Friday, December 29, 2006

Santa's Closets: When Consumerism Collides with Deception

I said I wasn't going to post anything until the new year, but I just cannot help myself; I must publish one more Christmas post. Perusing through the paper while relaxing at my in-laws, children playing in the floor with various assorted and miscellaneous pieces of soon-to-be dumpster fodder, I came across this AP gem: Self-storage Units become "Santa Closets" to Hide Holiday Gifts.

If Americans did not buy their children too much junk at Christmas anyway, now the self-storage industry is more than happy to rent a unit so you can store all the flotsam your kids don't need at a nominal price. I must admit, I was really concerned as to what to address first in this analysis; the obvious consumerism blatantly endorsed or the deception on the part of untrained children.

I'll give the benefit of the doubt here. Some folks may genuinely not have the storage space for some large items while they await the gifting process; the article mentioned the big-screen TV, a recliner, or a bicycle, and for someone living in a condo or apartment that may be a legitimate concern. But to rent a storage unit because of sheer volume of Christmas glee? A close reading of The Gift of the Magi would be beneficial. Christ has definitely taken a back seat to consumerism and greed. People simply relish having lots of stuff, and not just at Christmas.
One in 11 households currently rent a self-storage unit, compared with one in 17 in 1995. Self-storage facility gross revenues for 2005 were about $18.5 billion, according to the Virginia-based Self Storage Association.

"They treasure these items and keep them for a reason, but they don't want them underfoot," said James Overturf, spokesman of Extra Space Storage, which operates more than 425,000 units in the U.S.
Wow. U-Haul sure is making a lot of money to keep our stuff. Nevertheless, the deception eminent is also overwhelming. The fact that parents need to rent a storage unit outside of their home to hide Christmas gifts staggers me. Is deception a virtue to be lauded? I'm not trying to be too judgmental here nor throw cold water on holiday fun, but when I was growing up I didn't snoop for my Christmas fare. That was a sure way to ensure I wouldn't receive it and that the jolly old elf wouldn't slide down my chimney. However, instead of training junior to actually benefit from the virtue of delayed gratification, you can nurture that greedy spirit by renting a Santa Closet.
Missy Phillips knew she had a big problem on her hands when her boyfriend's 18-year-old son ransacked their house looking for the stash of unwrapped Christmas presents.

To keep the nosy teenager from finding the stereo, video games and hunting bow she and her boyfriend bought him, Phillips had to go out of the house ---- and into a self-storage unit ---- to hide the gifts until Christmas Eve.


Terri Sibbett and her husband manage A-A-A Storage in Nashville and recently posted a listing at that asks, "Wanna keep the Christmas gifts away from those sneaky little ones?" It offers to "Hide the toys from the kids. Hide the boat from your husband."
Yet another way to capitalize on greed and deception. Christmas is all about making money anyway, isn't it?

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The 12, uh...14 Days of Homeschool

This will be the last post of the year for me. We are going to spend some much-deserved time with family and resting. Hopefully I will post something of substance when I am back January 1st, 2007! I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know all of my blogging friends and I wish the best for you this Christmas season. To all of my regular readers and those not so regular, friends I have made halfway across the world (you know who you are!), and family members who refuse to comment, thank you for taking time out of your schedules to spend time rambling with me.

One of our homeschooling friends emailed this to us and it's hilarious. I do not know the source, so if you do, drop me a note and I'll be glad to update the post. Sing it to the tune of the Twelve Days of Christmas! Enjoy!

On the first day of homeschool my neighbor said to me, "Can you homeschool legally?"

On the second day of homeschool my neighbor said to me, "Are they socialized, can you homeschool legally?"

On the third day of homeschool my neighbor said to me, "Do you give them tests, are they socialized, can you homeschool legally?"

On the fourth day of homeschool my neighbor said to me, "What about P.E., do you give them tests, are they socialized, can you homeschool legally?"

On the fifth day of homeschool my neighbor said to me, "YOU ARE SO STRANGE! What about P.E., do you give them tests, are they socialized, can you homeschool legally?"

On the sixth day of homeschool my neighbor said to me, "How long will you homeschool, YOU ARE S0 STRANGE, what about P.E. , do you give them tests, are they socialized, can you homeschool legally?"

On the seventh day of homeschool my neighbor said to me, "Look at what they're missing, how long will you homeschool, YOU ARE SO STRANGE!, what about P.E., do you give them tests, are they socialized, do you homeschool legally?"

On the eighth day of homeschool my neighbor said to me, "Why do you do this, look at what they're missing, how long will you homeschool, YOU ARE SO STRANGE, what about P.E. do you give them tests, are they socialized, do you homeschool legally?"

On the ninth day of homeschool my neighbor said to me, "They'll miss the prom, why do you do this, look at what they're missing, how long will you homeschool, YOU ARE SO STRANGE!, what about P.E. do you give them tests, are they socialized, do you homeschool legally?"

On the tenth day of homeschool my neighbor said to me, "What about graduation, they'll miss the prom, why do you do this, look at what they're missing, how long will you homeschool, YOU ARE SO STRANGE!, what about P.E., do you give them tests, are they socialized, can you homeschool legally?"

On the eleventh day of homeschool my neighbor said to me, "I could never do that, what about graduation, they'll miss the prom, why do you do this, look at what they're missing, how long will you homeschool, YOU ARE SO STRANGE, what about P.E., do you give them tests, are they socialized, can you homeschool legally?"

On the twelfth day of homeschool my neighbor said to me, "Can they go to college, I could never do that, what about graduation, they'll miss the prom, why do you do this, look at what they're missing, how long will you homeschool, YOU ARE SO STRANGE, What about P.E., do you give them tests, are they socialized, can you homeschool legally?"

On the thirteenth day of homeschool I thoughtfully replied: "They Can go to college, yes you can do this, they can have graduation, we don't like the prom, we do it 'cause we like it, they are missing nothing, we'll homeschool forever, WE ARE NOT STRANGE!, we give them P.E., and we give them tests, they are socialized, AND WE HOMESCHOOL LEGALLY!

On the fourteenth day of homeschool my neighbor said to me, "How can I get started, why didn't you tell me, where do I buy curriculum, when is the next conference, WILL PEOPLE THINK WE'RE STRANGE? I think we can do this, if you will help us, can we join P.E. and we'll homeschool legally."

May God bless in 2007!

UPDATE: HT to Jube Dankworth at Texas Home Educators for the citation. Its amazing how things get circulated around the Internet and via email with little or no acknowledgement. Thanks Jube!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Another War on Christmas Volley

There continue to be grenades lobbed into this farcical battle that is the war on Christmas and Streak points us to a moderately genteel approach that spoofs conservative attitude toward the hijacking of "their" holiday.
When I'm not sure, or when I'm addressing a group, I say, "Happy Holidays."

I don't say this to slight Christmas, but to be polite and sensible. Wishing "Merry Christmas" to someone who doesn't celebrate Christmas is like wishing someone "Happy birthday" when his birthday is six months off --- it's not so much rude as it is weird.

At the same time, however, wishing someone "Happy Holidays" when you have good reason to believe that he celebrates Christmas is also weird.

It comes off as prissy, and, intentionally or not, it carries with it the suggestion that you, the speaker, feel "Christmas" is a word that polite people avoid.

This suggestion, in turn, feeds a fear that modern secular culture is out to remove Christ from the winter holiday season one greeting at a time, if necessary.

I get that. I happen to think the fear is baseless. Observing the Nativity remains the overwhelming reason most Americans celebrate at this time of year, and their freedom to do so is vast. But I see how "Happy Holidays" can sound like a cold dismissal of that observance.

At the same time, I see how "Merry Christmas" as a blanket greeting carries with it the suggestion to the non-Christian that those who don't celebrate Christmas are misfits; oddballs whose strange beliefs don't command even a tip of the verbal cap.
The writer of the original story also called for a balance where there isn't any regarding the usage of "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Holidays."
If there's any way to break this absurd logjam in seasonal pleasantries, it lies in each of us making a reassuring effort to use the appropriate greeting with the appropriate people.

Don't assume, but don't chicken out, either. And for goodness' sake, don't take offense when none is intended.
If Christmas really is that time of year when peace on earth and goodwill toward men ought to reign, how about we see a little bit more of that? Personally, I just wish everyone a Merry Christmas; not meaning to offend, but this is one place where I see an appeal to tradition isn't that far off base.

My family has received a plethora of Christmas cards from church members, each one with different greetings on them. Season's Greetings, Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas; some have a nativity, some a snowman, and heaven forbid, some have Santa Claus. Christmas has a lot of trappings associated with it and many, try as we might, we cannot avoid. But steps can be taken in the general direction. There are a lot of things I like about Christmastime, a lot of things I utterly despise.

But if Santa really does plan on riding this year, perhaps he could bring each of us a generous dose of humility, a moderate splash of tolerance, and a smattering of reason and common sense.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

An Atheist Wishes Everyone "Merry Christmas!"

In the last post, I asserted that this "war on Christmas" is a fabrication; the next logical question is what end does the fabrication serve? I think atheist Richard Dawkins provides the answer. If you are not familiar with Dr. Dawkins, he is an evolutionary biologist, rational apologist, and atheist evangelist from Oxford University. His recent book, The God Delusion, has caused quite a stir in the evangelical community.

If there was a war on Christmas, evangelicals lost the battle before it even started. It is my conjecture that the war is a fabrication because essentially evangelical Christianity is wholly missing the point regarding the Christmas season. In order to reclaim some kind of spiritual relevance back to the holiday, the war was invented to perpetuate the claim that somehow evangelicals are being robbed of the holiday's significance. If Christmas has been divested of its meaning, it is not because the secularists and non-believers jerked the rug out from under the evangelical conception of the holiday; it is the greedy materialism, lavish programs, and consumer mentality driving it, which Christians shamelessly promote.

Richard Dawkins, in a statement about his own Christmas philosophy, made the implicit, provocative claim that Christians are at fault for the American misunderstanding regarding the holiday.
“But of course [Christmas] has long since ceased to be a religious festival. I participate for family reasons, with a reluctance that owes more to aesthetics than atheistics. I detest Jingle Bells, White Christmas, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and the obscene spending bonanza that nowadays seems to occupy not just December, but November and much of October, too.”

He added: “So divorced has Christmas become from religion that I find no necessity to bother with euphemisms such as happy holiday season. In the same way as many of my friends call themselves Jewish atheists, I acknowledge that I come from Christian cultural roots. I am a post-Christian atheist. So, understanding full well that the phrase retains zero religious significance, I unhesitatingly wish everyone a Merry Christmas.”
There is truth in the atheist's words. I share the article's author, Randy Kennedy's sentiment regarding Dr. Dawkins statement and the "war":
Such obliging feelings toward Christmas will undoubtedly serve as another piece of evidence for those like Mr. O’Reilly and conservative Christians who feel that the holiday has been hijacked — so much so that even atheists are now comfortable getting into the spirit. But to listen to Mr. [Sam] Harris and other nonbelieving Christmas celebrators, you sometimes get the feeling that their accommodation stems from the fact that Christmas — no matter how religious it still is or is not — has become such a juggernaut that it is simply impossible to ignore entirely. So why not grin, bear it and have yourself a double eggnog?
Unfortunately that is the way most conservatives will interpret Dr. Dawkins correct prophetic pronouncement and will regrettably fail to see the handwriting on the wall. Christmas is certainly a juggernaut; Americans typically spend $6 billion dollars a year on the season's greetings. Is Jesus the reason for the season? I am beginning to question the legitimacy of the holiday myself.

Frankly, the evangelical community gives too much fodder to its critics. The total lack of sincerity is what motivates men like Dr. Dawkins to strongly criticize Christianity. I respect Dr. Dawkins, and though I do not agree with his position, at least he is sincere in his beliefs.

The irony of the war on Christmas is that we are fighting ourselves.

(HT: Nephos)

Monday, December 18, 2006

More on the War on Christmas...Now I've Seen Everything!

I think Nancy Reagan is owed an apology for this one. If this does not convince conservatives that the war on Christmas is nothing more than political and marketing rhetoric, then nothing else will. The OPERATION: JUST SAY MERRY CHRISTMAS website states that it "is a campaign designed to encourage Christians nationwide and around the world to PROUDLY proclaim The Christ Child as the center of the Christmas Season once again."

For only $2.00 apiece (plus S & H) you can pick up one of these novel little bracelets and show those secularists and liberals that are trying to steal Christmas right out from under our noses that YOU MEAN BUSINESS.

This is nothing more than a cheap marketing ploy, borne of manipulation, aimed at inattentive and gullible Christians caught up in the irrelevant.
Their website makes that patently clear:
"The enemies of Christmas have succeeded in making Christians feel as if we are bad and intolerant to wish someone a "Merry Christmas". This is political correctness run amok. We have reached an all time low point in our nation's history when human sensibilities are elevated above offending Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. People are telling us they cannot find appropriate Christmas cards, nativity sets, etc. It is long past the time for Christians to stand firm in our faith."
Forgive me, but I think standing firm in our faith is a bit more than wearing a cheap bracelet. If Christ is not the center of the Christmas season, somehow I think the overt focus on materialism, greed, and sensationalism thrust Him out of the limelight. Political correctness has had nothing to do with it.

And if you aren't satisfied with just the bracelet, you can get the Just Say "Merry Christmas" ornament to proudly display on your holiday tree.

Yep. I've seen everything.

(HT: wasp jerky)

As an aside, blogging buddy Les Puryear out at Crucified with Christ is taking a blogging hiatus for the remainder of 2006. God bless you, my friend. Drop by and see his final post of the year, a picture of a real manger, possibly similar to the one Christ lay in that wonderful night so long ago.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The War on Christmas...The Saga Continues

Dr. Jerry Falwell said it; I believe it; that settles it.


What will it take for conservative evangelicals to stop taking this man's words at face value and start dissecting what he is saying?

In Dr. Falwell's latest wartime dispatch from the Moral Majority headquarters in Lynchburg, VA he is yet again espousing that there is a war on Christmas. Frankly, I am getting just a tad confused on this whole issue because no one else seems to think that there really is a war on Christmas except Dr. Falwell, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and...well, that's about it.

Yet Dr. Falwell seems to continue to engender fear and aggravation in the heart's of God's people over a non-issue. No one has kept Christians from doing anything this Christmas. No one has barricaded the door to the church I serve, no one has kept any church from performing their living Christmas trees, there have been numerous ads in the local papers inviting folks to living nativities (my family and I attended one this evening and there was no armed militia), and there was a manger scene in the local Christmas parade this year.

If there is a war, the battle has yet to have been waged here in our part of the state. Dr. Falwell's evidence is confusing because he is assuming that "secularists" and non-believers should act differently than their nature implies they should. This quote is fascinating:
This week, Alan Colmes, co-host of the Fox News Channel’s “Hannity and Colmes,” attempted to convince my buddy Franklin Graham that this war did not exist. Thankfully, Franklin shrewdly countered this notion by noting that there is indeed an accelerating effort by secularists in America to annihilate expressions of Christmas and Christianity.
Note the effort is by secularists. Did not Jesus Himself say that in this world we will have trouble? Frankly I am glad that this war on Christmas is really all Christians have to deal with. Note the tender touch of sorrow in Dr. Falwell's sentiment in this quote:
Meanwhile, people across America continue to be harassed because of their faith.
Just harassed? What about Christians across the world who cannot openly practice their faith? There are Christians in China, Korea, and in the Sudan who would love to have a fraction of the freedom we have in America. My blog friend Streak sums up this fallacious thinking quite nicely.
Christians had enjoyed a false sense of ownership of the public square for much of our history. Of course, they belong in the public square, but just as conservatives do not own the flag, Christians do not own our public square, and that is how conservatives are acting now that others want in. Nothing, of course, is stopping any conservative (or liberal) Christian from participating in Christmas as a form of worship. Not one thing; nothing stopping them from having Christmas services, Festivals, Parties, huge, lavish programs, etc.

Just some people suggesting that in the public square, the rest of us--liberal Christians, non-Christians, etc.,--have just as much right.
Dr. Falwell was disparaging CBS because they ran an episode of a sitcom "Two and a Half Men," which I have never watched nor intend to, where the lead character, played by actor Charlie Sheen in Dr. Falwell's words, turns the beloved Christmas hymn Joy to the World into a "sex romp." I'll admit, this inspires in me the same frustration as it does Dr. Falwell, but like it or not, CBS and Charlie Sheen have the right to do it.

If I infringe on their rights just because I don't like it, then I invite the same infringement upon my rights as an American citizen. Whatever happened to America as the great "melting pot?" I misunderstand how Christians are mistreated in America. If we are it is by devices of our own making, not by the "efforts of the secularists in America." Dr. Falwell always falls back on arguments like this instead of hard factual evidence:
Further, imagine CBS reworking the inspiring words of Dr. Martin Luther King or a portion of the Koran with a character proclaiming he will soon be having a sexual romp.
Here is my conjecture, for whatever it is worth, on the zealous right-wing view about this war on Christmas. Is it possible because of the belligerence of such radicals as Dr. Falwell, that the "media" turns conservative Christianity into a parody and they invite the network moguls to work such abominations into their scripts? You have to admit, conservative Christianity can be an easy target, primarily for its lack of sincerity. Therefore, conservative Christians must fall back on a fabrication such as the war on Christmas to turn the attention back to the "secularists" and fail to take responsibility for their own shallow behavior.

Dr. Falwell concludes his dispatch with these disheartening words.
No War on Christmas? You’d have to be “the Grinch” himself not to see it. There is indeed such a war and Christians are in the cross hairs. We must continue to stand up for our rights, my friends. If we don’t, it is readily apparent that they will be quickly eradicated.
Somehow, this looks like putting the cart before the horse. If there genuinely is a war on Christmas, can we as Christians really expect secularists and non-believers to treat Christmas with the respect and admiration that it deserves given that we have offered them no better? Why would we want them to celebrate this holiday with us when what we offer really looks no more than defection to the enemy?

So, to Bill, Sean, Jerry, and all those other Christmas culture warriors who want to battle on behalf of us Christians: thanks, but no thanks. I won't be joining you in the foxhole. You have all gone
the way of the proselytizer, the moralist. We already have a Savior, and you are not Him. And until He comes again (we are in Advent after all), would you please practice enough decorum not to foul things up any further?

Oh—and happy holidays!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Thou Shalt Have A Quiet Time

Through seminary, I was successfully indoctrinated that a quiet time or personal devotional time was mandatory in the life of a committed Christian. It is supposed to be a concerted, consistent time of prayer and Bible reading, reflection, and meditation. It should at times be accompanied with singing and other means of worship. One professor's mantra regarding the personal devotional time was, "If you don't do it here, then you won't do it there." Another professor quipped, "A quiet time is quite a time."

Most professors, chapel addresses, and other seminary students loudly proclaimed the sinfulness of failing to have a daily quiet time. I would often be asked by my well-meaning seminary brothers, apparently trying to hold me accountable, "Brother, did you have your quiet time today?" May God have mercy on your soul if you slept late that morning.
Nevertheless, Chris Ortiz out at The Chalcedon Foundation, blogging on an interesting perspective by Martin Selbrede on this issue, makes a provocative claim.
I thought I'd look up some representative claims regarding a personal quiet time and see if anybody--anywhere--supported the notion with anything other than what I said they were using (to wit, making a weak, out-of-context inference from a verse concerning Jesus praying away from the crowds that pressed on Him). None of the sources provide a single command in Scripture concerning the doctrine of a personal quiet time. The Great Commission says we are to teach the nations "all things whatsoever I have commanded." Where God did not command, we have no imperative to teach (especially to teach something as a binding obligation!). Teaching the necessity for a personal quiet time is to teaching something that God has not commanded (since no command in Scripture concerning it exists -- anywhere).
Frankly, I have toyed with the notion of whether or not a personal quiet time is an absolute spiritual necessity. To oppose the practice or even question the legitimacy of it invites rancor of the cruelest sort, that "you just aren't spiritual." Does failure to have a daily quiet time equate to the most abominable sin and does having a quiet time make you more obedient?

Often, in my counseling with other Christians, I use the daily devotional time as a litmus test for that person's spirituality, and I wonder if it is such an effective barometer anymore. What about obedience? Faith? Serving others? Confrontation of personal sin?

Ortiz makes a broad, sweeping assertion that the quiet time is not commanded anywhere in Scripture, nor does Christ really give Christians an example to follow. He cites Mark 1:35 and its parallel, Luke 5:16, and refutes that these verses teach a quiet time.
The text does NOT teach us that Jesus had a quiet time, and He certainly did NOT have a quiet time in the sense that people would, because He didn't lack for intimacy with the Father ("I and the Father are One"), and He elsewhere states (John 11) that His open prayers are for the benefit of those around them hearing His words, and not for His own benefit at all.
Ortiz also quotes from, interestingly, an article from the Southern Baptist Conservatives of VA, A Personal Quiet Time with God:
"[The article] provides a similar inferential scripture (not a command or instruction) when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane: "Jesus went alone to be with His Father (Matthew 26:36), and so should we." There are several surprising things about this citation. Jesus's time with His Father was anything but quiet (He sweated blood and cried out to God in anguish), it wasn't private (a stone's throw from his disciples was about 20 yards so they could hear Him)..."
The events of the Garden of Gethsemane are nothing but proof-texts to give credence to, as Ortiz points out, an unsupported doctrine.

However, Ortiz's article is far from comprehensive. The one Scripture that popped into my mind that was totally avoided in the article was Matthew 6:6.
But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
It is surprising that Ortiz overlooked this passage of Scripture, because this is typically the verse that I have often heard quoted in defense of a personal devotional time. It is easy to see how one could extrapolate having a quiet time from this passage because Christ is teaching in contrast to the way the hypocrites pray, standing in the synagogues, babbling so as to be heard by all and have their apparent spirituality "approved" by passers-by. So, having a quiet time may not be unbiblical, it certainly could be classified as extra-biblical.

Ortiz cites several sources that offer Scripture-less defenses for maintaining a quiet time, and I confess my evidence is purely anecdotal. Nevertheless, it seems that Ortiz may be simply parsing words or jumping through semantic hoops to decry this spiritual discipline. As Ortiz notes, we are commanded in Scripture to pray and study the Word, but the modern notion of a quiet time is not commanded...or is it?


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Merry Christmas...Yeah, Right

It is difficult to hide my sarcasm and utter disdain, but this is the most transparently self-serving piece of promotional journalism I have seen in a very long time. In light of my Monday post on the "war" on Christmas, Baptist Press had this quaint little diddy come out yesterday that is a caricature of the scam that is the war on Christmas: LifeWay Stores point to Jesus amid Christmas season bustle. As you run around looking for another gift for another relative who doesn't need another gift from another relative, just don't forget that Jesus is the reason for the season.
With tight budgets, overwhelming schedules, frustrating traffic and politically correct retailers replacing "Merry Christmas" with "Happy Holidays," LifeWay Christian Stores is aiming to put the focus of Christ back into Christmas shopping.
As I pointed out Monday, the replacement of "Merry Christmas" with "Happy Holidays" is nothing less than a red herring to divert the attention of a harried shopper from the real issue, which is selfish greed dipping into their inattentive pockets. It is a nauseating attempt to divest Christians of their pocketbooks, laced with the supposed nobility of shopping at LifeWay because they really have put Christ back into Christmas shopping. Richard Mencer, manager of a LifeWay store in Texas, has some not so salient advice.
"As in everything, pray before you shop," Mencer suggested. "Ask God for direction on what to buy and for guidance in your shopping."
Don't forget to pray, but make sure you pray and shop. While you are praying don't forget to lift up LifeWay's burgeoning bottom line. If rampant commercialism does not convince the frenzied Christian shopper of LifeWay's true motivation, then maybe the hypocrisy of saying we don't focus on materialism at Christmas will.
Whether ministering to customers in the store or helping shoppers select gifts with a spiritual emphasis, LifeWay employees see the potential for eternal impact in Christmas shopping and giving in addition to increased opportunities to witness and encourage customers.
The self-centered, self-seeking, worldly focus of this article detracts from the true meaning of Christmas. As we become familiar with the truth, it becomes so commonplace to us that we become desensitized to pathetic attempts such as this to espouse the Scriptural commands of giving and helping the poor. Minister to LifeWay customers, ensuring they have a pleasant shopping experience, but what about those little kids who will not have a Christmas this year? It seems to me that LifeWay could have an even greater impact on eternity if they would broaden their target shopping base.

Just the other day in Belk's, I was buying a white shirt for my wife. A lady, wearing a "Jesus is the reason for the season" lapel pin, cut in front of me at the check-out line, without even a backward glance.
Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Revelation 2:4

Monday, December 11, 2006

Is There a War on Christmas?

I about dropped my teeth going into Wal-Mart this evening. The greeter, as she plastered my oldest daughter with a yellow smiley, exclaimed, "Merry Christmas!" I nearly shot back, "Are you serious?" However, reason and common sense got the better of me, and I began to rethink this whole "battle for Christmas" thing.

Really, where did it begin? I have a hard time believing that anyone really has it out for Christmas, no matter how much John Gibson and Bill O'Reilly think they need to save us from...whatever it is they think they need to save us from. Could it be more so about pandering after weak-kneed, sallow Christians and a blossoming bottom line rather than ensuring the cashiers and greeters cannot say "Merry Christmas?" I have my sincerest suspicions.

As you bring in the season, you also bring in the doom-sayers that writing X-mas instead of Christmas just strikes Jesus right out of Christmas and the indignation against nativity scenes on public property and that Frosty and Rudolph are more prudent than Joseph and Mary, are all mixed with collective vexation, anemic theology, and inaccurate history.

Given that I have just enough theological training to make me dangerous and inhospitable as this writer, I am going to lob a few grenades of my own into this battle. Mark Douglas, an ethicist at Columbia Theological Seminary, offered these reasons in an editorial. I offer a few comments and expansion upon it.

Has it ever occurred to anyone that this really is not the Christmas season??? The season we are in right now is Advent. It is that time of earnest expectation of the arrival of the Savior. It is a time of anticipation and quiet solitude, not the frenetic, chaotic, madness that normally characterizes the shopping centers. Christmas actually begins on Christmas Day and continues for the next twelve days (hence the song).

Why do we understand Christmas as coming before rather than after Christmas Day? Is it maybe because the retail industry wants us to believe that? That is where the money is. So last year when retailers turned to the less religious greetings and Target banned the Salvation Army, they took it in the gut, obliterating not just their pride, but also their bottom lines.

So, at least a return to "Merry Christmas" is not quite so obviously self-serving.

A second point: why is the use of "Happy Holidays" patently offensive to some? If Jesus is really the reason for the season, and Christ came not just to redeem human beings from their lost condition, but to redeem also all creation (Romans 8:19), which would include the setting apart of ourselves unto God (holiness) and the redemption of even time itself, would then redemption have something to do with making all that is redeemed holy? And, if the word holiday is simply a westernization of "holy day," is not every day then in the life of a Christian a "holy day?" So then "Happy Holidays" ought to be perfectly acceptable; Mark Douglas concludes, "'Happy Holidays' is always an appropriate greeting for those wishing to court Christians (or at least their wallets)."

Finally, if all these battles are to put Christ back into Christmas (Did He ever leave to begin with?), I sincerely doubt that manipulating retailers, decrying majority rule, or even giving Bill O'Reilly a fair hearing will do it. It will come much in the same way that it happened some 2,000 years ago; nothing less than a stupendous, fantastic miracle of an Almighty God. And when Jesus came the first time, it had nothing to do with retail frenzies, vacuous legalities, and innocuous media banter. He came preaching the Gospel to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, proclaiming liberty to the captives, and healing to the brokenhearted. That is what Advent should engender in us.

The season of Advent--a time of patient anticipation; not frenzied folly.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Compassionate Conservatism: An Oxymoron?

Our little Podunk Paper has knocked it out of the park once again. They carried an AP article that really ought to make Baptists stand up and take notice. The article, Methodists Overlook Differences to Join Mixed-faith Union, chronicled clearly how folks of different denominational stripes can indeed work together to make substantive differences in the lives of underprivileged people.

Though the title carries with it an obvious fear factor for Baptists, there was neither compromise nor true ecumenism going on. A grey haze generally settles over Baptists when there is talk about working with anyone of another denomination for fear of compromising theology. Though I will not concede that theology is unimportant, I can work with other folks with whom my theological opinions vary to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate than myself. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 clearly articulates this stance in Article XV, The Christian and the Social Order:
In order to promote these ends Christians should be ready to work with all men of good will in any good cause, always being careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising their loyalty to Christ and His truth.
However, Baptists are often seen on the wrong side of adequately addressing social issues such as poverty and immigration rights, or at least go about it the wrong way. In a recent Baptist Press article, Kelly Boggs wrote about the strides Baptists are taking to change the world's opinion on their stances of meeting the needs of the disadvantaged. His article was well-written and thought-provoking yet it was also using conservatives' new-found goodwill as a cudgel against liberals.
“I don’t know any conservatives that are opposed to helping the poor,” I replied. “We just disagree with liberals on what is the best way to provide assistance to those in need.”

Over the next several minutes I explained that of all of the conservatives that I know, while they want to help those less fortunate than themselves, they do not believe government was the best vehicle to get the job done.

When it comes to government-run programs, I said, there seems to be a tremendous amount of waste. Not only that, but there is virtually no accountability. At best, most government programs are only placing a Band-Aid on the problem and, at worst, are only perpetuating the plight of the poor.

“An old adage states, ‘Give a man a fish and you have fed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you have fed him for life,'" I told the reporter. “The conservatives that I know want to teach people how to fish.”

The reporter’s perception of conservatives, specifically religious conservatives, as callous and uncaring toward the poor has been perpetuated by liberal politicians and their willing accomplices in the left-leaning media.
I don't know if the veracity of the last statement, a broad generalization at best, could be proven, but could it be proven by conservative churches' responses toward the poor in their own communities; some raw, empirical data? Would the perception not be there if conservatives in some way had not instigated it? Besides the areas of missions and evangelism, there is no other area in the ministries of the church a wider gap in what is said and in what is done (James 2:18) than in the area of helping the poor.

Granted, we may work at the food bank, soup kitchen, or clothes closet once a quarter; even receive a love offering for world hunger. But do our responsibilities end there? Consider this brief smattering of verses:
Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be heard. Proverbs 21:13

For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always. Mark 14:7

But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just. Luke 14:13-14

They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do. Galatians 2:10

Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble...James 1:27

Are there any Baptist churches that are really exploring ways and means to address these things that were very near to the heart of the Savior? Upon reading the AP article, Baptists were noticeably absent and the opening sentences of the article explain why:
Virginia religious leaders are setting aside philosophical differences to form a four-denomination union they say will help them more effectively lobby social causes like poverty and immigrant rights.

Leaders with the Virginia Conference United Methodist Church this weekend signed onto LARC, a union previously limited to Virginia's Lutheran, Anglican (or Episcopalian) and Catholic denominations.

The resulting LARCUM-Lutheran, Anglican, Roman Catholic and United Methodist Churches in Covenant-will promote dialogue between the faiths, which often have clashed on touchy subjects like gay marriage and women in the ministry, explained the Rev. James Parke, with the LARCUM planning committee.
Baptists notoriously have a difficult time setting anything aside and typically rail whenever gay marriage and women in the ministry are mentioned. However, allow me to draw a parallel from the BP article. The heart of Kelly Boggs' BP article arose out of an interview with a newspaper reporter about the issue of homosexuality.
A couple of years ago I was being interviewed by a newspaper reporter on the subject of “gay marriage.” Somewhere in the midst of our conversation the discussion turned and the reporter said, “You have to admit that there are places in the Bible where Jesus comes across more like a tax and spend liberal who really wants to help the poor rather than a conservative who wants the disadvantaged to help themselves.”
I could be making a false extrapolation and I am willing to admit it if I am. But since when does working with others in matters of goodwill constitute an abandonment of theological belief or doctrinal compromise? Dan Edelen is one of my favorite Godbloggers and in a December 6th post, where he addressed Christians' fascination with ____ & Violence, he draws an interesting parallel between evangelicals' outspokenness regarding sexual sin and the deafening silence that accompanies social issues.
Curiously, when you look at major political talking points in Evangelicalism, sex appears at the core of almost every ballot initiative, signature collection, and protest. Major hot-buttons like abortion, homosexual marriage, sex education, and abstinence promotion all have sex at the center. Meanwhile, we seem mum on the environment, fighting injustice, advocating for the disadvantaged, and so on.
There are places where I differ theologically from other denominations. There is a a Grand Canyon-like difference in my views of the Bible from my liberal friends, but they are still exactly that; friends. In the AP article, there was no obvious compromises regarding orthodoxy or even orthopraxy. Rather, there was a common sense approach to tackling some major issues and consent that compassion transcends denominational lines.
Despite their differences, [Bishop] Kammerer said places where the denominations agree offer the chance for cooperation.

"The issues of women's ordainment (and) the issues of priesthood of all believers have not prevented us from sitting at the same table," said Kammerer, who thought leaders could work together on some things without compromising on others. "On many social issues, we can speak with one voice."
Denominations are going to bump heads over biblical interpretation, homosexuality, and abortion. They should. There would not be denominations if they didn't. In spite of these differences, our communities can and should be improved by our churches working together on those issues where we find common ground. Perhaps then "compassionate conservatism" will not be regarded as such an oxymoron.


All Scripture taken from the NKJV.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

I've Got My Eyes Peeled...

I just discovered today that Senator Sam Brownback from Kansas has his sights set on the 2008 Republican nomination for the presidency. After the embarrassing defeats of George Allen and Rick Santorum, Sen. Brownback is the obvious choice, given the platform upon which he plans to run. Speaking in "Christian-ese" in an interview on Right Wing News, he outlined a strategy as follows:
John Hawkins: If someone came up to you and said, “Sam Brownback, pick any three pieces of legislation you want, anything you want, to get them passed, what would they be?

Sam Brownback: My first would be on the life issue. We’d be getting legislation to protect young human life in the womb and from being researched on.

The second one, given the nature and the time that we’re in right now, would probably be that deficit reduction deal...that I mentioned to you. As to the rest of government we do need to get this budget balanced and get it centered back to where we need to get it.

And then there would probably be the decency legislation that’s pending now, increasing fines toward Hollywood, really trying to send a message into the culture that we need to clean up the culture.

I want to take back that one. I’d probably do a piece of immigration legislation instead of a decency one. I think that’s just a more important area -- the immigration. So it’d be a life, deficit reduction bill, and immigration.
However you spin it, he knows exactly what to say to get the religious right to listen. Of course, you have to throw in the abortion issue, not that I am not against abortion, I am more for the issue to be looked at a little more realistically. Possibly Brownback will do that.

You cannot be considered a credible politician if you don't say something about deficit reduction, so I'll give him that one, but the foible on decency legislation in Hollywood; that is laughable. That was purely to play to conservatives, because Hollywood is to blame for all the sin in America, right?

And the immigration legislation has been Dr. Richard Land's and the SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission's pet peeve for a long time. The article does not tell specifically what Sen. Brownback's position on the issue is; it will be interesting to see where it all leads.

pastordan at The Street Prophets wryly commented, "That giant sigh of relief you just heard came from James Dobson's office in Colorado Springs." Phew!


Monday, December 04, 2006

Pistol Packing Preacher Goes Down in Mayberry

Often when my creativity is at a standstill something likes this comes up to fill the void. You just cannot make this stuff up. According to a Friday, December 1st AP report, via The Christian Post, a North Carolina pastor brandished a gun as part of his sermon. What the membership of Victory Baptist Church did not know was that their pastor was convicted of drug trafficking and firearm possession in 1990.
MOUNT AIRY, N.C. (AP) - The pastor of a Mount Airy church accused of brandishing a gun as part of his sermon is free on bond after being charged with possession of a firearm by a felon.

Jerry Wayne "Dusty" Whitaker, 58, of Mount Airy, was convicted in Virginia in 1990 of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and possession of a firearm during drug trafficking.

Members of Whitaker's Victory Baptist Church say they had no knowledge of his criminal background. Whitaker told them he was a retired Virginia state police officer and a retired U.S. marshal who was injured in the line of duty, said Garry Scearce, trustee chairman at Victory Baptist.

Whitaker denies ever telling anyone he was a marshal, but said he worked as a police officer for six years in Montgomery County, Va.


Whitaker was arrested during church services Sunday. He was released Monday after posting a $20,000 bond.
The Street Prophets asked an appropriate question, "Do Baptists ever get tired of reading this kind of story about their pastors?"

Yes. We do. Or at least I do. Somehow the humor gets lost on me and I just don't laugh anymore.

Consider this story I posted a couple of days ago about another NC pastor using the church credit card to buy improprieties, as well as this one from a few months ago about a pastor using a church's credit card to pay personal bills. The rub there is he had resigned from that church over a year earlier.

It is too much the norm reading these kinds of stories in the news. Considering the preacher from Mt. Airy, it is wise and prudent that all search committees do a comprehensive background check on all prosepective pastors and staff; not to mention nursery and children's department workers (even the lay people). It is a sad commentary on our culture and religious environment that this is a necessity, but might I reiterate this sentence from the AP article: "Members of Whitaker's Victory Baptist Church say they had no knowledge of his criminal background."
Can churches afford such oversight? The legal repercussions are too high.


Thursday, November 30, 2006

Of Proselytizers and Moralists

I want to take this post to air my heart about something that I have found particularly troubling the last several weeks, nearly a month. If you have been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that I am a conservative Christian. I believe the Bible. I attempt to temper my knowledge of the Scriptures with humility, a little philosophy and logic, and a keen eye on historic Christianity. This is why I have began to become more than a little disenfranchised with the so-called religious right.

Conservatives have found themselves being very vocal on highly moral issues. Take for instance the consistent vitriol spewed by James Dobson and Richard Land against the homosexual community. Not to mention abortion, though I am adamantly against it, one must remember the fallen world we live in and that we can work to reduce the number of abortions but it will never be abolished altogether. Though I would desperately love to see that happen, this is not a perfect world and I think it would bode much better for the evangelical church to accept that sober fact.

If that were the case, the church could concentrate more on issues of compassion, things that I am convinced consumed much of Jesus’ time while he was here on this earth, rather than issues of morality. Though the church should be concerned with issues of morality, that is not all we should be concerned about. The reason why has been stated eloquently by John Stott in his book Christ the Controversialist. In the seventh chapter, Stott raises an important question about Christians’ responsibility in society, and he draws an applicable conclusion I think the “religious right” and all Christians need to think about.
“But proselytism and evangelism are not the same things. To proselytize is to convert somebody else to our opinions and culture, and to squeeze him into our mould; to evangelize is to proclaim God’s good news about Jesus Christ to the end that people will believe in Him, find life in Him and ultimately be conformed to His image, not ours. The motive behind proselytism is concern for the spread of our own little empire; the concern for evangelism is concern for the true welfare of men and thereby for the name, kingdom, will, and glory of God” [emphasis mine].
The church, the “religious right,” all have gone the way of the moralist, of the proselytizer. Too many Christians think like moralists, that a person should be good, or rather that they should conform to our image, an image that does not offend us nor cause us to expend any energy on them. Because if we did expend any energy, then that might actually make us true disciples, then wouldn’t it?

Jesus said, and you can correct me if I’m getting my Bible wrong, “Go therefore and make disciples.” Honestly, I don’t think the church is in the disciple making business anymore; we are in the moralist making business. You may think I am making a pretty hefty claim. Take this for instance.

Our little Podunk newspaper will occasionally print an AP news item, to confirm that they really are a big-league paper of sorts, and after reading the Wednesday edition, I was throttled; President-Elect of Christian Coalition Declines the Job. The reason he declined the position is telling.
"I wanted to expand the issues from only moral ones—such as opposing abortion and redefining marriage—to include compassion issues such as poverty, justice, and creation care," Hunter said in a statement. "We need to care as much for the vulnerable outside the womb as inside the womb." Hunter went on to say, “These are issues Jesus would want us to care about.”
This organization that carries the name Christian would not allow Dr. Joel Hunter, pastor of Northland Church in Longwood, FL, to expand its agenda beyond opposing abortion and gay marriage. Dr. Hunter then stated that the Coalition’s board decided that his view on these things were fine, but that is not who we are. Obviously then, they are just merely political, not that they were not anyway, and are more concerned with promoting their own little empire than the welfare of men.

I made a comment to a guest on my blog a couple of days ago, and I think it bears repeating.
“I guess my point would be that churches have a reputation just like individual people do. Churches sometimes resemble, at least to me, a bunch of teenagers congregating in the hallways at school, each one trying to impress the other, wearing similar clothes, talking in the same vernacular.

When a young person is different, or even odd perhaps, then he is shunned. When you have a true, radical follower of Christ, someone who loves like He loves, sacrifices like He sacrifices, gives like He gives, then that one is shunned. Why? Because he is different from the rest. We say we love like He loves, give, share, sacrifice, etc. But the fact is we don't. And it is rare to find a church, or individual believer that isn't so self-absorbed that these things really matter.

But when you can denounce and decry every going immoral behavior, then you're on to something. You got your popularity to back you up and several other "believers" behind you who "believe" the same way you do. Easily quantifiable and a popularity booster. Do we ever really ask why Christ was so popular? It was not for the same reasons.

Church is more like being like everyone else than being like Jesus. Jesus was certainly a free thinker, a deep thinker; one unafraid to counter the culture, even at the expense of destroying His own popularity.”
Dr. Hunter is different, cut from a different mold. He is a Christian that actually cares about his fellow man and not the promotion of his own agenda. Do I think that the church should decry immoral behavior? Call sin, sin? Absolutely. But as they do I think it is absolutely devoid of the love of Christ. They have gone the way of the moralist, the proselytizer.

What irritates me about this is that there are no other voices out there speaking up for those who cannot defend themselves, and then when somebody does, they are castigated like they have done something wrong and for not conforming to the popular image of righteous Christianity. Is it not at all revealing that Dr. Hunter chose to step down? Perhaps he saw it as a fight not worth fighting.

Why are all the “official” talking heads of Christianity not speaking out on the tough issues, issues that matter for human survival? Another recent AP report stated that last year four out of ten babies are born out of wedlock. What an enormous opportunity to show the love and grace of Christ to someone who desperately needs to know it, yet the church cannot get up off its sanctimonious posterior and stop finger-wagging long enough to notice that a young girl down the street desperately needs to know that someone loves her.

The Associated Press concluded the story about Dr. Hunter’s resignation as a “set back” for the once-powerful group. You will forgive me a little chuckle on that one; the poetic justice there is just too ironic.

The church I serve is involved each year in a joint Thanksgiving service. We join with two other Baptist churches, a Methodist, and a Presbyterian. Two years ago I was invited to preach and it was the Methodist church’s turn to be the host church. As Brother Don and I made plans for the service, he decided that we would simply worship and in lieu of enjoying refreshments after the service, we would receive an offering for world hunger. I told him I was fine with his decision though a little trepidacious because I anticipated the outcry that we wouldn’t “fellowship.” I prepared an appropriate message from 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, “Putting the Giving Back into Thanksgiving.” The core verse was verse fifteen, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!”

The next year, at the same annual service, it was at one of the Baptist churches. We received an offering for the local cancer society; we had refreshments after the service (at one of the Baptist churches, mind you). This year, the same happened. This question is not rhetorical; are we missing the point?


Links: CNN, The Roanoke Times

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

President Bush is a Liberal?

Or at least that's what a recent Baylor study says.
According to his [Paul Froese, assistant professor of sociology], released Oct. 25, 40 percent of evangelicals who support George W. Bush actually emerged as “liberal” on economic issues, specifically in beliefs about wealth distribution and economic justice.
I'm not sure I really know what that means...The study also revealed some other strange notions, especially in conservative circles. 76 percent of evangelicals believe the government should do more to protect the environment. This is one where conservatives have typically been on the wrong side. 74 percent of evangelicals believe it is “very important” to seek social and economic justice; yet again, there is no conservative voice where these issues are concerned.

This quote really caught my eye:
Conversely, some voters not classified as evangelicals revealed surprising opinions on some traditionally “liberal” causes. According to Baylor researchers, 61 percent of “nonevangelicals” think religious groups should be allowed to display religious symbols in public spaces. And a whopping 64 percent of nonevangelicals think the government should allow prayer in public schools.
Politicos nationwide would do well to take note of the twist in voter consciousness,Byron Johnson, co-director of the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion, said in the report, “Such findings should not go unnoticed by Republican officials,” he said.
The mid-term elections didn't really do the trick so maybe this study will. And this story is just plain tragic. Ridculously, the ABP ran this story with a link on the sidebar on their website; NC Pastor Spent Church Money on Viagra. The full story documents this pastor's reprehensible behavior and the ED issue is addressed in only a minor key: "Walker used his church's credit card to pay for erectile dysfunction medication..." Talk about integrity in journalism.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Dr. Dobson Said What?

Dr. James Dobson was a guest on Larry King Live this past Thanksgiving eve. The interview was a farcical embarrassment on both sides and several fellow bloggers have already picked apart the interview. I share Spunky’s incredulity about Larry King’s ignorance regarding basic American history. He is not alone in believing that the separation of church and state is somewhere in the Constitution when in fact it is not a Constitutional provision. The phrase is found in an obscure letter written by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut in 1802 in response to an appeal that their religious liberties were not seen as immutable rights by their local legislature.

Larry King could only reply, “I'm going to check my history.” Good idea, Larry.

Crooks and Liars uncovered Dr. Dobson’s shamelessness in bailing out on Ted Haggard after promising to assist in the restoration process, whatever that means.
Dr. Dobson said, “…three men, now will oversee discipline punishment—if there is any, therapy, his behavior, his money, his future and will lead him if he is willing to cooperate, and apparently he is—through a restoration process. "
And Streak, always challenging and insightful, pointed out that with friends like those you don’t need enemies. I have to agree there.
Dr. Dobson said, “I talked to him the day that the news broke and I have not talked to him since then.”
Ouch. And Larry King even said that Haggard and Dobson were close friends.

My intrigue was stepped up after having read the full transcript of the interview, and in light of the recent conversation I was involved in over at Les’ blog, I found that Dr. Dobson has a somewhat confusing view on the origin of homosexuality. As if arguing coherently against homosexuality as genetic predisposition is not difficult enough, Dr. Dobson proposes that it may be related to very early childhood development.
DOBSON: I don't believe that. Neither do I believe it's genetic. I said that...

KING: Then what is it?

DOBSON: I said that on your program one time and both of us got a lot of mail for it. I don't blame homosexuals for being angry when people say they've made a choice to be gay because they don't.

It usually comes out of very, very early childhood, and this is very controversial, but this is what I believe and many other people believe, that is has to do with an identity crisis that occurs to early to remember it, where a boy is born with an attachment to his mother and she is everything to him for about 18 months, and between 18 months and five years, he needs to detach from her and to reattach to his father.

It's a very important developmental task and if his dad is gone or abusive or disinterested or maybe there's just not a good fit there. What's he going to do? He remains bonded to his mother and...
At this point, Larry interrupts with another question.

Conservative Christians are suffering from a major disconnect when it comes to ministering to those with same-sex attractions and Dr. Dobson has not bridged that divide, and if anything he has widened that gap considerably with his consistent bromides against the homosexual community. I am not an expert in psychology and I don’t think you need a Ph.D. in the discipline to understand that most folks don’t remember anything from when they were eighteen months old, even up to as late as three years old. I am not as erudite as Dr. Dobson, but my earliest childhood memories are about four years old, and those are scant and unreliable at best.

However, is it just me or do most psychologists try to blame every aberrant behavior in a person’s life to a dysfunction in their early childhood years? The fact is that most homosexuals do not attribute their homosexuality to a maladjusted home life, though some do. My personal experience with ministering to those with same-sex attractions has shown that it is a chosen tendency and has nothing to do with heredity.

Clinical studies can oftentimes be slanted to reflect the observer’s particular bias and results are often skewed to prove the point that is sought.
Dr. Dobson said, “It usually comes out of very, very early childhood, and this is very controversial, but this is what I believe and many other people believe, that i[t] has to do with an identity crisis that occurs [too] early to remember” [emphasis mine].
Again, I am not a Ph.D. in psychology, but aren’t clinical studies meant to prove the basic behavior being tested in the clinical subjects and are not meant to be taken as universal proof? I have scoured Dr. Dobson’s website and can find nothing further explaining this “controversial view.” If anyone out there can direct me to this source I would be grateful.

In dealing with homosexual behavior, it is due to a multiplicity of reasons. Just as alcoholics and drug addicts tend to beget alcoholics and drug addicts, so those parents with gay proclivities sometimes beget children with gay proclivities. As the Bible teaches, sin tends to be generational (Exodus 34:7). Occasionally it is due to sordid home lives. Most often it is due to a choice, which the Bible teaches that it is a choice. It seems however, that an attachment problem at eighteen months of age or thereabouts would be even more difficult to document with substantial proof. In addition, conclusive evidence has yet to be presented proving that homosexual tendencies are due to a “gay” gene. Moreover, labeling homosexuality as an attachment problem doesn’t seem to stand up to the biblical evidence either.

A plain and simple point I tried to make at Les’ blog was that homosexuality is a choice. Because if homosexuality is reduced to a genetic predisposition or as Dr. Dobson claims, an attachment problem at about eighteen months, where he himself asserts, “I don't blame homosexuals for being angry when people say they've made a choice to be gay because they don't,” it erases responsibility before God and that person is in their mind no longer accountable to God for his sin.

Don Schmierer is a Christian counselor with forty years of experience and has written a useful book entitled, An Ounce of Prevention. He says this about genetic predisposition (pp.59-60):
"Homosexual feelings are developed by a complex group of circumstances in life, set up over a period of time from birth to one’s early years. Later in life, these feelings play a role in choices one makes involving sexual relations with others. Because all sexual behavior is learned behavior, a person may be inclined, because of feelings, to homosexual behavior. The choice may, in addition, be motivated by social rejection, physical or emotional disabilities, hormonal imbalances, sexual abuse, or poor role modeling. Just as people with a tendency for alcoholism must be responsible for their drinking choices, so people with a tendency toward homosexual behavior should be responsible for their sexual choices" [emphasis mine].
Dr. Dobson did redeem himself somewhat when he stated, " usually is related to a sexual identity crisis."

Though we must always emphasize Christian love and respect for all people, most Christians are woefully inadequate at expressing the same love they have been shown to those who deal with same-sex attractions. Is the key establishing that homosexuality is not an inborn trait? I don’t think so. Though it is important, I think it comes down to establishing that sin is an inborn trait, and homosexuality like all other sins, can be forgiven and through the same blood that cleanses from sin, so healing and restoration can be found.

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin my mother did conceive me. Psalm 51:5

Friday, November 24, 2006

A Blogosphere-wide Word of Gratitude to Les Puryear

In a spirit of thanksgiving, I want to extend a word of heartfelt gratitude to Les Puryear over at Crucified with Christ. Earlier this week, I proposed that he host a discussion on homosexuality after he had posted briefly on a resolution offered by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina and their stance on the issue in light of current events. The argument defending homosexuality as permissive based on genetic predisposition has always intrigued me. Moreover, I have been evaluating holding a more Reformed theology, and from a Calvinist perspective I felt it would be a worthwhile discussion.

Les was amenable, and so he made an initial post and off we went. He served as an able moderator as he, Debbie Kaufmann, Big Daddy Weave, volfan007, Streak, and I exchanged volleys. There are at last count, 76 comments in the thread, and we finally had to call it quits (or at least I did).

I think we all agreed that homosexuality is a morally impermissible lifestyle and that it is not genetically predisposed. However, there was a fairly vehement argument regarding our understandings of God's sovereignty, and Les proved an able defender of "evangelical Calvinism," as he calls it.

As always in threads that length, there were concerns that went without address, questions unanswered, arguments poorly presented, (mostly mine), and interpretations questioned (to put it mildly). The debate was spirited and was not without apologies shared. With as many different viewpoints as were represented, you would know there would have to be!

Once again, Les, thanks. You are as I've said before, top drawer in my book. May you be especially blessed and may your ministry grow into its fullness, a blessing unto our great God and heavenly Father, to the praise and glory of His only begotten Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Heartless Gratitude

I read ahead somewhat in the Our Daily Bread devotional for this quarter and out of curiosity I looked at Thanksgiving Day’s entry. After reading it and digesting it for a minute, I came to the conclusion that I disagreed with the main point the writer was trying to say. The writer shared the thoughts of a Washington Post columnist saying that most holidays had been corrupted by American commercialism and with that I agree. When you think that last year we frugal Americans spent around $38 billion dollars on Christmas, the conclusion can readily be drawn that yes, some holidays have become corrupted. In 2004 we spent roughly $10.47 billion just on Easter baskets.

However, the ODB writer led into a remark that the Washington Post columnist made about Thanksgiving. He said, “Thanksgiving Day has retained its intended purpose. This is a very rare day. It is wholly and entirely about gratitude.” In a sense the columnist is right. Thanksgiving probably is the only holiday where we have not really lost our focus on what the holiday is about. However, this is where I disagree with the ODB writer. Christians probably have not corrupted Thanksgiving as much as the other Christian holidays, except maybe that we celebrate gluttony on that day more than any other as one more spoonful of creamed potatoes is ladled onto the plate. I think where we probably fall short is the underlying heart attitude.

As a whole, Christians tend to be a giving lot. Occasionally at the church I serve, we fail to meet weekly budget needs. However, in a couple of short weeks the shortfall is made up. If the church did not meet weekly budget, for at least two years it probably would make no difference, given there is enough in the treasury to financially support the church for that length of time.

I am persuaded that Christians give--and they tend to give liberally; but not always from the right heart. This is what I see. We as a culture, as Americans, have become so blessed, that we think that if we do not have this certain lifestyle, then we just cannot make it. We see giving not as a joy and an opportunity to help someone less fortunate than us but rather as a duty or an obligation. One irritated church member once quipped because the church had had a plethora of benevolence requests one year, "It feels like I have to pay to go to church these days."

This is something else I see. We mistakenly believe that if I have given money, then my duty has been fulfilled. Money is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. It begins with finances; it culminates in time, resources, talents, and gifts. Nowhere does the New Testament teach that giving should be a compulsion; it flows out of a heart of love for Christ in that He gave His best for me then I also will give my best for Him. Money is the easiest thing we can give, yet it also comes at a great sacrifice (at times) that to give it we believe that we have done what God expects of us; that and nothing more.


2 Corinthians 9:15: "Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!" Seldom do Christians see that their blessedness is bestowed upon them not to be a blessing unto others but for the sake of the blessing itself.
"For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened." (Mark 6:52)
The word hardened means calloused, to be covered with a thick skin. I worked for a time at a little restaurant and the man whom I worked for shared with me about another man who worked for him years ago whose hands were so tough he could reach into a 350 degree oven and pull out the pan without getting burned. Something that a normal person would be very sensitive to, he was not. I could not reach into an oven that hot and pull out a pan without really burning my hands. Yet some Christians’ hearts are just that hard, that the things that they ought to feel, they do not.

We give, oh yes, and we give liberally. We above all people in the world have reason to be thankful; yet more often than not we give begrudgingly. And the bottom line is this; when you sit down to eat Thanksgiving dinner, you will not sit down hungry. Why—because the miracle of the five loaves and two fishes are yours. Jesus has already worked that miracle for you. Just don't let God's gracious provision for you obscure the ideal that He looks toward in how you use that abundance.

When you live in the land of plenty you don’t hurt for others who are in need. May we this Thanksgiving be reminded that we above all people in the world are especially blessed and that we can help others who need it.

To all my patient readers, Happy Thanksgiving. May God bless you and may you in turn give that blessing unto another.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Discussion about Homosexuality

Is homosexuality genetically predisposed, or a sin? Go over to Les Puryear's blog to see if we can all come to a consensus on this hot-button issue. Doubtful, but the discussion is edifying.


Saturday, November 18, 2006

Yet Another Reason... consider homeschooling your children. This is typical of the gay and homosexual propaganda and their efforts to indoctrinate our children with the view that homosexuality is a morally permissible lifestyle. A Friday, November 17th Baptist Press article chronicled how a young mother attempted to express her disgust with a particular library book that her five year-old daughter brought home for her to read, checked out from the elementary school library. The book is another sordid attempt to correlate relationships in the animal kingdom with that of the homosexual lifestyle and that simply because it is OK for animals to act this way then it necessarily follows that it must be OK for humans to participate in this behavior as well. Does anybody else see something wrong with this line of thinking? Does it not at least raise an eyebrow that in order to defend their position on homosexuality, they must resort to emulating animals?

There are a lot of things that animals do that I do not recommend that we as humans should follow suit. Many animals eat their young! The superintendent of education in the St. Louis, MO suburb of Shiloh, IL, Jennifer Filyaw, cunningly said,
"My feeling is that a library is to serve an entire population. It means you represent different families in a society -- different religions, different beliefs. That's the role of a school library."
The young mother, Lilly Del Pinto, attempted to speak with the school librarian and her daughter's teacher regarding the book but was promptly directed to Superintendent Filyaw. To me, this audibly speaks that there is an agenda behind this book remaining on the shelves. If the mother came to the teacher with a concern about Charlotte's Web or a Sandra Boynton board book, I do not think she would have been so quickly referred. In response Filyaw said,
And Tango Makes Three will stay put -- at the advice of the district's attorney, who says moving it might be legally challengeable censorship.
Again, a patent display of a pro-homosexual agenda in which legal means must be resorted to rather than good common sense to defend their views. The book's promotion of homosexuality is blatantly obvious, even from reading Amazon's summary of the book's message.
This tale [is] based on a true story about a charming penguin family living in New York City's Central Park Zoo will capture the hearts of penguin lovers everywhere. Roy and Silo, two male penguins, are "a little bit different." They cuddle and share a nest like the other penguin couples, and when all the others start hatching eggs, they want to be parents, too. Determined and hopeful, they bring an egg-shaped rock back to their nest and proceed to start caring for it. They have little luck, until a watchful zookeeper decides they deserve a chance at having their own family and gives them an egg in need of nurturing. The dedicated and enthusiastic fathers do a great job of hatching their funny and adorable daughter, and the three can still be seen at the zoo today.
Tango is fairly insidious in its approach, and espouses a false innocence. The pictures are warmly drawn, with eye-catching, cutesy penguins, surrounded by soft water colors. The layout would be perfectly appealing to an innocent child, expecting just a simple story about a few comical penguins. Del Pinto, though not definitive in her view of homosexuality, agreed that to remove the book would probably amount to censorship. She did however express my sentiment regarding the homosexuality issue,
"Of course, we know the kids eventually are going to learn about the homosexual lifestyle," she said. “That's not the issue. Please let us decide when our kids are ready. Please let us parent our kids."
Books are an invaluable resource in the life of a learning child as well as your local library. My wife and I carefully screen every book our daughters read, especially our oldest now that she devours chapter books faster than we can provide them. Books such as Tango are becoming more and more prolific, and provide just one more reason, parents, why you need to carefully consider what the public school system is intentionally doing to your children.


Friday, November 17, 2006

Back in the Saddle...Soon

Dear readers,

Apologies to all for the lack of writing lately. It seems that has been the case in several of my cyber-friends' blogs as well. After my brother's graduation from basic training and we made it back to Virginia soil, one thing led to another in ministry, as it often goes, and my time quickly flittered away. I also have taken the chair of our associational missions committee and we have hit the ground running. I wish I had known how much work would have been involved in the work of that committee! Though it poses a great responsibility, I am excited about being involved on an active, worthwhile committee for once.

Plus, I have not been 100% healthy, as neither has my wife, and all my children have runny noses, they're hacking, coughing, and sputtering. I took my youngest to the doctor this morning for an ear infection (ten days of antibiotics; yippee!).

I have been working on a new post in the Metaphors of the Church series and I hope to have it up soon, maybe by the beginning of next week. Please say a prayer for our family; we would certainly appreciate it. In the meantime, if you have a prayer concern, please feel free to let me know. I would love to pray for you. Feel free to email me directly using the link on the sidebar. I will respond!

Blessings multiplied,