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In recognition of the recent Pew Research Center poll which indicated that 20% of Americans believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim, I decided to repost the following from May of last year.  Sorry for the rehash; just felt it was timely. 

On a recent drive from Texas to Broken Arrow, I made a “necessity stop” at a fast food restaurant in a small town in southeastern Oklahoma.  On the inside of the restroom door I noticed some graffiti.  It read, “Obama is a secret Muslim.”  My first reaction was one of being pleasantly surprised that the Sharpie-wielder did not inscribe any profanity, phone numbers, or inflammatory comments about the menu or service at the eating establishment.  I was further impressed by the lavatory tagger’s political consciousness, although he chose an extremely limited and remote forum in which to sound his alarm about Islamic subterfuge in our nation’s highest office.

Rumors and urban legends have abounded about President Barack Obama ever since he announced his candidacy back in February of 2007.  Earlier today, I Googled the phrase “Obama is a secret…”  As I was typing, a couple of prompts appeared with suggested endings.  One ending was “Muslim”; the other was “Jew.”  Wow!  A secret Muslim and a secret Jew!  Now, there’s a conspiracy for you!

But, let’s consider the allegation at face value, that a U.S. President who claims to be a Christian is actually a Muslim in disguise.  From what I have noticed about devotees of Islam, there is not a lot of stealth or subtlety in the practice of their faith: dietary and cleanliness regulations, five times of prayer each day, fasting during Ramadan, distinctive dress, Friday services at the mosque, etc.  It seems to me that a Muslim who hasn’t “outed” himself would not be much of a Muslim at all.

So, I’m not worried about President Obama being a secret Muslim.  But I do wonder how many “closet Christians” might be roaming the halls of government in Washington, our state legislatures, city halls, courthouses, shopping malls, and sports facilities.  You know who I am talking about: people who deep down make a claim to faith in Jesus Christ as the Divine Son of God and the only way of salvation but who never really reveal any evidence of those convictions through their speech, attitudes, and behavior.  I remember a question that my father asked during a sermon when I was a boy, “If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

Am I afraid of “secret Muslims?”  Not really.  Am I extremely concerned about “secret Christians?”  You bet!

Nashville was the first stop on our recent family vacation.  We drove 600 miles that day, checked into the hotel, freshened up, and then Kim and I headed downtown to the Ryman Auditorium for the Saturday night performance of the Grand Ole Opry.  No, I’m not a big fan of country music.  But I enjoy live music of just about any kind, and attending the Opry at the Ryman is a truly American cultural experience.  Hannah and I went to the Opry there in the fall of 2008, and Kim and I saw Mark Knopfler perform at the Ryman back in 2005.  It is just an amazing venue: built as the Union Gospel Tabernacle in 1892, long-time home of the Grand Ole Opry, status as “The Mother Church of Country Music,” site of N.B. Hardeman’s Tabernacle Sermons, hardwood floors, unpadded pews, stained glass windows, and a balcony. 

In addition to keeping country music lovers in touch with past generations of performers (Little Jimmy Dickens was there at the age of 89!), the Opry also provides a showcase for new talent.  The highlight of the evening’s show for me was a song performed by up-and-comer Teea Goans (pronounced TEE-uh GO-uhns).  “Letter from God” was written by Angela Kaset and Rob Crosby and appears on Goans’ debut album, “The Way I Remember It,” released earlier this year.  Goans has a beautiful voice, and she turned in a very moving performance of the song that night.

The song reminded me of the counseling exercise that I did a couple of years ago when I was asked to write a letter to God and also to pen a response from God back to me (Who God Wants Me to Be). 

I know that God has sent all of us a letter and that He has communicated His love and His will for our lives through His Word.  More than that, He sent Jesus as a Living Letter to our hearts. 

Still, I was quite taken by the song and moved by its message of hope and reassurance.  Click the hyper-linked title below to listen.  

Letter from God

Went to the mailbox in my pajamas
There was a letter with a funny postmark on it
No return address; junk mail, I guess
But I opened it anyway

It was written in a beautiful hand
Words so simple a child could understand
Almost spilled my coffee as the truth dawned on me
“Oh, my God” was all that I could say

And it said…

This is a letter from God
I know it’s out of the blue
But I’ve had my mind on you
I’ve seen you struggle lately
The way the world is goin’ crazy

And I felt you givin’ up
So I thought I’d get in touch
There’s not a moment you’re alone
I still love you like My own
I know there’s work to do
But I’ve got faith in you                                                                           
So please don’t give up on Me

Laid down my letter to catch my breath
The room was spinnin’ and I felt light in my head
But why would You write to me? 
What’s so special ’bout me 
I can’t heal this broken world and all its broken hearts

I kept on readin’ through a cloud of tears
Half from curiosity and half out of fear
It was like He knew me
He could see right through me
He wanted me to know how beautiful we are

And He said…

This is a letter from God
I love you all with all my might
Red and yellow, black and white 
And I need you more than ever
To bring My children back together

Just remember that it starts
With each and every person’s heart
We’ve been over this before
Feed the hungry, help the poor
Turn the other cheek, love your enemies
And, please, remember to forgive.

Then I woke up in a tangled bed
Tears on my pillow and those words in my head
A little confused, but with a new sense of hope
If He’s not givin’ up on us, then I sure won’t 

Thought I was doin’ pretty well
But I can do better
I might have been dreamin’ 
But I’m still believin’ 

… I got a letter from God

If you haven’t seen the following video, take 1:29 to watch it, and then just let it soak in for a few moments.

 

 

As I admitted in my last post, it is not unusual for me to be running a few months behind the cultural curve, and I apparently missed this when it went viral back in February.  It was produced by the Sussex Safer Roads Partnership in England.  The stated purpose of the organization on its website is “to make the roads of our country – and beyond – safer for all road users.”  If this commercial is representative of their efforts, I suspect they are having quite an impact on peoples’ minds, attitudes, and actions. 

It is simple, beautiful, powerful, pointed, frightening, convicting, and inspiring.  All that in a minute and a half!

It works on so many different levels.  Obviously, it makes its point extremely well about the importance of wearing seat belts.  But, it also evokes strong emotions about a family’s love and protective instincts for one another; the same kind of love and commitment that should exist in our spiritual family in the body of Christ.

If you are among the millions who will be hitting the road next Friday for the long Labor Day weekend, please don’t forget to buckle up. 

Embrace Life!    

I still haven’t seen Iron Man 2.  It is currently showing at the “cheap movie” theater not far from our house, but at this point I will probably just hold out until the film is released on dvd next month.  Since it has been nearly four months since the premier of Iron Man 2, the subject of this post is likely “old news” to many people, and it may have been exhaustively batted around the blogosphere back in May.  If so, I apologize for the redundancy.  It is not unusual for me to be running a few months/years behind the cultural curve.

In Iron Man 2, the character Ivan “Whiplash” Vanko played by Mickey Rourke says, “If you could make God bleed, people will cease to believe in him.”  I can only conjecture since I haven’t seen the movie, but I assume that the point of Vanko’s statement was that if he could expose some sort of weakness or vulnerability in Tony Stark/Iron Man, then the adulation from the masses would radically diminish.  If he could “make him bleed” and show his humanity, then the people’s confidence in him as a superhero would evaporate.  

If I totally missed Vanko’s point, you can let me know, or I’ll figure it out if and when I see the movie.  But, the statement is just so stark (no pun intended) that it is hard to miss the theological, Christological, and soteriological connections; translation: the God stuff, the Jesus stuff, and the salvation stuff.

“If you could make God bleed…”

“God is spirit…” (John 4:24)

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…” (John 1:1, 14)

“Although He existed in the form of God, He did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.”  (Philippians 2:6-7)

“Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same… He had to be made like His brethren in all things…” (Hebrews 2:14, 17)

“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, and will hand Him over to the Gentiles to mock, and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up.” (Matthew 20:18-19)

“They spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head.  After they had mocked Him, they took the scarlet robe off Him and put His own garments back on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him.”  (Matthew 27:30-31)

“But coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs.  But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.” (John 19:33-34)

“…people will cease to believe in him”

Indeed, The Enemy and the human enemies of Jesus succeeded in making God bleed.  But, to the end and result of disbelief?  Far from it!

“Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, “Truly this was the Son of God.” (Matthew 27:54)

“Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach here with your finger, and see My hands, and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.’  Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God.'” (John 20:27-28)

 “But we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”  (I Corinthians 1:23-24)

“Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver and gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.” (I Peter 1:18-19)

God bled!  We believe! 

"Leaning House" Near Rescue, Virginia

I wish that the photo above had some sort of virtual tour feature like auto manufacturers provide on their websites for 360 degree interior and exterior views of their new cars.  It would give you a sense of what surrounds this old house that sits on Smith’s Neck Road between the towns of Carrollton and Rescue in Tidewater Virginia.  We passed it several times a couple of weeks ago while visiting friends and vacationing in the area. 

The house, which appears not to have been occupied for quite some time, has developed a significant lean to the north.  It is not unusual to see old houses and barns begin to lose their structural stability and start displaying a preference for one direction or another.  But this house is quite different in that it only has so far to go before it finds some additional substantial support.  Over the years, seedlings have sprung up all around the house and have now grown into tall, mature trees.  On the north side in particular (the direction of the lean) there is a uniform row of four or five trees that appear to be only a few inches from the side of the house.  If the house progresses much farther in its compass-like point to the north, it will soon find a firm place to rest on the sturdy trunks of the trees. 

The sight of this house reminded me of the blessing that it is to have people in our lives upon whom we can lean in times of weakness, discouragement, doubt, confusion, and sorrow.   This emotional support sometimes comes from friends, family members, or from our spiritual family in the body of Christ.  Of course, these are all two-way streets; mutual relationships in which we have the opportunity to be there for others in their time of need.  

“Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) 

“Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.”  (Hebrews 12:12-13) 

“You just call on me, brother, when you need a hand.  We all need somebody to lean on.” (Bill Withers) 

One of the first two 45 rpm singles that I purchased when my parents bought a record player for my sister and me in 1972 was “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers.  Nearly forty years later, it remains one of my favorite tunes.  Hope you enjoy Withers’ performance of the song!

As a brief follow-up to my last post about the Prayer Menu at Captain Chuck-A-Muck’s, I wanted to share with you a practice that some of my friends regularly engage in when they are eating out at a full-service restaurant.  After the drinks have been ordered or brought to the table, they will say to the server, “My friends and I are going to be praying in just a minute and giving thanks for our food.  Is there anything that you would like for us to pray about for you?”  The question is brief, simple, and non-threatening.  Here’s the cool thing.  Every time the question has been asked, the server has responded with extreme gratitude and has shared one or more prayer requests with us.  No one has ever acted offended or insulted.  A brief conversation normally follows, and before we leave we assure them that we honored their request in prayer to the Father.   

Most recently this happened when my friend, fellow minister, and uber-evangelist Mike Crosby was visiting from Garland, Texas, to speak in our Wednesday Summer Series at the Broken Arrow church.  Since Mike was staying overnight, we had the opportunity to share two meals together while he was here.  At each meal, Mike asked the server if there was anything that they wanted us to pray about.  A young man asked us to pray for his mother who was under hospice care for cancer.  A young lady asked us to pray about a strained relationship in her life.  On both occasions I was able to give them a business card and let them know a little bit about the church.   

A small gesture to be sure, but one that can demonstrate genuine concern and compassion for others and provide an opportunity to speak a good word for Jesus.

Captain Chuck-A-Muck’s!  Now, that’s a great little seafood place!  It is located in the small town of Rescue, Virginia, and sits right on Jones Creek which flows into the James River.  You can drive to Chuck-A-Muck’s or travel by boat and tie up at the dock.   The menu is cleverly written; a sail covers the outdoor dining area; the restroom doors don’t have locks, but can be “tied off” with a rope to secure them.  Last Saturday night, my family and I ate there with our dear friends Bob and Allene Stoddert whom we have known for 22 years.  Bob and Allene live in nearby Smithfield, and we were blessed to spend last week in their home, enjoying sweet fellowship, visiting historical sites in the area, and spending some time at the beach.

The seafood at Captain Chuck-A-Muck’s was great, and the company was even better; but there was something else that added an unexpected blessing to our dining experience.  On each table was a Prayer Menu, the front of which bore an ichthus symbol.  The inside front cover of the Prayer Menu read as follows:

“At Chuck-A-Muck’s, we love all saints and sinners.  We are Baptist Christians and therefore like to bless our food before we eat.  Sometimes we forget to say our blessings when we go out to eat, or maybe sometimes people feel uncomfortable about it.  This little menu is just a reminder to give thanks, with a couple of different suggestions from our pastor.  If you are not a Christian, please do not take offense to this…we just feel that we have a lot to be thankful for in this great country, which is founded on these principles.”

On the opposite page there is a “menu” of seven prayer suggestions that patrons can use in giving thanks before their meal, including two specifically for children.  One of the general prayers reads:

“Lord, we pause for just a moment to thank you for all you do for us.  This meal is just a small indication of your love, and for it and much more we are grateful.  Mostly we thank you for sending Jesus to be our Savior.  May we always serve you faithfully.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.” 

In recent months, I have read interesting discussions on at least two blogs (thanks, Tim Archer and Bobby Ross!) about varying comfort levels and personal habits among Christians in offering thanks to God for meals when dining out. I really appreciated their insights and enjoyed reading the comments of others.  However, last Saturday at Captain Chuck-A-Muck’s was my first experience at an eating establishment that encouraged, facilitated, and intentionally created an “atmosphere of expectation” for the giving of thanks for our daily bread.  How amazingly refreshing!

Kudos to owners Chuck and Cris Lawrence for the openness of their faith and to their preacher, Jimmy Acree, for assisting them with the Prayer Menu.  We were going to pray anyway (and did), but our thanksgiving was made more memorable and special by the encouragement of the Prayer Menu.      

Bill Gates & Warren Buffett - Photo by Nati Harnik/AP

It was announced today that Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have enlisted an initial group of 40 billionaires who have pledged to give away at least half of their fortunes to charitable organizations and other philanthropic efforts.  According to the website for their new cause, The Giving Pledge is “an effort to invite the wealthiest individuals and families in America to commit to giving the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.”  In addition to Gates and Buffett, the inaugural group of 40 includes such high-profile individuals as Ted Turner, George Lucas, and Michael R. Bloomberg.  The website also includes personal “pledge letters” from the participants which provide interesting insights into their backgrounds, their motivation, and their commitment to use their wealth for the welfare of others. 

I have to say that I found the news of the The Giving Pledge to be very encouraging and inspiring.  With our national economy deeply hurting as a result of corporate greed, mismanagement, and executive officers with an insatiable desire for “more” (whether gained legally or illegally, ethically or not), it is refreshing to find those who are willing to lead the way in saying, “Others need my wealth and its benefits more than I do.”  Granted, none of these men and women and their families are going to be doing without.  There will be billions of dollars left to cover all of their needs and any imaginable desires.  Still, this was a choice that they made.  It isn’t being taxed out of them or coerced from them.  As stated by the organization, the pledges constitute a moral commitment, not a legal contract.  

This could have been called The Zaccheus Pledge.  After fulfilling his desire to see Jesus and encountering the power and presence of the Lord face to face, this chief tax collector pledged, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much,”  (Luke 19:1-10).  Though he made a substantial and sacrificial commitment, Zaccheus would have considered it a reasonable, fitting, and joyful response to the salvation that had come to him that day. 

Christ calls us to a life of generosity and freedom from enslavement to wealth and possessions.  The Jerusalem church beautifully demonstrated this spirit in their use of personal wealth for the common good, to the extent that needs were met and lives were blessed (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-37).  

“And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” (Hebrews 13:16) 

“Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.  Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.”  (I Timothy 6:17-19)  

An online poll on MSN.com this afternoon was asking the question, “If you were a billionaire, would you donate half your fortune to charity?”  83% of respondents had answered “Yes.”  It’s a pretty safe answer, given that there are only about 400 billionaires in our national population 310,000,000.  The real question is “What will I do with what I have?” 

It’s true that “from everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded.” (Luke 12:48) 

But, it’s also true that “the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.” (II Corinthians 8:12)

Thanks, Bill & Warren, for your inspiration!

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