Not alone

If you read my post on politics the other day and it made you mad, made you think, made you upset, you need to watch this video. If you were born between 1978 and 2000, you need to watch this video. And if you have kids born into this generation, you should watch it too:
If you think I’m the only one sick of broken, polarized two-party politics, unending wars, social and economic irresponsibility, and a selfish, greedy, consuming view of the world, watch this video…

A Christian's Perspective on What's Wrong with Christians

So yesterday’s post rankled a few visitors, and hopefully got some people thinking. Politics have never really been that interesting to me before say… 2001, but lately I find myself pretty passionate about what’s going on in the world. Here’s another thing I’ve found I’m pretty passionate about: what’s going on in the Christian world.
Politics aside, and the fact that the “Christian” right sometimes makes me a little ashamed to be associated with them, I’ve observed some pretty bizarre non-political Christian behavior in my time, and I think I’d finally like to say a couple things:
#1 – Church is for non-Christians. Church is also for Christians.
I’ve heard, and been a part of both sides of this argument. There is one camp who holds that church should be accessible to seekers, to people interested in finding out more about what we believe, so the weekend experience should cater to those folks — at the expense of everything else a church typically does. There’s another camp that believes church is some kind of holy huddle, where we should stick to our comfortable, and to the outsider, often bizarre little rituals, because those make us feel righteous.
The truth lies in the balance.
Church should be accessible to seekers. Guests should feel welcome walking into our meeting place, not intimidated. They should find things there that are familiar to them, and comfortable. Church should be culturally relevant, and the message should be offered in a way that the average person can understand and relate to.
However, to do so at the expense of the existing believer is foolish. Christ told us to go and make disciples — not converts. It is not enough to stop at milk — church needs to offer meat to those who are growing. Serving is not discipleship. Its an important part of becoming a disciple, but there is much more to a relationship with God then having the basics down and serving somewhere.
I realize this can be a difficult and expensive balance to find. How do you keep your message relevant to seekers, while guiding existing believers to new depths in their faith? The answer isn’t that hard, so I’ll give it to you:
The weekend is not enough.
It is not all about the weekend, its all about every single day of the week, walking in faith together with each other and with our savior.
How that takes shape is up to each church and each community, but you can’t stop at the basics, nor can you skip them. Maturity requires both.
#2 – Your church is not the Church.
Our pastor said it well this weekend: each church building, and each body of attendees is simply a localized expression of the Church. Your church and the people who attend it may prefer a traditional worship service with hymn books and wooden pews, and the community in which God has placed you may respond to that. Conversely, your church might want to worship with videos, moving lights, and arms waving to choruses led with electric guitar and drums. Neither church is right, neither is wrong.
God is interested in what’s in your heart. If, in your heart, Amazing Grace on a pipe organ is the most meaningful form of worship you know how to give, then its beautiful to Him. If, in your heart, rocking out to Kutless truly brings you closer to Him, then that’s beautiful too.
You have no right to go around and tell other churches that they’re wrong because you don’t like their music, or their worship style, or their failure to find meaning in some obscure punctuation in the book of Numbers. God is sufficiently equipped to dissolve any organization that He feels is not honoring to Him. Observe point number 1 and have the maturity to put the effectiveness of a given church above your own personal preference.
Here’s another interesting fact: your church contains members of God’s Church!
Each member of your church is uniquely made by God for a specific purpose, and as such, is a member of the global Church body that is His bride. Within your church are people who God has called to a specific ministry — and that ministry may not be something your church offers. When that happens you have two choices, church leaders:
1) Encourage them, disciple them, affirm them, support them and release them to do the work God laid on their hearts — whether its in your building or outside of it.
2) Get the heck out of their way.
Your local church has responsibilities and goals it needs to pursue, but if those responsibilities and goals preclude the possibility of an individual member of the body of Christ pursuing their God-given responsibilities or goals, then you have a serious problem with your organization. Your local church is not the Church. The Church is a world-wide phenomenon with God at it is head, and each of us as members of the body.
#3 – Get out of your church
Seriously, just shut up and go help someone. Us Christians love to feel important while we sit in our comfy buildings, and our like-minded communities, passing judgment on the world around us, but here’s an interesting fact: Nowhere in the Bible does Jesus instruct us to judge non-Christians. God reserves the right to judgment, because He knows that no matter how pious you are, there is horrible, ugly sin in your heart, and it precludes you from that job.
What Christ actually told us to do is to help the hurting, feed the hungry, speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. You can’t do any of those things locked up tight and safe in your nice-looking, mortgaged-to-the-hilt church buildings, or in your self-righteously separated-from-the-world homes. You’re going to have to get outside your Home Team, your Prayer Meeting and your Sunday Evening Hymn Sing, and actually demonstrate Christ’s love — with your hands, your feet, your money.
No, it is not enough to pay tithe on Sunday, and give a little extra offering to a missionary. That is relinquishing your responsibility to someone else — and its no wonder so many of us turn up our noses at people who’s world view is different than ours. We have no “world view” — we only ever see the inside of our sanctuary or our house.
Your local church is a great place to learn and to serve. It should also be a great place to bring your non-Christian friends. But its not “going.” Jesus said “Go and make disciples.” He didn’t say “stay where you’re comfortable and hope seekers stumble upon your meeting place.”
So many Christians rant about how they don’t like things in the world, but all they do is rant, and vote for the person ranting about the same things as them. We have, as a resource, the example of Christ, and letters written by people who walked with Him and who actually worked with Him. We should be the ones with answers to our society’s problems — not the ones causing those problems. And sometimes — most of the time, actually — the answer will be to shut-up, roll up your sleeves, and dig in next to the non-Christians around you who are trying to fix things.
These are not random ramblings. These are observations from our lives and experiences. Claiming Christ obviously doesn’t mean any of us claims to be perfect. But we could still do a lot more good if there were more of us in soup kitchens, on missions field, and in our world and our communities demonstrating God’s love in earnest, before we open our mouths or target people with our wrath and vitriol against the world.

A Christian perspective on what's wrong with the G.O.P.

I hear something like this all too often: I want to vote for the party (/candidate) who is most in-line with my values.
Putting aside the fact this is probably not true about either candidate — McCain is an awfully liberal Conservative, and Obama is a pretty conservative Liberal — what really bugs me, especially about the Christian view point, is that this ‘values based’ voting isn’t working.
As someone raised with Christian values, I can say definitively that the “values” espoused by the most recent Republican president were not similar at all to mine. Rather, it is the “party line” that claims to be Christian in nature.
What’s clear is that this party line does not necessarily produce a Christ-like result.
Here’s a tremendous example: Most evangelical Christians hold the belief that sex is for marriage. Because of that fact, Conservatives would prefer to teach abstinence-only sex education. We’ve had a Conservative in power in the States for 8 years now, who’s party holds firmly to that line.
What’s interesting is that the approach — the purported “value” — has failed to make any difference. Teenage pregnancy continues to soar, and in fact, is higher among evangelical Christians than any other religious group.
The value may be a good one, but the method of communicating it: fear, disinformation, threats… these things aren’t working. It turns out that a much better approach is to teach teenagers the reality of the decision — to teach them about the risk and responsibility that comes along with the act, so that they’re equipped to make the right decision.
You can’t teach a value without passing along the reasoning behind it — failing to do so makes the assumption that people are stupid and will follow blindly.
And this, I believe, is the central assumption in the Neo-Conservative movement. We, the people, are expected to blindly follow our government because they’ve claimed the moral high ground. Because their stated values are conservative, every decision they make must be equally righteous.
But they’re not. Liberals do a far better job teaching children about the risks involved in pre-marital sex. We may claim to have the better position, but the fact is, we’ve failed to communicate it. Similarily, we can claim to have the better position on abortion — surely killing babies is a horrific thing to have happen. But we can’t legislate it out of existence. Even if it were illegal, it would happen. Isn’t it much better to, as a certain candidate recently advocated, try to educate and protect people better so that no one ever has to be faced with that choice?
The reality is that voting Conservative does not guarantee that your values will be applied to your country. It guarantees that the candidate who claims to share those values will get to leverage his claimed moral high ground to back his decisions in the press, and on the world stage… but look where that’s gotten us…
Isn’t it better, then, to vote for someone who will put into place a process which will result in your values being applied? If your goal is to see less teen pregnancy, maybe its not better to vote for the gal who says “pre-marital sex leads to damnation… and by the way, you’re not allowed to ask me any questions about my unmarried teenage daughter who is pregnant, because that’s private.” Maybe its better to vote for the guy who teaches his children “teen pregnancy has the following observable and detrimental results…”
Burying sin underneath a facade of moral values doesn’t do anything to improve the state we’re in. Burying greed underneath a facade of (self-)righteous capitalism doesn’t do anything to fix the economy. Starting oil wars while claiming you’re on a mission from God doesn’t do anything to communicate the love of Christ. And espousing hatred and fear at your political rallies because you like your voters ignorant and afraid won’t fix a nation on its knees.
God gave us brains — they’re a special gift from Him that allows us to reason, understand and discern — that we can use to teach other. God gave us His Word because it contains the best plan for His kids. Everything He asks of us makes sense. We don’t need to follow it out of fear or out of a desire to be holier than those other guys. We should follow it, share its principles and apply them to our government because they make sense. Doing so does not require everyone to believe the same thing as us — but we sure could share it a lot better if we didn’t push everyone into one of two obscenely polarized camps.
The New Yorker has an excellent article full of some of the sad facts behind this rant: that we, as evangelical Christians have, at best, failed to impact the world with our values… at worst we’ve become pharisees: talking a righteous talk, judging everyone around us, but forgetting the message and not doing a lick of good for the world we’re in.

Our house… in the middle of our street

Well I tried to find before pictures. but came up a little short. I wanted to show how bad the roof and the garage looked, but neither of these pictures really do it justice. In short, the roof was in really bad shape along the valleys, and had been partially replaced with an ugly, mis-matched section of shingles. The garage door, as I mentioned before, was dreadful, and the front door matched. Here’s the pics, hopefully you can get an idea of the “before.”

In the past two weeks we’ve:

  • Re-painted the garage door
  • Re-painted the front door
  • Got the driveway sealed
  • Got the roof re-done

Those latter two we paid someone to do, but I’m happy with what we got for our money. The roof, in particular, is not something I would have been comfortable trying — even with a good crew of helpers. This afternoon, I washed both cars, putting the little car away for the winter, cleaned up the scraps from the roofing operation, and raked the lawn, leaving our house looking significantly different than when we moved in…

There are a couple things yet to be done by winter — we have one wooden window that needs to be re-painted and checked for a proper seal, and I want to paint a decorative bit on the front door. If I’m feeling really ambitious and the weather holds, I’ll do the trim around the garage and front door in a sharp white to make it all look at little cleaner.
Regardless, I’m very proud of our little house. This winter we’ll do a little work in-doors, and next summer we’ll tackle the backyard…

Congratulations Chad and Leah!

Another New York baby has arrived, this one born with a serious heart defect. Chad and Leah and the doctors have known about it for awhile, but the birth of Eliana has kicked off a truly unimaginable week, as their new born child went straight into NICU.
The big surgery was yesterday, and was clearly a heart wrenching day for their family, but I gather that it was a success.
Eli is a beautiful baby girl, born to two parents who love God and have felt His sustaining grace over the past few days. We’re so happy for their whole family.
Chad’s blog is here, and he’s got Twitter too, so you can read their whole story.

Happy Birthday jonandnic dot com!

Today (roughly) marks the beginning of the 8th year of this website. From its humble beginnings as a database of wedding invitees and running journal, driven by a SQL Server 7.0 databse, to its now-familiar state, has been our only truly permanent home for most of our marriage.
Things change, most of my tinkering time goes into an actual home now, and having a blog isn’t that unusual a concept anymore (I remember when no one knew what a “blog” was!) but our little corner of the web is still a wonderful history book of our lives together…

Kid Vids

Away for a wedding this weekend, so here are some videos to watch…
It may be an odd-looking shuffle, but you’d be surprised at how fast she can get around!
Abi would very much like Ben to give her his bottle. Ben would very much like Abi to give him all her toys — he outgrew the “Ocean Wonders Playset (from Hell)” months ago, but now that its hers, he wants it back!

Furious about blue jeans

Yesterday I went shopping for jeans. All of mine have holes in them, so it was time for a new pair. I hit a couple malls, and went from store to store, trying to find a pair that weren’t ugly, or crazy expensive. Mind you, my idea of “crazy expensive” is more than $50. When I went into Jean Machine, or some such store, I turned over a price tag, and nearly puked right on the spot: $119.95 for a pair of jeans!
Who in their right mind, would ever pay $120 (plus tax!) for a pair of jeans? What is wrong with our society when pre-faded blue jeans, which likely cost around $5 to manufacture, actually sell for over $100?! Seriously, do people realize that for the price of 3 pairs of these blue jeans, you could fly to Paris and back?
And its not like these are dress clothes, or something nice you’d need for a wedding — these are casual clothes for every day life. I can’t fathom ever spending $120 on an entire outfit, let alone the part of it you put on your butt! Where are your priorities if you go out and spend that kind of money on jeans?!
Let me suggest some other things people could do for the price of 3 pairs of blue jeans (plus tax):

I solemnly swear, before the whole Internets, that if either of our children ever ask for $120 for blue jeans, I will tan their hide and stick them on a plane to Bangladesh for a week so fast their heads will spin…