Monday, December 31, 2007

Character and all that

Young people today are all for honesty and good character as long as it doesn’t require honesty and character to get there.

I heard a radio report yesterday, breathlessly describing survey results that show young people are lying, cheating, plagiarizing, and stealing on a regular basis. This was no Christian radio station but a secular news program, agonizing over the future if these teens move into the business world.

How, the hosts wondered, could business survive if populated by workers who lacked good character?

Maybe the teens are the honest ones. They have been immersed in the tolerance culture, where every choice is legitimate and to be honored. Haven’t we said there are no absolutes? Haven’t we been offended by the idea of absolute right or wrong?

They’re getting it.

Here are some results, based on a 2006 survey:

  • 82% admit they lied to parent within the past 12 months about something significant
  • 57% said they lied two or more times.
  • 62% admit they lied to teacher within the past 12 months about something significant
  • 35% said they lied two or more times.
  • 33% copied an internet document within the past 12 months – 18% did so two or more times.
  • 60% cheated during a test at school within the past 12 months – 35% did so two or
  • more times.
  • 23% stole something from a parent or other relative within the past 12 months – 11%
  • did so two or more times In 2002, 28% admitted stealing from a parent or other relative.
  • 19% stole something from a friend within the past 12 months – 7% did so two or more times.
  • 28% stole something from a store within the past 12 months – 14% did so two or more times

You can read the entire survey at the Josephson Institute site.

I want to comment more on this tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Friday, December 28, 2007

After Christmas

Now that Christmas is over, it’s time to evaluate your gift-giving. (Don’t tell me you don’t want to. Just do it.)

Do you feel stress over the perfect gift? Are you a “grab-whatever’s-left-on-Christmas-Eve” sort of buyer? Maybe you’re ready to give it all up for a day helping at the Rescue Mission or a week on the ski slopes.

Here’s a quiz for you:

Before Christmas, I

  • -ordered frankincense and myrrh from the Holy Land to give to all my special people, including the pizza delivery guy.
  • -took a bow-making seminar at the Hallmark store downtown to complete my gift-wrapping certificate.
  • -pulled the gifts I purchased last December 26, wrapped them in paper purchased last December 26, and found them all perfect for my recipients.
  • -couldn’t find the one gift I bought last year and decided to give out a book to everybody. They all looked alike because I didn’t know how to wrap a book in 14 different ways for 14 different recipients.

On Christmas Eve, I

  • -brought out the boxes of decorated cookies that I had been crafting since early December.
  • -made my special punch to accompany the tradition-laden evening of candlelight service, artichoke appetizers and slender candles fitted into Grandma’s silver candelabra.
  • -organized a caroling team to visit the neighborhood, nursing home, and shut-ins.
  • -pulled the foil off the plate of cookies Grandma sent over, heated some water on the stove, and grabbed my camera.

After Christmas, I

  • -alphabetized my gift-giving list and filed all the Christmas card addresses.
  • -purchased a new tote for the balls on the Christmas tree, reminiscing about the memories of each as I tenderly put each ball away.
  • -put a counter on my blog so I’d know how many days I had left to prepare for next Christmas.
  • -went to Walmart to buy some cheap wrapping paper, loading it into the one plastic tote that I can find in the attic.

OK, here are the results. If you selected the first, second or third responses above, you are the Christmas version of Martha Stewart. If you selected number 4, you are me.

This was the year I decided not to abandon Christmas but to marinate it with people and relationships. I didn’t buy a Jesus action figure riding a motorcycle and I didn’t buy any crystal angels either.

I didn’t even put on a “Jesus is the Reason” pin. But I spent time talking with my daughters and helping my husband. I didn’t even bake Christmas cookies this year although I helped my son decorate a gingerbread house.

Jesus came to us in the flesh and I want to be the skin of Jesus to others. Even at the Christmas season!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The world of Malacandra

Imagine that, in a world of purple forests, deep blue water and eldila, a reader could get a perceptive glimpse into the heart and motivation of people and their choices. C.S. Lewis’ classic Out of the Silent Planet does that in taking us on an imaginative voyage with Professor Ransom to Malacandra, the red planet.

Ransom, while on a backpacking trip, is kidnapped and stuffed into a spaceship, whisked away to Malacandra (our word: Mars) by two men intent on handing him over as a sacrifice to the gods of that planet. The two men then plan to ravage Malacandra. Ransom escapes once they land and is befriended by the creatures there who are surprisingly unspoiled and wise. While he first assumes that they mean him harm, they are mystified by the “bent” humans who will hurt each other and others for no apparent reason.

Eventually, Ransom learns the history of Earth, called Thulcandra (“the silent planet”) by the inhabitants of Malacandra, seeing from a different point of view the battle that raged on the spiritual level on Earth. What Ransom had accepted as normal on Earth was not understood by the creatures of Malacandra and soon he begins to question human greed, power struggles, and the like.

Lewis’ descriptions of a strange world are creative and imaginative. He even teaches us some of the language of Malacandra so that when he refers to hnau and sorns, we don’t blink an eye. We suffer with Ransom, feel his fears and exalt in his victories.

I just read Out of the Silent Planet to my children. Even at 16 and 12, they were begging for an extra chapter each day because the story captured their imaginations and their hearts. They mourned the loss of a hross and cheered when Weston, one of the “bent” men, evoked laughter when he meant to intimidate.

The reading level was not above even my 12-year-old but we enjoy a good read together on the couch and this one provided excellent opportunities not only to snuggle under the blanket but to discuss some of the ideas presented by Lewis.

I found Out of the Silent Planet an page-turning read that offered me some meaty ideas to think on. Check it out!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Winter fire

"Any one thinking of the Holy Child as born in December would mean by it exactly what we mean by it; that Christ is not merely a summer sun of the prosperous but a winter fire for the unfortunate."
- G.K. Chesteron, The New Jerusalem

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Being like

Can you imagine it? Unburdened by time or tired feet, Jesus reigned in righteousness and glory as a plan ripened into perfection. Meanwhile, those who breathed the breath of God, formed with gentle hands and declared to be “very good,”[1] were in a cold and silent place. Desiring to be like God, they had torn the fabric of love and exposed themselves to the thorns and darkness.

Unlike those first beings, who lived in the middle of God’s abundance and fruitfulness, Jesus did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped.[2] He left paradise to close the fabric that was really a gaping ugly wound, exposing all to the ravages of rebellion.

God, the Creator King, the Conquering Lord, the Righteous Judge, shed divinity to become one with the stricken, paying our debt and opening the path to his side. He looked down on the lowly and the poor and the captive – and became that in our place.

This day we celebrate the birth of our Savior, who chose a humble beginning to reveal a humble life. He came not to rule with glory and power. That was for later. This time, he came to be emptied, to be burdened, to act in righteousness.

We consider equality with God a goal to hunt but Jesus regarded equality with us a door to renewal. We try to heal the wound by elevating ourselves. Jesus healed the wound by humbling himself.

Today, every day, rejoice in his obedience and in his life. We are set free by his humility and grace.

By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."

Luke 1:78-79

Painting used by permission from the Genesis Project. Thanks again, Ann!

[1] Gen 1:31

[2] Phil 2:6

Monday, December 24, 2007

Voicing the celebration

Silence. Some 400 years had crept by without a prophetic peep. God’s people had suffered through the reign of the Greeks, raised a Jewish revolt (led by the Maccabee family) and enjoyed some self-rule before the Romans blanketed Palestine.

All without a new word from God.

But the time of silence was ending. An angel appeared to a priest with a message from God. New words from the Creator King were spoken in the temple to Zechariah, who doubted and was stricken with more silence while others were given new words.

New words came from a pregnant Elizabeth, who rejoiced in God’s blessing.

"The Lord has done this for me," she said. "In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people."

Luke 1:25

Mary celebrated after Gabriel revealed the miracle on incarnation. Words could barely capture her joy.

My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me--
holy is his name.

Luke 1:46-49

Even Zechariah, relieved of his temporary muteness, burst into exultant song:

Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come and has redeemed his people.

Luke 1:68

But that was nothing compared to the angels, who tumbled out of heaven in a magnificent ecstasy, proclaiming the most-amazing birth announcement ever made:

Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

Luke 2:14

God brought out the full choir and orchestra for this delivery.

But the words hadn’t stopped. Simeon, that faithful and devout Jerusalem Jew, was alerted by God to meet Mary and Joseph at the temple. On seeing the baby, he celebrated:

For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel."

Luke 2:30-32

Words seemed the most appropriate way to celebrate this new birth, this revelation and glory that had come to earth. The plan was unfolding in the midst of song and prophecy.

We are on the cusp of Christmas, abuzz with gift-wrapping and fudge-making. We, as followers of Jesus, have chosen this season to celebrate the birth of our Savior, although there’s no indication that he was actually born on December 25. It’s a day we chose to celebrate.

So let’s celebrate! Do your words – and do mine – dance as Mary’s did? Do we throw our arms to heaven as Elizabeth sang? Do we tumble forward to praise God for his grace?

Can we be, like Anna, give thanks to God and speak about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. Luke 2:38

May these be days of song, of words of delight and joy. Glory to God in the highest!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A break

My family is going skiing for a few days, something we haven't done in years. We'll be bonding with the snow and mountainside but mostly with some of our children. I won't be posting again until Christmas Eve. Until then, rejoice in the mystery of Immanuel: God with us!

More Christmas punnies

  • A thief who stole a calendar got twelve months.
  • Thieves who steal corn from a garden could be charged with stalking.
  • We'll never run out of math teachers because they always multiply.
  • When the smog lifts in Los Angeles , U C L A.
  • The math professor went crazy with the blackboard. He did a number on
  • it.
  • The professor discovered that her theory of earthquakes was on shaky
  • ground.
  • The dead batteries were given out free of charge.
  • If you take a laptop computer for a run you could jog your memory.
  • A dentist and a manicurist fought tooth and nail.
  • A bicycle can't stand alone; it is two tired.
  • Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.
  • A backward poet writes inverse.
  • In a democracy it's your vote that counts; in feudalism, it's your
  • Count that votes.
  • A chicken crossing the road: poultry in motion.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christmas new

Although we often shift in auto gear as Christmas approaches, where tradition rules, consider examining Christmas with fresh eyes. For a short walk into the first century, where an unwed mother might have been beaten and the newborn Jesus probably wasn’t surrounded by cows and sheep, take a look at Ben Witherington’s article on the Christmas story.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Christmas punnies

Did you know that today is the busiest mailing day before Christmas? Maybe preparations are creating a dull roar in your brain? I’m not telling you how many days til Christmas. But take a short break.

  • Did you hear that police were called to a daycare where a three-year-old was resisting arest?
  • Did you hear about the guy whose whole left side was cut off? He's all right now.
  • The roundest knight at King Arthur's round table was Sir Cumference.
  • Did you know that to write with a broken pencil is pointless?
  • Have you heart that when fish are in schools they sometimes take debate?
  • The short fortune teller who escaped from prison was a small medium at large.
  • I wondered why the baseball was getting bigger. Then it hit me.

A laugh a day adds years to your life! (I just made that up but it must be true if it appears on the Internet for the Internet does not lie….) You can go back to the dull roar now.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Friday Five: Feet

Five aspects to feet:

Authority: I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses.
Josh 1:3

Reverence: I saw this and fainted dead at his feet. His right hand pulled me upright, his voice reassured me: "Don't fear: I am First, I am Last.” Rev 1:17

Confidence: He will guard the feet of his saints,
but the wicked will be silenced in darkness. 1 Sam 2:9

Teachable: She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. Luke 10:39

Servanthood: Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the feet of the disciples, drying them with his apron. John 13:5

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Christians you should know

Nikki knew something of the Apostle Paul and the story of the Exodus of Israel, but she’d never heard of Iraeneus. Jonathan Edwards, as far as she could remember, was a stern old guy who screamed at his congregation about dropping them all into hell if they didn’t shape up.

But she didn’t figure it mattered anyway because she was studying her Bible.

Followers of Jesus often don’t take time to learn church history. It sounds dry as sawdust and irrelevant as yesterday’s dawn.

But the story of people just like us, battling their own weaknesses and their culture’s responses, is important. How did they respond to criticism or weak doctrine? How did they brainstorm about the youth of their day drinking and carousing instead of coming to church?

Try reading 131 Christians Everyone Should Know. It is compiled from the pages of Christian History Magazine. The chapters vary in length but none is longer than 4 or 5 pages, each a short summary of the significance of each person.

History is people and how they make choices based on their surroundings. Sometimes those choices affect many generations (think of the Reformers, for example) and 131 Christians tries to highlight the significant points of each biography.

My one frustration is with how the chapters are organized. The editors chose to organize by topic, starting with theologians and concluding with martyrs. But if you know what category to place a person, you may know enough about the person to skip this book and move on to deeper studies.

However, just starting at the beginning and reading through the book, you’ll get a nice overview of many key players in the church. Each bio includes a timeline to help place that person in history’s chronology.

Overall, the book is easy to read and pretty accurate. It’s a nice place to get acquainted with some of our fellow believers who labored before us in the name of Jesus.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Reaching out

Harry was determined to love his new neighbors and so, at every opportunity, he chatted with the people in the cul-de-sac where he’d just moved. He and his wife took cookies around the neighborhood and he traded jokes with the kids on their bikes.

One Saturday morning, little Julie Anderson stopped by the garage where he was cleaning his garden tools. “Could you come to our house tomorrow morning for an Easter party? We’re going to do an Easter egg hunt?”

Harry gently refused. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Our family will be in church tomorrow morning.”

Julie was shocked. “Why would you go to church on Easter?”

Reaching out today takes a new language, a fresh conversation. Harry was able to explain the connection between church and Easter but a young child who didn’t know anything about Jesus and Easter took him back. We have to find new ways to talk to people who don't know the basics of churchianity.

Here’s a link from Christianity Today about Starbucks evangelism.

At Allelon, there’s a discussion about consumerism and the church.

As to the difference between evangelism and witness, see this post.

Note that I don’t necessarily endorse every idea in these articles, but think they are good springboards for further conversation about ideas for reaching out in our culture. Let the conversation begin!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A time as this

April had her baby yesterday. April is a radio newscaster in Denver and so the arrival of her firstborn brought lots of comments from her fellow broadcasters. But this time those comments were a little different.

“God bless,” said the sports guy. “Best wishes to April and son,” said the weatherman. “Be praying for them.”

It looks like Jeanne Assam brought God to Colorado yesterday. (Here’s a link to her news conference.)

On Sunday, Colorado was rocked by a gunman who first walked into the Youth With a Mission headquarters in Arvada to kill two missionaries there. He then traveled about an hour south to Colorado Springs where he apparently planned a major assault on New Life Church during the Sunday morning worship time.

Matthew Murray carried two handguns, an assault rifle, and over 1000 rounds of ammunition into the east entrance of New Life Church.

There he met Jeanne Assam, a member of New Life Church and a trained and armed security officer. “I knew I had been given the assignment to end this before it got too much worse,” Assam said.

It was a David and Goliath situation. “God was with me,” Jeanne said calmly at a press conference yesterday. “This has got to be God because of the firepower he (Murray) had versus what I had... I did not run away and I did not think for a minute to run away.”

Jeanne was in the last day of a three-day fast, weak from an intense time seeking God’s direction, when she faced Murray. “I was weak and where I was weak he made me strong. He protected me and many other people. I’m honored that God chose me.”

Journalists reported her words: “God was with me and I asked him to be with me and he never left my side.”

For the moment, it’s somewhat fashionable in Colorado to honor God’s name. Where many like to link God to fearful legalists, they had to face a woman of courage who saved countless lives by trusting in God’s presence to protect her.

Haman once told his beautiful niece Esther: “Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this." (Esth 4:14)

Jeanne Assam may have been raised up for just a time as this.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The giver

Pulling out his pocketknife, Dan sliced through the Christmas wrap, careful to run the blade along the edge of the box. Probably a dress shirt in the latest color. Too light for the wrenches I asked for. No chance it’s a new work shirt.

He freed a sweater from its box and smiled at his wife, holding it up in front of him. “This looks warm!” he said broadly. “And the color matches my eyes, right?”

Sue laughed at him. “It makes you look so handsome! It goes with that blue shirt I gave you for your birthday. It’s cashmere!”

Dan laid the sweater back in the box and watched his daughter open her gift, planning his next trip to the tool store. Now that Christmas was over, he could go get the wrenches. Wonder if there’d be an after-Christmas sale on flannel shirts? What was cashmere anyway?

As Sue carefully removed the paper from Dan’s gift to her, she radiated joy. Candles! A weekend getaway to the spa! Oh, and that new blouse she’d shown him last week. He must have asked Sarah for the right size.

Finally, she thought. One year he’d bought her an iron, so proud of all the features. Easy to clean, lightweight so it didn’t hurt her shoulder, great warranty. But an iron? It still hadn’t worn out.

He’d started asking for a list after the washing machine fiasco, but she’d worked him through that, too. Men have lists, with non-gifts like tools or flannel shirts. Women don’t have Christmas lists. That takes the surprise out of it. He just had to pay attention to hints. And see? It had worked this year. He’d heard about the new blouse and now it was hers.

Finally he was seeing how to give a real gift.

Dan, meanwhile, carried his sweater into the bedroom. Did he hang it up or stuff it in a drawer? He couldn’t wear it to work and he hoped he didn’t forget to wear it sometime to church, so Sue could see it. The kids had bought him some cologne and he put it on the sink in the bathroom. He had to remember to wear that sometime, too, when they were around so they could smell it.

He changed into work clothes. Sue’s car needed an oil change and then he would fix Justin’s door, where it stuck on the striker plate. Sue wanted a shelf in the closet and he could get that put up today, too. He’d try to pick up the wrench set later in the week, before he changed out the brakes on Sue’s car. He’d noticed the back step was slick. Sue had nearly fallen on the ice the other day. He had an idea on how to re-route the gutter so water didn’t drip on the sidewalk.

Good thing Sarah had clued him in on the spa idea. He sure didn’t get this gift-giving stuff.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Friday Five: Isaiah's fruitfulness

The five steps of Isaiah

Recognizing God: I saw the Master sitting on a throne—high, exalted!—and the train of his robes filled the Temple. Isaiah 6:1

Recognizing self: I'm as good as dead! Every word I've ever spoken is tainted— blasphemous even! Isaiah 6:5

God’s response: "This coal has touched your lips. Gone your guilt, your sins wiped out." Isaiah 6:7

Invitation: And then I heard the voice of the Master: "Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?" Isaiah 6:8

Confidence: "I'll go. Send me!" Isaiah 6:8

(Painting is from Genesis project, used by permission.)

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Tradition and traditionalism

"Tradition is the living faith of dead people to which we must add our chapter while we have the gift of life. Traditionalism is the dead faith of living people who fear that if anything changes, the whole enterprise will crumble."

-Jaroslav Pelikan
20th century theologian

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Book review: The Man Who Was Thursday

Nothing is quite as it seems in The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton. If you haven’t read this classic thriller by the Englishman who influenced C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, put it on your reading list.

Thursday is the story of a passionate Scotland Yard detective who infiltrates a band of anarchists. Or are they? The Central Anarchist Council has pledged itself to destroy civilization – or has it?

There is humor and a puzzle at every turn as the young detective follows the baffling threads of evidence to a surprising conclusion.

If you’re a wordsmith, Chesterton’s writing is must-read. His descriptions are a study in word choices, never extravagant and yet very apt for his purpose.

And underlying this story of twists and turns is a insightful probe into human nature. What motivates the young detective? What motivates the anarchists? What can be believed? How do our perceptions shape our actions?

In the end, Chesterton reveals more than the answer to the riddle. He lays open our assumptions about the very nature of God. You may close the book with more questions than answers, but that’s part of Chesterton’s intent.

For he wants you to acknowledge that often things are not as they seem.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Enchanted... or not

My favorite childhood movie was Sleeping Beauty. Sitting in the dark movie theatre, I remember being transported (and this was way before Star Trek days) to another world. I bought into the chipmunks and bluebirds who harmonized alongside the beautiful maiden with the voice of a 35-year-old.

There were no weeds or dripping moss in the forest, only a willing owl to dance until the prince wandered onto the scene. The witch was thoroughly evil, the prince pure to his toenails. Tue love’s kiss won out in the end and everyone lived happily ever after.

If you hung on the Disney fantasies, you ought to check out their new movie, Enchanted. Just the park scene, where Giselle enlists a wedding group and construction workers to a song-and-dance, will stir your heart – or your laughter.

But just like Giselle met Robert, who had both feet planted in reality, so I have a 12-year-old son who tagged along to see Enchanted, which is a consummate chick flick. He didn’t get it.

What a shock.

But he did insist on watching Sleeping Beauty, to get some context. Or to get out of some schoolwork. I’m still not sure which.

He wasn’t two minutes into the movie, where the camera pans across the beautiful green kingdom before zooming in on the massive castle, when his commentary began. “Who’d watch this?” he asked. He was especially disgusted with Prince Phillip abandoning his betrothed for a girl he met in the forest. “He doesn’t even know her!” he snorted. Informed that I had first seen this movie at his very age (thinking this would connect somehow), he said, “How old is this movie anyway?”

I keep thinking that his someday wife will appreciate the fact that he’s been around chick flicks and dreamy-eyed women.

We read Ephesians 6 this week, where it tells husbands to be like Christ to their wives, and my son thinks those are better pointers for him than can be found in Sleeping Beauty and Enchanted. Maybe I am making progress?

Monday, December 3, 2007

Waiting til the fruit is ripe

The baby’s first cry gave fullness of joy but did I forget the pain of pushing? Crossing the finish line brought joy of the victory but did I forget the ache of my lungs and the leaden muscles in my legs?

There were tears of joy as I watched a friend bow before the Lord but did I forget the angry words and broken promises?

Joy is the peach ripe on the tree, rich with flavor and juice. Why would I be content with plucking it green? Silver is pitted and stained if taken too soon.

“What leaves you broken - in the end it makes you better.” Plumb, no stranger to the agony of the heart, told us in her song Better.

A joy-laden tree beckons me closer. I want to grab the fruit and run. But I overlook the race and the pain and the fear. Or I see only the sorrow and the ache and wish to stay in this valley.

"The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." G. K. Chesterton understood the bitter-sweet tang of perseverance. Do we take the next step even when the pain pushes us back like a stiff wave in the tide?

When the time is ripe, the fruit is sweet and full. No longer does the hurt matter. I reach; I take. All sting is erased as the juice runs down my chin.

Jesus said it so well, as he warned his disciples of his fast-approaching death: there was a resurrection to follow.

“The sadness you have right now is similar to that pain, but the coming joy is also similar. When I see you again, you'll be full of joy, and it will be a joy no one can rob from you.”

John 16:22