Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Immigration - An International View

As America continues to ramp up the rhetoric over immigration instead of coming up with a plan that is fair to every American and hopeful alien, the Republicans have pulled out all the stops and gone after the 14th amendment.

Finally law makers are going after our beloved Constitutions to make a point; knowing that it is unlikely that the 14th will be repealed.

Just last week amidst the debate over building a Mosque 721.257896345 yards from ground zero, another story surfaced of a missionary to Korea.

Aijalon Mahli Gomes, who was raised in Boston and had been working as an English teacher in South Korea, was arrested in January and sentenced to eight years of hard labor ($750,000.00 fine) for illegally entering North Korea from China. READ MORE...

In fact a few stories have surface this year, and a bunch of others have gone unnoticed. Hard labor in North Korea is HARD. It seems to be a fairly good deterrent. It is used to punish NK nationals that escape to China and are deported back.

As we grapple with immigration. It's an important issue for us, and just having an opinion based on nothing, is ignorant.

The International Organization for Migration states:
Around 450,000 undocumented Mexicans enter the United States every year, in addition to others from Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and South America. The Mexican southern border with Guatemala has become the key crossing point for migrants coming from Central and South America, most of them in transit towards the United States. In 2004, around 215,000 Central American migrants were intercepted by Mexican authorities and returned to their countries of origin.

I want to showcase some of our competitors:


Mexico - Under Article 123 of the General Population Act, illegal immigration is an offense punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine of up to 5,000 pesos, or about $450. Typically, any crime with a punishment of a year or more is considered a felony.


Article 118 of the act says foreigners who are deported and then later attempt to re-enter the country without authorization can be punished with up to 10 years in prison.

SOURCE


Canada - The Canadian Immigration Act makes inadmissible any person who has: 

(a) committed or been convicted of an offence in Canada, or
(b) who has committed or been convicted of an offence abroad that would also be considered an offence in Canada.

It proposes people who intend to apply for Canadian citizenship to be present physically in the country for 3 years of the preceding 4 years as one of the prerequisites of obtaining citizenship residence in Canada.


SOURCE


UK - five years legal residence in the UK
- indefinite leave to remain or "equivalent" for this purpose (see above) must have been held for 12 months
the applicant must intend to continue to live in the UK or work overseas for the UK government or a British corporation or association
- the same "good character" standards apply as for those married to British citizens
- the same language and knowledge of life in the UK standards apply as for those married to British citizens


SOURCE


All of them were taken to Torquay police station for further enquiry by the immigration officers. They will be kept there as detainees till they will be deported from the UK as they are not allowed to stay in UK. Their employer will also be facing with penalty as a punishment for employing the illegal immigrants. Those who employ the illegal immigrants in their business are also punished and are subjected to heavy fine as civil penalty.

SOURCE

HERE is more information on other countries.

So tell me, why we can't we get this straight?

Monday, August 30, 2010

So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore - Or Are Thinking About It

I once worked as a wedding photographer. One of my last shoots (eventual pun intended) was for a guy that owned a weaponry store. The groomsmen were all armed with handguns. The groom even had a walking stick with a 28" sword in it... yeah, really. HERE is a look.

I am 2nd amendment guy, but guns and champagne do NOT go together. A little nervous, I had them pose with the weapons (so that the bride could use them to procure an restraining order in the future.). It was sort of a fun shot, but I was glad to see the pistols go back in their holsters. Part of what made me uncomfortable was that I was not part of the weapon culture. The guys talked about getting shot and stabbed; offering to show scars from whatever their day jobs were in the past. No, I didn't ask any questions. I can say that the groom was the most generous tipper I have ever come across. That's all I have to say.

Culture, simply defined; is a group of folks that get together who create and follow behaviors, practices and mannerisms that seem to make them feel comfortable with those around them. And, on occasion, they try to solve common problems. If it weren't true, there would be no such thing as a stereotype.

Church is a culture.

The church has always had trouble with culture, whether religious of secular. Jesus clashed with culture suggesting that a Samaritan was more like God because he dressed the wounds of the man found on the roadside. He clashed with Pilate and the Pharisees too. He shook up the woman at the well as He crossed cultural lines, and astounded the woman taken in adultery with loving forgiveness, not judgment.

Jesus was bringing the culture of the Kingdom of Heaven right here to earth. (Matt 4:17) Breaking with culture is tough to do. (Matt 11:12) In the church's struggle to be be appealing, we still cannot become the culture that we are meant to change; yet somehow we need to be relevant, don't we?

It is a tough job that every church program ever written was meant to answer in some way.

The answer is also a question: who cares? Jesus said that we are meant to do what we see the Father doing. Are we doing that? I believe, for the most part, not really. It is sad. So many are caught up in religion, denominations and American Christian Culture; much of which; is not working!

20 years ago a famous minister brought his brand of the American Gospel to Manila in the Philippines. It didn't work, because the prosperity gospel didn’t feed needy people in the trash dumps. Fortunately he was convicted.


Another ministry went to Africa and had zero experience with the demonic. They tried to convert, with the sinner's prayer, a witch doctor who cursed them and they became ill. Sure, you can tell yourself it was the food, but bread and water doesn't shriek, demons do.


More recently a well meaning group of Baptists went to Haiti to bring children home for adoption. They were all arrested.

Christianity and culture do not easily mix. When they do it is often more about religion than Jesus.

Here, I am going to confess, that I stopped writing because I had run out of time after starting this blog. I sometimes work on them on-and-off for weeks until they make sense to me. I don't often know how a blog will end, and some times they simmer in edit mode for quite some time. I knew this one was going to go somewhere even if it took a lot of copy and pasting. I changed the title 3 or 4 times hoping for something catchy to reveal the contents within. Since then, I read a book. It has been two years since I've read a book other than the Bible (which I read something from pretty much every day).

The title of the book was So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore. Coincidentally, it's all about what I have written here today and in my a number of past blogs. I suggest you read it today or tomorrow. But don't wait. It's free in PDF format.

It is a wonderful story - a tad long on the problems facing the evangelical church - but I've been around a long time. It was right on the money as it exposes religious guilt, disconnection from God, obligation and commitment from Heaven's perspective. I didn't hear anything new, but it made me evaluate some of the principals I think are important when I think of church. It gave a voice to some of my frustrations with the church culture I have been exposed to.

The authors and I agree, "don't go to church, be the church."

It is really speaks to how to have a "real," as opposed to contrived, personal relationship with Jesus in which you actually trust and hear from Him - I am all about that!

It takes aim at church culture from mega-church to home-group and and tries to dismantle the myths of fellowship, teaching and various other parts of religious practice, while; offering a consistent solution that includes a lot of relationship!

Wayne Jacobsen and Dave Colman promote their own brand of Christianity, yet their principals of grace, love and fellowship are spot on. I will say this. Once they have dismantled "religion" they leave the reader wondering what the answer is. I won't give away the surprise ending.

Here's why I give this book an 8 out of 10 rating.

- It effectively dismantled the myth of "going to church" and rightly focused on relating to Jesus.
- It focused on relationships; love and concern for others.
- It addresses some difficult things that happen in church which a lot of folks don't want to mention.
- It was proactive in pushing back on religious aspects of our devotional life. Who would have thought you could be religious about devotions?
- It gives a voice to anyone who has felt empty or abandon in church.
- It left room for the Spirit. I love the scene where a few folks were praying and others were not.
- I love the idea of church being a family.
- It mentioned gifting (which I think the authors don't get really - but they mentioned it.)
- I love the "don't go to church, be the church" mantra. Been mine for many years.
- Loved the healing, the confrontation of sinners, the getting down to the day-to-day....
- Trusting God

All excellent.

A couple of things yours truly thought could have been mentioned:
- It didn't really present a way of doing church - I still think there is a lot in Ephesians 4. (NOT Titles and positions, but the use of spiritual gifts) - but if we are relying Jesus, then He'll tell us, right?
- It was a little weak on things like discipleship, teaching and some of the stuff we should be doing. IE: Great commission, prayer, communion, (Acts 2:42) and the like.

Please don't take this as a negative. I think every Christian should read this book. It is time to look at what, and how we do church and evaluate it. Start today.

So, how do you like going to church?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

5 1/2 Reasons Why I Hate Religion - Everybody Doesn't Like Something

Be honest, are there things that you don't like about the church, about its people, and the "rules" in the Bible? Ann Rice recently had a whole list. I have posted a few lists over the years myself. I bet you can even whip one up before you get to the next paragraph.

How is it possible to know Jesus and yet exist within an imperfect church, with diverse viewpoints, denominations, worship styles, theologies and well, uncertainty?

To quote Mark Driscoll, who I generally don't care for (Hey, I do like Rob Bell sometimes): "Every Christian struggles, to varying degrees, with different parts of the Bible because they call us to repent of beliefs we formerly held and ways in which we formerly behaved."

I suppose the rub comes when that which we read in the Bible conflicts with our personal belief system. That's when the fireworks start. It is the time when folks from Westboro Baptist Church and Jerimiah Wright (Obama's Former Pastor) make headlines. It's ugly!

I read a handful of blogs on my mandatory lunch break. Some of them poke fun at the fringes of American Christianity and the stupidity within. I admit, I find many of them funny - like the skateboarding priest! Occasionally they are downright nasty about others in the "faith." Sometimes because of past hurts or lack of knowledge. More often, it is folks that have been constrained by previous religious training that was empty and ineffective.

Here is my list of the top offenders when it comes to religion keeping us from the true Jesus.

-1 Theology: That's right, the very thing that should keep us unified, is the very thing that separates us. Type it in as a search term in Amazon, and there are 115,594 results. Somebody has got to be wrong, don't you think?

-2 Legalism: This is a severe form of theology that intellectually trys to make sense of the Bible without running it by God. The "rules" in the Bible are meant to point out our depravity and need for a Savior, not be a score card for holiness. If you believe that no one is perfect, then legalism will simply cause strife. This was the very conflict that Martin Luther struggled with as he made confession over and over each day. Finally, he discovered grace. Without the spirit of God we'll simply have fake fruit in our lives.

-3 Culture Formed Biblical Application: This is a huge. It started the day Jesus was resurrected and went on to the blond haired, blue-eyed Jesus paintings ceturies ago, and now has made its way into mainstream Christianity. Cultural forming happens as soon as we try to make Jesus whatever we need him to be so that he conforms to our world-view. Pagan traditions turned "holy days" for example. Saying things like "Jesus would have been a Republican because he was social conservative." Or, "He would have been a Democrat because He was for social justice." Folks try to twist the Scriptures to meet their agendas.

Jesus lived in a time when there were many cultures combined in Israel. Each one had thier own ideas, beliefs, pagan worship, and faith in gods of every type. He ministered the same things to all of them. Faith, love, hope and the truth of who He was and why He came. He was clear on what sin was, and yet he spent a lot of time with the ones with the worst sins. For the most part the religious people would have nothing to do with Him.

It is NOT about what you do, it is about what He did.

-4 Salvation: Evangelicals are into getting folks saved. They have have it down to a science. Every evangelical church in the world is growing by leaps and bounds. GAK. The truth is that few American churches that believe in salvation are growing. The focus on getting folks in the door so that we can move on to more that need to be in the door is shallow! Often, we leave them on the doorstep of faith.

The biblical plan is discipleship. As one writer said, it's messy and requires time and effort. It is training those that get saved to go deeper and bear fruit, not become seedlings that sprout on rocky soil.

-5 Religious Practice: Why would we simply want to do something becuse every one else is doing it? There are lots of choices in life; you could just play badminton. Maybe the term shuttlecock offends you - I don't know. The point is doing what everyone else is doing is dangerous.

Can we be honest, if we are not connecting with God on a personal level, and just showing up to act like the others, we are religious. It's true. If we don't experience God for ourselves, we might be wasting our time and leading others astray. If you have run dry, you need to find a way to engage with God. How far outside our comfort zone are we willing to go to connect with a living God?

-5 1/2 Sheer Stupidity...


How about you, are you religious?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

5 1/2 Unusual Church Service Moments

Church is a diverse place. It will make you, laugh, make you mad, and make you cry. Here are some clips - they are mostly about a 1 minute or less. I hope you enjoy my twisted menu of what we call church.

So tell me, which of the following videos would Jesus be like, "that ain't me!"











Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Taxation for the Red States - Tax Equity Act

On August 4th the WSJ published an article in which the Democrats proposed a way to raise taxes for the Red States, and leave it the same for the Blue States.

"One irony of the tax increase that arrives on January 1 is that the it will hit residents of high-income, Democratic-leaning states like California, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York the hardest. This is a problem for pro-tax Democrats.


Enter New York Representative Jerrold Nadler, who wants to exempt his own six-figure constituents from the tax hike he supports. Mr. Nadler's bill would "require the IRS to adjust tax brackets proportionally in regions where the average cost of living is higher than the national average.""

I discussed taxes, with one of my anonymous friends in last Tuesday's comments. A couple of ways we could make taxation more fair include the Fair Tax and Flat Tax.

The idea of taxes based on the Cost of Living, is actually a great one if we could take advantage of the Flat Tax. Under the present tax code, it would put the burden on states where the cost of living in much lower then the coastal meccas described in the WSJ article.

Interestingly, many communities in Massachusetts have taken to charging residents for services used such as school busing and Kindergarten which is a another alternative. If we end up paying for our local services on an ala carte basis, the weight is distributed evenly amongst all users. It is a plausible concept for some services, but not all. I think that roads, fire protection, police protection would not benefit from this structure. Education certainly would!

Under the current tax laws, those of us that live in places with a high cost of living are being driven out by increased taxes. Each time the cost of living goes up and wages do not, a chunk of the middle class takes a big hit. The poor, were already poor, and the rich, though it affects them, can sustain some losses. Those on the border line have to make changes. Just as the time when gas went to $4.00+ a gallon, those living week-to-week were had to make changes. Many of the poor were already taking public transportation, and the rich  we not really bothered by it.

Some experts say that the cost of living is high in states like MA, CA, NY and NJ because of fiscal and political mismanagement.

According to the Washington Examiner:
"A big reason the cost of living is so high in Boston, Manhattan and San Francisco is because of high state and local taxes, union work rules, and heavy business regulation that make it more expensive to produce, sell and buy things.


Why should someone in Spokane or Knoxville or Topeka be penalized because New York and California impose destructive policies?"

I suppose this is partly true. I tend to think that it is more about supply and demand. These states generally have the hottest real estate markets, the highest paying jobs, along with cultural and educational opportunities found in few other places. Let's face it, New York's Broadway is more popular than whatever the theater district is in Cedar Rapids, IA.

The Tax Equity Act is a deal breaker under the present tax code, though it would benefit me personally. If we could enact either the Flat or Fair Tax, I'd be all for it. Why? Because it wold benefit poor Americans too. An averaged cost of living allows poor folks in the Blue States to receive some of the cost of living savings in the Red States. A higher cost of living increases the burden on them.

Unless we pay for the government services we use, taxation is not an exact science. The theory is that we pay taxes for education purposes over a lifetime, not just when our kids are in school.

It does appear that there are some alternative tax structures that might make is seem more fair. As my anonymous commenter posted last week: The government is able to steer industry and certain elements of society with taxes, tax breaks, and tax incentives. This is the idea behind Cap & Trade, energy saving tax rebates, and the cigarette tax; for example. Personally, I wish they would get out of the business of telling us how to live our lives, and stick to infrastructure, national security and stay out of the rest. I know, it sounds so libertarian.

As the irony of the tax increase that arrives on January 1 settling in on Democratic-leaning states like California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York; hitting them the hardest, keep your eyes open for movement on this potential bill.

How about you, what do you think is fair taxation?

Monday, August 23, 2010

5 1/2 You screw up big time and you are a Christian, then what?

Maybe you get caught in a steamy affair, stealing from the church treasury, found with a prostitute, arrested for drunk driving or worse - then what? These things happen to a lot of folks - yeah, and even church folks. The church's response is often inconstant, so you need to make your move before they do. Here are some classic celebrity tactics you can use when you get caught:

-1 Duck into Treatment Like Patrick Kennedy: If you are in trouble, and anyone has ever seen you at a party with a drink in your hand, head for detox. No one is going to bother you there unless you murdered someone. It actually doesn't matter what your sin is, they have treatment for every addiction, and even suspected addictions.

If you are not looking for help, stay away from Dr. Phil.

-2 Lawyer Up like Lindsay Lohan: A good attorney can deflect a lot of stuff, craft excuses and plausible scenarios in which you'll come off looking much better than the average criminal. They can even get you off on the promise of never doing it again.

-3 Move to a Foreign Country like Roman Polanski: I call this the Moses move. Basically you are running from the inevitable - but hey, you'll have some time to enjoy life. Eventually, you'll probably have to face the music, so go some place nice.

-4 Deny it if There Are No Witnesses like O. J. Simpson: This is a favorite. Just hope that the evidence doesn't catch up with you.

-5 Have Your Spouse Stand By While You Ask Forgiveness like Kobe Bryant: Sincere or otherwise, get right out there, grab your spouse's hand, and state your mea culpa - (Latin for "my bad"). Tiger should have taken lessons from Kobe, it only cost him a huge diamond ring!

-5 1/2 Repent and Ask Forgiveness like to woman Taken in Adultery...


I usually end my 5 1/2's with a thought to ponder. The church seems to have as many scoundrels as the non-church world. Hopefully what makes us different from them is true repentance and sincere remorse. From personal experience, they are both hard to come by. The church rarely makes it easy to confess ours sins and ask for forgiveness. Unfortunately fro sinners, that is what the Kingdom of God is all about. That is the reason that Jesus died on the cross.

Mark 3:28 I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. [with faith in Christ]


Luke 5:20 When Jesus saw their faith, he said, "Friend, your sins are forgiven."


Galatians 6:1 Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.


How about you, do you repent and ask for forgiveness, or do you chose something from the first 5.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Read 'Em and Weep... I'll Raise You 10!

When I first became a Christian, I didn't try too hard to add any knowledge to my faith. I didn't go to church, and I prayed gimme prayers. I was pretty sure I was saved - no I was sure - well, almost positive.

A few years later I met a guy at work that was involved in The Way Ministry cult. He quickly challenged my beliefs, and offered a lot of knowledge about the scriptures. Some of the things that he said were confusing, but he answered my every question. I decided to read my Bible (interesting thought, right?) I was still confused. In a few short weeks, their teachings had begun to work on me. The logic was impeccable, yet something didn't seem right. It didn't pass the smell test. Finally, I went to a Christian bookstore to see if I could find a book with all the answers.

I bought a Strong's Concordance with the Greek and Hebrew Lexicon, Gleason L. Archer's Bible Difficulties Encyclopedia, Ungers Bible Handbook, and a couple of commentaries. I poured over them for weeks. HERE is a list of just about everything  I have ever read with reviews, if you have a GoodReads account.

Some Christian folks that I knew sat down with me, and we talked about all the things that I was confused by. They gave me a book that had really helped them connect with God; 9 o'Clock in the Morning was the title. It opened the door to a much more intimate relationship with God. It made me so hungry that I started reading every book they recommended - in them I found life, not head knowledge.


I think that books can uncover some wonderful biblical truths. More importantly they can share testimonies of what it is like to walk with God and experience Him. Of course the Bible is my #1, but here are my top 10 favorite books of all time.

-1 Like a Mighty Wind - Mel Tari: This book reads like the book of Acts. It is a personal testimony written during the Indonesian Revival of the late 60's. If you have read the Gospel accounts of Jesus' miracles, you'll find these short stories almost as fascinating.

-2 I Beleive in Miracles - Kathryn Kuhlman: I love testimonies of the things that God does in the lives of normal folks like myself. This book is filled with page after page of healing testimonies from a woman of God, who; was able to fill venue after venue with folks that we desperate for healing - and Jesus did it.

-3 The Apostle of Faith - Smith Wigglesworth: What would your life be like if the only book you ever read was the Bible? What would it be like if no more than 15 minutes went by before you picked it up again? What it be like if you prayed and prayed? The chronicles of a simple man with using his spiritual gifts empowered by simply faith. 

-4 Good Morning Holy Spirit - Benny Hinn: Regardless of what you think about the author and a couple of refuted claims, you'll find this book can supercharge your daily walk with God by befriending the Holy Spirit, and asking Him to take over each day.


-5 The Blood - Benny Hinn: We've all sung the hymn, Nothing but the Blood. But how many of us really know the power that is in the blood of Jesus? How can we appropriate the this power to walk in holiness? The answer is within these pages.


-6 The God Chasers - Tommy Tenny: An extraordinary testimony of how God's Holy Spirit came to convict folks of sin with an amazing sign. Weeping repentance, and hunger for the things of God are weaved into the life of an everyday preacher.

-7 The God Smuggler - Bros. Andrew A favorite because of the heart, the obedience, and the excitement of a normal Christian as God calls him to work behind the Iron Curtain after WW II.


-8 Jesus Freaks - DC Talk (the book, ot the CD): How many of us give much of a thought to being martyred for the cause of Christ? This book is fill with vignettes of many who lost their lives for the Kingdom of God. It spans every century of the Christian Church.


-9 9 o'Clock in the Morning - Dennis Bennett: If you are looking for a God who actually does something in your life, here is a handbook on developing a relationship with Jesus, and the power of the Holy Spirit. 


-10 The Release of the Spirit- Watchman Nee; Do you some home from church feeling string, but by Monday afternoon you are needing a recharge? Here is a handbook to growing up spiritual, and learning to release the spirit that God puts within us when we are born again.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The World Could be Flat, How Do We Know It's Not?

Who really knows what Christopher Columbus was actually thinking back in 1492. When I read about him lobbying the Kings and Queens of Portugal, England and Spain; wheeling and dealing, it makes me think of the moive, The Pirates of Silicon Valley, which is a story about Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Chris was looking for investors, negotiating for power of undiscovered lands, and looking for titles and prestige.

Good ole' Columbus has been called a lot of things over the centuries. Ultimatley, it tuns out, his math was not too good, his science was not sound, his procalimed religion of Christianity did not match the tyrant ruler he later became. He did manage to get a holiday named after him... just think, maybe David Johndrow Day - probably would fall on April 1st or Februay 29th.

Who knows how one's destiny will turn out?

I was reading The Church of No People a while back and musing over Matt's career choice dilema. As always, it made me think about my path through life - which looks a bit like a china shop attended by a large bull - if you know what I mean. My career path was a disaster until I met a prophetic guy that put me on God's path.

I thought about the decisions that turned out right (well, without pain anyway), and the ones that turned out wrong - and the ones that God used in spite of my ignorance, fear, arrgoance, stupidity and lack of faith. I was going to write about how to follow God's will - but let's face, it is not a logical science (anymore than men and woman understanding each other right out of the box).

There are some things I heard in church about how to figure out what God wants you to do, and I don't believe them all.

-1 The will of God for you is contained in the Bible: I don't think so! I looked in there, and even though the name David is used a lot, it didn't tell me what job to take, what wife to marry, and what to tell my kid when she got arrested. Don't fool yourself, it is not always "in the Bible."

The Bible contains truth, goldy principals, and the story and method of salvation. It is even tells you what your life should look like, if you get Jesus in your heart. But it is not the complete will of God for you life anymore than this blog is.

The Bible even says that it is not His complete will. Why else would we need to ask for wisdom, have the "word of wisdom", prophecy, word of knowledge, word of faith, prophets, seers and prophetic people?

-2 All you need to know about life is in the Bible: Along the same lines as number 1. If that were true, we wouldn't need preachers and teachers, and eveyone that got saved could just read the Bible and follow the steps.

And, after reading tens of thousands of pages of software manuals, I am certain there are no curly brackets, underscores or pipes {_|_} in the Bible.After having teenagers, there are a few things I wasn't ready for - and I read the bible through a few times before they got there.

We must rightly divide the word of God, and there is a lot of intellectual theory on that. The trick is in knowing how to do it. It takes wisdom.

-3 Just ask for wisdom and you'll get it: Sure, and if the elders pray for every sick person they will all get healed, right? Got it. So how's that working for ya?

I read the Bible, and I beleive that asking God for wisdom is a great idea. But what if you need money and not wisdom? What if you need healing and not wisdom? What if you've been praying for your kd to get their life in godly order and they get worse?

How can we be so shallow as to beleive that by throwing up a prayer (expecting our answer, our way) that God will fire back the perfect wisdom?

There are lots of ways to get wisdom - and godly wisdom. We have proverbs, fellowship and council from other Christians, and the word of wisdom. Oh yeah, and experience!

The truth is that we may have created a situation in which God is not going to provide wisdom for us - sin can often be a factor.

-4 A successful church will be growing: There are lots of tests for seeing if the church is bearing fruit. The two most common are the lack of empty seats on Sunday morning and the amount of money in the offering basket. Yeah, right.

John the Baptist was out there preaching the coming of the Christ, and he had a bad attitude. He was mad that the Pahrisees were coming to get on the "go to Heaven plan."

Honestly - church growth appears to be a "Tower of Babel."

The true success of Christianity is this: Individuals in church loving their God and their neighbors in visible ways.

-5 Ministry: I am sick of the term "ministry." I hear a lot of "my ministry" or the hyper-humble "the Lord's ministry." It always has a name, a title, a purpose, a business card, a web site and pictures of the ministers on it. (Yes, I do that sort of - )

How about we simply get out there and love folks, use our gifts to "be Jesus" to them and see what the Holy Spirit is up to? Following the leading of the Holy Spirit, we can do awesome things. If we follow our agenda, or a formula, it will grow into an old wineskin in due time.

The point of all this, is that we have tried to put God in a box. He speaks when, and how He pleases. His biblical truth are unwavering, yet, His purpose is to have a personal relationship with us. Religion separates us from God, because it removes the personal touch, the subtle back-and-forth of giving and receiving. Some folks spend a lot of time playing ministry, but the mature Christians just go out and love folks with their gifts - it's just so not about names and titles.

To do the will of God, we must be able to hear God, to know God and to be obedient to Him. Walking out our faith is a moment-by-moment journey. Like driving a car, some of the nuances of it may become second nature after a while (I never look down to find the gas pedal or the gear shift anymore), but we always need to see where we are going, adjust to conditions, and decide the best route to get there.

The will of God, is not in a book, it is in a relationship!

How about you, do you really know what God wants you to do, or are you guessing?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Political Tuesdays - The Taxation Question

I have written on political topics in the past. And with the upcoming electons, I thought I would dedicate Tuesdays to some political ranting and Johndrow-esque, "think for myself" politics. Most will not be based on any specific Christian belief or doctrine unless it applies.

As an American I find myself stunned, over and over; like fish in the reach of the tenticles of a man-o-war, at political solutions to human and spiritual problems.

I live in Masschusetts, and we are the most liberal state in the US. We were first in gay marriage, we were first in mandatory healthcare, we have rejected mandatory sentencing for repeat and sex offenders, we are ahead of the Global Warming curve, we have high taxes (on average 10%), we are split on casino gambleing only because we've missed the boat (if doesn't create jobs, it's a political flop), and well John Kerry and Ted Kennedy were our sentaors for many years (Kerry still is). The last time we went red for president was in 1984!

I'm no republican, I am not a liberal, and I am not a conservative, and defiantly not a Democrat. For instance, I am big fan of green energy and getting off foreign oil yesterday, but I think Global Warming is a farce. I am anti-abortion and pro-death penalty.I am anti-war unless we've been attacked. I am against off-shore drilling - or any drilling for that matter. I don't like nukes, and I think the government is trying to regulate morality in business. I am pro-immigration and anti-illegal immigration. And I am a fiscal conservative.

This past weekend we had a tax-free holiday. The pols decided to give us a weekend in which we could buy pretty much anything under $2,500, and not pay the 6.25% sales tax. It was intended to stimulate the economy, and by the increase in shopping traffic, it did.

Increased sales are good for the local ecomony and the Chinese who probably produced most of the electronics, and furniture items that were sold.

If we take a closer look, here is what we really got for our tax free holiday:

- The Democrats and some of the Republicans got a political lift because it sounds good. They didn't have one last year, because; in their view, not collecting a few million in sales tax was bad for the government budget - and hey - the ecomony was already tanked and that was Bush's fault. But we're well beyond blaming Bush, aren't we?

- It stimulated sales and the economy; tax cuts will do that. Is anybody listening? Those that could afford to went out and spent money!

- It benefited the rich, because 9% of the state is unemployed and does not have money for taxable luxuries. Let's face it, there is a very select part of the population that will think that saving $62.25 on a $1000 item is a big deal. It doesn't matter to those who cant spend money on a taxbable item. Conversely, it is not a big savings when most retailers do 10 or 20% sales all the time - plus the sales tax savings.

- It benefitted to politicians because elections are coming. And this is a good thing if everyone remembers it. Everything they do works towards that end. Maybe if we had term limits, we'd get past this?

I would have done it differently. Suppose they gave a tax rebate for those on unemployment or making wages that are considered poor in this state? If they spent it on food clothing or shelter, it would have been tax exempt, and it they chose to spend it on luxuries, the state would have recouped 6.25% on their investment.

Me, I didn't spend a dime in MA. In fact, except for gas and guitar strings, I don't pay sales taxes. I sure do pay a lot in property taxes and income taxes though. I feel as if I am building the goevermnent payrolls, while I am not able to spend money in the private sector to stimulate the economy.

If I really want to avoid sales tax, I simply buy in New Hampshire; a mere 30 miles away,where there is no sales tax ever.

The economic climate is bad enough that no manufacturing even considers coming to the state. The average 3 bedroom home in greater Boston is still over $300K. With a 5.5% income tax, property and vehicle taxes, folks are leaving at a fairly steady rate. It will be interesting that to see how the census comes out.

How about you, can you make a case for increased sales taxes, or one for tax cuts?

Monday, August 16, 2010

5 1/2 Ways to be Relevant

The church often struggles with the God ordained tension to stay where it is - go with what is working, and move forward to be relevant. The "evangelical" movement, the "non-denominational" movement, and now the "emergent" and "relevant" movements. There is even a magazine for relevant!

How is the "Hip" evangelical church doing at attracting and keeping young folks coming? HERE is the WSJ story.

Relevance is supposedly the intersection of what "we" have to offer, and what someone is hoping to "get" when they come to church. That's why so many churches get caught up in silly marketing schemes and do stunts to get folks to come and watch the performance.

I heard a speaker start a sermon with these 3 questions: "Do you have an opinion about the church?" Does God have an opinion about the church?" "Then what do you need an opinion for?"

Everyone has thoughts and ideas about the church - even me - read my blog. We always hope that church will some how keep up with the times. Hymns are pretty much out, organ music; virtually gone, suits and ties, and the "Sunday Best" is only needed on Easter and Christmas - we've changed a lot in my 50 years here on the planet. Even the mega-church founders are getting old, and somewhat stuck in their ways.

So here is my list on what the church needs to do to be relevant again, and maybe even grow.

-1 The Gospel: We need to preach the "full gospel" - the part about sin, the part about repentance, the part about sacrifice, the part about serving, and the part about our loving supernatural God.

The gospel is about so much more than a loving God or burning in Hell, getting saved, eternal glory and some superficial relationship with a God that we are too limited to relate to in any meaningful way.

The Gospel is about power over death, about you and me loving the unlovable, and serving others with your spiritual gifts.That is how you achieve your destiny in Christ. A gospel that offers a promise of anything else is incomplete or a compromise. The Kingdom of God is at hand!

-2 Diversity of Gifts: If there is one thing that warps my crankshaft, it is leadership that does not embrace ALL the gifts (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4), discourages the use from fear and/or lack of understanding, or; at the very least ignores them altogether.

God did not ask us if we thought healing was for today - He said do it. He did not ask us if we thought tongues sounded like baby talk, He said He would interpret. He did not ask us if we'd like to prophesy, He said desire the gift. He did not ask us if we thought the demonic was scary, he said cast them out!

I have written a lot about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. They are available to each one of us as God sees fit to distribute them. They are to be DESIRED by you and me. The spiritual gifts are not a pig fest, we don't get them all. It keeps us humble, and forces us to rely on the body of Christ (and Christ, as all gifts rely on Him) for a complete relational experience.

I hate to say it, but without a solid understanding and modeling the Ascension Gifts described in Ephesians chapter 4, we will be unlikely to have unity, and those that we lead will be immature and susceptible to false teaching.

-3 Prayer: Yeah, I know, you pray when something goes wrong, the car breaks down, the president does something you don't like, when folks are sick, and your loved ones are in trouble. But what about prayer for your church, your pastor, the other ministers in your midst, a move of God in your house, holiness, repentance, forgiveness - it's just a thought - maybe you could ask God what to pray about? The sheep know His voice, right?

Did you know that prayer is the easiest way to commune with God? There are a thousands of books on how to ask God for stuff. 66,038 at Amazon alone! There are only about 100 on hearing God's voice.

We talk, we ask questions, and then we listen. That's real prayer - a conversation with God.

-4 Relationship: How Christians continue to be ignored for weeks on end, or so inclusive that they don't notice anyone else is lonely around them, is beyond me.

I am talking about sacrificial relationship, going the extra mile, calling when you don't feel like it, visiting the sick, mentoring a troubled teen, and inviting folks to your house for dinner - the gay neighbors, the guy whose dog craps on your lawn and one that keeps you up at night with loud music.

If we can't relate to those on our own street, how can we do anything for God somewhere else?

-5 Love: If "they will know we are Christians by our love" then maybe we need to do something deeper than what we see in the movies and on TV?

We are not called to be nice, the church "nices" folks to death everyday. We are called to be kind, patient, to give up being rude, proud and envious. We are called to protect, inspire hope and persevere in difficult relationships.

Thin about it, when you don't feel loved, what's missing? There's your first clue.

-5 1/2 Be led by the Spirit

Friday, August 13, 2010

5 1/2 Favorite Worship Tunes

I love music, and I thought I would share 5 1/2 tunes I really like!

-1 Party - Now this is church!


-2 All to You - Lincoln Brewster w/ a Great Testimony


-3 I Could Sing of You Love Forever


-4 I See the Lord


-4 1/2 Our God is an Awesome God!


-5 Let if Rain


5 1/2 Josh Myers - 1/2 a Great Tune!


How about you, what are your favorite tunes?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

5 1/2 The Christian Blogosphere Culture

Fire & Grace is like a particle of dust in the entire blogger universe. I guess I might be like a lint ball in the smaller Christian online world. The Jesus loving blogospehere can be friendly, but it suffers some violence too. Check out Jesus Needs New PR or Stuff Christian Culture Likes, that should open your eyes.

It actually got me to thinking about what God thinks of this blog. Finally, right? I haven't got an answer yet.

It's interesting, I started reading other blogs and I liked the style of some of them - more than my own even. I know it's not a contest, but I spend a lot of time writing, editing, and creating Fire & Grace. The more readers I have, the more I feel like I am "doing God's will." I know, stupid, right?

I did all the things that are recommended for making your blog popular. I made it shorter, numbered the points - well (5 1/2 - I know, slightly retarded), linked out, guest blogged, had guest bloggers, did a series (The Top 10 Stupidest Things Christians Do), used provocative blog titles, I comment back as often as I can, commented on other blogs, got a Facebook Fan Page, a Fire & Grace Twitter, Networked Blogs, Email notifications, joined a collaborative blog (KingdomBloggers.com) and changed the look. I even toned down the sarcasm! Whew!

My competitors, however; have upped the anty. They are writing books! It swear, it was my idea a long time ago. I started writing the blog so that I could compile enough verbiage for a book. HERE'S the proof. They are giving away stickers, pins, books, gift cards and ponies. And now these guys are doing speaking engagements! What is next, real life? Have we come full circle?

In my quest to be "relative", "emergent" and "poular," I have not really grown too much. I am hovering around 1,000 visits a month. I know, I am grateful for small beginnings.

I do want to say thanks to Tracy over at Abundant Living, Matt at the The Church of No People and my Friends on Facebook for being the generous traffic tithers! If this was a real church, you'd have a bronze plaque in the narthex or a decorative ceramic tile in the rest room with your name on it.

What's the next move?

-1 Comment with suggestions on making this blog better.
-2 Share my blog on Facebook or Twitter, unless you are too embarrassed. I have a long way to go before I can retire from blogging like Tony C Today.
-3 You can tell me that you'd like to make a book out of my random rants. I already have 100 pages written, and nearly 500 blogs to draw from.
-4 Send me a list of dumb things Christians do and I promise to capitalize on their stupidity - in love of course.
-5 You can invite me to speak. I actually like that better than blogging. Really I do, and I have some frequent flier miles.
-5 1/2 You can pray for me.

Thanks for reading along - but comment once in a while - it won't hurt, I promise.

Monday, August 9, 2010

5 1/2 Most Spiritual Gadgets

I can't imagine what life would be like without a few gadgets. They keep me in touch with my family and friends, allow me to quickly and cheaply publish whatever is on my mind, find the answers to questions my wife asks, enjoy music, access an endless supply of funny videos, message my kids, remember where I am supposed to be, figure out where I am, use the Internet for ordering pizza, and now if I could just find a use for the phone, life would be complete.


-1 Blackberry: Crackethberry in the King James. It facilitates most of  the  7 deadly sins: sloth, lust, pride, wrath, greed, envy and gluttony.

As we well know, God the Father regularly spoke to Jesus about all sorts of things. I am sure there would have been an iWill app that they could communicate on:

Father: There's a woman with an issue of blood.
Son: Sorry dad, I didn't see her but the anointing sure went out of me.

And can you see Jesus grabbing text messages every time one of the 12 had a problem?

Peter: The storm sux. FML.
Jesus: How would you like to walk on the water? And watch your language.
Peter: WT4? And sorry, Lord.

I am wondering what it would have been like if Jesus was messeging the disciples or texting?

Unknown ID: Give it up Andrew, I saw you under the tree.
Andrew: Who is this?
Unknown ID: It's the Messiah.
Andrew: No for real, who is this? How'd you get my number?

Or Facebook stati! What's on your mind?
Jesus of Nazareth: LOL! Sent the demons into a heard of pigs!
John: The dude just got up and walked!
Judas: I'm dead now.

-2 iPod: What a great gadget. If the worship at church is not to your liking, you can listen to DC Talk or something. The apostles would have had one, I am sure.

Playlists:
Songs not to play in the presence of Jesus.
Lame Worship
Jail Hymns

Pics: Me and the Master
The Fish and the Bread Party
The Stupid Donkey

Video: Punked the Wine Steward!
Peter's Rooster

-3 Cellular Modem: Are you kidding, we can even get a signal in the empty tomb, the Sea of Galilee, anywhere... I can order pizza from the upper room.

-4 Laptop: Sure, let's see if you are in the Lamb's database? Nope. Windows Unclassified Exception 12379173183913. This would have changed the story of the woman at the well, and the woman taken in adultery. Sure, let me look for that on YouTube.

-5 Digital Video/YouTube: Peter looks so cute when he's mad throwing the nets on the other side of the boat. And the Last Supper, that was quite a party.

-5 1/2 USB Cable


How about you, does technology connect you with God?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

5 1/2 Stupid Reasons to Call Yourself a Christian

Have you heard all the flap about Ann Rice quitting Christianity? It seems that it is on every blog I read, and some I don't. I am not going to rehash any of it. As far as I am concerned, it is a non sequitur. She said she quit, I said, "Praise Allah!" There are a lot of bigger idiots (that are not selling books) that I wish would quit too.

When folks like her say stuff like that, it is simply a reflection of the negative view some have of Christianity. For me, it has as much weight as something Bill Mahr says. Since the beginning of mankind, there has been religion, and God is fully aware of that - one reason He sent Jesus to die on the cross. Next!

What I want to know is why people that could care less what the Bible says; much less practice it, want to be called Christians?

Like a vegan ordering a meat-less Big Mac, the need for the "Christian" label amazes me. It is especially disturbing because, according to Barna, about 78% of American CHRISTIANS believe that their thoughts and feelings are more reliable moral indicator than the Bible.

Here is my take on why folks want to be called a Christian.

-1 No One Wants to Be the "A" Word: Because being the "c" word is easier than being the "a" word. If you were in class and called out by your beliefs, Atheists would be called before Christians. No one likes being first in a group. If you are the "c" word you at least get to be a few into the line and can act like those that came before you. Only Tiger Woods is the "b" word, and he's in a class by himself. And if you are the "m" word, no one will be listening by then.

I think it be much cooler if they called themselves, Equus Asinus. It has foreign intrigue, it's sounds intellectual, it's a bit techy, a bit scientific, and it has a couple of pronunciations so there could be classy and a trashy linguistic qualities depending on whether it is used as a negative or positive term.

-2 It Sounds "Good": Jesus did good, and so do I. I'm good because I am better than Name of Person that Doesn't Do Good.

Hey Rudi Guilliani said he read the Bible regularly, George Bush said that Christianity is just one way to heaven, and so did Barak Obama. Check them out on YouTube.

I don't know about you, but that kind of religion makes me suspect. I mean Oprah's a good person right? She gives cars to unsuspecting folks in the audience. In their minds, Christianity = Good Person. I guess we're bad because we don't give cars to people? Hitler was good - he got people to work, took away every one's guns, got the economy going, and gas prices went down. That was good, right?

Jesus, now He was omni-good. Well, except where He told the religious bigots that they were whitewashed tombs. And when he told the money changers to get out of the temple and backed it up with a little holy anger. Yes, and when he made the demons go into the pigs - yeah that was good. (it was)

-3 Inheritance: Well, some folks feel like the fact that they are born into a Christian family makes them Christian - I guess that's good. Even the  Israelites that handed Jesus over to Pilate were not called heathens or Babylonians after the fact.

I suppose if your ancestors were involved in the Crusades, the PTL Club or selling indulgences, you might want to keep it quiet.

It makes me think, do I really want to identify with my mother and father so much so, that I can enjoy the benefits of be ridiculed by Wolf Blitzer or lumped in with nuts like those from Westboro Baptist Church?

-4 It's Popular: In some places, Christians get a pass just for being in the club. Some companies go out of their way for the brethren, give discounts, treat them more kindly and offer more grace than they do some stupid sinner.

If you add "3:16" or "WWJD" to any marketing campaign, or name your business "agape" something, you are sure to attract the most God fearing dregs of society. Sure, say that you are loving to all people, tell folks they are going to heaven because, or you will be prosperous, life will be easy, or that your purpose is undiscovered - then you'll be able to use the Christian title for personal gain. Well, as long as your marketing plan doesn't include Saudi Arabia and North Korea.

-5 It's Synonymous With Love: All Christians are loving, and I want to be part of that group! Love makes the world go 'round and who would want to to be like Richard Gere in Pretty Woman, or Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle?

Love is whatever makes you feel good about another person, and there is something about Christian love, it's better than plain ole' love. We want the kind that covers all our mistakes, opinions, and let's us do whatever we please - and forgives us if we overdo it.

-5 1/2 The possibility that there might be a Heaven, one in which I'd like go to.

So tell me, why do you call yourself a Christian - well, if you do. Are you willing to give your life for the cause?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

5 1/2 Reasons to Love the Beach

This week I am away at the beach. It's a time to spend with my wife and 6-year-old. The older girls and I had a few days up at Lake George, NY a couple of weeks ago.

-1 Waves: There is no sense going to the beach unless there are waves. Otherwise you can just take a take a bath. The bigger the waves the better! The raw power of the ocean is a sign of His majesty. I find it soothing and very spiritual. And boogie boarding is a lot more work than software programing!

-2 Sand: It's not the ocean if there isn't some place to get sand between your toes. Don't get me wrong, I love the rocky coast too. It's just that I like to be barefoot as much as possible. I also like to walk, and the longer the beach the more I like it.

-3 Sunshine: I pretty much work in an elevator shaft, so I look forward to as much sun as I can get near. I enjoy the shade on a sunny day, and late afternoon walks on the beach. As a pasty white American, SPF 5,000 is essential along with a pair of Ray Bans. Except for about 5 years out of my life, I lived in a town that had an ocean beach or was really close. Branford, CT, Portland, ME, Old Saybrook, CT, Orleans, MA, Hyannis, MA, and my favorite, Eastham, MA. I enjoyed all types of weather - even the fog and drizzle. It's summer now, so I am looking forward to the sunshine.

-4 Ice Cream: Second only to souvenirs (check out this BLOG on those), I enjoy a large A & W Root Beer float, a mint chocolate chip cone, or a DQ Peanut Buster Parfait. I'll settle for less  but not much less.

-5 Nothing to Do: After the beach, the go karts, the trampoline, picking at my guitar, there's not much to say about nothing to do. You just need to find a quiet relaxing place to do it. This week it's Cape Cod.

-5 1/2 The Sound of  the Waves...

How about you, do you like the beach?

Monday, August 2, 2010

5 1/2 Ways to Worship

Everyone who goes to church supposedly worships. There are lots of things one can worship, that's for sure. Here is a LIST. Admittedly, there are different worship styles within the Christian Church. And no one seems to agree what the right way to "worship" is.  Who really knows what God is after in our worship? Have you thought about it - about worship?

-1 Worship in Song: This is the singing stuff. Organs, choirs, plain chant, rock bands - we have a wide variety of musical styles within the Christian genre. And of course you have your folks who can't sing and advertise it by singing louder than anyone else. Musical worship seems to be the quintessential form of worship. After all there is a worship leader and he always leads the music. Seems odd... maybe (s)he's a Levite.

-2 Worship in Giving: My friend Dave calls them the beggars plates. Some churches have an offering basket, others put it on the platform, some just have a box in the back of the room. Me I like to go up and make big deal of the huge bag of money as I drag it to altar like Robert DiNiro with his armor in the movie the Mission.

-3 Worship in Dance: David danced before the Lord - nearly naked I guess. I admit, when I first saw this, I didn't like it. It was too much activity for me. I went to crazy Word of Faith church, and they had swords and shields. Folks would pick them up and dance around in front of the altar. I'm not talking Arthur Murry either. It was crazy, and the adults looked like kids - but they were dressed. Someone grabbed my arm and I joined in. Like Tarzan dragging Jane by the hair, there I was. They even got me a shield that said, "Lion of Judah" and big sword. Funny, the presence of the Lord came in like a flood. Hmmmm, maybe there is something to this.

I once went to a Winds of Worship conference, and they had a trained dance team. A mix of symbolic motion, ballet, and gymnastics - now that was stunning.

-4 Worship the Word: After 30+ years in the church, I don't get this. I am not seeing a sermon as worship. I don't do anything but listen.  Don't even take notes anymore. I worship Jesus, not the Bible. Is it merely a portion of THE worship service? Why do we call it that? More questions than answers here, I 'm afraid.

-5 Worship Through Sacraments: This one seems a little catholic. Before you get all widgy about the Catholic, or Anglo-Catholic church stuff, all of them are part of our non-denominational and evangelical services to some degree. I became born again in the Anglican church. We had lots of sacraments. Each one was a religious ceremony - a way to engage Jesus.

The definition of worship is to give God worth - there are lots of ways to do that. The church has set aside, baptism, confirmation (laying on of hands to receive the Holy Spirit), marriage, ordination, penance (confession) and communion as sacraments. We can do them with an empty heart, or one with the eyes of our heart open to the things of Christ. It is the same with any worship  - we can sing the song, or we can worship Jesus.

It's a choice we make.

-5 1/2 Worship in Spirit....

How about you, how do you worship Jesus?

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