course, since Centre believes in neither the rapture nor the tribulation, his business venture offers no refunds.  He said. “If I thought the Rapture was really going to happen, I wouldn’t have the business.”

Some, of course, consider it to be a scam, since the client wouldn’t even be around to follow up.  Others who have heard about this idea have proposed that, if the people in Heaven miss their pets, they can decide to have them brought up later–apparently a fairy tale that makes some Christians feel better.

In speaking of Adam and Eve, Genesis 1:28 says, “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.'”  Our best theologians indicate that the word “subdue” here is best described with the phrases:  to tread down; to conquer; subjugate; violate; bring into bondage; force; keep under; and, bring into subjection.

Now, does this indicate that we have the right to be cruel to animals, and to abuse them at our will?  Of course not.  This is obvious from many other verses in the Bible that repeatedly command us to be compassionate beings, and to be good stewards of all that God has entrusted to our care.

It’s Just a Matter of Priorities

As I’ve said, it is obviously wrong for anyone to abuse animals.  It’s just that our priorities have become unbalanced on this issue.  There’s a television commercial sponsored by a certain humane society that shows skinny abused animals, and asks for donations to “help stop animal abuse worldwide.”  Now really, aren’t there more pressing (human) issues where these billions of dollars could be spent?

A related television news article reported on animal abuse at a pig farm where workers were “tossing baby pigs around like they were footballs,” and “pregnant pigs were being kept in very small pens.”  Now, back to reality, when they showed one worker tossing a baby pig about two feet to another worker, this was quite obviously the most efficient way for the workers to transport the pigs from one pen to another, with no “abuse” involved.  Also, farmers have always kept their pigs in small pens, pregnant or not (instead of in luxury hotels).  These are simply economic choices so that Americans can keep buying pork products at reasonable prices, and they do not constitute animal abuse.

All I’m saying is that we need to keep things in perspective.  Humans are intelligent creatures with a soul and a spirit, while animals are not.  Yes, I suppose that it takes a certain degree of intelligence (or instinct) to be able to be taught to perform some simple tasks through a repetition / reward approach, and a few animal species are capable of this.  However, this doesn’t qualify them to be categorized as intelligent creatures.  Intelligence includes some reasoning capabilities.  However, if a bird builds a nest that gets blown down by the wind or that gets destroyed by a predator, that same bird will rebuild its nest in virtually the same way, in the same place, and out of the same materials as before, instead of going through a reasoning process of improving the nest by perhaps using a different location, method, or set of materials.

Let’s be reasonable about this.  After all, our pets can’t be.  Shouldn’t we be more concerned with human abuse than with animal abuse?  Is it worse to keep pregnant pigs in a small pen and toss around their baby pigs, or to torture and kill human children by aborting them from a pregnant human mother?

Cost-Benefit Analysis on Iraq and Afghanistan

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

Is it time to withdraw from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?  Let’s step back for a moment and consider the current status of both wars:


The cost of lives for the U.S. is about 6,000:  5,200 from our military, plus 800 civilian contractors and journalists.  The deaths for Iraqi soldiers and other Coalition forces total 10,500.  Estimates for the number of Iraqi civilians killed range as high as 600,000.  In addition, the count of those seriously wounded is some 34,000 for the U.S. military, and 6,000 for other coalition forces.

The cost in money for the U.S. taxpayers is nearly $1 trillion on these wars.  The cost of deploying each U.S. soldier for one year in Iraq is $390,000.  This is only adding to the mounting deficit due to the unprecedented spending of the Obama administration, all during poor global economic conditions, and a falling dollar.

Some 2.5 million people have been displaced from their homes.  Inflation in Iraq is as high as 50%, and unemployment 60%.  28% of Iraqi children suffer from chronic malnutrition.  Most homes have electricity for less than two hours per day; only 37% are connected to a sewer system; and, only 30% have adequate access to water.  All of these statistics are much worse than before the war started.

82% of Iraqis are strongly opposed to the presence of coalition troops.  Less than 1% believe that Coalition forces improved security; 72% have no confidence in the coalition forces; and, 67% feel less secure because of our occupation.  In addition, most U.S. citizens are now opposed to these wars.

I suppose that we could chalk up a benefit to the fact that there are 180,000 private contractors in Iraq, making money hand-over-fist, although (as noted above), at the risk of coming home in a body bag as well.


Maybe we’ve averted some terrorist attacks, but where’s the evidence?  Couldn’t we have made just as much progress in this regard without these wars?


The war in Afghanistan was justified at first, because we were after Bin Laden.  However, our efforts continue to fail, due to non-cooperation from the local population, as well as incompetence on the part of both our (the world’s best?) military and intelligence.

Justification for the Iraqi War was always shaky, at best, and constantly changing in order to sound convincing:  First it was due to violation of U.N. sanctions; then supposed (but non-existent) weapons of mass destruction; and, then a supposed (but non-existent) tie between Bin Laden and Hussein.  Then our military and intelligence failed us again, due, in part, to mismanagement of the war by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, etc.  (I’m a political conservative, but that administration failed in this regard, and the Obama administration is following in step.)


While critics of the war call this situation another Vietnam, the proponents of the war say that it pales in comparison.  However, as each day and year go by, these wars look more and more like Vietnam.  We choose to continue losing our young men and women instead of decisively winning the wars, due to concerns about political correctness, such as suffering a poor reputation from other countries for excessive civilian casualties (although 600,000 have already been killed).

Although we suffered 58,000 deaths in Vietnam, we’ve now lost 6,000 in these wars, plus another 10,000 in Coalition forces.  When we add the 34,000 of severely wounded to that number (50,000 total casualties), and the numbers keep increasing every month, these wars do indeed seem like another Vietnam.  We’re in our ninth year now, and Vietnam lasted only 16 years.  Not even the Civil War, WWI, WWII, or the Korean War lasted this long.  Also, just like Vietnam, the proponents of the war claim that we’re winning, since the death toll for our enemy is 55,000, compared to 17,000 for Coalition.  This is probably a more convincing argument for those who have none of their family members in this number.

Looking back at these mismanaged wars, one can draw a sad analogy.  In retaliation for the 3,000 deaths we suffered on 9/11, we’ve chosen to add another 6,000 deaths of our own countrymen to that number, and over 600,000 from other allied countries.  Perhaps most importantly, our intelligence is too poor to find Bin Laden, despite our superior technology and manpower.

Yes, if we’re not determined for a quick victory, it’s time to cut our losses and get out.

Stale Prayer Lists

Monday, December 7th, 2009

Why have my last couple of posts been about our ineffectiveness of prayer and confession in our spiritual lives?  Well, I’m a little frustrated by what I call our “stale prayer lists.”  Isn’t something wrong if our prayer list remains relatively the same over time?  Doesn’t this imply that God is not answering most of these prayers? 

Some churches publish a prayer list in their weekly bulletin.  Unfortunately, in many situations, these lists change very little from week to week, except that they become longer.  We would hope that this would like a revolving door–older prayers would be answered as new prayer requests are added.  Instead, the lists just grow, and the font becomes smaller so that they can be contained on a single page.  Then, I ask myself, how many people in the congregation are actually reading the requests in this small font, and actually praying through the names and situations listed there? 

I’m not sure what’s wrong, but I believe that stale prayer lists are a sign of stale Christianity.

Guilt and Repentance – Often Misunderstood

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

I believe that the most important verse in the Bible for believers is 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” This is the method for maintaining our temporal fellowship with Christ. When a believer sins, we lose that temporal fellowship (though not our eternal fellowship), and our ministries will lose effectiveness until we restore that temporal fellowship through confession. So, if we are going to make a difference with our Christian lives, we must practice 1 John 1:9.

Confession of sin just means that we name our sins to God (not to any man). We just think of every sin we’ve committed (since we last named all of our recalled sins to God), name them to Him, and He not only forgives us, but He also forgets that sin. It’s covered by Christ’s blood on the cross, so it’s like we never even did it.

Now, the key to confession is for us to also forget that sin. If we don’t forget that sin, and we don’t acknowledge God’s forgiveness of that sin, then we’re going to dwell on it. This is going to create guilt, and that guilt itself is a sin. So, we’re in a vicious circle of sin. We confess our sins, and we immediately feel (or retain) guilt for that sin, then we immediately lose that temporal fellowship again, so our confession didn’t even work as God intends for it to work. In other words, most of us are ineffective in our spiritual lives because we’re eaten up by guilt.

Along with guilt, our misunderstanding of repentance can also destroy our effectiveness. Since repentance means to “turn around,” or turn away from our sins. When we recognize that we’re confessing the same sin over and over, we realize that we have a problem with an habitual sin, and this scares us to death. This creates a new problem for us: We worry about committing that sin again. Of course, we shouldn’t commit that sin again, but, just as with guilt, our worry is a sin, so again we’ve lost the effectiveness of confession. Instead of focusing on the possibility_ of our committing that sin again, we simply need to accept and appreciate our current state of cleansing that confession provides for us. Of course, we are going to try not to commit that sin again. However, even if we do, from the point of confession until the point of re-committing that sin, we’re clean. We’re in a state of spiritual effectiveness, and that’s what’s important. If we slip, and commit that sin again, we simply confess it again, and continue to ask for power over that sin.

I realize that many fundamental preachers would reject this logic. They would argue that if one is in a state of habitual sin, then he cannot be effective. However, I would argue that the guilt and worry caused by this is an additional habitual sin, so there’s no way out of this vicious cycle. We simply need to confess our sins, ask for power over them, and practice effective spiritual lives. Then, when we sin again, we simply repeat the process.