Thursday, May 29, 2008


This morning I went on a hike with a friend on one of the trails at a local park. The trail took me near a little river that was rolling over some rocks. We just stopped at that spot for about 10 minutes to enjoy the beauty of the scene.

I have come to the conclusion that I love water. I love to sit on the rocks by a river and dangle my feet in the cool water. I love to sit on the beach and listen to the waves roll in. I love to watch the rain fall outside my window. So often for me, I find myself encountering God in these moments.

As I stood by the this little river this morning, with the sound of the water rolling over the rocks, I couldn't help but think of the words of the prophet, "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream." As I thought of those words, I contemplated on the peace that I felt there by that flowing river. I think that is part of the prophetic message: when God's justice and righteousness flow in a current that cannot be stopped, the result is a sense of peace for those who gather in His midst. How desperately we need that peace as a world.

Indeed, let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

New Post at CBF Blog

Just put a new post up at the CBF blog. Click on the title of this post to check it out.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

WHAM! - the sound of my head hitting the wall

There was a time when I watched "American Idol" just about every week. I have lost a lot of interest over the years, but Amy still watched a little bit. We watched the last 30 minutes of the finale to find out who won more for information sake than anything else - I didn't really particularly care for either David. Anyway, we are sitting there and out walks George Michael to sing a song entitled "Praying for Time". You remember George Michael, former member of Wham!, huge pop star who then found himself in a disgraceful sex scandal. Anyway, I listen to him sing this song as Paula Abdul sways and cries to his little ballad. By the time he was done, I was crying too - becaues I had just lost 4 minutes of my life to listening to this song. My critique is not at the quality of his singing, but the song itself. The song either is nonsense or hypocritical, depending on which verse you are looking at. If you missed it, allow me to share the lyrics (acquired off of Yahoo!) with some of my own commentary (in italics) alongside:

Oh yeah OK

These are the days of the open hand
They will not be the last
The open hand? Whose open hand? Is this a reference to the poor in the world? I can go with you there, but the line "They will not be the last"? They aren't the first either. Jesus himself, 2000 years ago, said, "You will always have the poor with you."
Look around now, these are the days
Of the beggars and the choosers
Who are the choosers? Is this a reference to the rich and hoarding (referenced later)? Odd place to drop this reference with where the song is getting ready to go next.
This is the year of the hungry man
Whose place is in the past
Hand in hand with ignorance
And legitimate excuses
This may be the only section of this song that, I think, makes sense and makes a good point. Only one question, Why is this year the year of the hungry man, as opposed to say, the year George Michael sang on "Feed the World" or the year George Michael sang on "We Are the World"?
At this point, I am thinking, OK, 21st century protest song. Not my cup of tea, but alright. George is trying to get people motivated to make a difference in our world.
The rich declare themselves poor
Can somebody help me out here? Who are these rich people declaring themselves poor? If that is the case, Forbes list of the wealthiest people in the world could be misinformed.
And most of us are not sure
If we have too much but we'll take our chances
'Cause God stopped keeping score
Huh? What is it that God stopped keeping score of?
I guess somewhere along the way
He must have let us all out to play
Turned his back on all God's children
Crept out the back door
Hold the phone! So now the fact that the some unknown rich are declaring themselves poor is evidence that God has abandoned creation? Poverty and hunger is God's fault? Never mind Jesus' command to the rich man to give all that he had to the poor, never mind Jesus' challenge that at the final judgment, believers will stand before God and he will ask what they did to feed the hungry, care for the sick, and welcome the stranger. (Please don't miss the sarcastic tone in this next sentence) Yeah, that really sounds like God just turning back on needy people in the world.
And its hard to love, there's so much to hate
Hanging on to hope when there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say its much too much too late
Nope, not a protest song. We are in complete universal self-pity. Nothing good in life, no hope of anything changing, too late to do anything.
Well maybe we should all be praying for time, oh yeah
Umm, didn't you just say a few seconds ago that God had left? Exactly then what is the point of praying if God is not around to listen? A tad hypocritical, it seems.
These are the days of the empty hand (There's that anonymous empty hand again)
Oh you hold on to what you can (I thought the hand was empty?)
And charity is a coat
You wear twice a year (Christmas and ...?)
This is the year of the guilty man
Your television takes a stand
And you find that what was over there
Is over here
??????? I can't even understand it, let alone critique it.
So you scream from behind your door (Wow, you could really hear me screaming? I thought sound only came out of the TV)
Say what's mine is mine and not yours
I may have too much but I'll take my chances
Cause God's stopped keeping score
OK, think I see here that the "empty hand" this second time around is maybe referring to people not offering help to the needy - their hands are empty. OK, so this is supposed to change things how? I mean, if God's not keeping score, then why should anybody help anybody? I never knew how to put a defeatist attitude to music. It's like Eeyore went pop.
And you cling to the things they sold you (Who sold me what?)
Didn't you cover your eyes when they told you?
That he can't come back
Cause he has no children to come back for
What? OK, make up your mind! Did God choose to leave or was God forced to leave? Why aren't we his children anymore? We were a little earlier in the song.
It's hard to love, there's so much to hate
Hanging on to hope when there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say it's much too late
So maybe we should all be praying for time, oh yeah
Ok, now the whole "praying for time" line really doesn't make sense. Not only have you just said God left, but that God can't come back and do anything about it anyway. So what exactly is the point of praying?

I obviously have some serious theological issues with George Michael here. Beyond even the flawed view of God that I think this song is based upon, I still find it hard to address those issues because the song just doesn't make logical enough sense to even form an argument against. I am sure that someone, somewhere, will proclaim that this song makes some kind of beautiful and/or powerful statement. To me, it is nonsensical nihilism. Give me somebody like Bono anyday - someone who has proclaims the difficulties of the world and challenges, even dares, folks to step up and make a difference.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Playing Amateurs

Yesterday I was listening to an interview with Karen Armstrong, the author of A History of God. In the interview, she mentioned that the word "amateur" comes from a Latin word meaning "one who loves".

This got me thinking about sports. I know, kind of an odd jump from theology to sports. Amazing how God wires our brain together.

Recent stories regarding former USC basketball star and future NBA lottery pick O.J. Mayo have raised questions regarding his "amateur" status and, therefore, his eligibility to have played for the Trojans this past season. What I find almost laughable is that there would even be questions about his "amateur" status in the first place. People have been talking about O.J. Mayo's basketball skills since junior high school. I think I am safe in saying the only reason we can talk about O.J. Mayo as a "former USC basketball star" is because the NBA forced athletes to wait 1 year after their high school graduation to enter the draft. In short, it was a foregone conclusion years ago that O.J. Mayo was going to be a professional basketball player. That was his plan and his purpose. So when exactly was it that Mayo was playing simply "for the love of the game"? His eyes have been on an NBA paycheck for awhile.

Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that Mayo is wrong for this. If he has the kind of talent and skill that would allow him to enter the NBA and that is what he wants to do for a living, then I fully support his ability to do that. My point is that I think that elite athletes stop playing simply "for the love of the game" well before they sign a professional contract. Is it therefore appropriate to call them "amateurs"? For the NCAA to be involved in this discussion is ludicrous. College athletics is "amateur" only in the sense that the athletes aren't paid. However, the institutions receive millions of dollars every year from the efforts of these athletes. Add to that the level of exposure college athletes receive and the celebrity status that they can enjoy, and it gets hard to tell where college ends and professional begins.

I know that I am speaking generally here, that there are more anonymous athletes than there are stars, that there are plenty of men and women playing sports that will never get coverage and never sign professional athletic contracts. These are true amateurs, people who are playing their sport because they love to play. Yet what I find amazing is that there are hundreds of NCAA regulations about what scholar athletes can and can't do, and I would argue none of those regulations are about these true amateurs. They are there, instead, to regulate the handful of athletes who are looking to play not only for love of the game, but for the gaining of personal wealth as well. Why are true amateurs forced to follow rules probably not written with them in mind, and why are we trying to force a label of amateur onto a handful of athletes who don't want it in the first place?

I am all for encouraging young men and women to get a good education. I think that professional sports, especially the NBA, has been weakened by the years of bringing in players who had professional talent but not yet professional physical or emotional maturity. However, I also think that the ideal of amateur athletics left harbor a long time ago, maybe when recruiting rankings for high school freshmen started coming out. If there is such concern for the integrity of amateur athletics, then perhaps it is time to stop trying to force athletes who have no interest in being amateurs to "play" amateurs.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Interesting Op-Ed

In light of my sermon series "Sitting in the Kitchen", I thought this was an interesting Op-Ed piece in USA Today. Thanks to Erick for sending me the link!

Aid to Myanmar

Last Thursday, CBF sent out an email with an update on their response to the crisis in Myanmar. CBF is going to concentrate their efforts on recovery rather than rescue. They are partnering with several other organizations, including the Virginia Baptist Mission Board and Baptist World Alliance, to respond. Rick Burnette of CBF had already planned a trip to Myanmar and will be going on May 15. He will be connecting with representatives of the Myanmar Baptist Convention to assess the situation. Along with our prayers, other possible opportunities for assistance are:

1) Donation of funds. You can go to and click on the donation button in the middle of the page.

2) Volunteer. If volunteers are requested, those interested in serving can contact Nichole Bulls at or 800.255.2428, ext. 7242.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Pastor

I have watched with interest the storm of controversy regarding Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Barack Obama. To me, it is an interesting story not only because of the political issues but also as an examination of the relationship between pastor and congregation.

As a pastor, I am called to read and interpret the Scriptures each week from the pulpit. This is a huge responsibility that cannot and should not be entered into lightly. The purpose of the preaching ministry is the proclamation of the gospel, the equipping of the body of Christ, and to speak a prophetic word of repentance. I have a responsibility to God to make sure that each message is true to His word and will. However, is the sermon only an act of the preacher?

Just about anyone who preaches on a regular basis has had the experience of someone in the congregation discussing their sermon and finding a meaning that was nowhere in the stated message of the sermon. Sometimes this can frustrate a pastor, making them feel like no one is listening. Perhaps, instead, such experiences are reminders that the sermon is not just the proclaimed word, but the heard word as well. A sermon is not just an action of the preacher; it is an action of the congregation as well.

Scripture says that each Christian, minster or layperson, is a member of the "priesthood of the believers." As such, it is the calling of each Christian to study and interpret the Scriptures under the guidance of God's Holy Spirit. I believe that, with this in mind, the sermon should be an opportunity for the congregation to enter into Scripture and read and interpret God's word. The sermon should get people thinking about what the Bible has to say to us today and inspire them to continue to study God's word in the days that follows to find continued meaning for their lives. I think too often the sermon is seen as "the last word" on a topic. Perhaps, instead, it should be the first.

I disagree with a good amount of the things that I have heard Rev. Wright say. However, in hearing them, I have been forced to think about why I disagree with them. There are some who argue that Obama should have left this church when he heard Rev. Wright proclaim such words. Why has no one said that perhaps he should have gone to Rev. Wright and shared with him his disagreements and why he disagreed? It occurs to me that this is the more Biblical model for dealing with disagreement (Matthew 18:15-16). I think we sometimes take a very childlike approach to church: if somebody says something that upsets me or that I disagree with, my first response is to just pick up all my toys and go home. I remember reading a very interesting article in Christianity Today several years ago where the author encouraged people who were in a church that they disagreed with some of the things that were taught to stay in the church rather than just pick up and leave. The author's point was that, by staying, you would probably grow more in your faith because you would be more likely to search and study the Scripture in a church where not everything that was said was what you thought.

I do think that each person should find a church where they feel best able to grow and serve. Certainly that will require you to find a church where you feel you are able to stand in unity with the congregation. However, unity will never be uniformity - God has created us to be unique individuals. If we leave a church everytime the preacher says something we disagree with, we could be looking for a new church every month (or every week for that matter!). Perhaps there is an opportunity here for the church to think about and discuss anew the purpose of the preaching ministry.