Friday, June 18, 2010

Life Down The Toilet

Not a pretty thought, is it?  But, how many times have we reached points in our lives when we felt like our life was in the tank?  We all know that life has its ups and downs, its peaks and valleys.  I've come to decide that I am content when life is "boring", because it's the roller coaster ride that is so hard!

Focusing on the "downs" or "valleys", how often do we stay stuck ... by our own doing?  It makes me think of a news story a while ago of a Frenchman who got his arm stuck in a train toilet after dropping his cell phone into the lovely blue water.

Train halted as man's arm trapped in toilet

A high-speed rail route in Franch was halted after a passenger's arm was trapped down a toilet, it was reported today. 

France Info radio said the passenger had dropped his mobile phone down the pan and had been trying to retrieve it. 

But the TGV train's toilets operate with a powerful suction mechanism, and his arm was trapped.

Firefighters reportedly had to remove him with the loo still attached to his arm before they could cut it free. 

The BBC website said that the train had been travelling in western France from La Rochelle to Bordeaux and that the service had been halted for two hours for the rescue. 

The passenger was said to have escaped with only a painful elbow. 
... and I imagine he must have "escaped" with a sorely bruised ego as the rescue workers paraded him past the waiting crowd.

The story made me laugh, made me empathize ... and got me to thinking about how we often get so focused on something like that cell phone -- important, expensive -- and yet we get carelessWe get distracted and lose our grip on something -- a loved one, family, work -- and let things drop.  

What have you "dropped in the toilet?"

Think of the desperation of the man willing to stick his arm in that oh-so-public toilet.  I wouldn't hesitate to take such action with my own toilet at home, but a PUBLIC toilet!!!!  YUUUUCK!!!!  I would have let it go -- not bothered retrieving it.  But, obviously that cell phone was veeeeeery important to that guy.

Think about that desperate act: willing to stick your arm in something that gross for a cell phone.  Are we sometimes in the same position as that guy, grasping at something and winding up getting stuck in some dreadful situation?  We lose focus on what is going on around us, forgetting the inherent risks of grasping at something we've "dropped", giving up our disdain and caving in to the willingness to get dirty -- the willingness to relinquish our dignity. 

And, like the Frenchman, we get caught -- trapped.  After suffering all the indignation of that desperate grab, we get stuck.  Someone must come to rescue us or else we remain in the clutches of the trap.  We pray that the rescue can be done in private, but sometimes the rescue is embarrassingly public ... maybe even causing a lot of annoyance and frustration to the witnesses to our "fall from grace" and our "tumble into the mire." 

The other day I posted about the Monkey Trap, where a monkey winds up getting his little hand caught in a gourd, unwilling to let go of a morsel of food.  This toilet situation is very similar.  In both scenarios, we are unwilling to let go of something, no matter how mucky the situation.

What are you grasping for?  Could you wind up getting trapped?  Is it worth getting trapped?  Are you trapped now by something? 

... And do you have the guts to call for help, even at the risk of suffering embarrassment?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Can You Defend Your Faith? Apologetics and Biblical Literacy

Here's a sobering headline over at The Christian Post (emphasis added):
Most Christians Cannot Explain Their Faith, Apologist Says

The faith of most Christians, even that of many pastors, will not stand up to intellectual scrutiny, according to renowned apologist Josh McDowell.

This is a concern because pastors’ inability to present biblical truth comprehensibly and relevantly has led to children from Christian families leaving the church, research has shown.

In the United States, the age at which nearly all such children leave church has decreased to 18 years.

Not even the children of many successful ministers are spared.
Over the past 17 years, McDowell, famous author of such books as "Evidence That Demands A Verdict" and "More Than A Carpenter",  asked over 4,000 pastors, church leaders and parents why they believe what they believe.  Sadly, only six people came close to giving a decent answer.  The story continues (emphasis added):
“If anything is based upon truth, it’s the Christian faith,” he said. “Christians who do not know why they have faith or believe have a very difficult time expressing themselves to others."

Ninety-five percent of Christians gave disappointing responses when asked why they believe Jesus is the Son of God.

Asked why the Bible is true and historically reliable, Christians replied that it was what they had been taught by their church or parents.

A common response that most Christians gave to both questions was that it is “what I believe.”

McDowell responded: “That’s voodoo thinking. Where did we ever get that crazy idea that something is true just because we believe it?

“If that is true, then there will never be heresy. Everybody would be right.”

On one occasion, 13 youth pastors at a large convention were unable to reasonably answer the apologist’s question.

Finally one young person stood up, walked toward him and told him he knew the answer. The young man promptly held up his Bible and said, “Because I believe it.”

And to McDowell’s dismay, all the youth pastors applauded him.

McDowell said, “Young man, do you know the difference between you, me and the majority of Christians in the world?

“To you, it is true because you believe it. For me, I believe it because it is true.”

Another response the apologist received was: Because I have faith.

He commented, “Where did we ever get the crazy idea that faith makes something true? That’s idiotic. That’s so unbiblical you can call it heresy.

“God doesn’t use faith to create truth. He uses truth through the Holy Spirit to create faith.”

Christians, the apologist stressed, are called to explain their faith when asked. They are set free by the faith in the truth, he expressed, referring to John 8:32.

Yet others say Christianity is true because Jesus changed their lives.

Even this will not stand up to intellectual scrutiny, McDowell argued.

“Lies change lives; cults change lives,” he said.

To make such an appeal is “not the essence of Christianity,” the author emphasized.

McDowell said: “We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to our children, we owe it to our neighbors, we owe it to the lost, to tell them not just what we believe but why do we believe it.”
I, too, am concerned about some churches ditching the instruction of apologetics, church history, and Bible literacy in its youth and adult "education" programs.   I have had conversations with a pastor who was not interested in nor saw the need for teaching apologetics, and my concern about the spiritual health of that church grew when, for a time, there were no Bibles in the pews.

In my opinion, the Church, in its present romance with the small groups trend, focuses more on "feel good books" rather than meat-and-potatoes education.  Church members are being fed "cotton candy", lacking in serious spiritual nutrition.  

In an age of growing hostility towards Christians bolstered by a new generation of aggressive atheists and a culture of moral relativism, Christianity and the Church are losing their grip on mainstream culture.  I see it in the work place on a regular basis and experienced it in my recent return to graduate school.

Perhaps that is why the pastor and I disagreed about the need for Biblical literacy -- clergy, in some respects, circulate mostly in an insulated world of like-thinking Christians.  "Civilians", such as myself, are swimming in a strong current of doubt, atheism, multi-culturalism and multi-faithism where "there are no absolutes" and "all religions lead to the same destination" are the mantras of the day.  If you express your Christian beliefs, you are quickly met with eye-rolling, at best.  But, if you couch it in Oprah-style spiritualism, you are warmly embraced in a "let's hold hands and sing Kumbayah" feel good blanket.

So, now that I have the luxury of being on vacation, I pledge to include in my summer reading list several books on apologetics.  Besides the McDowell books mentioned above, another good read I started a while ago (and, as is typical, never finished) is "Busted: Exposing Popular Myths about Christianity" by Fred von Kamecke.  It does a good job of addressing the typical criticisms you hear lobbed at Christianity. 

I want to be able to give a rational and well-reasoned argument for what and why I believe.
15But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,"    [1 Peter 3:15]

Monkey Trap!

I am so bad about stewing over things ... holding on to those pesky irritations, conversations, wrongs, what have you. When I'm feeling all relaxed or just going about some normal routine, it seems as if my mind has to pull out something for me to ruminate over. Why do I do this?!?

I wonder how many other people also get wrapped up into this negativity. I liken it to the Tasmanian Devil character: my brain has to dredge up something, and I immediately commence spinning over it, getting myself worked up in a lather over something that really is unimportant. As if I don't have enough of other things to think about!

The other day I recalled a terrific story and have been using it to stop the Tasmanian spinning. It's the story of the monkey trap. Now, I've googled around looking for the story and have found different versions with different types of monkeys. So, I'm not sure exactly what type of monkey nor where this actually occurs (if it does), but the point of the story is what is important. I'll go with the version I found at the University of Texas' website where they have an informative post about the perils of perfectionism and rigidity. [Source]

The story goes that in South India, villagers use a special tactic for capturing small monkeys. The South Indians hollow out a gourd or coconut and place some rice inside of it. They leave a small hole in the gourd big enough that the monkey can put his hand through it. But, when the monkey grabs hold of the rice, his fist is too big to pull back through the hole.

Tempted by the rice and driven by hunger, the monkey will reach into the gourd, grab the rice, but suddenly finds he is trapped. He does not know that all he has to do is let go of the rice and he can pull his hand back out. Because he's hungry, however, he holds on to the rice and is unable to pull his fist out. He is trapped, thus making him an easy catch for villagers.

We humans are likewise easily distracted by possessions, ideas, and/or actions. We grab a hold of them and are trapped. However, we want the item so badly that we won't let go and remain trapped. We don't realize that if we let go, we are released from the hold of the trap.

So, lately I've taken to thinking of this story when I find myself doing my Tasmanian Devil spin about something. I just say to myself: "Monkey trap!" and pop my hand open as if I were letting go of that negative thought and releasing myself from its grip. It helps me to recognize that I was starting down that path of negative thinking, and of course that path is always about unimportant nonsense or situations over which I have no control. It does me no good whatsoever to allow my mind to become possessed by them and get myself upset.

Maybe this might help you, too, when you find yourself all in a lather over something ridiculous, something that happened a long time ago, or over something you have no control. "Monkey trap!" Let it go.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Transport For Christ: Mobile Chapels Meet Truckers "at the Well"

I can only imagine how hard life is for over-the-road truckers -- and the temptations with which they are faced in a high-paced, high-stress, long and lonely life.  I found this article at The Christian Post describing the special niche -- or "body part of Christ", if you will -- that Transport for Christ (TFC) has.  They appear to have the polar opposite approach to ministry found in larger congregations, and yet perhaps more practical and down-to-basics. (Emphasis added.)
Truck Drivers Find God at Mobile Chapel
HARRISBURG, Pa. – Daniel Mullins walked awkwardly into the middle of Sunday service at the Wilco Travel Plaza mobile chapel, looking confused and worn out.

He wore a red and black, long-sleeved flannel shirt with a large rip in the back despite the 80 degree summer heat. His eyes were sunken in and his shoulders slumped as if beaten by the world.

“Something just brought me here, I don’t know why,” said Mullins, 47, a truck driver who made an unplanned visit to the Transport for Christ mobile chapel in Harrisburg, Pa., on Sunday.

After spending an hour talking to a chaplain, Mullins emerged from the back room of the 18-wheeler-truck-turned-mobile-chapel with a sheepish smile on his face.

“It was like a weight took off my shoulders,” he explained about his smile and straightened back.
Mullins is among the expected 60 to 70 truck drivers who come or rededicate their lives to Christ each year at the TFC mobile chapel in Harrisburg. There, truck drivers find refuge from loneliness and temptations in a chapel manned by chaplains 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“We never lock our door, our lights are never off,” David Roberts, the main chaplain at the Wilco mobile chapel, said proudly.

There are 33 mobile chapels in the United States and Canada, four in Russia, and ones being set up in Zambia and Australia. The Harrisburg mobile chapel is the first permanent TFC site in the United States.

The Need
Roberts, who had served as a pastor to six churches prior to being a TFC chaplain, said in his best year as a pastor he led 20 people to Christ. But in his first week at TFC he was surprised that he led 14 truck drivers to Christ.

“To see drivers actually come in and say, ‘Could you tell me for sure how I could become a Christian?' I never heard that before," Roberts said. "It was one after another and I realized that it wasn’t us. It wasn’t the chaplains. The chaplains just have the greatest privilege in the world.”

Roberts said truck drivers are open to the Gospel because they have so much time to think. Drivers are “HALT,” the chaplain said, which stands for hungry, angry, lonely and tired.

“We have all the time to listen to them,” Roberts said. “We build relationships. Jesus Christ came to build relationships … he just had to go to the woman at the well, the woman taken in adultery, the demoniac, the blind man.”

TFC chaplains, said Roberts, do not talk down to the truck drivers.

“We identify with them. When they confess their sins, we confess our sins with them. When they pray for a wayward child, we pray for a wayward child.”

The chaplains shared stories of the people they have led to Christ, including a man who was a member of the Puerto Rican mafia. After the man rededicated his life to Christ, he turned himself and his truck filled with contrabands in to the police. The police allowed him to go free and he lived with Chaplain David Hershey and his family for six months. Other TFC chaplains and volunteers said they have brought home drug addicts and allowed them to live with their families in an effort to rehabilitate them and show them the love of Christ.

Lost Church
At a time when churches are criticized for focusing on bigger buildings and better programs instead of reaching the lost and hurt, the low-budget, no-frills TFC mobile chapels stand in sharp contrast.

Young megachurch pastor David Platt in his new book Radical fretted over how the American church culture defines success by “bigger crowds, bigger budgets, and bigger buildings,” which he says looks nothing like Jesus’ “minichurch” or the early church.

“I am convinced that we as Christ followers in American churches have embraced values and ideas that are not only unbiblical but that actually contradict the gospel we claim to believe,” Platt wrote.

Jerry Rankin, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, has complained about how American Christians are neglecting God’s mission.

“Here the people of the world are swarming into our cities – the immigrants, Muslims, the South Asians, Hispanics – and what do our churches do?” Rankin said in a recent interview with The Christian Post. “They abandon where these people are and move out to the suburbs so they can continue to build their programs and fellowship among their own kind of people and neglect the lostness of the people of the world in their own city and neighborhood.”

TFC Chaplain Roberts agrees there is a growing problem with churches in North America, which he said has become a “business enterprise.”

“They say how many bodies can I get into this building, how many bucks can I get out of their pockets so I can put bricks up,” Roberts said. “I’m seeing churches split all over the place because of building this program and that program.”

While Roberts resisted comparing ministries, saying all have an important part in the body of Christ, he said emphatically that TFC chaplains have one shared passion.

“[I]t is to see drivers come to know Jesus Christ, not an organization,” said Roberts. “[O]ur part is a small part focusing where they are at and introducing them to our savior Jesus Christ.”

Jewish Conversion
Last January, Roberts introduced Phil Saunders, a Jewish truck driver, to Christ. The two recalled spending seven hours talking and reading the Bible before Saunders dedicated his life to following Jesus Christ ...

Saunders said his faith conversion has resulted in conflicts with his parents. He explained that Jews consider believing in Jesus Christ as one's savior a betrayal to Judaism. But he said he does not see a conflict between the two faiths but a completion.

“The final piece of the story, if you will, is that now you can suddenly see this is what the picture looks like,” he said passionately.

“Without that one piece called Jesus Christ you have no idea what you are looking at. It might have a name but you have no way of discerning whether it is true, whether it is a lie,” he said. “Even if it is true it is not a complete truth because something is missing.”

He added, “I never knew in my heart that hole here can only be filled with Jesus Christ.”

His wife, who is also Jewish, came to Christ two months after Phil accepted Jesus as his Lord ...
If you're interested in learning more, I found that TFC has a website.  Check out their website at

The Window Through Which We Look.

 [Thanks, R, for this little gem!]
A young couple moves into a new neighborhood.  The next morning while they are eating breakfast, the woman sees her neighbor hanging the wash outside.

"That laundry is not very clean," she said.  "She doesn't know how to wash correctly.  Perhaps she needs better laundry soap."

Her husband looked on, but remained silent.

Every time her neighbor would hang her wash to dry, the young woman would make the same comments.

About one month later, the woman was surprised to see a nice clean wash on the line and said to her husband, "Look, she has learned how to wash correctly; I wonder who taught her."

The husband said, "I got up early this morning and cleaned our windows."

And so it is with life.

What we see when watching others depends on the window through which we look.
"Lord, help me to see others through Your eyes.  And, when I fail to do so, may there always be someone like the husband who clears my vision."

Friday, June 4, 2010

Life Is Like A Donkey in the Well

Great lesson of life ...

One day a farmer's donkey fell down into a
well. The animal cried piteously for hours as
the farmer tried to figure out what to do. 

Finally, he decided the animal was old, and the
well needed to be covered up anyway;
it just wasn't worth it to retrieve the donkey.

He invited all his neighbors to come over and
help him. They all grabbed a shovel and began
to shovel dirt into the well. At first, the
donkey realized what was happening and cried
horribly. Then, to everyone's amazement he
quieted down.

A few shovel loads later, the farmer finally
looked down the well. He was astonished at what
he saw. With each shovel of dirt that hit his
back, the donkey was doing something amazing.
He would shake it off and take a step up.

As the farmer's neighbors continued to shovel
dirt on top of the animal, he would shake it
off and take a step up.

Pretty soon, everyone was amazed as the donkey
stepped up over the edge of the well and
happily trotted off! 

Life is going to shovel dirt on you, all kinds
of dirt. The trick to getting out of the well
is to shake it off and take a step up. Each of
our troubles is a steppingstone. We can get out
of the deepest wells just by not stopping,
never giving up! Shake it off and take a step up. 

Remember the five simple rules to be happy:

• Free your heart from hatred - Forgive.

• Free your mind from worries - Most never happen.

• Live simply and appreciate what you have. 

• Give more.

• Expect less 

NOW ....... Enough of that crap.

The donkey later cam back and bit the farmer who had  tried to bury him. 
The gash from the bite got infected and the farmer eventually died in agony from septic shock.

When you do something wrong, and try to cover
your ass, it always comes back to bite you.