Monday, January 18, 2010

Processing the Past After Escaping the Fundamentalist Bubble

When I saw the title and cover of this book I knew that I had to read it and that I would most-likely relate to it on several levels.  Matthew Paul Turner's "Churched: One Kid's Journey Toward God Despite a Holy Mess" recounts the stories of the author's upbringing in a very conservative, fundamentalist church.  In many instances the author looks back with a smirk on his face but also seriously wondering at times with a "What was up with that!?!" type attitude.    

I burst out in laughter when Turner described how his parents ended up in a fundamentalist church stating that "Before we switched churches, my mother and father weren't Christians. They were Methodists." (p. 16).  My parents have raised me within a similar church experience when we left the Presbyterian church for a large evangelical non-denominational church that I would now consider a fundamentalist church back then.  Ironically, I am now Methodist.    

Turner goes on to process his two church experiences by noting that "the God who came to the Baptist church was a lot more particular than the one I heard Methodists talk about - or he was schizophrenic. . . . I concluded that the Baptist God just did things differently than the Methodist God, but he also seemed to enjoy interfering a lot more in my personal space. I wasn't sure what to think about him." (p. 30.)  I understand the poles between these two approaches and have experienced both.  I do believe that there is a happy medium between them.  Some churches try to answer every imaginable question with a straight-jacket answer for all believers.  But oftentimes the complexity of life does not always offer up simple answers nor does the Bible offer simplistic answers to the tough questions of life.  Just ask Job.

Further on, Turner has fun with the fundamentalist approach to evangelism and end times.  He remarks that "If fundamentalist's life could be summed up in a quote, it would be this: 'This world is not my home, I'm just passin' through.' . . . Getting' to Glory was what our lives were all about. The way we saw things, it didn't matter that God had created the heavens and the earth - he did not want us excited about living here. A good fundamentalist worth his weight in guilt was quick to remind any skeptic that the world was going to hell in a handbasket." (p. 43)  In many ways the focus of the fundamentalist church was on the issue of "saving" as many people through getting them to say a prayer to confess their sins and ask Christ to come into their lives.  I have been apart of many, many events like this only to question the real lasting impact of such events or even such prayers.  When we set it up like a fire insurance policy it really dummies down the depth and meaning of living in Christ.  Plus this type of eschatology gives so much more power to the forces of evil than believing in the power of God.  God came to redeem that which was lost both in His relationship with humanity and his creation.  He empowered us with the Holy Spirit to continue the work that He began.

Turner explains the importance of having the right view of hell in that "When I was a kid I needed hell to exist. I didn't understand that at the time, but I needed it.  Being a fundamentalist was pointless without hell. With no hot and fiery pit existing somewhere below the soil, our views and beliefs lost a good deal of their meaning. It was our fear of hell that fueled our motivation for living the way we did. Perfect. Separated. Medieval." (p. 108) . I remember the mantra that my friends and I would often say as we grew up in a church with our Christian school connected right to it: "We are sooooo sheltered!"  I constantly had that feeling of growing up within a "Christian bubble" that tried desperately to protect us from a world going to hell.  Everything within the church was understood in very holy categories whereas anything outside of the walls of the church was considered a tool of Satan: rock music, movies, dances, etc.  A strong view of damnation and excessive guilt kept many of us home bored out of our minds.  Keep in mind, these were the pre-video game, pre-cable TV days!  Giving teens the tools for discernment and the ability to interpret the world was way to risky.  It is easier to just declare it all evil, lock up the kids in a Christian school, and instill an "us vs. them" view of the world. 

Fundamentalism had an impact on our social skills also.  Turner points out that "Fundamentalism made me weird. I wasn't alone. It made lot of people weird. But I think some people at my church believed that was the point, that somewhere in the Bible, Jesus declared, 'Blessed are the weird.' Our weirdness was a form of obedience unto God." (p. 147).  I guess I never knew just how weird I was until I graduated and headed off to the local community college.  That was where I was overwhelmed by all the pagans and the professors who were going to indoctrinate me with their "secular worldviews".  Of course after going through my first year of college with this mindset, I wasn't quite fitting in well and making friends.  It wasn't until my second year that I sprinted away from my fundamentalist upbringing and dove in with the godless just to make friends and try to fit in.  Three years of this approach only lead me to crash and burn, feeling dejected and guilty from my fundamentalist upbringing, but completely burned from getting involved with people who genuinely were a negative influence by anyone's standards.    

And how to deal with the issue of S-E-X!  I totally related to what Turner described that his "biggest fear about the end was that Jesus would come back before I had the chance to have sex.  I wasn't alone. A lot of teenagers at my church worried about this."  (p. 191).  I grew up with a great amount of anxiety over this issue.  Guilt (AGAIN!) for not being excited about Jesus coming back soon but also wishing desperately for the experience of sex with my future wife, and maybe the opportunity to see what a child of mine might look like, AND THEN Jesus can return.  

Matthew Paul Turner does a great job throughout this memoir recalling his past as he trudges through the fundamentalist landscape of small town America in the late 20th century.  But probably the best part of the book was the last sentence where he is sitting in his new church with his wife and he comes to the realization that "I wasn't afraid." (p. 224).  He has come to a point in his faith journey where he was able to process the good and the bad of his church experiences, integrate it with many of the other life experiences he has had, and finally shake off the shackles of guilt and fear that his fundamentalist upbringing used in order to control their congregations.  He did not reject his faith.  Instead he was able to realize God was much bigger that the Baptist denomination, much bigger than the fundamentalist interpretation, and discover that love and grace was a more Christ-like approach to life rather than fear, guilt and condemnation.  I thank God that I too was able to come to the same conclusions that Turner did without abandoning my faith.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Haiti and Christianity

There is no doubt in my mind that what we are seeing on the news over the past 48 hours will be one of the most horrific tragedies ever witnessed in our lifetimes.  The earthquake that has leveled Haiti has been shocking and hard to absorb.  When I see images like what I have seen on TV I am torn with the desire to wish I could physically be there to help and assist with the recovery efforts and yet I feel guilty when I pull myself away from the images and get into my daily routine.  But there is one thing that really blew me away on the morning of January 13 as I watched the first reports being broadcast on Good Morning America.  What struck me was the talk on both national and local news about the Christian organizations that have been and are currently heavily involved in the efforts of caring for the poor in Haiti.  And depending on who you listen to, this network is, according to some, as one of the "liberal" new media titans.  The entire morning was spent interviewing people who represented organizations like World Vision, Compassion International, Samaritan's Purse, and locally Matthew 25 Ministries.  You would have thought you were watching some Christian cable network but it was Good Morning America!  It was simply awesome.

I went to work that morning just blown away by some of these great organizations that have been and are doing amazing things in Haiti and around the world for the poorest of the poor.  I was proud to be a Christian and I was moved along with my Senior Pastor to move quickly in organizing our church to partner with the efforts of Matthew 25 Ministries.  So in a matter of less than an hour we set up the means for our church to respond very big for at least the next 4 weeks.  I also am on the Missions Team on our Church Leadership Board.  I was proud to sit with two other lay people and hear their hearts for what we could do to help with Haiti both short-term and long-term. 

But I can't begin to express my feelings without getting vulgar when people who apparently represent "Christianity" and "conservative values" take a tragedy like Haiti and spin it in such a way to promote themselves or their own agenda. 

Pat Robertson claimed on one of his shows that the nation of Haiti made a deal with the devil and has been plagued with tragedies ever since.  Again, and again, and again this guy takes national news and interprets it through the lens of an angry, vengeful God who is pouring out his wrath.  Robertson has done this with his comments about 9/11, the health of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and at least once that I know of he attempted to preempt God's wrath upon Hugo Chavez, much to the dismay of the Christians who were attempting to be the hands and feet of Jesus within Venezuela. 

Pat Robertson stands in such stark contrast to the army of Christians who are doing all they can to help in the relief efforts in Haiti.  In fact, I am beginning to see Robertson as a kinder, gentler Fred Phelps.  I haven't seen Robertson carrying hateful signs at funerals of military people or denouncing homosexuals (well, actually he did blame 9/11 on them on national television).  I just wish that a guy like him was not what the world would be exposed to on television as a Christian leader.  The regular network news has been more representative of Christ by singing the praises of the unsung heroes: missionaries, those participating on short term mission trips, aid workers, and the military, which in my humble opinion, I believe is at its finest when it is a force for aid and compassion more so than a war machine. 

Then we have the godfather of talk radio: Rush Limbaugh!  Haiti is seen through the lens of politics and how Obama is going to use this to his advantage.  I am so sick of this type of political rhetoric.  When is it going to ever end.  I am so tired of the absolute vilification of our President by either side!  Some democrats were guilty of this with Bush and now we see some of those who represent Republicans doing it all the time to Obama.  When will this blowhard just shut up.  I want to have some sliver of hope that our president will do what is right for the country regardless of their political party.  After all, every President I have lived under has claimed to be a Christian.  Do we at least owe him the benefit of the doubt based on our common faith? I want to have a little hope in a sovereign God who is working through the details of history to bring about his kingdom and his grace and love for all people.  A God who continues to work in history through people and despite people at times!

Rush does not represent mainstream conservative people. Pat Robertson does not represent mainstream Christian people.  Please do not judge Christianity based on what you may see on television or what you may hear on the radio.  I honestly wish these two guys did not have the audience that they have but apparently they continue to have a following.  I just want to encourage Christians of all types to make sure that the teachings of Christ define us more than the spin we might subject ourselves to in media.  Cable news thrives on polarizing our country and cable Christianity thrives on boxing people into black and white categories.  We either gullibly fall into these categories and accept the lens that they interpret life through or we strive to be more like Christ.

I find it very, very interesting that John Stewart, who claims to be Jewish, had to open up a Bible on his show and just begin reading from Scripture to contrast what the Bible has to say as opposed to Robertson and Limbaugh.  Check it out for yourself at this link. It's classic:

In the meantime, this Sunday will represent the first Sunday after the Haiti earthquake.  This should be the day where there will be the most outpouring of prayers, support, supplies and love directed to the nation of Haiti.  If Haiti isn't even mentioned in your church then I would seriously encourage you to find another church.  These are the defining moments in history where the church has the opportunity to BE THE CHURCH OF CHRIST.  And if we want to talk about God's judgment let's not forget that the Bible is quite clear on that judgement is coming first and foremost on the house of God. 1 Peter 4:17-19 states that:

For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, "If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?" So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

A day will come where we all will be judged by a holy and loving God.  If my focus has always been about judging others and casting them in a sceptical, critical view to hide my own selfish desires or opinions then I would be very afraid to come face-to-face with a God who will have some issues with that kind of approach.

Also the letter of James has a lot to say about judging others. He states in James 2:12-13 that we are to:

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!

Mercy is the overriding characteristic that should define us in our actions and attitudes towards others.  May that characteristic define us this Sunday and the weeks, months and years ahead in our response to Haiti as well as any other crises or tragedies within our communities.  May this moment be a turning point for the Christian church to shine like stars and kick the darkness until it bleeds daylight.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

When I Am Weak

Hey! Click on the title of this post. Every single believer in Christ needs to read this blogpost and think long and hard what I-Monk is saying here.  Excellent, excellent, excellent. 

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Airborn Sow

Well, I have been trying really hard to maintain a work out routine doing a lot of sit ups, jump rope, weight lifting and kettle bell.  It is a tough work out but it has been hard to be consistent and to keep up with it 3 times a week.  I also did some running up until it got cold outside.  The cold tends to put me in a hibernation mode from going outside to run.  But here is the deal. Every year our great city puts on a marathon with the coolest name ever: The Flying Pig.  Every year I want to participate in this great event.  Every year we have a bunch of people from my church who sign up for this race.  And even last year I had one of my teenagers in the youth group sign up and run the half-marathon!  But here is the clincher that prevents me from signing up.  The race is on the first Sunday of May. So that means if you are serious about this race you NEED to train and run through the Winter.  And my attitude about those who I see running in the dead of winter has always been sarcastic to the point of being borderline violent.  Just as all Christians know that there are "crazies" within our own religion, I consider myself a runner but I look at those who run in frigid temperatures as the "crazies" of the running world.  I want to veer my car towards them to spray them with a wave of slushy snow.  Their dedication drives me crazy.  Instead of letting them inspire me I want to degrade them.  Mock them!  Demoralize them!  Of course this approach never worked real well with Christian "crazies" so I only let this negative energy stay within my mind and feel prideful in my ability to stay warm and comfortable.  

So I do crazy-hard workouts in my garage but here is where the other big issue lies.  Every time I go to see my doctor my blood pressure has been going up and up.  And I am one of those people that every single time they strap that thing around my arm and pump it up I can feel myself get all worked up inside.  I can not relax and stay cool, calm and collected.  I get tense and irritated like I want to gnaw this thing off of my arm and then bite the doctor.  Then he does the concerned look and lets me know it is up a little more from last time.  I know it's up!  I don't like the freakin' blood pressure squeeze machine to begin with!

Now that the holidays are over the Flying Pig advertisements are coming out.  I drive by the local running store frequently and I noticed that they have a sign out for information on how to train for the Flying Pig.  So now the war begins within my mind:

Concerned Scott: You know, running is a healthy aerobic exercise that will help to naturally bring down your blood pressure.

Slug Scott: Running on the bike trail during the Spring and Summer is amazing and inspiring, but the Winter is for couch potato pleasures like reading, Xbox, Wii, LOST and 24. 

Concerned Scott: I do not want to go on any medication if I don't have to.  If there is a reasonable way to manage my blood pressure then why not?

Slug Scott: The Winter Olympics for February and then March Madness.  I would rather sit and watch people exercise at what they do best.


Slug Scott: (projectile green vomit spewed at Concerned Scott).

So just a couple of days ago I drove by the local running store again.  The Runner's Spot had a sign out for information on training for the Flying Pig.  I thought I would sneak in and see what they got just for curiosity's sake.  I walked in and looked around at the latest running stuff and found the pig training brochure.  Then I was confronted by one of the workers.  He was a nice Asian-American man of whom you could tell by his build he was a "crazy" runner.  He is already cranking out miles on the road even in sub-zero temperatures.  But then a strange thing happened.  My hardened heart began to soften just a bit and I felt like I could ask this guy some personal questions.  He reminded me of the Dali Lama.  I sat at the feet of a great one dying to ask the deep questions of life.  So I finally did it.  I blurted out "I have always wanted to train for the Flying Pig but I just can't run when it is this cold outside.  So how do you do it? Is there a way? A trick? A method? Right type of clothes, shoes, what?!?!?!?!"  And he answered me in a Yoda-like way that spoke deep into my heart when he said, "You just have to get out there and do it."  This resonated with me. I grew up in the 80's. I am familiar with this advice. JUST DO IT!  That's it! Just sheer will power!  I always seem to have a ton of that when it is warm and sunny but not in the Winter.  Yet his words struck a chord with me.  He also gave me advice to wear under armor-like clothing first and then layer up.  Wear a hat and gloves.  And get other people to run with so you have accountability. 

I walked out of there really mulling over what the "spiritual guide of all things running" told me.  I felt encouraged. I felt a glowing ray of something within.  I felt like maybe, just maybe, I could do this.  So on Monday I did my regular workout routine in the garage but I woke up this morning knowing that I was going to shake up my workout routine.  I actually came home, spent about half an hour hunting down my under armour shirt, looking for my winter hat and gloves, suited up, got my I-pod on a Rob Bell sermon and lunged myself out into the arctic world of cold, snowy death outside.  As is typical with most runs, the first mile is a battle within my mind but now the cold is a factor too.  So here goes this conversation:

Slug Scott: Are you freakin' crazy? Quick turn around and get back inside where it is warm!

Concerned Scott: You can do this.  You can do this!

Slug Scott: If you take one more step I am going to %$!@?! throw you in front of a car!

Concerned Scott: Do it for your health. Do it for your wife. Do it for your kids.  Do it for your youth group!

Slug Scott: Is that ice crystals that I feel forming in my lungs? I have buggers that are turning into ice cubes.  What if I slip on ice?

Concerned Scott: I just need to force myself for the first mile and then I will get warmed up and find my stride for the rest of the run.



So once I got back to the house today, the run in the cold winter weather wasn't all that bad!  It was a matter of getting past the first mile and warming up but once I did I felt great.  It was kind of fun to be out in the cold running. 

So hear is the challenge I am throwing out to my youth group.  I want to sign up for the half-marathon this year for the Flying Pig.  I have to do this race simply because they have the coolest promo for it which states, "Get Your Oink On." I want that shirt really bad.  But I don't want to do this alone.  Are any of you up for the challenge? Let's do this together.  Who's in? Let's get our oink on!

Friday, January 01, 2010

Looking Back on a Decade and Looking Forward to a New One

I always have mixed feelings when I see the passing of another decade come and go. So many things have happened that are permanently apart of my memory that I will never be able to go back and relive or change.  My history has become a part of me defining who I am. And it is shocking to me the older I get how time seems to go by quicker and quicker!  I always wonder how the passing decade will be remembered after some time goes by.  What will be considered "Retro-2000's" in clothing style, music and film.  What will be written about the church in its successes and failures in the turning of the new century?  In light of all of this I will try to reflect on what I have learned from the passing decade and consider some of my own predictions for the new decade upon us!

Looking Back

1.  The Emergence of a New Kind of War.  September 11, 2001 was the darkest hour I have ever experienced in my lifetime so far.  I remember sitting in front of my television mesmerized by the images for days watching the news footage of the planes running into the World Trade Center again and again and again.  Those images have been permanently etched into my memory.  I knew from that moment on everything would be different from how we fight war, who we consider our enemy, national security, watching our young go off to war and seeing many sacrifice their lives or their mental, physical and spiritual health over this.  Over the past decade I have come to hate war.  Yes, I hate terrorism.  But I do not like watching our youth trying to fight an enemy that thrives on hate.  I loved Regan's Cold War that was fought without dropping one bomb or pulling one trigger.  It was a mind game of flexing our militaristic muscles when needed and political maneuvering and manipulation that was intelligent.  But this war on terrorism is different.  I am not convinced that military power is the answer.  When we are dealing with people living in impoverished situations who have been indoctrinated in a philosophy and theological framework of hatred towards others we simply can not beat them with force.  We need to mobilize to help change the quality of life as well as their perception of the world.  We are in a battle for the hearts and minds of people. 

 2.  Oh Politics! I've followed politics long enough now to see a pattern.  The minority party rising to power through a charismatic leader; the leader being given a "Savior complex" that he will bring about positive change especially in Washington D.C.; the savior complex slowly being pealed away to reveal an imperfect human/politician as our president; then the cannibalization of the leader and his party.  Clinton did this, Bush did this and now I think Obama is unfortunately heading in this direction too.  I try to be hopeful with whoever is our president simply because I see that no matter what is going on politically in the Bible, we see that a sovereign God is working in and through the details.  So regardless of whether I voted for Obama, I have a responsibility to pray for him and hope for God's leading in his life.  God has him in the office for a purpose much greater than I could imagine.  So I need to not put my trust in Obama's fallen humanity or revel in his imperfection, but trust in a God who is much bigger than me, the president or America for that matter, trusting that God's purposes are being worked out here and around the world better than I could ever imagine.

 3.  The Bride of Christ.  I have come a long way in my perceptions of the current day church.  I once had a very black-and-white view of reality.  The world was black, and the church was white.  Now that I have worked within the church for about 2 decades, I have come to personally realized that the lines are far more blurred between the church and the world.  I have seen some incredible evil within the church and some incredible good within the world.  It took many years and a lot of thinking and prayer to process all that I have seen and been through especially over this past decade.  God has taken me on quite a journey through 3 different church experiences in 3 very different denomination.  I almost threw in the towel after my second experience but it is only by the grace of God that I took this most recent job.  Once again, it is not a "perfect" church or a denomination that has everything rightly figured out.  But it has been an experience that has taught me a lot about myself.  Here are the positive things I have learned about the church of Christ.
  • God is doing things in a variety of churches and settings once again through imperfect people.
  • What often times seems like a painful situation within the church can and often will be something God will use for a greater purpose.  
  • When one door closes, no matter how painful it may be, another door will open that usually has even more opportunity and blessing that the previous situation you are in.
  • The church is full of hypocrites.  As soon as you can get over this, the better you are.  In fact if I take a good hard look at myself I am often times confronted with my own hypocrisy.  
  • Evangelical are not the only people in the church.  God is working through both  evangelical and mainline churches, through conservatives and liberals, through crazy and sane people, through foolish and thoughtful people, through consumeristic and socialist people, through rich and poor people, through saints and sinners alike.  God is so much more complex that I could ever imagine.  Trying to fit Him into a box is a dangerous place to go.
  • Growing disciples is a very complex and fragile thing to do.  The past few decades have represented a massive shift in how people think (post-modernism; The Information Age; The Digital Age).  How many of the older generations have processed information and interpreted their world is vastly different than how younger generations do it now.  We have gone through a massive philosophical shift.  If a church is still being run under the old ways of processing information (modernistic, scientific thought) it can be massively disruptive to those ministering to the younger generations who need to reach them and disciple them very differently than their parents generation.   
4.  The Economy: I'm not sure who labeled the 80's as the decade of greed, but it sure seems to fit our times a little bit better when we consider how we got into the mess that we are currently in.  And there is enough fault to go around for all political parties.  But the reality is that all of us have some part in it.  We all would do better to learn how to live within our means, give generously to the church and causes that will advance the work of God throughout the world, and to practice saving in such a way that will show intelligence, delayed gratification and gratitude for how God provides for us.  So, you first!  I know, I need to get better at this.  Right now I am too convicted to go to Dave Ramsey's website after Christmas.  But I want to try and put into place the things he advices in order to achieve financial breathing room.

5.  The Digital/Information Age: I love living in this day and age.  It is simply amazing at how the internet has changed everything.  From music, to movies, to news, to television, to blogging!  The diversity of options has made room for a lot of bad stuff out there in cyberspace.  But the flip side is that it has raised the bar for someone to tell a compelling story.  I believe that story writing and the telling of a story through film and television has improved on many levels.  There are so many choices out there that if you want to capture a large audience you must tell a compelling story in a creative way. It has been amazing to watch how our culture has shifted in light of all the change over this past decade such as:

  • Some of the best story telling of the recent decade goes to Peter Jackson in making the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy come alive in such a captivating and amazing way.
  • The television award goes to those who brought us LOST, The Office, 24, Arrested Development and American Idol.
  • The many half-crazy people who have taken the tools of the internet and used it to tell everything from funny stories to serious stories to deep thoughts.  Some of my favorites have been Barats and Bereta and I-Monk, with Soul Pancake being a recent delight. 
  • Watching the comic book heroes of my childhood come to life and also be reinterpreted in a fresh, new way: Batman, Superman, The Hulk, Iron Man, Spiderman.  
  • Watching the music industry and print media and video technology deal with the challenges of a digital age.    
5. The Earth: If there is one area that seems to have gotten a lot of attention over the past decade it is the importance of taking care of the earth.  For some, the concept of "environmentalism" has become a religion in and of itself.  But in many ways people have taken notice of the importance of doing what we can to be better stewards of the planet that has been entrusted to us by our Creator.  It has been exciting to see the church in general develop a good, solid theology of our responsibility to God's creation.  

6.  The Rise and Fall of The Famous:  It is difficult for anyone to see someone they respect and admire end up falling from grace.  Oftentimes we lift up people on high pedestals and give them god-like status as a religious leader, athlete or celebrity only to discover later that they are also a slave to their sin nature just like anyone else who is not careful.  The shocking implosions of peoples lives and careers throughout this past decade include:
  • Ted  Haggard was an evangelical pastor of one of the largest mega-churches in the country and president of the National  Association of Evangelicals and preached against homosexuality and promoted marriage. It turned out that he was in a secret relationship with another man who also supplied him with meth. 
  • Micheal Jackson was a music phenomenon.  But there were also many questions and speculation as to his relationship with children being beyond inappropriate.  His last decade was more and more disturbing as his life progressed into bizarre and ridiculous behavior.  To watch the stages of how he literally mutilated his face was also extremely disturbing.  He was so amazing in his younger years when he came out with "Thriller". He had the world in his hands.  His slow slide into insanity was sad to watch.
  • Bernie Madoff most certainly made off with a lot of people's money until his ponzi scheme was discovered and he went to jail.  Many people's lives were ruined by his scandal.
  • George W. Bush initiated the first ever preemptive war in American history based on intelligence that claimed there were stock piles of weapons of mass destruction.  That turned out to prove false and got our focus off of Afghanistan. Bush did a lot of great stuff for AIDS in Africa that you seldom hear about.  But he sure left a mess when it came to the War on Terror and the economic crisis.
  • Barack Obama said he would end the war and that he would work across party lines and put everything on C-Span so that the public could hold their politicians accountable.  Fortunately I believe that just pulling out the troops could be a disaster so he has back-pedaled on his anti-war stance.  Barack still has a long time to be in office.  I do not wish him ill but I am trying to be optimistic that he will attempt to do what is best for the country. It is more of a "God will sovereignly do what He needs to do through imperfect leaders" more than a "Obama is my hero" optimism.  Also, the two political parties are as polarized as ever and C-Span is just as boring as ever.  And Nancy Pelosi just darn right scares me.  Between her and Obama, I am liking Hillary Clinton more and more every day.  
  • Tiger Woods was not only the most famous sports personality but he literally transformed the game of golf.  He was amazing to watch.  He also portrayed a clean, moralistic, disciplined lifestyle that appeared to be admirable and highly respected.  It turned out that he was basically a man-whore when no one was looking.  It's not that he had a affair but many, many, many multiple affairs.  It simply boggles the mind of how he managed to get away with the scope of affairs that he committed.  In the end, all these women sold him out for their moment of fame, while his wife vanished from the scene in humiliation.  This was one of the most sad and pathetic personal implosions of anyone's life and career. 
  • Al Sharpton revealed a little bit about himself when he was upset at Tiger Woods for having affairs with only white women.  And why does this guy have the title of reverend and why is he looked at as a leader of the African-American community? I simply do not get how he gets away with what he has said and done in his past.  There are so many great people to look up to and admire that far surpass his hypocrisy. 
  • Micheal Phelps broke all the records for swimming in the Olympics.  After some time went by he decided to show up at a college part and hit a bong.  Unfortunately for him, he forgot we live in the digital age and pictures are taken and sent to cyberspace faster than a bong hit. 
7.  Those Who Have Won the Admiration of the Many: There are many people who have won the admiration of many as a symbol of all that is good about humanity.  Here is a list of those who inspire and will continue to make an impact into the new decade:
  • Pope John Paul II was an amazing leader for the Catholic church.  He inspired many across religious denominations.  
  • Rick Warren is a mega-church pastor who inspired many people in the church through his "Purpose-Driven" books.  Lately he has turned his attention to the social justice issues around the world. 
  • Bono, as the leader singer of the famous rock band U2, has used his fame and fortune to positively influence the world through bringing attention to poverty, AIDS and world debt.
  • Bill Gates is the computer nerd who became a billionaire.  He transformed how we process information and how we do work.  He is involved in a lot of humanitarian work now using his wealth to help change the world for the better.
  • Rob Bell is the pastor of Mars Hill Church up in Michigan.  He is making a significant impact within the church through his creative teaching and mobilization to be the church.
  • Barack Obama is a person who many people love or hate.  Regardless, it was amazing to see him become the first African-American President. I personally would have preferred Condoleezza Rice or Colin Powell as our first African-American President but that is just my preference. 
8.  Big Brother Has Arrived . . . And It Is Us!  George Orwell's novel warned us against a police state that takes over every aspect of our lives with the eye of Big Brother watching our every move.  Aldous Huxley wrote "A Brave New World" which warned us against a world controlled by the scientific community that robs us of our ability to think for ourselves.  The irony of our day is that WE have become Big Brother.  With the digital age that we live in, everything ends up recorded or photographed and put out into cyberspace for all to see from sexting, to criminal activity, to hypocritical behavior or speech. Step out of character and it will find its way to the internet for all to see.

Looking Forward

Here are my predictions for the up and coming new decade!  Take them worth a grain of salt!

1.  December 21, 2012!  I predict that although we jest about this date now, there will be doomsayers, both in the church and non-churched, that will embrace this date for their apocalyptic theories.  Their build up to insanity will be epic.  They will sell a lot of books and and enjoy their YouTube fame for a while.  But little do they all know that that specific date is my 20th wedding anniversary! It is not the end of the world. Just earth shattering love that will have tremors all throughout the world! 

2.  Science Fiction becomes Real Science! In many ways this is already happening but it will be even more so with nanotechnology, robotics, cybernetics, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, further advances in DNA studies.  Arnold Schwarzenegger will most certainly be back!  The machines will eventually take over and the war against humanity will begin!

3.  Evangelical mega-churches served an important part of our church history. But the "bigger is better" mentality will fade with the younger generations.  They will embrace community style churches that don't quibble over building campaigns and styles of music.  Instead they will be drawn to churches that are making a difference in not only reaching people for Christ but also changing and transforming their world for the better through social justice.  

4.  My kids will grow up way to fast!  It freaks me out to think that if all goes according to plan, 10 years from now Zach will be in graduate school or into a career, Mallory and Katie will be finishing their undergraduate studies, and Ben will be in the middle of his Senior year!!!!  My last decade with my kids at home! I want to enjoy ever single moment of life with them in this new decade. I don't want to take any of it for granted!

5.  Jesus on the move!  A lot has been said about Europe and America becoming non-Christian or post-Christian.  I want to believe that Christianity itself is changing in a positive way, not vanishing.  A new generation is rising up that is changing with the times and making Christianity relevant for the times.  With that in mind, it seems a lot is happening in Africa, China and Russia and many other parts of the world where Christianity is spreading like wildfire.  Maybe we might see the epicenters of Christianity shift to other parts of the world. Is it possible?

6.  Reality TV will become more and more insane.  People will begin to live their lives as if they are important enough to be a star of a reality show.  We see the beginning signs of this with the balloon boy family and the White House party crashers.  But we have only begun to scratch the surface of human narcissistic insanity.  It is only the beginning!  It is going to be more fun in years to come!

7.  Interpreting the news will become more and more of a chore as cable/digital TV can offer any perspective of interpretation of the days events from both conservative, liberal and just plain crazy.  The internet has spawned media watchdogs that check the facts and hold the media responsible for the things they report. 

8.  Great movies!  J. J. Abrams, Quentin Tarantino, Peter Jackson, Tim Burton, the Coen Brothers, M. Night Shyamalan, and Spike Jonze will all continue in their craft and make their best work yet.  The old guard may still have some of their best stories yet to tell also such as Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorcese, Clint Eastwood, James Cameron and Ridley Scott just to name a few.

9. Politics! The poles in politics will continue to grow farther and farther apart.  And a third party will emerge to challenge the status quo of politics as usual.  I predict that the Republican Party will bounce back and Newt Gingrich will emerge as the new leader of the conservative movement and our next President. That is unless he chooses Sarah Palin as a running mate. He would do wise to pick Condi Rice or Kay Bailey Hutchinson instead. Ron Paul will be taken much more seriously in the next election.  He will be the new Ralph Nader of this generation.

10. New religions!  The two religions that will dominate the American landscape will be pantheism and nationalism.  Churches will either conform to these beliefs or will define how orthodox Christianity is different.  The scary thing right now is how nationalism has been mixed within American Christianity since Sept. 11, 2001 and the War on Terror.  We need to rise above politics and hold both parties accountable for their good policies and bad policies. 

11.  The New Missionary Movement!  The War on Terror will not be defeated though military power but through missionaries.  The goodness of Christianity will rise up and move in to transform communities ravaged by radical Muslim beliefs.  Christianity will be embraced, as grace will triumph over a religion of law.

12.  Celebrity News: Tom Cruise will become more and more crazy, Brad Pitt will have 20 children between both Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston, Eminem will come out of the closet, Brittney Spears will reveal that she is actually an alien, Arnold will leave politics and try to go back to movies as an action hero only to discover his audience does not want to see an old looking terminator. Besides, this will be the decade where we will be able to build a cybernetic replica of him as he looked back in the 80's. 

13.  America looks like it could quite possible lose its status as the world's #1 super power.  This may be a temporary thing or not.  Either way, we will have a lot to learn from our economic status within the world market and how we view ourselves in light of our excessive spending and materialism.

14.  Personally, I hope to be a little bit more wiser, less quick to jump to judgment, a little bit more like Jesus Christ, and a lot more willing to be the hands and feet of Christ wherever I am at.  Sometimes I feel like there is so much more I want to accomplish in my life.  God is using me no doubt but I want to be used to make an even bigger impact for Christ.  I love doing kingdom work. I love helping people's spiritual lives come alive through learning the Word of God and putting its principles into action in our lives.  I love seeing myself as a positive agent for change in the world where I have been given the unbelievable opportunity to be an ambassador for God Himself to the American teenager and their family.  I desperately want to see my children embrace faith in Christ through all stages of their development and emerge as powerful disciples of Christ.  I desperately want my marriage to survive all the storms that come our way.  I know that this new decade will probably bring some difficult times that I do not expect.  My hope is that God will give me the grace I need for each and every situation, and the support of a loving family and friends within the church to make it through any storm that comes my way. So bring on the new decade!