Thursday, December 10, 2009

Church Daycares

Before I start, let me say that I know this topic can be a sensitive one. For most of my posts and this one in particular, I can understand both sides of the argument, and I respect and admire many of the people who hold the opposing view. My intent is not to alienate those who disagree with me but rather to offer a rarely voiced perspective in order to encourage readers to reexamine prevailing viewpoints.

My son goes to a church-run preschool. I am thankful for a program that teaches him social skills, numbers and letters, art, music, and Bible stories all in one. I see Christian preschools as close cousins of Sunday schools. (In fact, our preschool offers a free “Monday school” each week as an outreach to the community.)

To many people, church-run daycares are synonymous with church-run preschools. I don’t believe, however, that they are as closely related as they appear to be. The emphasis of a daycare is usually on taking care of physical needs more than educational needs, and daycares serve as a substitute for a parent’s presence rather than as a supplement to what parents are teaching at home.

Churches usually start daycares with honorable intentions. Many North American children come from a single-parent home or a home where both parents have full-time jobs and need a daycare provider. Churches reason that by running a daycare, they are meeting needs in the community while having the opportunity to introduce children to Christian principles. The parents may feel so comfortable bringing their kids to daycare that they start to come to church, too, where they will also hear about Christ’s love for them. And, as an added bonus, the church has an additional source of income to support its other programs. (Unfortunately, I fear that this “bonus” – and not a prompting of the Holy Spirit – is too often the main reason churches start daycares.)

Daycare programs do meet an existing cultural need, but I wonder if churches with daycares take the easy way out in addressing this particular issue. Perhaps we should be trying to change the culture rather than responding to it. Instead of using our collective resources to offer daycare programs, why not build a support system for parents that fosters healthy marriages and emphasizes wise stewardship of funds, frugal living, and the value of time at home with young children so that more parents can afford to – and will choose to – stay home with their children during their earliest years? Instead of following our culture’s drive to achieve more worldly success, as measured by newer and more expensive belongings, why not encourage our communities to focus more on living humbly and giving generously?

It’s a radical idea, I know, but sometimes it takes a radical idea to change the world.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Stories in Heaven

I’ve been reading a lot of fiction lately, enjoying stories that deliver excitement without real-life consequences and resolve every conflict or mystery before the last page. I love a good story.

Stories bring joy to my life, and I wonder whether we will have stories in heaven. Jesus was a great storyteller here on earth, and God’s story of redemption has been called “the greatest story ever told,” but a good story requires conflict. If heaven is a place without tears or pain (Revelation 21:4), can there be stories?

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Christian Carnival #299

Last week, I was praying that I could the temptation to spend too much time playing games on my computer. The answer came in a form I wouldn’t have chosen – a crashed computer. My games are gone, and I’m now working from an old, slow computer that often freezes and needs to be restarted without warning. It’s a challenge for me, as I depend on my computer far too much, and I expect it to be a learning experience. I am thankful to the carnival’s organizer, Jeremy Pierce of Parableman, who helped me out by forwarding the carnival submissions I lost in the crash.

I hope many of you are having your prayers answered this week, as well, though hopefully not with broken computers. Maybe one of this week’s carnival posts will provide the wisdom or answer you have been requesting from God. At the very least, I hope that the following posts will give you a fresh perspective on life offline.

In “Puddleglum's Wager” Jeremy Pierce of Parableman relates Puddlegum’s Wager in A Silver Chair to Pascal’s Wager. It’s a thought-provoking post even if you’re not familiar with either wager, and even if you think you aren’t a gambler.

Musician Dawn L. Low discusses the use of others’ artistic work and the value of craftsmanship in “Conceptual Art and Craft” posted at Dawn Xiana Moon: Randomness. Her ideas are relevant to all Christians, not just artists, as many of us face the temptation to take credit for work that is not our own. We should pursue excellence in our work and give credit where it is due.

Tyler Williams examines the significance of what I Samuel says and doesn’t say about the reign and death of Israel’s first king in Saul: The King Who Should Have Never Been (The Kings of Chronicles)” posted at Codex: Biblical Studies Blogspot.

Bible SEO has outlined a Bible study guide, “Discovering Your Spiritual Gifts” at Bible Study Exposition Online (BibleSEO).

In “Is There A Covenant of Works?” Rey Reynoso of The Bible Archive examines the text to see if such a covenant (with Adam) existed.

Brian Marchionni tells us he “appreciates the contribution of biblical theology to Christian hermeneutics,” encouraging readers to see the Bible’s big picture in his post, “God Unchanging,” at Boston Bible Geeks.

Saying, “I find great faith from the Bible. Here are three passages that have helped me with one of the most challenging times of my life,” Kim from Self Personal: Inspirational Thoughts and Encouragement For You offers “3 Inspirational Bible Quotes for Really Difficult Times.”

In “Adding to God's Glory,” posted at Seeking the truth..., Marcus Maher asks (and answers), “What does it mean to give God glory?”

Free Money Finance highlights several blogs that examine personal finance from a biblical perspective in “Christian Money Blogs.”

A bonus blog on personal finance, not highlighted in that post, is Out of Debt - Christian Finances and Debt Help. There, Big Larry presents “A Biblical Perspective on Inheritance,” considering whether biblical warnings against spoiling a child apply after a parent’s death.

Tom Gilson asks, “What happens to good communication when Intelligent Design opponents insist on calling it ‘Intelligent Design Creationism’? It's not entirely wrong--but it's not intended to clarify anything.” He explains further in "‘ID Creationism:’ The Communication Question,” posted at Thinking Christian.

John at Brain Cramps for God discusses Atheism, Utopianism, and Totalitarianism. For some reason, my finicky computer chose to freeze every time I tried to read this post, which is a shame, because the parts I did read were interesting. Hopefully, when I get my regular computer back, I’ll get a chance to read it more carefully. Thanks, John, for posting!

Michelle, still a girl who loves Jesus, is becoming a foreign missionary through Pioneers. Read about some of her preparations and find out how you can pray for her in her 10.17.09 post at Stepping Out In Faith To The Nations....

Barry Wallace presents “Jerry Bridges on ‘The Pursuit of Holiness’" at who am i?, explaining, “This illustration has always helped me combat discouragement in my sometimes faltering pursuit of holiness.”

Jaime, the author of For His Glory, uses her 100th post to encourage readers with the reminder “You Are Loved.”

Thanks for checking out the Christian carnival. Enter your best post for next week’s carnival (today through next Tuesday) here. Join the carnival’s Google group to get notices when new carnivals are posted.

One final note: I made a few judgment calls and left out four or five of this week’s submissions. While a post does not necessarily need to be explicity about Christianity to be included, a few of the blogs that submitted posts did not seem to be even remotely related to the topic of faith. Two others talked about Christianity but included language that would be offensive to many Christians or content that directly contradicts the Bible’s teachings. While I am a strong supporter of free speech and don’t expect all Christians to agree with me on the finer points of theology, this carnival is a Christian carnival, and these submissions just didn’t seem appropriate to the topic or audience.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Can A Program Honor God without Talking Specifically about Jesus?

The local pregnancy care center, where I used to volunteer, has an abstinence education program other centers envy – they have earned the privilege of talking to students in most of the county’s public schools, explaining the physical and emotional benefits of sexual abstinence in a way that gets students’ attention. I believe this abstinence program has been responsible for preventing the county’s high teen-pregnancy rate from being even higher.

But this week I received a letter from the center, stating that they will soon stop making abstinence presentations in public schools because the presenters are not allowed to mention Christ or use biblical arguments for abstinence. The board decided that such presentations were not consistent with their mission to offer “Christ-centered” and “God-honoring” services to the community.

I do not know all the factors that went into the decision to cease public-school abstinence presentations, but if the reason given was the sole reason, I believe the board made a mistake. Passion for Christ is what motivates abstinence presenters (many of them volunteers) to take the time to talk with students, often discussing the painful consequences of their own teenaged sexual experiences. These presenters may not be allowed to give the reason they do what they do, but they make students aware that they can come to the pregnancy care center if they ever need help with an unexpected pregnancy. Those who do come hear the gospel in addition to receiving practical assistance. I would certainly call this abstinence program “Christ-centered” and “God-honoring,” even if many students do not hear His name mentioned explicitly.

Many conservative Christians fear that if we don’t present the Romans Road or offer a wordless book to everyone we meet, we are failing to make Christ the center of our lives and are losing opportunities to bring more people into His kingdom. And we don’t want our favorite parachurch organizations to go the way of the YMCA and Harvard University, whose foundations in orthodox Christianity have become so deeply buried that their missions are now completely secular or even anti-Christian. But could the Holy Spirit sometimes lead Christian organizations to offer some “no strings attached” services as a demonstration of love and good will before they introduce clients to their core reason for being? Could abstinence programs that don’t mention Christ by name still be part of His plan to prepare the way for those He is drawing to Himself?

I believe so.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Too Much of a Good Thing: A Review of Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century by Hank Hanegraaff

Hank Haanegraaff offers an acronym for everything in Christianity In Crisis: The 21st Century, an update of his earlier book with the same title. The book contains so many acronyms that none of them are useful as mnemonic devices, and they are just one contributor to the overall effect of the book, which is to numb the mind with exhaustive (albeit well researched and well documented) details about the false theology of contemporary preachers of the Faith Movement. Repetitive use of the same quotes for illustrations, multiple levels of sectional divisions, and a bland writing style don’t help matters.

While Christianity in Crisis addresses a real problem – heresies too readily accepted by the Christian community today – the style of the book may prevent it from accomplishing its purposes. Those who believe the Faith teachers may think that Haanegraaff protests too much (if they even attempt to read a book with 427 pages of fine print, including nearly 100 pages of appendices and end notes), while those who already know the Bible well should be able to recognize the heresies for what they are, without reading the book.

This review is written as part of Thomas Nelson’s Book Review Bloggers program. If you have a blog and love to read, check it out.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Elements of a Good Story: A Review of A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller

In A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life, a sort of postmodern Ecclesiastes, Donald Miller describes his attempts to make his life a story worth telling. His life-editing begins when two filmmakers (one of them Steve Taylor, who remains my favorite musician fourteen years after the release of his last album) sit down with him to create an on-screen version of himself for a film adaptation of Blue Like Jazz, and he realizes his life lacks the elements of a good story.

A Million Miles assumes readers have already read Blue Like Jazz, which I never did because I had read Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance when it was first released and found it dull and forgettable. But either Miller has matured as a writer since his first book, or I have matured as a reader. Whichever the case, I thought A Million Miles in a Thousand Years was excellent. Miller’s ability to express profound ideas clearly and with good humor brings authenticity to both the human and divine elements of his story. It’s a great book for writers, single people, outdoor enthusiasts, and anyone who wants a meaningful life.

This review is written as part of Thomas Nelson’s Book Review Bloggers program. If you have a blog and love to read, check it out.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Making Babies

I can’t make babies. Oh, I have given birth twice, but my role in creating those children was minor, and it certainly can’t be considered work. I didn’t start my son’s heartbeat or paint my daughter’s eyes blue. I didn’t gather the ingredients for the milk I fed them when they were infants. And, even though my daughter’s love of arts and crafts and my son’s over-enthusiastic personality both come from my genes, I didn’t design them to be that way.

The details that make each of my children who they are and allow them to function physically are vast and complicated. Even working together, my husband and I could never on our own produce anything even closely resembling a human. I am always dumbfounded when someone says he has “made a baby.” How can we take credit for such an amazing work? How can someone look at his children and not believe in God?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Generational Segregation

Yesterday morning at church I got to talk to one of my favorite fellow parishioners. In the course of our discussion, she mentioned her small group’s inability to bond and said she was starting to wonder if she and her husband were too old for the group. I assured her that that wasn’t the case, that groups need to have multiple generations in them.

This wise and godly woman has children who are older than I am, but I can relate to her better than to many women my own age. I always enjoy talking with her, and I have learned from both her words, which have challenged me to prioritize God’s Word over both church tradition and worldly wisdom, and her actions, particularly her ability to honor and respect her husband even when they disagree. I am glad to know her; many young people in the American church miss out on the benefit of fellowship with people like her, who have been following Christ for longer than their own lifetimes.

It seems that everyone these days is talking about diversity, but we are, more and more, segregating ourselves by age, interests, and ideology, especially within the church. We have groups for young adults, groups for singles, groups for mothers of preschoolers, groups for scrapbookers, groups for men, groups for women, groups for senior citizens, groups for divorcees. We all want to find people who are going through the same things we are, but in so doing, we fail to benefit from those who can offer us a fresh perspective on life.

I confess that I contribute to this problem to some degree. I tend to make a greater effort to welcome people to church and invite them to my home if they young children, like my own. Our children are a natural conversation starter, and no one minds being interrupted when another parent has to deal with a discipline issue. But when I associate only with people who are most like me, I am fostering disunity. Separating ourselves into demographic groups creates many small congregations within a congregation, many churches within the church.

I hope my wise older friend from church does not give up on associating with us younger women. Intergenerational fellowship benefits everyone. Those who are farther along life’s path can offer us advice on how to get through our current struggles because they have gone before us; those who are younger than we are can provide enthusiasm and keep us from getting stuck in the rut of “We do it this way because we’ve always done it this way.” We can learn from each other, but only if we spend time together.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Beauty Where No One Else Sees It

Since so many of my posts are finding fault where no one else seems to, I thought it would be good to show that I also find beauty where no one else seems to.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Quitting Small Group

My husband and I recently committed what some consider an act of apostasy – we quit our small group. We aren’t holding a grudge against anyone, we aren’t leaving the church, and we aren’t cutting ourselves off from Christian fellowship (as a friend from another church was accused of when quitting her small group). In fact, we are making more efforts at fellowship, inviting others to join us for informal get-togethers so we can develop some genuinely close friendships.

Briefly put, we quit our small group because we didn’t believe it was the best use of our time. We believe in the goals of small groups – developing close relationships so that we can pray for each other and encourage each other to grow more Christlike – but we don’t believe in their methods. Over fifteen years, I have been part of almost a dozen small groups sponsored by three different churches; my husband has joined me in most of them. Never once have I developed a close friendship through one of these groups.

In fact, the very nature of small groups seems to have the opposite effect on most people I know: We learn to keep our true thoughts, emotions, and struggles to ourselves. In one instance, my husband and I were stunned to learn that a couple from our small group was getting divorced. We had prayed with them weekly for a year or more and never once had an inkling that their marriage was in trouble. If that small group had produced true fellowship, we would have been praying for them in a way that might have healed the marriage and prevented the divorce.

I know that some small groups function as they should – at least I hear rumors that some do – but those groups seem to be as rare as a bodily resurrection. In my experience, going to small group means hauling our family to someone’s home, making small talk for a few minutes, and then starting on “the book.” I love to read, but I invariably hate “the book.” No matter what its topic, the small group book is filled with questions that read something like this: “Read John 11:35. What does Jesus do in this verse?” Then everyone waits for someone to state the obvious. Any attempt to generate a deeper discussion on the topic ends quickly when the group leader, who is well trained in the principles of keeping a group on track, says, “Let’s get back to the book.” (Incidentally, the group guidelines in one book we studied insisted that the leader should never say that someone’s answer is wrong but should instead ask someone else for a different answer. So truth is presented as an equal – just different – answer from falsehood, and the Bible is left open for anyone to interpret however he or she would like.)

Following the time in “the book” (small b), the typical small group continues to prayer time. Group members request prayer for sick family members, job hunts, and other real but non-controversial needs. When someone feels comfortable enough to request prayer to overcome an unpopular sin (pride and selfishness are “ok” sins to confess; adultery, assault, and drug use are not), the others tend to respond with blank stares or trite advice. Those who pray are sure to mention all the requests, but the prayers usually lack a sense of expectation that God will really answer them.

We then pick up our kids from another room, pay the babysitters, and go home.

When and where during that time did we really connect with each other? I’m not sure, but I no longer hope for fellowship to take place during small-group Bible studies. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way, but most attempts I have made to question whether small groups are effective have been met with resistance to change (and a suggestion that maybe “a different book” would change the way I feel). Small groups have become as much a part of church as the sermon and the offering, and not wanting to participate in a small group is seen as equivalent to not wanting to be a part of the body of Christ. In fact, several of the people I know who seem to agree with my assessment of small groups have eventually changed churches. They still believe in Christ, but they didn’t feel like part of His family even after joining a small group.

I still haven’t found any Scripture that mandates small-group Bible discussions like those most contemporary churches encourage everyone to join. The Bible tells us we should not give up meeting together, but not that we cannot choose informal fellowship over formal small-group meetings. (I’m not talking about forgoing corporate worship like that of Sunday morning services, simply those extra meetings intended to help church members get to know each other better.) We are told to confess our sins to each other, to restore each other, to love each other, to encourage each other, and to serve together as the body of Christ. I have rarely – if ever – seen these things happen in a small group. And if that kind of fellowship isn’t taking place regularly, why do we keep trying the same methods and hoping for different results? It seems to me it’s time for a new approach.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Can You Keep the Faith When You Lose Your Mind?

My aunt, the person who introduced me to Jesus, has Alzheimer’s disease. The woman who was the most “in-charge” person of our family now looks lost among her family, can no longer go to the bathroom alone, and speaks mainly babble with a few irrelevant Pennsylvania Dutch words mixed in.

Knowing that my aunt used to be a woman of faith, I wonder how she relates to God now. She no longer plays the piano in church or hosts visiting missionaries in her home or puts us to work after Thanksgiving dinner, wrapping boxes of tissues she will deliver as Christmas gifts to the people in local nursing homes. She cannot read her Bible or pray in a language other humans can understand. Is she able to believe the basic Christian doctrines, even when she is probably no longer aware of them? Does she remember how to pray at all? Or does she know Jesus even more intimately now than she ever did before?

My own faith tends to be more intellectual than emotional. I am more likely to challenge a bit of unsound theology than to cry during a praise song (though I always seem to cry at baptisms!) For this reason, I find it difficult to grasp how someone who cannot understand that Jesus died can still have faith in Him. Yet, I’m sure it must be possible because God wants everyone to come to Him (2 Peter 3:9) and would at least give everyone the opportunity to know Him.

I find it interesting that the Bible describes Jesus healing physical ailments and spiritual problems, but never a disease that caused diminished mental capacity. (Please correct me if I’m wrong here!) Neither have I heard of anyone who was healed of Alzheimer ’s disease or severe mental retardation since the Ascension, though I have heard of people miraculously cured of cancer, alcohol addictions, and even gunshot wounds. Could it be that God doesn’t see diminished brainpower as a disability?

Though I consider intelligence one of my strengths, it seems likely to me that those who have been born with less intelligence as most of us (and those who have lost their minds to disease) must have different spiritual gifts. Could someone who is unable to interact intelligently with other humans be able to speak with God more directly than we are? I pray that if I ever do lose my ability to think clearly, I will still be able to keep my faith.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Is Jesus Really the Answer?

“Jesus is the answer to any question you have” isn’t as popular a cliché as it used to be, but it’s still part of the unwritten Christian phrase book. (I just heard someone say it this week.) The statement never made sense to me (still doesn’t), and I don’t understand how it became so popular. Yes, Jesus is the answer to many questions, but not every one:

"How can I be reconciled to God?" Jesus. (Works as an answer)

"Who demonstrated the best way for me to live?" Jesus. (Still works)

"Should I move in with my boyfriend?" Jesus. (Not quite – Jesus has the answer for that, but He isn’t actually the answer, even if your boyfriend’s name is “Jesus.”)

"What is the capital of Brazil?" Jesus. (Doesn’t work, unless you are trying to refer to the statue of Jesus in Rio de Janeiro, in which case you still have the capital city wrong)

"Will you show me yet again how to fix the flat tire I got on your car?" Jesus. (Not only wrong as an answer, but actually a violation of the third commandment, as commonly interpreted)

When will we Christians stop saying such nonsensical things as “Jesus is the answer” to non-Christians? It’s no wonder our attempts at evangelism are ineffective.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

This Post Has Been Deleted By the Author

I have deleted this post because someone I trust felt it was bordering on gossip -- I wrote about people who could be identified by the details I provided without letting them know I was discussing them.

Though it was not my intent to gossip, but rather to encourage open discussion that might eliminate some gossip, I do not want to be uncharitable in any way, and I apologize for any harm I have caused with my words. Please, if I have offended you personally, talk to me about it.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Christian Carnival #285

I spent much of last week proofreading a new website for American Missionary Fellowship, a nondenominational mission that sends me most of my freelance work. AMF has missionaries doing all kinds of ministry in rural and urban communities across the United States, and in honor of the mission, I am making an attempt to categorize this carnival’s posts into the EDC model AMF missionaries use: Evangelism, Discipleship, and Congregation. (Thanks for indulging me in this plug for AMF – and please consider their site my blog’s submission for the week. It’s not exactly a blog post, but it does have a Christian blog!) Because evangelism, discipleship, and congregation are closely related, a few posts could fit – at least loosely – in two or three categories, so I chose the one that seemed the most appropriate.

Evangelism (posts about how the church and individual Christians relate to people who don’t share our faith)

In “Talking Back Softly to an Angry World” posted at In Him We Live and Move and Have Our Being, NCSue urges us to begin talking civilly to (and about) those with differing viewpoints.

Rick Schiano outlines spiritual benefits of being a Christian in "Top Ten Reasons Why You Should Be a Christian” at Ricks Victory Blog.

At Parableman, Jeremy Pierce focuses on the politics of the intelligent design debate in “Francis Collins and Intelligent Design.” He writes, “President Obama has appointed Francis Collins as the head of the NIH. Collins has a complex view on intelligent design that people on both sides of the issue are probably going to misrepresent.”

In his sermon notes from “The Mission of God: Part 2,” Matt Rawlings (blogging at Pastor Matt) encourages us to pray for and minister to sinners because, though it makes little sense to us, God loved the Ninevites.

Henry Neufeld suggests atheists might not be too foolish in believing there is no God when they observe the behavior of Christians today. With his post, “Do We Live What We Believe” at Threads from Henry’s Web, he asks us to consider, “Do we live what we believe? If not, do we really believe it?”

Discipleship (posts about the teachings of Scripture and how we as Christians become more Christlike)

Adam Brown discusses the integration of faith and vocation in “God and Business, Work and Faith” at Faithology Now. He writes, “Work wants you to leave your faith at the door before entering. Some would argue that this means to vacate soul from body, to be a mindless working stiff of an empty self. To make matters worse, in most cases your church seemingly doesn't value your vocation and would rather care more about your weekly tithe over your workmanship. But are we really forced to submit to such a plight of a working life?” Adam also submitted a post on the church’s impact on society, but you’ll have to visit his blog to read it.

Weekend Fisher reconsiders theodicy -- the argument about God's goodness -- in this week's entry from Heart, Mind, Soul and Strength, “Theodicy: Why It’s Like Bringing a Knife to a Gun Fight.”

At Brain Cramps for God, John Howell points to the Holy Spirit in answering the question, “How Do Followers of Christ Know What To Follow?”

Christian Personal Finance offers insight into how we can bear more spiritual fruit in “5 Lessons from the Garden about Fruit Bearing.”

Greg Chaney from The Practical CHRISTian considers a rarely discussed third category of sins, “Sins of Attrition.” These he defines as “any activity that causes a slow drift away from our relationship with God.” He further explains, “Sometimes seemingly harmless activities over a lifetime lead us to a point we are separated from God and don’t even recognize it until it’s too late.”

Free Money Finance cites statistics on individual Christians’ beliefs about giving (what percentage believe in tithing on gross income vs. net income, for example) in “What Christians Believe about Giving.”

The study on the Beatitudes at Bible SEO (Bible Study Lessons Inductive Bible Studies Printable Bible Study Guide) continues with part five, “Blessed Are the Merciful.”
Jody Neufeld of Jody’s Devotionals offers us “Prayer Choices,” asking, “Do you make the choice to pray under all circumstances?”

In her meditation on “Psalm 139:23-24,”Micey from Thoughts and Confessions of a Girl Who Loves Jesus discusses the arduous process of applying to be a missionary with Pioneers Mission Organization.

Congregation (posts about how Christians relate to each other)

Meet the newest blog team member at Who Am I? in Barry Wallace’s “Interview with incoming SBTS seminarian Isaac Johnson.”

Any Minute – Book Talk” offers a teaser on Any Minute by Joyce Meyer and Deborah Bedford. Join the discussion of this novel at Christian Kindred, where Mel Turley asks, “Ever seek approval from your family or from a group of people where you wanted to be loved and accepted? So did Sarah Harper in Joyce Meyer's new fiction book, Any Minute. Find out if you relate to Sarah, and read more about her in this book talk.”

In “From My Youth. . .” at Child of Grace, Louise discusses the beauty of the simple testimonies of those who have been steady in the faith since childhood.

Next week’s carnival will be at Thoughts and Confessions of a Girl Who Loves Jesus. Enter your best post for the week (today through next Tuesday) here. Join the carnival’s Google group to get notices when new carnivals are posted.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Dork or Snob?

My mother and I had a rather adolescent disagreement yesterday. She said it would be better to be called a “snob” than a “dork”; I disagreed.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines “snob” as “1One who tends to patronize, rebuff, or ignore people regarded as social inferiors and imitate, admire, or seek association with people regarded as social superiors. 2One who affects an offensive air of self-satisfied superiority in matters of taste or intellect.” The attitude of a snob is contrary to the Christian command to love others and consider them more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).

On the other hand, a dork, defined as “A stupid, inept, or foolish person,” might actually be considered a compliment. (I’ll ignore the other definition, of which I was unaware until I looked it up.) I Corinthians 1:18-31 suggests that being seen as foolish puts you in good company. (“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. . . .”)

I’d rather be a dork than a snob. What about you?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Self-Interested Self-Denial

The entrance to our local library has a flyer posted: “Do something special for yourself. Join our Christian book discussion group.” While I am thrilled to be living in the kind of neighborhood that has a Christian book discussion group meeting in a public library, the advertising approach struck me as odd. Our culture is so saturated with self-centeredness that even a group that gathers to discuss a faith that requires self-denial appeals to self-centeredness to gain members.

Yes, there usually is some self-interest even in faith-centered activities. I might pray, study the Bible, or get involved in ministry out of obedience to God, but these activities still benefit me. Getting to know my Lord better is doing something special for myself. But motives are tricky things. When I follow Christ, I benefit, but if I follow Christ because I benefit, I am doing it for the wrong reasons.

Monday, June 15, 2009

VBS = "Very Big Show"?

Our church is hosting Vacation Bible School this week. The sanctuary has been transformed into a Roman marketplace – complete with the Coliseum in the background – and classrooms now resemble Paul’s household and a cave where followers of the Way met secretly. Volunteers have spent countless hours painting scenery, practicing nightly skits (which will take place among the crowds in the marketplace), and preparing games, crafts, and snacks. My own small role, overseeing registration, kept me at the computer long enough yesterday that my husband complained that our family day had been spoiled.

My son can hardly wait to go to VBS, and he’s already asking questions about its theme, “Rome: Paul and the Underground Church.” I’m sure he will love it. But I can’t help but wonder, will all the wow of VBS draw his attention to – or distract him from – the message of the week? Will he come away remembering the sets and the excitement of the marketplace or the volunteer who demonstrated Christ’s love in a simple way by serving him a snack? After one night at a friend’s farm-themed VBS last year, he still believes that friend goes to church in a barn.

This VBS is impressive; it’s a far cry from the VBS I attended as a child, where we made crafts with popsicle sticks, played silly games, and heard flannelboard stories. I don’t even recall having a theme for any of the years I attended. The biggest thing that made VBS stand out from weekly Sunday school was the Sunday night “final program” for our parents: we spent our music time practicing new songs to sing between scenes of a play with a small cast. (One year, my mom and I were the cast – a mother and daughter angel discussing the lessons kids learned in VBS the week before.) Now, the VBS programs children proudly performed for their parents have been reduced to one or two songs in the Sunday morning service, overshadowed by the nightly VBS performances for those children by adults.

Some argue that these VBS extravaganzas are necessary to draw in today’s media savvy children, but the typical small- to medium-sized church does not have the resources or the skills to compete successfully with the entertainment industry. Our church of 300 people has more than 100 volunteers working for weeks to impress about 50 four- to twelve-year-olds, at least half of whom are our own children. Many of the most dedicated volunteers feel drained and discouraged before the week even begins. Remembering the work, some are reluctant to volunteer the following year.

I am not saying that VBS is a waste of time. Far from it! VBS is an excellent way to express God’s love to children and introduce them to the tenets of the faith. I am, however, saying that the extra time and effort we put in to create an exciting theme could be better spent elsewhere. A simple VBS would do the job just as well as an elaborately themed extravaganza – maybe better. What makes VBS most effective is the commitment of the adults who get involved in the children’s lives, showing them by their interest and attention that God, too, cares about them. We have lost that focus. In a lot of our churches, the “Bible School” part of “VBS” is forgotten; those letters really stand for “Big Show.”

Thursday, June 11, 2009

What Makes You You?

I’ve spent a lot of time on Facebook recently, reconnecting with old friends. We’ve all changed since we knew each other offline. We’ve grown up, married, had children, changed careers. But the essential cores of my old friends remain the same. I might not recognize them if I saw them on the street, but I still know them. In some cases, I can predict old friends’ comments on status updates, even if I haven’t seen those friends in person for more than a decade. In many cases, I am certain that if miles didn’t separate us, we would be able to get together for dinner and feel as if we had not been apart for more than three days.

In conjunction with our pastor’s two-part sermon on being new in Christ, these experiences make me wonder what it is that makes us who we are. Genes and environment, yes, but it’s something more than that. A person who becomes new in Christ changes his or her actions and way of thinking, but close friends would still recognize that person as the one they know and love. Fred might “change completely” when he becomes a believer (or even meets a new girl), but he’s still essentially Fred and not Bob or Jerry.

As we become more like Christ, how much of us has to change before we’re unrecognizable? And does that ever happen? How much of me will always be me, even when I’m made perfect in the next life?

I have more questions than answers here, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Guest Post at Christian Personal Finance

I've written a guest post for the Christian Personal Finance blog, "Is Your Mortgage Hindering You from Fulfilling God's Call?" Check it out.

If you've found this blog from that site, welcome! My intent is to write thought-provoking posts that generate discussion. Please leave comments -- whether you agree or disagree, I'll be glad to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Stranger Danger

I teach my children about stranger danger. I spend a fair amount of time shredding junk mail. I am careful about using my children’s first names online; I know people who will not accept Facebook friend requests from acquaintances because they want to protect their children. And I wonder whether the greater danger to my children is from an unknown predator or from me.

It’s a difficult balance to maintain. Of course I want to protect my children from the horrors of abuse. Of course I want them to be healthy and safe. But I don’t want to teach them to live in fear of potential dangers and of people in general.

In short, I fear that fear of the harm people can cause us is keeping us all from building relationships, from getting to know people who can bring joy, encouragement, and friendship into our lives. Yes, some people might do something awful to us or our children. Yes, we should “be wise in the way [we] act toward outsiders” (Colossians 4:5). But if we follow every recommended precaution against unknown people who intend to do us wrong, we will build walls around our families that keep out everyone.

Colossians 4:5 starts, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders,” but it ends, “make the most of every opportunity.” Our focus is wrong. We should be wise not about keeping out potential harm but about finding the best way to express Christ’s love to “outsiders.”

I have to remind myself that all my friends were once strangers. If I had never shared any personal information with them, if I had never accepted an invitation from someone I knew only casually, I would never have had the opportunity to love them or to enjoy their love for me.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Thoughts on The Shack

I know I’m years behind on this post, but I put off reading The Shack
by William Paul Young until recently. It didn’t look like the kind of book I would enjoy, and I’m always a bit skeptical of something that is too popular (does it ever live up to the hype?), but the recommendations I received from friends finally reached critical mass, so I picked it up. I posted these comments on Facebook in the hopes of starting a discussion with some friends who have read it, and I thought I might as well post them here, too:

As a novel, The Shack is slightly better than I expected, but still mediocre, at least in the beginning – the writing style is more tell than show, which leaves the characters seeming shallow and the motivations weak. (For example, the law enforcement officers would not normally share so much with the parent of a crime victim – what about the situation caused them to break protocol?) The part of the book where Mack is meeting with God is definitely stronger, though the plot still doesn’t follow naturally from the characters’ actions; the content – a conversation with God – seems better suited for a nonfiction book than a novel.

I do, however, understand why the author chose a novel as the vehicle for his ideas – I doubt that many of the book’s readers would have picked up a nonfiction book with a lot of Scripture references in parentheses. I also believe the fiction format brings a fresh perspective to the gospel, and it has brought understanding to many people who couldn’t relate to old-fashioned ways of telling the story of redemption or who missed some crucial points in their Sunday school classes. In fact, I am surprised by the variety of friends and acquaintances who have commented on this book – among them are people from a range of denominational backgrounds, an ordained minister, and one person I was surprised to learn had enough interest in Christianity to read this book.

I didn’t find much I considered blatantly unscriptural in the theology of The Shack. The way “seeing as God does” involved seeing people’s auras was more Shirley MacLaine than the Apostle Paul, and the suggestion that God can only redeem someone once the human victims of that person’s sins offer forgiveness was so inconsistent with the rest of the book that I wonder if I misread it both times it appeared. (If God has to wait for us to forgive first, whom could He ever forgive?) I also disagree with the author on a few more (mostly minor) points, such as the ideas that evil does not exist except as the absence of good and the Holy Spirit is inspiration and creativity. What bothered me most, however, was not an undertone of false doctrine but the absence or underemphasis of a few key theological ideas:

First, the holiness of God – correct me if I’m wrong, but in the Bible, when people see God (with the exception of the incarnated Jesus), they only see a glimpse of Him or a symbolic representation of Him. He is too holy for us to see Him face to face and live (Exodus 33:19-20). While Christ enables us to approach God as a loving parent, I believe that the initial response to seeing Him would still be overwhelming awe and fear, mixed with a sense of one’s own unholiness – not Mack’s response of confusion at the visible form He takes. I believe God can show Himself to individuals, but I don’t believe He would show Himself so casually. The ending, which plants doubt as to whether Mack actually saw God in the flesh, may have intended to address this problem, but it does so inadequately.

Also in relation to that sense of holiness, I am bothered by the fact that the author made God such a tangible character in the book. It seems presumptive to put words in God’s mouth, even if those words are consistent with what He has already said in the Bible. Putting words in God’s mouth demonstrates an overconfidence that your own particular theology is absolutely correct, and while I believe that we can be certain of some of our beliefs – the basic orthodox doctrines that Christians throughout the ages have believed – I suspect that all of us are wrong about at least a few of our beliefs on minor points of doctrine.

Second, the authority of Scripture – the Bible plays a very small role in The Shack. In fact, the presence of a Gideon Bible in Mack’s nightstand is almost a joke. He is, after all, visiting with God – why does He need a Bible? Yet, the Bible is God’s inspired Word, and I believe it is the primary way He communicates with us today. Yes, God does still speak to us and direct us individually as the Holy Spirit resides in us, but any time we hear from God, we still need to turn to the Bible to make sure it’s really Him we hear speaking.

Third, the need for confession and repentance –Yes, I know this book is about the problem of pain and the value of a relationship with God, but a basic tenet of the gospel is that our own sins create a barrier such a relationship. Mack could not have had intimate conversations with God until he addressed his own specific sins, such as the sin of poisoning his father. (He does, late in the book, apologize to his father, but he never asks God to forgive this murder.) In The Shack, repentance is seen as the result of a relationship with God, not the cause of it. Conviction and repentance are ongoing in a believer’s life, as the book portrays well, but they also need to take place to some degree when we start a relationship with God.

So, I’d love to hear from you – What did you all like or dislike about The Shack? How has it affected your life?

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Life of O'Reilly: An Argument for God?

My parents just read Bill O’Reilly’s memoir, A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity. He was pretty naughty as a child,” my mother said.

My father was impressed by O’Reilly’s argument for God: “He says he likes to talk to atheists,” Dad said. “He says to them, ‘What would you say about someone who got into fights and all kinds of trouble when he was young and then grew up to speak in front of millions of people and write several books? If God can do that for me, He can do it for anyone.’”

“I don’t think that’s a very good argument for God,” I said to Dad.

He was irked by my comment. “Well, that’s your opinion,” he said in the tone of voice that implied my opinion meant nothing.

My opinion might not be worth much, but I am sure I share it with many of the atheists my father says O’Reilly is trying to convince. Many childhood troublemakers grow up to be successful in their chosen careers. Many atheists are among them. I doubt any of them would see a successful career and a lot of media exposure as proof of God at work in their lives. A much better argument for the existence of God than the one that impressed my father would be “He got into fights and all kinds of trouble when he was young, but now he is humble and kind and selfless.”

As a freelance writer, I often get to talk with people who have undergone or witnessed dramatic transformations. It’s one of the best parts of the job. You probably haven’t heard of David Cruz, one person I recently interviewed. He isn’t famous, his influence extends to several hundred people (not millions), and I doubt he’s written any books. But my opinion (however little it is worth) is that David Cruz’s life story provides far better evidence of God’s existence than Bill O’Reilly’s. *

Success in the world can come without dependence on God; inner transformation cannot.

*Disclaimer: I have not read O’Reilly’s memoirs, so there may be more to the story than what my dad reported. It’s possible he gives more evidence of inner transformation, in which case, it could be a good argument for God.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Why Don't More Faith Communities Emphasize Simple Living?

My church is part of a denomination whose doctrinal statement reads in part, “Nonconformity calls us to reject the world’s unrestrained materialism, its sensualism, and its self-centeredness. Rather we seek to express the values of God’s kingdom by a lifestyle of modesty and simplicity.” Nevertheless, in the eight and a half years I have been a part of this denomination, I remember hearing only one sermon on simple living.* In fact, I believe that was the only sermon I ever heard on the topic, despite having been a part of various Christian churches all my life.

I wouldn’t call the members of my congregation extravagant, but most are saturated in consumerism, just like the majority of people in our culture. They drive big cars, wear fashionable new clothing, eat out frequently, pursue expensive hobbies, and think nothing about paying to attend church events. Those who do live simply are usually those who are forced to do so by below-average household incomes.

The church has started offering Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University courses, and those who have taken them seem to be trying to live debt free and within their means, but few truly make an effort to live substantially below their means, which is what I think of when I hear “simple living” or “frugal living.” (As an aside, I don’t understand the point of paying $93 to take the Ramsey course when the same information is available for free online and through the public library.)

At my church we hear frequent sermons on giving, but without specifics on how to live so that we can afford to give. One prayer we pray, thanking God for rebates, clearance sales, and freebies that allow us to be good financial stewards, seems almost like a joke. Frugal living goes far beyond buying things on clearance.

Sadly, not only have few churches emphasized simple living (even in denominations that make it part of their doctrinal statements), but many people see the North American church as completely intertwined with consumerism. Televangelists preaching material prosperity are the dominant images of Christians in many people’s minds. In reality, most Christians would say they believe in the doctrine of stewardship, defined in Christian terms as the belief that all our money and material goods belong to God and are ours to manage for Him, to use for His purposes. I remember little more than the basics from my college world religion class, but I have the notion that other faiths have similar doctrines to this Christian doctrine of stewardship.

So why don’t more faith communities practice frugal living and more clergy preach it? For one, I think part of it is that a frugal lifestyle seems too radical. The Amish, cloistered nuns, and others who actually choose to live simply are seen as inherently different from the rest of us. Typical believers can’t possible attain that level of holiness or separatism, many believe. However, we don’t need to completely separate ourselves from the world to reject consumerism (even though cloistered living would help!)

I also believe that many members of the clergy are afraid to preach about frugal living because they struggle with living that way themselves. The one sermon I did hear on the topic was from the perspective of “I know this area isn’t my strength, but here’s what I’m learning” rather than “Follow me, and I will show you how it’s done.” At the same time, the topic of how we spend our money (or not) can be seen as too personal, even in a culture with few other taboos. Few people are willing to talk openly about their income and spending habits, even with those they call “Brother” and “Sister” in a house of worship.

At the risk of attributing false motives to others, I will also say that I believe some clergy (certainly not all) are afraid that if they start to talk about living simply, they will scare away potential converts and even dedicated members. I hope I am wrong. I hate to think that faith leaders are willing to ask their congregations to give up drugs and alcohol, limit sex to marriage, practice honesty in all circumstances, and dress modestly, but believe that the typical person of faith is unwilling to address greed and consumerism in his or her life.

Speaking as a layperson, I would love to get more support from my church in my efforts to live frugally. Sermons offering practical tips for rejecting consumerism, encouragement in simple living from fellow members of my faith community, and more free fellowship events would go a long way in helping me and others like me who want “to reject the world’s unrestrained materialism, its sensualism, and its self-centeredness” but feel like we are going against not just the world’s dominant culture, but also the culture of our own faith communities (no matter what the official doctrine states).

*I originally wrote this post in April 2008 for the blog at Saving Advice. Since then, our pastors offered a series of sermons on the church’s core values, including an excellent one on simple living that included some practical tips. It was a great start, but I believe we still have a long way to go.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

You May Gladly Have My Trash!

“Some guy with a truck took that broken lawnmower you left out for the trash last week,” a neighbor recently told us with a hint of scandal – even offense – in her voice.

“Great!” my husband and I both responded. “Glad someone could use it.” She seemed surprised that we weren’t as shocked as she was.

I like my neighbor, so I hope she doesn’t know about the time we agreed to hold a hot-tub cover in our yard for a passerby who spotted it on a different neighbor’s trash pile. (“My husband can pick it up this afternoon,” she had promised. “We were just about to spend $100+ to buy one!”) Or the time I offered to help a different couple load a perfectly good sofa into their truck after it [the sofa] appeared on the curb in our neighborhood. I might start to get a reputation as the neighbor whose love of “junk" is bringing down property values!

I do love seeing “junk” saved from the trash and made useful again. Maybe it’s the symbolic redemption I love, or maybe the resourcefulness of trash pickers simply appeals to my frugal nature. Whatever the cause, I hate to throw away anything that someone else can use; on the occasions when no one we know would appreciate what we need to get rid of, I hope for a stranger to take it home before the garbage collectors take it to the landfill. But I am certainly in the minority in our area. In fact, one of our township newsletters urged residents to report anyone seen “stealing” from the recycle bins. (The argument was that the trash company would raise rates for garbage pickup if it didn’t get enough recyclable materials to earn money on.)

I can understand the argument against stealing recyclables, but what I can’t understand is this: How did Americans become so stingy that we would rather see something be buried than give it away?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

That Old-Time Religion: Not Good Enough for Me

Sunday school songs taught me many theological truths, even before I was old enough to realize I was learning anything more than simple lyrics and a simple tune. For this reason, I have been trying to expose my preschoolers to some classic Sunday school songs. Last week I was playing a CD of these oldies-but-goodies (Cedarmont Kids’ Sabbath School Songs) when I really listened to the lyrics of one I hadn’t learned as a child:

“Give me that old-time religion. . . . It’s good enough for me.”

Ignoring the use of “religion” (a term I hate because it suggests lifeless rituals as opposed to an active faith in a living God), I was shocked to hear some entirely unbiblical ideas in a few of the verses of this particular version:

“It was good for the prophet Daniel. . . . It was good for the Hebrew children. . . . and it’s good enough for me.”

Wow! Doesn’t the New Testament say that the religion practiced by the Israelites was not good enough, that the Law was only a shadow of the coming Messiah, designed to show us that we cannot achieve perfection on our own (Hebrews 10:1-4)? I began to wonder if I had a CD of Jewish songs, rather than Christian songs, but no, the playlist includes “Jesus Loves the Little Children” and “Twelve Disciples,” among other distinctly new-covenant tunes.

I believe in the value of tradition, but I am not willing to embrace a pre-Christian, old-time religion as “good enough for me.” I will settle for nothing less than a living, relevant faith that makes a difference in my life today.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Christian College Porn Star: How Should Christian Schools Handle Students’ Sin?

My alma mater, a conservative Christian college, recently made the news for suspending a student for acting in porn films.

I got an excellent education at my alma mater. I love that it taught me how to evaluate all areas of life from a Christian perspective but did not require students to be Christians to attend. In fact, some of my best and most thought-provoking conversations about faith on that campus were with agnostic and Deistic friends. (I also felt fit in better with those friends than with many of the Christian students, but that’s a post for a different day. . . .)

The college had (and still has) far fewer restrictions than most Christian colleges; in fact, its rules are similar to those of many secular universities, but they are actually enforced. Students know that they will face serious consequences if they break one of the school’s two big rules: One involves the hours that girls and guys are allowed in each other’s dorms (intervisitation). The other strictly prohibits drinking. Being a non-drinker who liked being able to walk from the bathroom to my dorm room wrapped in a towel and not run into any guys, I was glad for these rules. I felt like I had just the right amount of freedom for that stage of my life, and the rules created an atmosphere where I felt comfortable.

So, my first reaction in hearing of the porn actor’s suspension was that the school handled the situation well. He was treated as any student caught violating the big rules might have been – suspended with the possibility of returning in a year if he showed a willingness to find another way to earn money. The student knew the rules when he chose the college, and he should be willing to accept the consequences. If he wanted to become a porn star, he should have gone to a different college. My initial concern was whether the student who recognized the student and reported him was also disciplined for viewing pornography.

However, the more I think about the situation, the more I’m not so sure the aspiring porn star (who, based on a quick Google search, might not need the “aspiring” qualifier) should have been suspended. He is a student, not a faculty member, and he is not necessarily expected to adhere to Christian doctrine, even if he did agree to follow a certain code of conduct when he accepted the school’s offer of admission. Do his actions outside of class really affect the college’s core values? (News reports do say that he considers himself a Christian and suggest that he sees no conflict between those beliefs and his acting career.)

When the local Christian high school expelled a student who got pregnant, I was disgusted. It seemed to me that the school was suggesting her sin was worse than anyone else’s. Am I being inconsistent in abhorring a high school student’s expulsion but supporting a college student’s suspension for similar offenses?

I can’t quite explain why my initial reactions are so different in situations that are so similar. I think maybe it has something to do with the different nature of high school and college. High school is required (at least until a student reaches a certain age), and while a Christian high school is a private school that should certainly have the right to enforce a higher standard of morality than a public school, expelling a student from high school seems to be a harsher punishment than suspending a college student for a year. College students are also legal adults (most of the time) and should be expected to take greater responsibility for their actions.

Higher education is a privilege. Students tend to have a much greater choice in which college they attend than which high school they attend. Being suspended from college does not necessarily derail an academic career; in fact, in this particular case, I expect the student will have many offers from liberal schools who want to denounce what they undoubtedly see as discrimination. (In fact, in one of the articles I read about the matter, the student’s lawyer used the word “discrimination.” I think that’s a false accusation, however, as any student caught acting in a porn film would have received the same treatment from the college.)

In the end, the question I can’t quite answer is "What is the most Christlike way for a Christian school to respond when students’ sin becomes a public matter?" Should the school make and consistently enforce rules that foster spiritual growth among the majority of the student body, or should it extend extra grace and mercy to individual students who sin, particularly if students have not professed a faith in Christ or have professed faith and show repentance from the sins in question? And does it make a difference whether the school is a high school or a university?

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Christian Carnival, Edition 275

Being relatively new to blogging and to the Christian Carnival, I am excited to be a first-time hostess for this, the 275th edition! The carnival brings together Christian bloggers from many different denominational (and nondenominational) backgrounds, offering readers a variety of Christian thought on many topics of interest.

Next week’s hostess will be Michelle from Thoughts and Confessions of a Girl Who Loves Jesus. Enter your best post for the week (today through next Tuesday) here. Join the carnival’s Google group to get notices when new carnivals are posted.

Now, a review of the week in Christian blogs:

Wednesday, April 29, and earlier

Brandon Peterson, who states his conviction “that reformed theology properly captures the essence and the transcendent nature of God,” outlined the five core doctrines of Calvinism in “Human Responsibility vs. God’s Sovereignty.”

Free Money Finance addressed the fine line between saving and hoarding in its weekly feature on Money and the Bible.

Jeremy Rooney at Your Christian Voice related a parent’s love to God’s love for us in “A Father’s Love.”

“God doesn't want us to be afraid of the hard road, because he will be right there beside us,” Tracy Dear wrote in “This Is Sin – The Easy Road” at New Mercy.

Martin Roth at Christian Counseling Services played virtual matchmaker in “The Single Christian,” which he describes as “a commentary on the extent to which God has a plan – and an ideal mate – for every Christian.”

Thursday, April 30

Jeff from concluded his Wolves in Wool series on false teachers and false doctrines with “From Christ to Antichrist.”

Ronnica at Ignorant Historian took on the controversial topic of whether homosexuality is genetic in “Gay Worms?”

In “Persecution & Compromise: Double Trouble for Revelation’s Readers” at Boston Bible Geeks, Danny offered “some thoughts on the message of Revelation for the original readers and for us today,” including this one: “Perhaps the American church isn’t facing the beast, but we are facing the harlot.”

Explaining that “You can tell a lot about your future by your attitude towards God and life,” Christian Personal Finance submitted “Attitude: Turning the Negative into the Positive,” which discusses how putting your faith in God can change your attitude and help you see the opportunities around you.

Scripture We Like to Ignore: Mark 10:17-30, Giving to the Poor” right here at The Minority Thinker also encouraged readers to think about money and our attitudes as Christians.

Friday, May 1

The Problem of Evil” at Weblog of a Christian Philosophy Student is the result of “a discussion that a Christian friend found helpful on the problem of evil - using the difference between 'brain' and 'mind' to explain why we must suffer,” according to blogger William Green.

Lynn Fowler of Christian Spiritual Warfare said in “Walking in Peace” that in Ephesians 6:15, “Paul is not talking about our taking the Gospel to others, but rather about the effect that the Gospel has on us personally.” She then explained that the Gospel of peace means both having peace with God and having the peace of God.

Robert Minto stayed up late to watch X-Men Origins: Wolverine and reviewed it at The Veil Away. When submitting this post, he remarked, “the purpose of the review is to reflect on the way that super-heroes pose and answer a theological question [the righteous and merciful character of God] and how that is at the base of their appeal to us.”

Saturday, May 2

Rey Reynosa from The Bible Archive continued a series on the resurrection of believers with “The Possibility of a Resurrection,” a post that explains “how a physical resurrection is possible based on our own biological and cosmological experience” and what having a resurrection body means.

Michelle made some resolutions to celebrate a new year of life (happy birthday, Michelle!) in Psalm 139:13-16 at Thoughts and Confessions of a Girl Who Loves Jesus.

Sunday, May 3

Jim DeSantis submitted his post, “Are There Only Nine Commandments?” from On Line Tribune Reports: Spiritual Maters, along with this summary: “One of the most controversial subjects among Christians today is whether or not the Ten Commandments are still valid today. While many concede that nine of them are still valid, but the 4th one concerning keeping of the Sabbath on the day ordained and sanctified by God is no longer necessary, some even go as far as to say that all ten have been abolished and that we are now ‘Under Grace, not the Law.’ How do these viewpoints line up biblically?”

Monday, May 4

In my favorite post of this week’s carnival, Weekend Fisher explored “Christian themes – and their opposites” in the Twilight novels. Check it out in “Twilight: Fantasy, Romance, and Gospel” at Heart, Mind, Soul, and Strength.

Richard Anderson quotes scholars with contrasting opinions in “Different Views of Luther’s Atonement Thinking” at dokeo kago grapho soi kratistos Theophilos.

Stephen Miracle offered us “Conquer The Unknown and Fulfill Your Destiny” at Inspirational Thoughts & Stories for the Spiritual Christian. I can’t relate to his fear of approaching women, but I can agree with his thesis that “All important things – whether God, life, or relationships – come with uncertainties and a need for faith. If you dream for more, then you must get beyond yourself.”

Mark Olson considered two words in “Word and Meaning: Sin and Mystery” at Pseudo-Polymath.

Tuesday, May 5

Can We Trust the Gospels?” at Homeward Bound addressed some comments from an earlier post by pointing to the work of Mark D. Roberts. When submitting the post, Chris B. wrote, “Why should we believe what the Gospels tell us about Jesus? That is the fundamental question we have to answer before we approach the resurrection or any other topic relating to the life and ministry of Jesus. Join [the discussion] as we explore the answer to this question.”

Jeremy Pierce posted “Anti-Creationism Unconstitutional”at Parableman. He writes, “A U.S. District Court in California has applied Supreme Court precedents on endorsement of religion to rule that it's unconstitutional to declare creationism to be superstitious nonsense. This post argues that this is the wrong result constitutionally, but it gets Supreme Court precedent right.” Thanks, Jeremy, for a thoughtful exploration of this topic – and for your behind-the-scenes advice for my first carnival hosting job!

One thing this week’s submissions show is that a lot of thoughtful Christians are blogging. May these posts encourage you to refine your thinking and renew your commitment to Christ!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Life Verses – Special Calling or More Christian Conformity?

My niece graduated from a Christian high school, and each yearbook photo included the student’s “life verse” alongside his or her name and accomplishments. The idea of claiming a life verse at that point seemed both encouraging and absurd – encouraging that students were beginning to see specific callings and directions for their lives; absurd that someone’s life purpose could be reduced to a single verse, especially when so little of that person’s life had already been lived at that point.

I have since gained a better appreciation for life verses and have even claimed one of my own: Romans 12:2, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. . . .” (NIV). It seems that no matter what God has called me to do at each stage of my life, it involves using my mind and doing things that aren’t considered popular.

Speaking of what’s popular, I noticed in my niece’s yearbook that even certain “life verses” were more popular than others. Multiple students claimed verses like Jeremiah 29:11 or Philippians 4:13. No one seemed to want Acts 9:16 or Matthew 8:20. Even Exodus 31:3 and Song of Songs 7:8 (which may better state many teenage boys’ goals!) were missing from the list. I wonder why, if God made each of us unique, most of us tend to identify with the same few verses – and evidently the same purpose or calling – as so many others.

What about you? If you have a life verse, how did you choose it? How does it fit your unique personality and calling?

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Scripture We Like To Ignore: Mark 10:17-30, Giving to the Poor

Did Jesus really say, “Sell all you have and give to the poor?” Yes, he did – to a rich man who, claiming to have kept all the other commands, asked Jesus how to get into heaven. When the man left, feeling sad at the thought of giving away all he had, Jesus commented to the disciples that it was impossible for rich men to enter the kingdom of heaven on their own – it would be more likely for a camel to squeeze through a needle’s eye.

The rich man who came to Jesus was challenged to love God more than his own stuff. That’s a challenge most of us in the West are not willing to take. God might not call all of us to sell everything we have – in fact, other passages of Scripture suggest we should manage our money wisely so that we can provide for our families – but we are all called to give generously, to “share with God’s people who are in need” (Romans 12:13, NIV).

Greed is one of our culture’s most prominent sins. It has been twisted to become a virtue in the secular world and even within the church, where money is sometimes viewed as a mark of God’s favor on a person of faith. But Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor” (Luke 6:20, NIV). Philip Yancey, in The Jesus I Never Knew, points out several reasons why the poor are blessed, including their ability to recognize their dependence on God. Dependence on wealth will not get us to heaven, as Jesus told the rich man in Mark 10.

One way the rich are blessed, however, is in their ability to give – and being able to give is indeed a blessing (Proverbs 22:9, et. al.). One writer says that extraordinary gifts of God come for the purpose of filling extraordinary needs, and the Western world today has been given the extraordinary gift of wealth specifically so that we can help those who are living in extreme poverty. (I apologize for not attributing the idea – I have forgotten exactly where I read it.) We certainly have been wasting that gift!

If you are reading this post on a computer, you already have more than the rich man in Jesus’ story, even if you are considered middle class or poor in your own country. The current issue of A Common Place, the Mennonite Central Committee’s magazine, features the organization’s Food for All program. According to MCC, $38 can feed a seven-person family in Kenya for a month, while $20 can provide a school year’s lunches for a student in Zimbabwe. My family can spend that much on one dinner out!

Have you been using your financial gifts from God to help those in need? I know I could afford to be more generous.

Thanks to Diana at damascusmoments for suggesting this passage for my series on Scripture we like to ignore. If you have any suggestions for other verses Christians tend to overlook or underemphasize, please let me know.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Review of The Noticer by Andy Andrews

Jones, the title character in The Noticer by Andy Andrews, must read a lot of Christian nonfiction. His plentiful advice, which radically changes the lives of the other characters in the book, seems to come from the pages of books like The Five Love Languages (but only after being stripped of elements that make the advice distinctly Christian).

It’s not clear which parts of this “based-on-a-true-story” book are fiction and which are not, especially with Andrews himself appearing as a character. In the end, it doesn’t matter much, as the numerous characters are there mainly to create situations and conversations that allow the mysterious Jones to offer platitudes (he calls it “perspective”) that would, in real life, be unlikely to have the revolutionary effects they have in the book.

The Noticer can serve as a sort of Cliffs Notes for readers who want the basics of Christian pop psychology for every occasion but can’t quite digest a book without some hint of a plot. It offers a feel-good quote or two for everyone, but not enough substance to really help anyone.

This review is written as part of Thomas Nelson’s Book Review Bloggers program: If you have a blog and love to read, check it out.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Child's Best Friends: The Wonderpets?

The children’s cable channel Noggin has an ad campaign stating, “They just learn best when they’re with their best friends.” (I looked for the ad online but can’t find it – if anyone else can, please post the link here or send it to me!) The adults delivering the lines are thrilled to talk about what their children are learning, but I can’t get past the fact that a channel is touting its fictional characters as children’s “best friends.” It makes me sad for those children – can’t they make any real friends?

Then I realize that I sometimes feel like I know television characters better than real people. Watching them interact is less messy than making real friends– they are always doing something interesting, no one has hurt feelings when someone else makes a funny but hurtful remark, and I never have to worry about finding the right thing to say or do in awkward or difficult circumstances. Plus my television friends are never too busy to hang out with me. It’s easier to have pretend friends than to make real ones.

I can’t say whether having television friends is the cause or effect of having fewer or shallower real friendships, but hearing fictional people called “best friends” is a great reminder that I need to get my kids and myself out more. We need to get to know real people with real joys and real hurts.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Scripture We Like To Ignore: I Timothy 2:9-15, Women in Church Leadership

Christians don’t ignore I Timothy 2:9-15 in the same way that we ignore the others I’ve been writing about. Quite the opposite – most Christians know about these verses and have strong feelings about them. Instead, this passage is the elephant in the room – we ignore it because no one wants to cause dissention by talking about their views on the issue.

People on both sides of the debate over women in church leadership tend to dismiss the other side’s beliefs and write them off as less Christian – either because they are “suppressing the work of the Holy Spirit” and “oppressing women” or are “not taking the Word seriously” and are sinning by “being too worldly” and “refusing to submit.” Few people are willing to have an open discussion about whether the Bible does, indeed, prohibit women from being leaders in the church.

When discussing this topic in a religion class at my Christian college, my favorite professor gave us a general guideline for interpreting Scripture. If the passage in question is still an issue in our culture, we should interpret it literally. If it is not an issue, the principles can be applied to similar situations. So, for example, the passages that tell us not to lie or murder are literal and timeless, while those about eating meat sacrificed to idols were meant for first-century Christians and can be applied to things like drinking alcohol today.

The question is, into which category does I Timothy 2:9-15 fall? Many contemporary Christians say the passage, particularly verse 13 (“I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.”[ NIV]) was meant for a specific time, but the appeal to Adam and Eve in verses 14-15 makes me think that this particular command is a timeless one. By contrast, verses 9-10, which prohibit gold jewelry and braided hair, are examples to illustrate the original command of verse 9 to dress modestly. Gold jewelry and braided hair are no longer considered immodest, so I could apply the overall command to today’s standards and avoid wearing tight micro-minis and low-cut crop tops.

Supporters of women in leadership often point to the deaconesses mentioned in the Bible. What about them? For one, the term “deaconess” does not appear in any of the most common Bible translations. I have little to support this argument, but I believe that the women mentioned in Scripture whom some call “deaconesses” were not necessarily church leaders but played other vital roles in the church’s ministry.

So, if I am correct that women still should not “teach or have authority over a man,” how does that play out? I would understand it to mean that women should not be in any positions where they might be able to make decisions by which men must abide and should not be preaching from the pulpit or teaching adult Sunday school classes. Following this idea logically, I still have some uncertainty about the application of the verses in other circumstances:

What about women in charge of a church’s children’s program, where their main purpose would be leading and teaching children but they may be required to hold authority over male teachers?

What about small group leaders? In our current small group, it is a woman who “leads” by asking questions from a book. But is she really teaching , or is she enabling a discussion? Should the book itself be considered the teacher? If so, does that limit what kinds of books Christian women can write?

What does it mean for a woman to “be silent” in church? Can she sing? Can she pray out loud? Can she offer her opinion in group discussions?

What about parachurch organizations? Can a woman be the director of a pregnancy care center? I believe that women could hold some of those positions, but only if the rest of the staff members are women. So does that require reverse discrimination, in which men are not hired for lower positions because they would be working under a woman?

What about secular roles of leadership and authority in business or education? I personally struggled with this issue when I taught at two local post-secondary schools and had men as students. Should Christian women avoid taking jobs that put them in charge of men, and should Christian men refuse to work under women in secular businesses? If so, should men quit existing jobs if women are hired as their bosses and women quit if men are hired to work under them?

Maybe I am splitting hairs, but I believe that it is important to understand how we should apply Scripture to our lives on a practical level. I would love to hear your opinions. If you believe women should lead alongside men, how do you interpret the referral to Adam and Eve? If you believe that it is not biblical for women to be in church leadership, how would you answer some of the questions above?

I am writing a series of posts about Bible passages Christians tend to overlook or underemphasize. If you have any suggestions for any ignored Scriptures to include, please let me know!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Making Other People Work on Sundays

Christians are notorious for flooding restaurants after church services. I have even heard pastors joke about keeping sermons short so that listeners can beat members of another congregation to a popular restaurant. Eating out after church provides an opportunity for extended fellowship and helps Christians avoid the work of preparing and cleaning up after a meal on a day that is usually set aside for rest.

But what about the restaurant employees? Are we forcing them to work on Sundays by going out to eat? Should we be?

My family occasionally eats out on Sundays, and we often walk around the mall, go bargain hunting at local drugstores, or go grocery shopping on Sunday afternoons. I bothers me that I’m making others work on Sundays, even those who wouldn’t go to church anyway, but I hate to miss out on the free-after-rebate deals that are sold out by Monday, and walking around the mall is one of my husband’s favorite forms of relaxation.

As for grocery shopping, sometimes finding time to shop on another day is more stressful than actually going on a Sunday. We tend to schedule any full-day family activities for Saturdays (our normal grocery shopping days) because church takes a half-day of our time. Our pantries are nearly empty by the weekend, and when we do have a busy Saturday, we have to find some time to go shopping – Sunday afternoon tends to be the most convenient.

I’ve heard some arguments that partially relieve my guilty conscience about making others work Sundays. I wonder if I’m rationalizing, though, when I remind myself that the store would be open even I didn’t come. So far, the best argument I have heard for patronizing businesses on Sundays is the impossibility of going to the logical extreme – if I don’t want anyone else to work on Sunday, I couldn’t go to the emergency room, call the fire department, or even turn on a light one day a week.

I wouldn’t advocate reinstating the blue laws that required stores to remain closed on Sundays – after all, not everyone worships on a Sunday – but I would like to do something to honor those that prioritize worship over commerce by staying closed one day a week. I would also like to see Christians doing something more to promote a slower pace of life one day a week.

Any ideas?