Sunday, July 29, 2012

Ignorance of the Law Is No Excuse!

I bet you’ve heard that one before.  In this country we started out with a few simple laws.  The emigrants from England brought with them the Ten Commandments and the Magna Carta to guide them.  They started out fairly simple. 

Laws are intended to make things go smoothly and well for all in the society.  Whenever you have more than one person, the need for law rears its head.  I spent years as a law enforcement officer, and I saw how we live in a society that has proliferated laws and lawyers beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.  Congresspersons pass laws, agencies pass laws, cities and counties pass laws--all with virtually no input or overview and rarely publish them effectively so you know what to do.  Once the laws are out there, you need courts to establish whether you really violated them or not.  It is a huge and often very ineffective system.  Some of the laws passed throughout history are pretty silly, too!  One town said you could be fined if you wore a cowboy hat and didn’t own at least two cows.

The Jews at the time of Jesus had a similar problem. God had given them some basic commandments.  Then he added a large amount of rules that would help them stay healthy (sort of like the Food and Drug Administration is supposed to do!)  Other guidelines came along and pretty soon priests were making up rules about the length of you clothes and how far you could travel from your house on the Sabbath.  (Their laws could get silly too.  At one point they interpreted your house as one of your sandals dropped along the way so you could double the distance.  Sound silly?  Yeah, I thought so, too!)

Well, what is the point of all this rambling?  Jesus came to make clear what God had intended.  All these laws were focusing on the wrong outward things.  Obedience to law was supposed to be an inward thing.  It’s a matter of the heart.  Simply stated (and even  Jesus agreed) you should “Love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind,” and “love your neighbor as yourself.”  Two laws to sum it up, and if you needed any further clarification you could double check with the Ten Commandments.  Overly simple for today’s society?  Maybe a little.  But, I think you get my point.  We have replaced conscience and heart with an overly legalistic mindset.

Here It Is, Let’s Follow It Back!

Life can be confusing, and there is always something around that will pull you off track if you let it.  It can be drugs, riches, fame, power or pleasure.  The list is huge.  What are the right choices?  How do you negotiate the world that is presented to us with all its choices and temptations.  Some choices lead to light and some to destruction.

As a firefighter I learned that when you enter a building that is on fire you often encounter conditions that are incredibly dangerous.  Your job is to go into that environment and meet the challenge head on so you can save trapped victims and put the fire out.  Sometimes you don’t have the resources or time left to successfully fight that particular fire.  It’s just too late.  The fire is too large and too hot.  The room has darkened down with black smoke and you can’t see to make your way, and you can’t even see the fire anymore.  It is incredibly easy to get disoriented and lost in even a small structure, let alone a warehouse or apartment building.  What is important at that point is to save yourself and the rest of the crew that is working with you.  The very best way, now that you can’t tell which direction is the way out, is to follow the fire hose back out the building.  It’s a huge mistake to lose track of the line.  If you’ve become disoriented and you find the hose you know that it’s “the way.”  Unfortunately one way leads to destruction the other leads to life.  In the dark, you have to feel a hose coupling and feel the different shape of the female and male ends where they are joined to discover the direction you need to take in the dark.

We have the “hose” of spirituality to follow.  It will lead us.  One direction is the one to self-centered existence and the other is to a God centered and other centered existence.  Jesus taught an ‘other’ centered existence based on God’s commands.  If we follow it, there is life at the end.  He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”

Thursday, July 26, 2012

When Will They Ever Grow Up and Be Responsible, Faithful Children of God?

“Train up a child in the way he is to go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”  For me, having children, this is a very difficult piece to write.  I’ve pondered that passage from the Bible many times, and in its simplest and least “poetic license” interpretation, it promises that your kids will turn out exactly as you have instructed them. 

Aah, if it were only that simple!  The biggest problem is that we have society, peers, schools, government and media all literally falling all over themselves to train up your child at the same time.  Sometimes, they are more effective and have more quantity and quality access to your children than you do!  Their training is sometimes not only more effective but also diametrically opposed to what you teach your children.  The second problem is that God gave our children free will…and they use it!  Boy, do they use it.  They use it from that first day when they are two and tell you “NO!  They use it when their friends say “come on, it’ll be fun!”  They will test your patience with that for many years to come.  What is important to remember here is the Bible often speaks in general terms, and if the “promise” given in a passage involves someone else’s free will…it is not a promise, but rather a good likelihood.  Proverbs, especially, is filled with promises such as these.  Parables and hyperbole are often employed to get a point across.  They are not guarantees like some other passages in the Bible.

The other thing to pay attention to in this passage, and the one that gives me the most hope, is that it says “when he is old….” You see, you may not live to witness the return of a wayward child to the things you taught him, but it may still happen.  Don’t give up.  Most of our kids turn 14 and you wonder where the little person you knew so well went to!!  Most often they show up around 22 (unless they are boys--they’re always the stubborn and tardy ones with brains that develop more slowly) and then they suddenly re-emerge as the person you always knew and hoped for. 

Parents often beat themselves up for a child that isn’t turning out right and also keep trying to change them in those late teen and early twenties years.  It’s important to recognize that you did your job (hopefully) when they were young, and eventually you have to let them go.  Don’t stop praying for them.  I believe in the power of prayer, but I also believe in the concept of “free will.”  At that point you just have to let go and remember that life has a way of pounding lessons into thick heads that you as a parent cannot.  Do you kick them out on the street and turn a deaf ear to them?  I have to leave the degree of involvement you maintain and the support you provide up to you.  The prodigal son was given his entire inheritance.  Perhaps you will choose to provide Sunday dinners or an occasional place to sleep.  I can’t tell you what is right.  Tough love is often mis-interpreted and exaggerated by those who employ it, and its misuse can make things far worse in my opinion.  Still, some of it likely needs to be painful for your child in order to learn and change. 

It is also tough and painful for YOU to let your child wander off into darkness and failure, I know!  Believe me, I know.  Most likely, they will get the message and come through it the way you hoped.  Stay the course.

All you need is patience…I’m still waiting.  I refuse to give up.

Saturday, July 14, 2012


I recently was told by a woman that she didn’t have an interest in religion.  She felt there was no right or wrong, “what is, is just what is.”  Kind of an odd statement, I thought.

When Adam was created, he was probably of that mindset.  There’s all these animals and I have been told by God the creator to name them and kinda oversee things here.  As far as I can tell, “what is, is just what is.”  They run around eating each other and some of them chew up the pretty flowers, but it’s all “what is…and I do the same.”

Then God decides on what I can only assume is a test.  You see, this creature called man was a bit different than the animals.  He was designed to “need” to be in relationship with another of his kind.  His need was cerebral and emotional, as well as physical.  The animals got together to procreate and then got on with the business of killing things and eating and with few exceptions didn’t hang out together in a specific relationship(canines, monkeys and elephants excepted.)  But back to man.  He was given a companion as well as a baby maker…and it was good.  You thought I was going to say that the woman was the test, didn’t you?  Well, she wasn’t exactly…and yet she was.  You see, she got to hanging out with God’s Yang (because opposites occurred from the very beginning.)  Light and Dark, Yin and Yang, Hot and Cold…you get the picture…right and wrong (or shall we say good and evil.)  The Yang was known as Satan and did his Yang thing by trying to get the woman to do the one and only thing God told Adam and the woman, Eve, not to do.  Yep, “Don’t eat the fruit of this one special tree.”  Now since God is portrayed as all knowing and outside of time, he must have known they were going to fail the test.  That raises some interesting questions, the biggest one being “Why give a test you know they are going to fail?”

Here’s what I think:  I am convinced that God had simply had it with all these beings that surrounded him that either weren’t loyal (Satan and his buddies) or had no concept of loyalty and love (the animals.)  God wanted to be in a loving volitional relationship.  He needed man to love and be loved. 

He created mankind with that same need…not just to be in relationship with the opposite sex, but to be in relationship with the God of the universe.
The All Knowing God

If we consider God as described in the Bible as all knowing, and eternal then my conceptual words would describe him as “outside of Time” as we know it.  Humans think of time as linear.  The past is behind us and the future is unknown ahead of us.  God would then have to think of time as sort of an object or circle in front of him where the past and the present and the future are all visible to him at once.  It must be very frustrating to God to want us all to come to him as his children with the full knowledge that the ones he is looking at throughout time did not come to him (in our future and our past.)  God has a plan for our lives that he wants us to live, knowing that we didn’t.  His will and his plan and his foreknowledge essentially become a reading of the script that we already lived out in our future that he can see.  In a way it sort of fits with the old “determinists” like Calvin in the sense that our future is already programmed, though not by God as Calvin would have put it…rather by ourselves.

The Case For God

Yeah, I know…you’re thinking here is another rant by some religious fanatic.  Well, wait a minute and let me have a word with you and maybe you’ll feel differently. 

The case for God is as interesting to the atheist or agnostic as it is to anyone.  Consider this:  If you believe (sorry to offend you science types…just substitute “know” for believe) that the entire Universe was formed through natural processes involving the chemical and element soups in space over eons (the Hebrew word for day (yom) which also means era or eons if you will) to eventually form your beautiful blue eyes and enchanting smile, or your skill at shooting hoops, then you still have the essential problem of where did the elements and chemicals come from.  That implies something outside of natural processes…or put more simply…”the supernatural.”  Mind you, supernatural is not just some scientific process we don’t understand yet…it is something outside the laws of science.  So that leaves the atheist with the thorny problem of how did all that “stuff” get there in space to engender those natural processes other than our supernatural force or entity.  Oh, my gosh…you are forced to believe in something God-like outside of science and all human understanding!  There is no other choice.

Once you realize that you are stuck and have to believe in something that I’ll call God for want of a better word, you are smack dab in the middle of the even bigger controversy about what is the nature of God.  I suppose we can argue that he is dead now and we don’t need to worry, but an entity that can create something from nothing doesn’t strike me as highly susceptible to dying.  So let’s just side step that and leave that to the die-hards who stopped reading this when they saw the title.

What is the nature of God?  The ancient Aztecs and Mayans were believed to have felt that God was the neighborhood bad-ass who expected you to sacrifice humans in order to please him.  Wow!  Is that the nature of God?  Some Muslim sects want you to kill anyone who doesn’t believe as they do at the command of their God.  Is that really the nature of God?  Some feel God is pretty passive and just sitting back and watching all of us like you watch the evening news or your favorite football team.  I agree this is where our discussion gets more difficult and contains some conjecture, but to me it seems pretty simple.  Deep in our hearts we all know that it is better to be helpful rather than to insist on our own self-satisfaction at the expense of others.  Self-preservation, or me-first is ingrained in us to some extent for survival, but we know that extreme level of narcissism is as self-destructive as it is other-destructive in the end.  Just ask Saddam Hussein, John Edwards, Hasne Mubarek, Ted Bundy, or Aloph Hitler.  In its extreme it manifests as Atomic bombs, murder, rape, theft and other forms or self-centeredness that all of society condemns.  We know ultimately that “good” is preferable to “evil.”  Most of us have no trouble defining “evil” either.

So, is the nature of God good, or is it evil?  Since evil is destructive of the creation God fashioned, then I think it highly unlikely that he is evil.  Yes, I know, there are those in the world who built their Lego villages just to destroy them - or preferably the ones you built, just as there are those in the world right now who practice evil on a daily basis.  That only tells me that there is a force I’ll call “anti-God” alive and well in the world.  I’ll let you just think on that one for a while.)

So, with all that in mind, what is the nature of God?  I’ll postulate he is “good” in light of what I just wrote, and I’ll further postulate that since he is good that he works on a personal level with his creation to connect.  That’s a leap, but let’s go with it for a minute.  Let’s call this telepathic connection to God…here it comes, you knew it would…the Spirit or Soul.  I suspect that is one of the means that God makes it clear to us that good is preferable to evil (or other-centeredness versus narcissism.)  That is one of the reasons I believe he does communicate with us.

So, God exists and God communicates with us in some fashion.  Now all we have to do is figure out which “religion” correctly identifies him.  I won’t play Hollywood Squares or Deal or No Deal with you here.  It has to be the one that prefers cares about the creation he made, that communicates to us individually, and that prefers other-centeredness over narcissism.  

Hmmm…sounds a lot like Christianity to me.  And the big bonus is that Christianity says we get to continue our existence after we die with the force that created the universe…now how cool is that!  
The following is an excerpt from our fictional novel Old Bones that I'd thought I'd share:

“Nice people like Marcus shouldn’t have things like this happen to them!” Allie said, her voice filled with emotion and her eyes brimming. 
“Bad things happen to good people Al; sometimes they are just in the wrong place.  Sometimes they just hang with the wrong people.  It’s part of the reason why I always make such a big deal about who you choose for your friends.  Sometimes they are into things and you suffer for their acts just by being near them.
“But why does God let that happen?  Aren’t good people supposed to be protected by God?” Allie was obviously more emotionally affected by all of this than he had thought.  This wasn’t a conversation that Chris had ever spent much time thinking about or discussing with her as she grew up.  He had sheltered her…maybe too much.  Maybe a mother could have made a difference.
“Allie, I don’t think God reaches down and puts a big silver shield around us.  He wants the best for us, but we also have the free will to do whatever we choose.  We are put in this world and have to learn to live in a way that is good for us, not damaging.  We need to make good choices.  He gives us a bunch of good rules to help, but sometimes random things just happen.  I can’t explain it.  It stinks.  It’s scary.  But it can also be amazing.  God can use these “bad” things for amazing good.”  But Chris couldn’t help but wonder what could be good about any of this.
Marina was watching Chris through all of this with a look he couldn’t quite figure out.  Maybe she thought he was being preachy.  He wouldn’t blame her, it sounded that way to him as well.  He thought rather abruptly that maybe she was an atheist or worshipped some arcane rituals involving dead cats.  He’d never talked with her about any of that sort of thing.  He stopped talking so long that Marina spoke up and he wondered if a mockery of his faith was about to be brought forth.
  Marina turned to Allie, “I guess it’s all in how we deal with these situations when they do happen that matters, and how we trust that this whole earthly thing is just a dress rehearsal for the real thing.  A lot of people look at stuff like this and say ‘all things work for good’ like it’s part of God’s plan, but I think most of the time that is a misunderstanding.  Free will was given to us and we have a darned strong habit of using it.  We are not God’s puppets.  The ‘all things work for good’ part is that none of it matters if your focus is on what God can do after the bad happens. You can’t let the horrible stuff distract you from what the end game is.  It’s not easy to accept, I know.” 
Chris was a bit surprised at how animated Marina was with what she was saying, and thought maybe she had lived some of the horrible stuff she was referring to.  At least he guessed he didn’t have to worry about any “dead cats” as Allie’s cat jumped into Marina’s lap. 
He chimed in as he sat down, “We all want to think God will protect us from everything if we show our faith in him.  People can’t accept the idea that a good God would let bad things happen.  I think the greater truth is that bad exists in the universe, and God can take a bad situation and allow something really good to come from it.  Right now the thing to focus on is that we got Marcus good medical care and brought him to advanced neurological care early.  He has a good shot.”  He hoped he sounded more convinced than he really felt. 
Alicia just sat and stared at her tea.  Chris could tell she was thinking, and he felt bad.  Perhaps he had been too blunt and taken away her hopes and beliefs in what he had said.  He knew what he had said was what turned a lot of people away from faith…that God should seemingly be so without care about his creation.   That was so far from the truth, and there was so much more to it, but tonight was not the night for that conversation.

It Is Finished

I can’t even begin to express the number of times I’ve heard discussions about how a person feels they aren’t good enough for God.  How they haven’t done enough and how their nature hasn’t changed enough to be worthy of salvation.  I think one of the greatest examples of how this kind of thinking is wrong comes at Easter. 
Jesus died on the cross with two other criminals being crucified on either side of him.  One of them asked Jesus to “remember him when He came into his Kingdom.”  Do you remember that part?  Pay attention now.  Jesus told this bad guy who was a slimeball who deserved his punishment in an earthly sense, that “Today you shall be with me in paradise.”  This is so very important to understand.  This guy didn’t say the ‘magic salvation prayer, he wasn’t baptized, and he didn’t put 10% in an offering plate for 40 years.  All he did was ask Jesus to remember him (actual usage of the word in the original text means “deliver”) when Jesus came into His Kingdom.  The fact is you die to your old nature at salvation (which is the moment you accept Christ.)  You will continue to struggle as a Christian if you think you have to prove yourself to God.  You don’t have to keep dying, beating yourself up and saying you are not good enough.  Christ did it for you.  It is already done and it isn't something God expects you to do; it's something He expects you to believe and accept (and that includes the days you get up and wonder, is all this really true?  Remember, this is a faith journey…we can’t prove God, but we can make rational choices to believe.)  
What have you got to lose…except maybe eternity?

The Wisdom of the Tomato Plant

It is amazing to me how some people who have everything going for them and live in a supportive family environment with all the resources imaginable at their disposal can fail so miserably at life.  Conversely, it also amazes me that people who have nothing but adversity can succeed so well in life.  For some reason, this was brought home to me quite forcefully when I planted tomatoes this past year. 

As the growing season ended and my plants could no longer make it in Colorado’s cold winter the plants died.  The last tomatoes were picked and I brought the planters inside out of the snow and ignored the plants as they sat inside my sun porch in the now 20 degree cold.  Many months later I chanced to look at the plants and noticed that there were 2 tomatoes fully formed and ripened on the plant.  The plant had been completely dead and brown and rock hard when I had last looked at it, and yet these tomatoes had managed to grow and sit patiently waiting to be picked for months!  In addition, two more tomatoes grew and matured a month later.  Not only had they thrived in their adversity but they had been preserved throughout a long period waiting for me to notice that were long overdue to picking.  They never should have grown in the first place, and they should have rotted of the dead vine long before, as well.

The essence of this experience spoke to me in this way:  God is there for us through our adversity and we can bloom.  We can succeed and we can prosper.  Not only can we bloom, but if we are patient, we can continue to survive until we are chosen and rewarded by the master gardener.  And above all, no life is too tough that God won’t be with us and sustain us through it all.
Life Is A Test

I have come to the conclusion that life is a test.  I will pass this test or I will fail it, and it is a heavy burden to contemplate. 

I remember when I was in college, and in order to graduate I had to pass every kind of test imaginable.  I would study into the wee hours of the morning, reading and re-reading textbooks and notes.  I highlighted everything important in yellow and tried to memorize it.  My tests would be massive essays with little time to complete them, or they would be page after page of short answers.  Some teachers expected periodic papers of various lengths that would be graded and returned.  Only occasionally would you see a multiple choice or a true false examination.  And when you did, they were comprehensive with an endless array of questions and all the choices for answers seemed right.  Then there were the math tests, with endless calculations and formulas and rules to remember.  Cosines and sines, slide rules and protractors…it was an awful experience.  There wasn’t a day that I didn’t stress and worry about whether I would make it through the experience to my graduation day years in the future.

And now I realize all of life is a test.  Without a doubt the most important testing anyone can undergo.  Everything depends on getting it right…and what amazes me is that it is not an essay, or a physical performance test.  It’s not math computations or even an endless multiple choice array…it is a simple True/False test.  And guess what…there is only one question to answer.

Was Jesus Christ God in man’s flesh, who died and rose from the dead that whoever believed he could give them eternal life in heaven, would in fact get it? 

True or False?
Life is a test.  Will you pass?

One of the unfortunate things about history books is that the story is most often told by those who weren’t there.  It can suffer accuracy problems as a result.  When it is told by someone who was there, it can be challenging, too, if that someone was involved or the center of that historical series of events (their image and ego are involved and sometimes the facts get shaded.)  That doesn’t leave a lot of options for accurate history telling, does it?

So that brings us to the Bible.  Fortunately, we have many (but not all) gospels and old testament books that were written by witnesses or by those central figures in the history themselves.  What do we do with the ones that weren’t written by those two categories of authors?  That’s where things get complicated.  We compare what various contemporaries say about events, and we attempt to use logic and other technical and scientific research to verify events.  Sometimes we are pretty successful at that.  Other times, not so much.

One interesting issue for me has always been some of the Old Testament writings that identify people like Methusaluh as being over 900 years old.  Now I know they were more into their veggies, and were not packing away the Big Macs and fries…but seriously, is that going to lengthen their lives by over ten-fold.  Even lacking genetic degeneration and less pollution and radiation seems unlikely to help lengthen life that much, but many knowledgeable people will make that argument.  So what are we to assume?

My own theory is that the accounts of genesis are ancient oral traditions passed down through a culture that 5,000 years ago may well have counted each month cycle as a year.  Words also change meanings over time, and year in the Hebrew language (yom) has at least a half dozen meanings (i.e. day, era, epoch, etc).…who knows what it meant 5,000 years ago?  (Which also helps me accept the fact that the earth is older than 5,000 years.)  As time went on perhaps cultural changes tied the year down to an annual cycle like we know today, but maybe the oral story traditions didn’t pick up on the change.  Is this really a critical element in Biblical reading?  Probably not.  But if it is a stumbling block for you, then perhaps this is one easy explanation.

Satanic possession

My sense is that Satan can overwhelm a person who is willing to let that happen.  I’ll put Hitler and Stalin in that category.  It is possible and can happen to one degree or another, but most of the time people are just mentally ill, or bent and selfish and behave in an evil way quite effectively on their very own.  I do believe in a very literal Satan who is active and trying to be influential, but we do such a good job at being bad just from our own self-centered nature without his help, that I think most of the time he has it pretty easy and just sits back with a bag of popcorn to enjoy the show.  It is our sin nature if you want to call it that.  The interesting thing to note, however, is that as Christians we are not bound by that.  What so many of us don’t really ‘get’ is that we may fail by sinning but we are not trapped by that.  We ask forgiveness and move forward.  I believe God judges us by our character improvement, not by keeping track of our mistakes.  We are told we are washed in the blood of Christ.  It’s kind of a gory symbolism for a laundry day, but effective none-the-less.  Our sins are gone and God doesn’t see them the moment we ask Jesus into our lives.  We may stumble along the way, but that forgiveness is always there.  Our God is a God of second chances.  Second, third, fourth…innumerable chances.  Sounds too easy to some people, but the realization that NO ONE can be perfect makes it the only way.

Do you actually feel the presence of Satan around you?  As the inventor and world-class patent holder on the “lie,” he is clever to disguise his presence.  Thoughts of fear, worthlessness, envy, lust, etc. all come to us and we think they are our own.  They are not.  They are his.  One of the most interesting perceptions I ever had was that Satan is not all powerful, omnipresent, or omniscient like God is.  He can’t hear my thoughts, and if I want to rid myself of his presence I have to speak out loud so he can hear me.  Sounds goofy to some people, but I am convinced.  When I am troubled I simply say “Satan, I rebuke you in the name of Jesus Christ--leave me alone!”  I really works.  I was pretty surprised the first time I did it.  I was a real skeptic.  I’ve been one all my life, but the proof was there, and I’ve never regretted trying the tactic.

Satan has no power over you…unless you let him.
Organized Religion

If I were to start my own blog, I think I would begin it with a few comments on people who say they don’t follow organized religions or participate in them because religion has caused all the wars and killing throughout history.  I am really ticked off about that kind of thinking.  I had a friend who eventually gave up Christianity for that line of bull.  It is the most screwed up thinking I’ve ever seen intelligent people express.

Governments cause wars, people cause wars.  People are flawed and a few who fight, have done so in the past for religious values and at the prompting of religious leaders and their government.  The worst offender is the Muslim faith which actually has passages in its ‘bible’ that direct them to kill all non-believers.  I don’t see that in other organized religions…in fact I see the opposite.  My church doesn’t sponsor war, we support orphanages in Africa for kids abandoned and kids with aids, and kids who are starving and sick.  Other churches I’ve been involved with do the same in our own country and abroad.  Never have I heard any preacher exhort to fight and kill…even against Muslims who have targeted us.  If they did, then I would not support THAT CHURCH anymore.

Hitler was not a Christian, though he espoused his views as ‘Christian.’  He was a lunatic, not an organized Church movement.  His followers were political.  The Church in this world stood against him, though not strongly enough to do any good (especially in Germany itself.)  We fought him on a political level as a lunatic who was a mass murderer and not a respecter of political boundaries.  We did not fight him because our churches ordered us to go to war. 

These people in America who won’t participate in organized religion are just using this as an excuse not to live up to God’s standards and stand before other believers as a witness to God’s love.

Now, to that I have to add that in the Old Testament, God ordered the Jews to kill every man woman and child in various battles.  I don’t know how to answer that.  But that still doesn’t represent organized religion as it is today.  We live under a new covenant in Christianity.

I recently had the opportunity to view a film documentary that examined the age old  conflict between Muslims and Christians.  I found it very disturbing.

Normally the term extremism these days is most often found coupled with the word Muslim.  It is an unfortunate fact that Muslims have an expanding element of individuals who are so committed to this religion that they wish it to be their government as well (Sharia Law), and they wish to impose it on everyone else.  Make no mistake…that is their aim.  Still, having said that, one can’t help but to notice that extremism exists within the Christian community as well.  The fundamentalist groups can often be found to have a fanatical commitment to not tolerating anyone who is different than they are.  They emphasize ritual, form and law and often enter the political realm and seek to change religious or socially accepted behaviors that don’t meet with their religious standards.  It’s a perfect storm of differing ideas.  The separation of Church and State is a powerful and important ideal, and we need to keep that in mind.

Do I have an opinion which one of these groups is correct?  Sure, but nevertheless I am certain that either group is ultimately going to be destructive to a peaceful and free society.  Both seek to impose God’s control on people he designed to be free to behave in a manner that would, in the end, be solely His responsibility to judge.  So, where behaviors do not impinge significantly upon another in society, we have an obligation to let them be (yes, I know that impingement is sometimes hard to decide.)  Certainly, we can come along side and encourage, in love, a different set of behaviors and beliefs.  In the end, however, we need to let it go.

When I examine the Muslim approach to controlling behavior and beliefs, I am stunned by its violence.  The encouragement to kill a woman who is raped, a child who marries a non-believer, or simply kill a non-believer seems extreme to the point of insanity.  The idea that if we simply leave them alone in the middle east, then they will leave us alone doesn’t fit with the facts of their beliefs or actions, and for sure the end result would also be the annihilation of the Jewish race.  Their numbers in our country and other western nations are increasing rapidly due to immigration and just plain out reproducing “us.”  They are not content to live just in their own “world.”  Are there moderates among them who would not wish to impose violence upon the Western beliefs such as Christianity.  Yes, most definitely!  Yet those who aren’t moderate will likely do such damage as can hardly be imagined, and it will be even worse if the Christian extremists get involved treating Muslims like Christians have in their violent attacks on abortionists and soldiers.

Playing out this thirteen hundred year-old conflict doesn’t paint a pretty picture for the future.  Tolerance is the only answer, and it is in short supply.

“Praise” Music and the Modern Contemporary Church Service

G.W. Picard

Mankind has always seemed to seek out more than just speech to communicate.  Somehow music has always been around to supplement our feelings with more than just words.  I suspect that led to the body movements we call dance.  We are body and mind creatures and we seek to put our feelings into that integrated form we call “us.”  I get all that, and it doesn’t seem out of place within the context of Christian worship.  However, of late I have seen the more typical contemporary “worship bands” using that music for what I suspect is the wrong purpose.

Today, in a lot of churches, we copy our secular society where band performances to huge audiences are the rule.  Now it seems that the typical praise or worship band is composed of those who want to show off their talent and showmanship.  It is more than the exhuberance of spiritual feelings.  It smacks of an act or a show (and often it’s really loud.)  They want you to watch THEM.  More expression of the music beat through body movement and movements on the stage accentuate the performer and not the music.  It becomes the Sunday morning “entertainment program” part of the service.  It often distracts from the actual message of the music being sung (if there even is much message.)  I think the old church idea of having the choir off to the side of the front part of the church made sense.  The music and the words were the central idea, and the performers were just the hardly visible instruments.  Nowadays the praise band is center stage and they perform for a long time up there.  The lead guitarist rips out his licks and a lead line and the keyboard player does the same.  People are dancing in the pews, repeating endless monotonous chorus repetitions…only to have the minister come up and say “wasn’t that great, I want the band to do the last two lines of that song again before I start my message to you this morning…” and the band not only plays the last two lines, but they play them eight more times.  Mindless and hypnotic is what it feels like. 

As a long time performer myself, it is hard for me to say these things.  I know I probably sound like some old geezer who should just pipe down and mind his own business.  I confess, I love getting up there and doing a good song. You have to have some ego to be able to do that, so I have to at least address the performers part in all this.  They work hard to put together the music, and they want it to be good so people will like how they did it.  That’s not a bad thing, but the music and the worship is the central idea and the performers are just the vessels that carry it.  If their ego gets in the way, it’s no longer worship…it’s their “show.”  The audience loses and they lose if that happens, and it’s no longer worship…it becomes a sort of worshipping of the performers.

I remember James Dobson complaining once that modern Christian music wasn’t effectively teaching as the songs of old did.  I long for the performance of a song with a real message rooted in biblical principles that can actually teach as it is sung. We don’t do those kinds of story songs and teaching songs today.  Contemporary worship has been designed to reach the young who have grown up being given diluted messages spoon-fed to them by media in slick “performance” media.  I wonder if we haven’t succumbed to doing the same thing in our churches.  Take a look at your church music and see what you think.  Hopefully the worship is enhanced by it and your program has balance, and it’s about the person of God and not the personality of the performers.