Friday, July 29, 2011

Battle of the Band

I stumbled upon an old song the other day as I was skimming through the CD collection at my local library. As I held that old, scratched-up case in my hands, it got me thinking on the topic of dreams. Not the kind we have as we sleep, but those associated with where we hope our lives will end up. Have you ever dreamed of achieving something big, only to see that dream realized but then turn into something else? Something draining or negative or confining?

The CD that got me started on all of this was from a group that achieved their dream of writing songs, performing their music to sold out arenas, and being adored by a world-wide fan base. They even won a Grammy for best new group back in the early 1970s. Within just a few years, the trio of members who were all in their early 20s, when from a garage band to superstardom. They rode this wave for about 5 years and then their popularity began to noticeably wane. Within 10 years they no longer even had a recording contract.

They have been trapped in this mode ever since. Now some 30 years later they survive by touring as an oldies act. Gone are the private planes and limosines. Gone are the groupies and cultural relevance. 100 shows a year at small local venues and state fairs. Promoters requiring them to play the same set of a dozen songs night after night after night. Sure they put on a smile as they play to those small crowds, but I wonder if they feel like they are living out a real-life adaptation of Groundhog Day. I wonder if they are sick of the rut they must live in to pay their bills and whether they consider their careers blessed or cursed. I wonder if on any given night they ever feel that they can still do magic?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Father Fiction

Over the last several months I have been tearing through each of the books author Donald Miller has written. It all started when a couple of friends told me that I might enjoy his well-known book Blue Like Jazz. What I found was an author whose style and approach and humor and viewpoint resonated with me. His conversational style has a way that makes me feel that he and I are sharing life over a cup of coffee. Thus I was looking forward to continuing our "relationship" when I picked up a copy of his book Father Fiction (originally published as To Own a Dragon).

Father Fiction is a work centering on how Miller's father left him and his mother when Miller was a young child. Growing up, this absence had a noticeable affect on him. It impacted how he did in school, how he viewed himself, and how he interacted with adults. However, it took him a very long time to truly come to grips with all of this. He was nearly 30 before he gained some perspective and understanding of the impact of growing up without a father. Of course, many use the notion of a "broken" family to cast blame for their bad or misguided choices on anyone and everyone except themselves. It turns out that accepting responsibility, growing up with focus and joy, can be achieved with the right mentors in our lives. When we finally come to a healthy equilibrium in time, we then have the responsibility to give back to others what has been given to us (contrasting so-called wounded healers with arrogant victims).

Although I grew up in a two-parent home, I too have some father issues that have impacted who I have become and how I look at myself. With this backdrop, I very much appreciated reading through Miller's thoughts on this subject. Even though they were very personal, he frames his discussion more generally to give encouragement and some ideas to anyone with father issues. Also, in terms of the writing itself in comparison to Miller's other books that I have read (Blue Like Jazz, Searching for God Knows What, Through Painted Deserts), this book was not as crisply tailored or as deep and interconnected, but I still very much enjoyed my time with it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Missing You

Recently there was some sort of major "cyber event" that happened where I work. This cyptic language used by the IT folks simply alludes to the fact that some person hacked our computers, did a bunch of bad stuff, and messed up our system. The event also caused them to turn off our internet for nearly two full weeks while the experts scrambled to figure out what happened. Of course this begs the question of the whole computer/network security system where I have to log into 75 different machines with different access protocols and change my password every 5 minutes. After all, its all about security. Clearly the hassle is worth it! (If you did not sense my tone here, I have used the literary techique known as "sarcasm" to express my frustration.) Anyway, as I point out above, and will say again here for emphasis, I did not have access to the internet for nearly two weeks. No ESPN, no CNN, no facebook, no blog, oh, and mostly importantly (in case the computer police from work are eavesdropping), no access to stuff I needed to do my job in an efficient and professional manner.

O.K., so I somehow managed to survive this lengthy outage. But I did learn something along the way. Sometimes we get so comfortable in our daily living, our unintentional drift from season to season in life, that we take what we have for granted. What used to excite us, arouse our passions, or pique our interests and full attention, can lose its vibrant intensity. Sometimes things diminish to the point that they can slip away as a ghost in a fog. Only then do we come to appreciate with full cognizance how much we relied on them, how much they were a part of us. Only in their absense do we fully understand the depth of our loss. Missing you.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Personal Insight

I remember playing a game in my church small group a few years ago. Everyone was given a handful of candy, each containing the same number of pieces. Each person in turn said something about themselves that they hoped was not true of anyone else in the room. For example, I could say "I have never worn pink, lace-trimmed panties." Anyone who had worn pink, lace-trimmed panties had to hand one piece of their candy over to me. Those who had not, got to keep their candy. The game continued around the circle until one person had all the candy and was declared the winner. This got me to thinking about some things that I could use if I am ever involved in such a game again. Things like:
  • I have not worn a pair of sneakers/tennis shoes in more than 5 years.
  • I have never eaten a "non-standard" meat (only cow, pig, chicken/turkey).
  • I once got a perm.
  • For a period of nearly 5 years, I drank more Mt. Dew than milk.
  • I have never gone to the doctor because of a broken bone.
  • I have never met Gavin McLeod (Cap'n Stubing on the Love Boat) in person.
  • I have twice been officially interviewed on the evening news.
  • I have never seen the movies E.T., Titanic, Lord of the Rings, or Pirates of the Carribbean.
O.K., there are some things about me that might get me your candy. What do you have to offer up to get a piece of mine?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Hiding in the Shadows

Not too many folks read my blog regularly and even fewer actually leave a comment on anything that I write. However, I have 3 or 4 who make their presence known. However, I notice that, even with limited statistics to judge the trends, whenever I post on a topic that is either intensely personal (e.g. cancer, loneliness, depression, personal demons) or the least bit socially awkward or controversial (e.g. religion, sex, politics), my comment leavers tend to noticeably shy away. This got me to thinking about why. Why would folks hide in the shadows on some important or interesting topics? Perhaps,
  • They don't really care to get involved with me on a personal or human level. Sometimes relationships have a threshold, above which they get too close for our comfort.
  • They don't want their name associated with controversial issues. They feel the need to protect their reputation, and as such feel the need to very closely guard their tongues.
  • They just don't know what to say to help. Sometimes when someone is in the soup and suffering, a few sentences on a blog seem so, well, impersonal and distant.
  • They don't want to think about complex personal issues. Aren't blogs supposed to be light and humorous? I suspect that most blog visits are made out of a sense of duty or loyalty. I visit their blogs so they feel the need to visit mine. Hey, I don't want to think about anything that requires more than 30 seconds dude.
  • They forgot how to post a reply.
  • They don't want to offend me or make things worse.
Actually there may be other reasons, or the truth involves a combination of reasons. That's O.K. you know. Even just a comment of "hey" can bring a smile.

Friday, July 22, 2011


A young lady was driving home on a rain-slicked road late one evening. In the car with her was her beloved brother. It seems that she somehow lost control of her car and as she swerved to miss an oncoming vehicle, she drove off the side of a bridge into a river. When she awoke from a month-long coma she learned two startling facts. One was that her memory for the past six months was completely erased. The other was that her brother, although he survived the accident, had suffered severe brain damage. A tragedy to be sure, but there is more to this story. Shauna is the daughter of a powerful senator who is leading in the presidental polls with only weeks to go before the election. Senator Landon McAllister, president of McAllister MediVista, a top pharmaceuticals development company.

Upon emerging from her coma, there stands her loving boyfriend Wayne, but Shauna has no memory of him. He is at once supportive and patient, and at the same moment, always a bit too watchful. As Shauna recovers at the home of her estranged father and her nasty stepmother, Shauna is warned by her housekeeper to be wary of Wayne, who happens to be a top executive at her father's company. Slowly as Shauna starts to do a bit of digging to put her mind and her life back together, she begins to uncover some information that seems to indicate something sinister was afoot in her accident. That, along with the fact that the coma might have been medically induced by MMV doctors. In fact, Shauna believes that whatever drugs she was given were responsible for her memory loss. But why? What did she used to know? What is even stranger and less explainable is that Shauna now seems to have the ability to read people's minds.

Kiss, co-authored by Ted Dekker and Erin Healy, follows the story of Shauna and her pursuit of the truth. The more she learns along the way, the deeper and deeper her troubles become. Money laundering, illegal campaign contributions, human trafficking, frame ups, and murder. Ultimately she finds what she really was after all along, relationship with her father. A feeling of acceptance and trust and love that she had not felt since she was a little girl, since the moment her mother died so many years ago.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


The scene was pure and simple. A father and his young daughter were playing basketball together on the community playground. I was parked in my car about a hundred yards away and I just sat back and watched them. Her giggles, his exaggerated pantomime, their smiles. All of it was sewing together a lovely tapestry of relationship for their future. Today was just a day of being outdoors and having some fun. But this bonding and trust were developing for a point miles down the road when she will need to talk to someone about her first boyfriend, when she will get into a situation where the walls seem to be closing in, when her life will provide choices but the answers are not obvious. In that moment of weakness or trouble or doubt, she could rely on her own undeveloped instincts, or maybe because of today's game of basketball, it might just cause her to turn to him and say, "Daddy, can I ask you something?"

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


My dictionary defines the word haughty as "scornfully and condescendingly proud". It implies exalting and elevating oneself to a level unmerited and undeserved. At its root, it is driven by arrogance and a notable disdain for others. It is associated with an air of overall superiority, an overreaching confidence in self. As a Christian, the label of haughtiness is a dark stain and the Bible provides strict warnings against such an attitude.

I wanted to write this post today because of a sermon that resonated with me some years ago (I think it was 2005). The sermon was delivered at my old church in Ohio (Central Methodist Church) by a Godly man by the name of Mark Kesler who was in my Bible study group. Mark happened to be standing in for the regular pastor who was on travel. As a religious "layman", I just remember how humble and respectful Mark was to this topic. I think that the reason I remember his message so vividly today is that I got to know Mark a bit personally, and I knew that he lived out what he was preaching. He served as a great example of how to live a Godly life.

His message on haughtiness was based, in part, on the following verses from scripture:

Psalm 101:5 - "Whoever slanders their neighbor in secret, I will put to silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, I will not tolerate."

Proverbs 16:18 - "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall."

Proverbs 18:12 - "Before a downfall the heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor."

God's cure for haughtiness and a prideful attitude is meekness and humility. Humility implies a humble, modest, respectful spirit. Meekness leans on a gentle, patient approach, marked by honor. We need to appreciate that pride, reliance on self, actually indicates an undercurrent of a lack of trust in God. We build ourselves up to the point that we actually start to "believe our own press". At such a moment, we are ripe for a painful fall.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


I recently wrote a post entitled Cracking the Books about what to do with books that come your way as well-meaning gifts, but that you would never select for yourself in a cagillion years. This is relevant for me, because I received the book Do the Right Thing written in 2008 by former presidential candidate Mike "Huckleberry" Huckabee. For those who don't appreciate this about me, I am as apolitical as they come. I don't know my right from my left, my liberal from my conservative, my democrat from my republican. Based on what I hear and read on a daily basis of politicians and their doings, I would just assume not be tainted by any of this. Quoting Michael Stipe, withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy. Anyway, after reading this book from the former two-term governor of Arkansas, this is what I came away with.
  • Mike "Huck" Huckabee is a republican. If you are not a republican you are a cretin and likely wet your bed regularly. Seriously.
  • Huck dislikes Mitt Romney with a passion.
  • The Huckster is the only person who ever ran for president that had an ounce of common sense.
  • Huckaboo is the only fiscally responsible person on the planet. Maybe the only fiscally responsible person who ever lived.
  • Hucky is the only candidate who is a regular Joe, just like you and me. He had to walk to school in his hand-me-down coulottes, uphill both ways, carrying 100-lb sacks of coal in each hand.
  • The H man is the only candidate who loves his family, likely because they worked on his campaign for free.
  • Huckeroo has a deep man crush on Chuck Norris that borders on disturbing.
  • Mike Huckabee really dislikes Mitt Romney with a passion.
O.K., so I had a bit of fun making my list. Actually, I get a sense that Mike Huckabee is a reasonably decent guy who did, by most accounts, at least a reasonable job as governor of Arkansas. In this book, he made clear his political point of view and his values. Of course, in this book he paints himself in only positive colors, but he has his share of political baggage that he never addresses. However, the purpose of this book is unclear. Why write a book immediately after a failed presidential campaign that would long since be forgotten before the next campaign season rolled around? Also, frankly, his notions of how our federal government operates come across as more than a bit "aw shucks" naive. No vision statements or rousing speeches laced with references to common sense or rolling up our sleeves to do the hard work of the American people will ever change how the system works. Neither will a self-aggrandizing book, no matter how folksy its style.

Monday, July 18, 2011


Recently, I heard the story of a couple that had gotten married after each had recovered from a painful and messy divorce. Each had been betrayed by a cheating partner and their separate episodes had really sucked the life and love out of them for a number of years. When they met and fell in love, and came together in a new union, they felt incredibly blessed and thankful. Each had young children from their first marriage. In time the families blended and made the necessary adjustments to get along, all except for their teenage boy. The divorce and broken family relationship caused him to rebel, to pull away. His rebellion was not going to be controlled no matter what. After several years, his behavior was threatening to tear the whole family apart, and his mother and step-father had no choice but to essentially remove him from their lives by sending him away to live with his father. Sometimes, even though we give all of our love to a child, we cannot fix something that is broken within them no matter how hard we try.

This story helped me to realize how lucky I am to have the relationship that I have with my own daughter. As she is a new teenager, we have both been struggling with new aspects of how we relate to one another. It is natural for our children to develop their own interests and lives, to keep more from us than ever before. To begin pulling away from us noticeably. Now, I realize that my daughter's pulling away is not an act of rebellion, but a necessary part of the maturing process. I also realize that one day she will leave to go out on her own and I will have to let go. However, in contrast to sending a child away with issues and a broken spirit, I hope to keep her on course to leave in strength and love.

Friday, July 15, 2011


Today I got to be part of something new and fun. I was asked to host the popular blog of a friend of mine while he is in jail or on vacation or something. The term "host" really means that I write something for someone else's blog. They then collect any and all associated royalties. When you think about it, it really is a raw deal for me, but I digress. If you want to read what I wrote, you can follow the link to my friend's blog (called robshep). My post for him is called What's In It For Me?, and was written on the topic of relationships. Given that I wrote that piece, I can't imagine anyone could reasonably expect me to write a whole 'nother one for my own site. I mean, I'm exhausted and spent and fried after creating such brilliance for my friend's site. I'm not an automaton, just a simple, humble human being. If I am cut, do I not bleed? If I sneeze, need I not a tissue? So, as I am out hosting today, I feel like I should be allowed to relax here. I know, I know. You pine for my writing and feel you now can't leave your computers until you get a new post from me. I get that, I really do. Well, sports fan, you're just gonna have to get a life and wait until Monday morning when I post again. Cheers.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mid-life Crisis

Many men when they reach the age of 45 to 55, go through a period of years where they realize that their youth is long gone and they are about to keel over from old age. This causes them to follow plot lines seen in many of your popular TV sitcoms. In a desperate attempt to cling to some semblance of the veil of youth, they dress differently, buy expensive sport cars, or trade in their old frumpy wives for new models with less mileage. Given the list of mid-life crisis symptoms that I have personally witnessed, a number of questions bubbled to the surface.
  • Why would a grown man pay perfectly good money to obtain a flagrant pair of flood pants (aka "high waters") and then wear them out in public? This look is usually a result of some latent instinct where older men start to pull their waistbands up until they are just under their armpits.
  • Why would someone with no more than a couple dozen hairs on the top of their head, still part their hairs? On a follow-up question, why would they even own a comb?
  • Why would an older man who has lived with a head of gray hair for years suddenly decide to get a bad dye job and then leave their bathroom? "Gee Marv, something about you is different. Did you recently lose massive amounts of unwanted back fat?"
  • Why would a grown-up go parading out in public wearing a button-down ("Oxford") shirt with more than two buttons unbuttoned? "Yes, come closer, look at my pasty white chest flab. Love it! Touch it!"
  • Why would a man in full mid-life-crisis mode purchase an expensive convertible sports car into which he cannot sit without his knees coming up to his ears and his head actually sticking above the windshield when he puts the top down?
Now, I personally am not too far away from this "magic" age range where my DNA is preprogrammed to yearn for my youth. As I start morphing into Mr. Furley from the old Three's Company show, I look forward to some good blog material to share in the months and years ahead.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Insights on Timothy/Titus

Several months ago, I read Charles Swindoll's Insights on Romans. That work represents a detailed exposition of the letter from the Apostle Paul to the Christians in Rome explaining the who, what, when, where, and why of the faith. As I so enjoyed that study, I moved to another book in Swindoll's New Testament Insights series, Insights on 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus. This work focuses on three short letters prepared by Paul to his protégés Timothy and Titus. Both Timothy and Titus were capable and faithful men of God whom Paul had spent significant time with, training them and forming them into strong and compassionate leaders who could carry on his work. These letters, called epistles, while personally written to Paul's friends and co-laborers, were also meant to be shared with the local church to strengthen them and train them in the ways of the Lord, and to teach them how their ministry should be organized and celebrated.

1 Timothy was written in AD 64 to Timothy, whom Paul had left to strengthen the young church that he had started in Ephesus in Asia Minor. Titus was written just a few months later to Titus, whom Paul had left to finish the work that he had started on the island of Crete in the Mediterranean Sea. These letters also served to build up Timothy and Titus, who were given positions of leadership that were very demanding. Both Ephesus and Crete were bustling, influential places, with deeply entrenched pagan influences. The spiritual battles facing Timothy and Titus were not fought one day and victory claimed the next. They were battles that would necessarily continue day after day, with a foe that was consistently stirring up turmoil and strife. Paul chose his words very carefully to his young charges so as to remind them of their roles and responsibilities.

The final letter contained in this work is 2 Timothy. Paul wrote this letter to Timothy in AD 66 from a jail cell in Rome, where he had been arrested by Nero for crimes of treason and heresy. At this point in Paul's life, although he knew that God could protect him and deliver him from his cell, he somehow knew that he was nearing the end of his life. With this knowledge, he wrote a letter to Timothy to pass along some final words of advice. He extorted Timothy to continue to proclaim the word of God no matter the obstacles or the difficulties. Within just a few months of writing this letter, Nero had Paul executed. The beautiful aspect of Paul's letter is his strength and his patience all the way to the end of his days. Without an ounce of pride he stated, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith."

Next in Swindoll's Insights on the New Testament series, I will study Insights on James, 1 & 2 Peter. I look forward to sharing this with you shortly.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Art of Debate

Captain of the debate team? Hardly. Some people really don't have a knack for taking criticism without resorting to lobbing personal insults at anyone who questions their approach. Today's story is a look at a recent illustrative encounter of what not to do.

I recently attended a week-long meeting of a group of scientists. A big part of why we come together is to talk about our research and to discuss not only the nuts and bolts of the detailed and complex algorithms that were used to analyze our data, but also the interpretations and findings that we believe the data support. This is expected at such gatherings, and furthermore, gives rise to a healthy system of checks and balances.

Well, at least this is how things are supposed to play in principle. It does not always turn out this way in reality, especially when people have an inflated opinion of themselves, are overly zealous or passionate about their work, are running on fumes from lack of sleep, or have some personal issue with the person raising the criticism. I think this last point was at the heart of what I witnessed the other day.

Considering the rules of formal debate, how would you respond to the following criticism? "Gee Howard, I think you are making too much of the agreement between your data and the theory especially given the simplicity of the model." .... How about, "You know, I've never met anyone from your village that I have ever thought was worth a crap." O.K., can anyone pick out the subtle mistake that Howard made with his response?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Sticking Together

There are lots of statistics floating around about the fraction of marriages that end through divorce. Most of the time you will hear about numbers in the range of 50%. However, some brave couples give every ounce of their energy to ensure that they do not become just another part of the head-shaking statistics. They strive to kindle their flames, to find common ground in the areas of finances, child rearing, career choices, and sensitive issues regarding toilet paper mounting and tooth paste squeezing. Their plucky resolve and gritty determination can serve as an inspiration to us all. You can almost hear the swelling music rising up in the background as the camera pans out and we find the happy couple romping through a field of wildflowers, cavorting off into the sun.

Recently while rummaging around through some seldom used areas of my mind, a real-life story came back to me about a couple that lived next door to a friend of mine back when I was in graduate school. My friend told me the story about a very typical couple that consisted of a working wife and working husband with the standard 2.3 kids. The seemed to have a significant amount of strife that caused friction in their marriage. It had them on the brink of dissolving their relationship.

However, at the same time, their children were quite popular in the neighborhood. They made friends with a number of other children up and down their street. They were so popular that their house became a regular hang-out spot after school and on weekends. After all of the drama and back-and-forth, the couple ultimately decided not to separate because the neighborhood kids would lose their hang-out spot. Of all the reasons to decide to stay married, who would have thunk of this one, the neighbor's kids?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Cracking the Books

What should your response be when somebody gives you the gift of a book? Now, of course, your immediate response should be "thank you". But that is not my point. I am pondering a situation where said book is not one that you would ever in a thousand years pick up for yourself. Now I am not talking about a book that likely would be good for you to read, I am referring to a book that discusses a person or subject matter that you have absolutely no interest in. My guess is that most people either stash such gifts in a closet, re-gift it to some other schlep, drop it down the return shute at their local library, or put it straight in the recycle bin. For some reason, I have always felt some kooky obligation to read the stupid piece of crap.

I think I read these gift books just to honor those who gave me the book in the first place. But I think there is something more. Somehow, I feel compelled to read these books to honor the medium of literature itself. Perhaps that makes me a renaissance man. Perhaps that makes me a bed-wetting jar of Nutella brand spread.

What is interesting is that sometimes I can take away something quite positive from such reads. I learn something about the world or about myself. I think that if there is indeed something positive to extract from these books, I need to approach it with at least a semi-open mind. If I go in dreading it, with lots of weeping and gnashing of teeth, I really am just wasting my time.

So, what about you? Do you read such books or deposit them in the circular file?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Learning = Action

I read recently that a true sign of learning is that the new information actually takes root within us and gives rise to a definable change in our thoughts or actions. When I heard that it made me think about all of the books that I have read over the past few years. Apart from passing on new information to me, have any of the self-help books or theology books given rise to a specific change in my thoughts or actions? That is actually a pretty powerful question. Does all of the time that I spend in books have any lasting impact? Is there any real change in me, or is my reading just a way to kill some time and take in some light entertainment? Am I somehow fundamentally changed by all of this input?

When I first started to think about this question, it actually kind of brought me down because I think that the answer is that the changes in me as a result of all of my reading are minimal at best. After some time has passed, all I can seem to recall from a book is a general theme or style and whether I liked the book or not. It seems like my investment in my reading has not paid any quantifiable dividends. Yet, ultimately I realized that there was more of a pay-off that I had first thought.
  • Reading allows me to educate myself and be able to elucidate what I believe and why, as well as what I don't believe and why.
  • Reading encourages me and strengthens me to continue to stay on course. In other words in prevents drift and laziness.
  • Reading other real-world stories lets me know that I am not alone with my daily struggles. It helps me to maintain perspective.
  • Reading lightens my mind and helps me to relax.
  • Reading keeps my mind limber when other activities might be much more mind-numbing.
  • Reading gives me ideas for course corrections in my life on a day by day basis. Although I may not always remember the seed for a given life adjustment, they are a part of me.
  • Reading allows me to glory in my Lord and causes me to make time to spend with Him.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Erasing Hell

It's incredibly arrogant to pick and choose which of God's incomprehensible truths we will embrace and which we will cast off. A sound statement from Francis Chan in his new book Erasing Hell that was released to rebut the notions of hell and universalism put forth by Rob Bell in his controversial work Love Wins. In Chan's new book, he carefully and systematically examines what scripture has to say about hell, relying on assistance from his co-author, Bible scholar Preston Sprinkle. Chan's approach is to examine and interpret the Word with humble respect and with special care to understand the viewpoint of its authors, making every effort to understand the full context of what is written. His conclusion is that hell is all too real of a place where all will go (and remain) who do not know Jesus, whether they are a murderer, child rapist, Buddhist monk, or your sweet spiritual neighbor. Hell is not a metaphor and God does not lose if He does not save all of his children.

Chan respectfully warns us to be careful with the Bible so that we do not twist what it says to align with our own personal preferences or our own definitions of fair and unfair. Our feelings, wants, and desires are irrelevant. We need to understand that God's ways may not agree with our natural way of thinking, for His ways are not our ways. We must surrender our perceived right to determine what is just and humbly recognize that God alone gets to decide how He is going to deal with people. He alone is the judge and jury, and it is entirely up to Him what happens to us. We only need to remember that He alone is the paradigm of grace and mercy.

"While hell can be a paralyzing doctrine, it can also be an energizing one, for it magnifies the beauty of the cross."

I suggest that before reading Erasing Hell, you read Love Wins. Just think what is at stake here. If hell is what scripture says it is, then most of the people around us are doomed to an eternity of unspeakable suffering. This is so much more than some academic debate, who's right, who's wrong. This is eternity. You see, this is about that.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Cuppa Joe

Let me share with you a recent personal anecdote in my ongoing struggle to be more outgoing, sociable, and relationship oriented. I had set aside a few hours one evening to meet a friend for some coffee and some conversation. We were supposed to meet at 7:00 p.m. after we had each finished up at work and taken care of business at home. We would then have a few hours to talk and share and strengthen our friendship. Good stuff for me to be sure. However, a few things happened on my way to the coffee shop.
  • A last minute meeting kept me at work much later than I had planned. This elevated my blood pressure.
  • Leaving work in a bit of a hurry, I left behind some papers that I had meant to take home so that I could prepare for an important meeting the next day. Blood pressure further increased.
  • On the way home, I got stuck behind an accident caused by two selfish drivers engaged in some ridiculous, cro-magnon show of manliness. Blood pressure meter further up and to the right.
  • Finally arriving at home and already late, I find my refrigerator water line leaking. I have to give it immediate attention. As I don't have my friend's phone number, there is no way that I can tell them of my delay. Tick, tick, tick ...
  • Nearly 45 minutes late I race pell-mell, willy-nilly out to try to meet my friend and be able to explain my delay. They are long gone. Near fatal levels approaching.
  • On the way home, some Evel Knievel motorcycle cop, hiding in the bushes pulls me over to meet his quota and gives me a huge ticket. Boom!
The bottom line is that while none of this story actually happened, this is the thought process that runs through my head as I think about meeting a friend for coffee. A scenario such as this has caused me to avoid asking and also to avoid saying yes. What is the big deal with a stinking cuppa joe?

Monday, July 4, 2011

4, July

Being an American citizen my whole life, and one who has lived a fairly sheltered existence, I guess that I do not fully appreciate the freedoms that I have. Without the context of oppression, repression, and control that far too many understand personally, I really know of no other way to live than how I do. It's one thing to read about how so many others are forced to live, or to hear about it on a news report, but it's another thing entirely to live under those conditions day after day. Millions upon millions of people today live under such a shadow. They can only dream of living the sort of life that we live in America. A land where we are able to come and go, able to worship and celebrate, able to scream and shout, able to protest and affect change. Though I don't fully appreciate what I have, today I celebrate my country and my way of life. I hope you too can find a way to celebrate our Independence Day.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Grind My Gears 23

I used to listen to the radio a lot when I was a kid. My trusty radio was a constant companion. Whether I was listening to the call of the Boston Red Sox game or jamming to the oldies (which were actually "newies" back then), if I was in my room, my radio was on. One of my "go to" programs that I rarely missed, was Casem "Shaggy" Kasem's popular song countdown, AT40 (keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars).

Now it could be that my memory is faulty due to the pounds of lead-based paint that I ate and the constant usage of asbestos-laden toys that I owned, but I remember listening to real music. Real songs sung by real people into a real microphone. Straight from their mouths to some sort of recording media and then sent out over the airwaves. Now, if you tune into your local station, all you hear are robots. It seems that every "artist" (insert sneering chuckles here) relies on computer/microprocessor assistance to give them at least a passable singing voice. This is all thanks to technology called "autotune". To anyone who has ever used this accursed technology, thought about using it, or even uttered the word "autotune", I say, you really grind my gears.