Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Plush Toy Blasphemy

If it had been April 1, I could have dismissed it. It had to be a joke. A British teacher at a private school in Sudan allowed her 7-year-old students to name a teddy bear, “Muhammad.” Now she may face criminal prosecution.

The boy who made the suggestion was named Muhammad. He wasn’t thinking about the Islamic prophet at all. Apparently most of the students, 90 percent of whom are Muslim, did not object to the name.

I guess what really bothers me is the tendency in religion to focus on the things that are bearly significant. Never mind that the slave trade is destroying lives in Sudan, or that our children don’t recognize blasphemy when they hear it. We can’t have a teddy bear with a prophet’s name.

In our own country, religious people are all upset that some retailers won’t wish customers a “Merry Christmas.” I get annoyed with political correctness, too. But it doesn’t make sense to get angry with worldly people because they don’t want to identify with Christ. Yes, Christmas has become way too commercial. There’s not enough Jesus in the season. But are people really buying the latest gadgets and toys in the name of Jesus, anyway?

If Jesus really came to change the world, then his followers might put their efforts into something world-changing. Can you imagine the person whose life was changed because a cashier said, “Merry Christmas,” instead of, “Happy Holidays”? Maybe it could happen. But what if people took some of that “Christmas money” and invested it in micro-businesses in a third world country, or in an AIDS orphanage in Africa, or in a clean water project in a small village? What if we supported efforts to bring justice to oppressed peasants struggling with a corrupt regime?

Of course it is easier for me to tell other people to change than it is for me to begin living my own faith in a more meaningful way.

But think of how wonderful the world will be when no one ever says, “Happy Holidays,” and there are no teddy bears named Muhammad.

Monday, November 26, 2007

My Favorite Toys

I love to play with words. I like to think of strange words combinations, explore etymologies, make puns and find inconsistencies in the English language.

Have you ever noticed the many words we find only in a negative form? A comment may be inane, but has anyone ever praised you for being ane? Workers get disgruntled, but never seem to get gruntled. A tie or a suit may be nondescript, but would you want to wear something descript?

One of my favorite oddities is that you drive on a parkway but park on a driveway. Although you can slow up and slow down, you can speed up, but you never speed down.

Names also provide a playground for fun and creativity. Consider Emma Tate is known by all her friends as a copycat. How about the guy named Ben Moore who has lost weight?

The list of rules at the skating rink in Eden, NC used to say, “No horseplay aloud.” Just do it quietly.

I’m eager to see a model of efficiency called a “wait loss” program.

God has blessed us with words, the gift of language. He reveals himself to us through his written word, and the Word who took on flesh and dwelt among us.

I love playing with words. As long as I have my wits, no one can take away my toys.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Old and New Blogs

I’ve been reading Thoreau’s Walden. It’s one of those books you hear about all the time but you have never read. It sounds like a blog from the 1840s. He rails about the high prices of things, and he calls for more simplicity in life. He goes into detail about people and circumstances that seem insignificant to me.

But that’s how blogs are. We can ramble on and not worry abut wasting ink and paper. Like Thoreau, we can be opinionated and say what we really think. I imagine that he would have been a prolific blogger. And I don’t think that would have compromised his beliefs about simplicity. Maybe I’ll know better after I finish the book.

Oh yeah. Thanks to our awesome webmaster, we now have a new look for the pastor’s blog. I’ve been so busy building a shack out by the pond that I haven’t had time to get the new blog up and going. Not really. But I would like to build that cabin sometime.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Life on a Mission

I was honored to hear a few Moravians address a small learning community on Friday. They shared with us some amazing history, which I had never heard. Count von Zinzendorf, living in the 1700s in Europe, founded a city named Herrnhut, a place of refuge for radical Christians who had lived in the eastern European mountains for generations.

After the refugees ironed out some conflicts, they became a great missionary village. Hundreds of Christ-followers left their homes to travel to foreign lands, earning a living with a simple trade. There they would live among society’s outcasts, serving them and loving them. They shared with them the call of Jesus to repentance and faith.

They were not seeking to begin Moravian churches, but to lead people to Jesus. They knew that they were likely never to return home, so they said their goodbyes, often at the western coast of Europe, and went to share Jesus with the world. One man even took his tombstone with him, ready to invest the rest of his life to share life with others.

Some of this may sound familiar to those of us in the Triad. Old Salem, which later became part of Winston-Salem, began as a Moravian outpost for evangelism. The various trades done in Salem raised money to support missionary efforts. They reached out to those without Christ in the new world.

There was no distinction between laity and clergy. They were all alike working to share the Savior’s love. The Count urged believers to “Win for the Lamb the reward of his suffering.” It’s all about Jesus.

Two things surprise me here. First, I’m surprised that I had never heard of this missionary enterprise. Of course I had heard of the Moravians, but they seemed like peripheral figures in church history. At the Baptist seminary I attended, I learned plenty about church history, and I even took a course on the Anabaptists. But I don’t recall ever hearing anything about the Moravians. And I know that I never heard about their radical missionary culture.

Second, I’m surprised that the effort did not endure. The missionary effort came to an end after Zinzendorf died. Although was of noble birth, he gave all he had materially to the cause. He also went deep into debt. After his death, the Moravians chose to stop the missions effort until they could repay the Count’s debt. They also chose to become a denomination. After the debt was paid, they never resumed the level of commitment to the great commission. And they were left with a denomination, an institution, a bureaucracy. And lots of church historians forgot them.

Maybe we could see a revival of this kind of radical obedience and sacrifice for the Lord. It will change the world.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

A Different Approach

I received a book in the mail a couple of months ago. It is an autobiography of a man who is running for governor. I don’t know if I want to vote for him or not.

But one thing about his approach impresses me. He says that we live in a sound-bite world, where media impressions determine the fates of candidates. This book, he says, is an effort to work around the shallow portrayals of the media.

I like the idea of conveying something of substance. You can’t really know a candidate on the basis of TV interviews or check marks on a voter guide. Those tools may be helpful, but they don’t show you the character of the person. This book actually tells about the man’s grandparents and his upbringing. If I keep reading it, I suppose I will find out about his policy stances and vision for North Carolina. But I expect, if I keep reading, that I will also know why he holds his positions.

Our culture does seem to focus on very shallow things. The politicians often hold their positions for shallow reasons, like getting certain voting blocks to support them.

We can be people of depth. We need to think about why we believe what we believe. We can take time to invest in the lives of our friends and know why they like to shop or watch football or camp or read or go to movies.

I hope that we will be people who want to be deeper than the latest fashion, who care about others, who really want to connect. Living deeply takes time. It makes us slow down. But it lets us really experience life.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Destiny Turns!

I learned early this morning that God has moved a judge’s heart in Uganda, and now two AIDS orphans will have new parents in Winston-Salem, NC. Erin and Scott Littleton have been working for over six months to untangle the red tape binding their children. On Oct. 28 we held a concert of prayer, asking God to intervene supernaturally to release those children.

When the judge called in sick on the day after our concert, I wondered what had happened in his life and mind. Some of us talking about the situation felt that God missed a great opportunity to show his glory when he did not have the judge make a ruling on that Monday. God doesn’t need any PR consultants. He knows how to reveal his glory.

Now destiny for these two young children – and their young parents – has turned. He has put them in a place where they will be wanted and loved. Who knows how God may use these children for his glory?

And what about our concert of prayer? Did that tip the scales in favor of the children? People sometimes say that prayer changes things. The truth is that God changes things. Often he uses prayer. Seeking God’s face pulls us into closer fellowship with him. That helps us know his heart and his will. We can pray with greater confidence when we are assured that we are praying in agreement with the will of God. The Bible tells us that when we pray according to the will of God, he hears and answers.

Somehow prayer releases God’s power in our world. His kingdom comes and his will is done.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Good Bye, Freddie

Our beta fish, Freddie, passed away yesterday. He was a very happy fish, as far as we could tell. He was rather old, apparently. We received this fish after a wedding in September 2005. Freddie was one of the table decorations – in a bowl, of course. Several more of his kind also served in this capacity. These other fish were also given to children after the wedding, but they all died within a few weeks.

Freddie was very colorful – blue, orange, gold, purple. He was careful not to eat too much, and we helped him watch his diet. He observed most of our meals from the vantage of the kitchen counter. Occasionally I would speak to him, and he very much appreciated the attention. We had a toy fish sitting next to his bowl, and the two seemed to get along swimmingly.

Good old Freddie lived two years and two months. A couple of months ago we noticed that his color was not good. He seemed less active than usual. Fortunately we could see the end coming. So could the people who fish-sat for us recently, when we were out of town. They were understandably relieved that Freddie did not expire on their watches.

We said a few words ceremonially this morning as we disposed of his remains. The big question, of course, is whether we will see Freddie again in heaven. I’ll have to trust God on that one. All creation gives glory to God, including our dearly departed.

Of course, if pets show up in heaven, I could be in trouble. My grandmother’s cat, Tiger, could be there. I used to pull his tail and then wonder why he would run from me. I might have to give an answer for my misguided zeal for friendship.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Tricks and Treats

Last night our small group led an Outflow ministry, reversing the typical trick-or-treat expedition. We went around Stokesdale, giving treats as we went.

Our mission started at the Little Feet Learning Center. We had arranged in advance to give out glow sticks and trick-or-treat bags to all the children as they were picked up by their parents, between 5 and 6 p.m.. Unfortunately, we missed all but a few kids, because most of them had been picked up early for Halloween parties.

Our group of kids and adults just delivered the gifts to the kids in their classrooms. Of course we were all dressed for the occasion – well, most of us were. And we were all in good spirits. The kids all loved it.

Our original plan was to give gifts at the day care and then deliver packs of Tic Tacs to the workers in all the retail businesses in town. We had so many left over glow sticks and bags, we just gave them out with the mints, too. At many establishments, the workers thought that we were there to get treats. It was a great surprise for them to learn that we were giving.

Of course we were all laughing the whole time, so it was fun for everyone.

Then a small group member hosted us for a meal and a surprise. The meal was good, both the food and the fellowship. But the surprise was a comet. As an amateur astronomer, he knew about the Holmes Comet. In the northeastern sky, around 7:30 p.m. we could see it. It looks like a fuzzy star. To me they all look fuzzy, but when you look through good binoculars, you can see it easily. Because the tail is pointed directly to earth, it looks like a star with a thick halo of light around it.

Of course, nighttime on Halloween, looking at stars, provides the perfect opportunity to scare each other. Which we did. It was great.

With the giggling, the giving, the stars and comet, and the fun meal, we had a spectacular evening. Lots of treats and just a few tricks.