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Monthly Archives: July 2008

Wanting More


A lot of people suffer disappointment with God when they encounter some kind of trauma: death of a loved one, terminal illness, horrific abuse, or a terrible accident. Nothing like that has ever happened to me. I’m not so much disappointed as discontent. I can’t help thinking that the Christian life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I’m not sure why. Let me give some examples.

The church I attend is very good. We have ministries that extend help to the homeless, food to the hungry, and good counsel to the perplexed. We pray for the sick. We give generously to similar efforts in other countries. Our church has grown because it attracts people to the faith and attracts believers. We have two thriving programs that attract people to the faith.

One of those programs is called Alpha. It is a non-threatening introduction to the Christian faith that originated in England. Those who attend hear the gospel presented in clear, easy-to-understand terms. Many become followers of Jesus, and some of those begin attending our church and becoming involved in it. A good number of our new members have come from Alpha.

The other program is called Celebrate Recovery. It has its roots in the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous, but this program was developed at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in California. The program has been very effective in helping people overcome various forms of addiction, from drugs and alcohol to pornography and life-controlling obsessive behaviors. Again, several of those who have attended have made their way into the life of the church.

Both of these programs have produced excellent results. Their aim is not to make our church grow but to help people. Growth has been an ancillary result. From the perspective of our church, they have helped us fulfill our mission and grow. From the perspectives of participants, they have helped them come to Christ and overcome life-controlling habits. Good news all around.

Yet when I consider the need within the community, I realize that our church is barely making a dent. I do not see the rapid cultural transformation that was characteristic of the church in the first and second centuries. I do not see the growth Jesus himself talked of when he said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.” If the kingdom of heaven really is as powerful and effective as Jesus says, then why hasn’t it transformed our communities? Why does its growth seem so piecemeal instead of exponential?

On a more personal level I see the same process in operation. We pray for the sick, and often they feel better for a while. We pray for those oppressed by Satan, and they sometimes turn from self-destructive behaviors for a while. Why don’t the sick simply recover? Why don’t the lame walk? Why don’t the blind see? Why don’t those oppressed by Satan become such victors that they begin delivering others themselves?

I am dissatisfied with what I get because it is not more. In fact, it’s barely enough.

I know all the answers. I know that miracles require faith, which is often in short supply in our mechanistically inclined culture. I know that what I desire requires spending everything. The kingdom of heaven is like a man who found buried treasure in a field. He buried it again and in his joy went and sold everything he had and bought that field. What if the treasure turns out to be a few bits of rusty metal and old buttons with a few genuine coins thrown in? What if it’s always a bit less than you hoped for? What if it’s enough but never an abundance? Does that sound like what Jesus promised?

Of course, I’m not talking about eternal life. I’m talking about God’s present blessing. Perhaps eternity should be enough for me. Perhaps I suffer from temporal myopia. Perhaps I should just repent of grumbling and get back to work.

I want more than just okay.


Ungrammatical Worship


Bad grammar bothers me. I can’t help it; it just does. Whether it’s friends asking me to “borrow” them a book or a newspaper article that confounds lay and lie, bad grammar irks me. Still, I usually content myself with a muttered correction and go on.

On Sundays when I worship, I like to be caught up in the contemplation of God. I like to sing with the rest of the congregation and let my spirit take flight. Then I’m suddenly confronted with a phrase like this one:

The beauty of Your majesty awakes my heart to sing

Leaving aside the question of whether awake ought to be a verb or a modifier, if it is a verb, it certainly ought to be intransitive, and it ought to describe the action of  the thing that awakes not of the thing that does the awakening. It ought to be:

The beauty of your majesty awakens my heart to sing


My heart awakes to sing because of the beauty of your majesty

Of course, neither of these lines scans with the rest of the song.

Don’t get me wrong. I really like this song. I like its focus on God and its overall singability. But that one line bugs me, and I can’t help thinking that it should have bugged the songwriter too.

Soon after we moved on to the next song. It was Father, You’re Glorious by Johnathan Stockstill. This song brought me up short with:

Nothing can or ever will come between the love we share.

“…and what?” I thought. The preposition between always takes a pair of objects: “Between a rock and a hard place;” “between you and me.” Even “between us” or “between friends” implies a pair; if their were more, it would be “among friends.” Again the meaning is plain. It should be:

Nothing can or ever will come between us in the love we share.

Am I the only one bothered by this playing fast and loose with grammar? I don’t know which is more charitable: to suppose that the songwriters don’t know or to suppose that they don’t care. Ignorance is perhaps more pardonable than carelessness, but I can’t help feeling once again that Christians are touchy-feely anti-intellectual backwoods barbarians. In short, supposing them ignorant makes me embarassed to count myself a Christian.

So I guess I need to go pray for humility.


Getting Satire


Satire is not hard to understand. The New Yorker cover depicting Barack Obama in full Muslim attire doing a fist bump with his wife, Michelle, in the Oval Office while an American flag burns in the fireplace—that is satire. The artist has brought together the most outrageous and calumnious rumors and lies from all the email forwards and political blogs on the Internet, exaggerated them, and held them up for all to see. The cover satirizes the lies people so easily and willingly believe. It does not satirize the Obamas.

Somehow this cover has had two unintended and opposite effects. On the one hand are Obama zealots who saw in the cover an attack on their beloved messiah. They accused the The New Yorker of racism and giving aid to the enemy. They were incensed to see Obama’s image tarnished again with the same slanders that have dogged him for much of his campaign. On the other hand are the very rumormongers who spread the vilification and forwarded the slanderous emails in the first place. They rejoiced to finally see their views validated in the elite press. Neither of these groups got the satire.

Just to get a quick idea of how many rumors there are about Obama, I searched for his name and found 40 entries. A similar search for McCain turned up only 19 entries. Some of the entries, of course, may deal with things that are true. But all of them, true or not, have been spread by email forwards, social networking sites, and private bloggers like me.

For some reason Obama has inspired twice as many rumors as McCain.

For those who still aren’t sure, here’s a short list to help set the record straight:

  1. Obama is not a closet Muslim. One (and perhaps the only) benefit of the whole mess with Rev. Jeremiah Wright was that it finally sank in that Obama attended a Christian church not a Muslim mosque.
  2. Barack Obama’s fist bump with Michelle was not a terrorist fist jab. It was more like PDA.
  3. Obama was not sworn into the Senate with his hand on a Qur’an. That was Congressman Keith Ellison, representing Minnesota’s 5th district, and the official swearing in does not use any books. Ellison used a Qur’an that once belonged to Thomas Jefferson for the photo-op of his swearing in.
  4. Obama is not the antichrist. Neither was Kissinger. Nor the Pope. Nor any of the other candidates who have been nominated for that role in the long history of religiously motivated slander. Saying that so-and-so is the antichrist or the devil incarnate or the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler is just another way of saying, “I disagree with so-and-so, but I would rather slander him than come up with rational arguments for my disagreement.” Remember what the Pharisees said about Jesus.

Obama is not a leftist ideologue. One of the criticisms levelled at him by many of his own party is that he is too centrist. The same criticism is being levelled at McCain by Republicans. It appears that both parties are set to nominate candidates that are closer to each other than they are to the extremists in their own parties. Maybe the next president, whoever he is, will actually bring some unity and bipartisan drive into American politics.