Real quick, before we get to the News of the Week, I'd like to give a big shout out to everyone for checking out the blog. I just got my 2,000th hit yesterday. OK, so maybe that's not a lot for a full year, but, hey, it's something. Here's hoping we'll get another 2,000 hits in the year ahead ... after all, that's 2,000 people who can hear the life-changing message of Jesus Christ.
The Wiccan pentacle has been added to the list of emblems allowed in national cemetaries and on government-issued gravestones of fallen soldiers.
Well, at least they're not taking all the crosses down ... not to give them any ideas, mind you. I just hope no one from the ACLU is reading. Norwegian Church Aid Bringing Water to Haiti(Christian Today) Norwegian Church Aid, a non-profit Christian group, is finalizing plans to dig 40 wells in Haiti, supplying water to 70,000 residents, a project that will cost the equivalent of $1.7 million.
Two thoughts here: first, it's a blessing to see that after the domestic turmoil and bloodshed that's taken over Haiti in recent years -- really, just the latest in a bloody history there -- Christians are able to move back in and get back to the work of being Christ's hands and feet in what is one of the world's most needy nations. I have some dear friends who have gone on numerous missions trips there, and my wife and I would love to go with them some day. Second, the city in which I live, Charleston, West Virginia, has an estimated 51,176 people. Few, if any, are without running water ... yet in Port-Au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, digging wells to add water to 70,000 people is just scratching the surface of their need. Most of us cannot fathom the level of poverty that exists in Third World countries ... and I would suspect most of us don't want to know, either. Asking Why(Christianity Today)
Christian Fellowship helps survivors of the Virginia Tech shooting deal with larger issues
God did not walk into a Virginia Tech classroom and kill 30-some students with two handguns. Briefly ... So Al Gore is blasting Canada for that country's new plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a plan that officials there say will reduce emissions by 20 percent by the year 2020. Problem is, that country signed the Kyoto Protocol, agreeing in 1997 to cut emissions by five percent lower than 1990 levels by the year 2012. Guess what Canada's current emissions levels are, according to the Associated Press? It's 30 percent above 1990 levels. And, in a story in E/The Environmental Magazine, most signatories to the Protocol won't meet the new standards to which they agreed, including Japan. The U.S. did not sign the agreement ... Mark Driscoll, of Mars Hill Church, is in the middle of some controversy again, this time the result of a public rift between his church planting network, Acts 29, and the Southern Baptist Convention. There are a number of issues at play here, and I won't weigh in ... I'm not in the loop and don't want to make any judgements on who is right or wrong. Read for yourself. Driscoll's account is here and you can read the SBC position here.
Congratulations to Aaron Shust, who won three Dove Awards Wednesday night -- best new artist, best song and best songwriter.
I had a chance to spend a weekend with him as part of The Outpost, a men's ministry his friend, Jim Eaton, runs out of Atlanta. Every summer they invite a bunch of guys to get out in the wild, enjoy good music, conversation and a chance to reconnect with God amid His creation. The ministry's website is here.
Anyway, Shust turned out to be a great guy, of course. It was nice to sing and praise God while he led worship with his guitar. He sang most of the songs from his Anything Worth Saying album -- which is phenomenal, by the way -- around a campfire one night and told us the inspiration around each song. It was quite a cool experience.
By the way, he has a new album coming out. You can pre-order an autographed copy by clicking here.
For those of you who listen to K-Love, it just finished its spring fundraising drive, and fell short of its goal. So, how about heading over to the website by clicking here and making a monthly pledge. Or, if you can't make that commitment, maybe you can make a one-time donation.
Finally, if you live in West Virginia, you should be aware that on June 9 there is a local referendum on whether to legalize table games at the state's four racetracks. Please take action to ensure this doesn't pass. There's a group called the West Virginia Values Coalition that's leading the fight ... so visit their website to see what you can do to help.
I'll be writing more about this issue in the coming days.
So Sunday was Earth Day, which means you should take that can of Coke you're drinking and drop it in a recycling bin.
And, yes, yes, yes, you should buy those new, expensive "green" lightbulbs that look like a kid's crazy straw, turn the lights off in a room you're not using, carpool if you can ... the list goes on.
Of course, you should do those things anyway, Earth Day or not, and even if you don't agree with the alarmist attitudes of those on the political left.
Regardless of intentions, social responsibility is hip. Never mind the fact that Christ started it all and that, at times, it seems celebrities have co-opted Christ's message. "American Idol" is getting into it, for crying out loud, with something called "American Idol Gives Back," which is a show tonight with a bunch of people all getting onstage and showing just how altruistic they all are -- just so long as you photograph them from their good side.
Angelina Jolie has a heart for Third World children. Dr. Phil campaigns for the Salvation Army. Julia Roberts is concerned about something called Rett Syndrome. Name a celebrity, they have a cause.
Like Melissa Etheridge. A few days ago, I posted the lyrics to her Oscar-winning song, "I Need To Wake Up," which I found exceedlingly curious because, to me, it sounds like your garden-variety Christian song. It's almost a call to salvation. Check a few out:
"I need to wake up
I need to change
I need to shake up
I need to speak out
Something's got to break up
I've been asleep
I've got to wake up
See what I mean?
Now, this is another example of misguided philanthropy. You can tell there's a God-placed desire in everyone's heart to love people, to make a difference in a world humans intuitively know is, well, screwed up.
Theologians correctly highlight the separation of God and man when it comes to Adam and Eve's fall in the Garden of Eden. But there's another facet to it that most people miss. It didn't just separate us from God, it separated us from his intentions.
As a result, we all have this inherent desire in each of our souls to make right what was once made wrong. Because make no mistake about it, when sin entered human history it created a sinful climate that has tainted everything. That's why there's a need for social action.
Carl Jung would call it a part of our "collective unconscious," but whatever you want to call it, if it's not centered in a love for Christ then it is ultimately meaningless. Angelina Jolie can save all the orphaned babies in the world, but if she doesn't instill in their hearts the transforming power of Christ's forgiveness and salvation, then they are doomed to repeat the cycle of sin and oppression that created the situation that orphaned them in the first place.
So, do you need to wake up? You're darn right you do.
Just not in the way the world would have you believe ... you need to wake up to Jesus.
It's funny how God works. While I was writing out some ideas in preparation of writing this entry, lo and behold, yesterday's devotional from Oswald Chambers' classic "My Utmost for His Highest" was exactly on point. What a coincidence -- unless, like me, you don't believe in coincidences. At least not when God's concerened.
You can find the devotional on the links to the right, or just click here for the entry.
(copyright 2007, andrew j. beckner. all rights under copyright reserved)
One of the best movies that I wasn't allowed to watch when I was a kid had to be "Predator."
You know the one, right? A pre-gubenatorial Arnold Schwarzenegger is stranded in the jungles of South America and pits himself against an alien hunter from another planet, with the help of Jessie "The Body" Ventura and the guy who played Apollo Creed from the "Rocky" movies. Man, you gotta love the 80s.
Something struck me when I was reading about Heaven recently, and I thought about the Predator. Well, this alien only sees in infra-red, right? He doesn't know what the ocean looks like, or how beautiful a sunset is, or how awe-inspiring snow-capped mountians can be. He can't see these things, but he doesn't really care, right? He has no frame of reference. He is blissfully ignorant of the beauty around him.
When I asked a group of Christian college students once if they were looking forward to going to Heaven, I wasn't surprised by the answer. They were about as excited at the prospect of going to Heaven as a trip to the mall on a Tuesday afternoon.
The next logical question, of course, was: "Why, then, did you decide to follow Jesus anyway?" There are any number of fringe benefits to doing so, not the least of which is the chance to spend eternity with Him in Heaven. But most of them said nothing about going to Heaven, or the immeasurable comfort of knowing their sins are forgiven. They became Christians because they didn't want to go to Hell.
That's just sad, really. No, not because they understood the very real place that Hell is, but that they failed to realize how very real Heaven is as well. Ask someone to picture Hell, they can conjure all sorts of horrific images -- fire, demons, etc. -- and, to be sure, there's no way of comprehending the terror of that place.
But you ask that same person about Heaven, and you'll invariably hear about harps and clouds and a bearded old white guy with a halo standing at a pearly gate with a big book. That would be St. Peter ... pick your punch line.
See that picture above? Porcelin Jesus and a bunch of creepy, chubby babies with wings? Man, you can keep that. I want no part of that ... and I suspect most people don't, either.
These things challenge some of our basic assumptions. First, Jesus tells his disciples in one of the most quoted scriptures that "In my Father's House, there are many mansions." It has been widely assumed that we would be living in those mansions -- remember the old hymn? "I've got a mansion/just over the hilltop/in that bright land where/we'll never go old ..." Now that you have that song stuck in your head, we'll move on -- but Jesus never says that.
Oh, and that city everyone talks about? Sure, it's there. But look at that scripture in Hebrews. It talks of a country, too. Think everyone will live in the city? Or might some of us live in the mountains ... or near the beach ... or both?
See, a lot of people in my generation don't really care that much about Heaven for two reasons: one, our parents and grandparents and anyone in church old enough to remember Richard Nixon as president talk about the prospect of not growing old and having new bodies as a big plus about the whole living forever thing. Fair enough, that's a valid reason for them. But our bodies are still relatively young ... yeah, I have aches and pains, but it's not like I need to trade in this 1975 model. I've got a few more miles to put on it yet.
Second, our ideas of Heaven come from those flannelboard stories we were taught in Vacation Bible School ... you know, the ones with the angels flying around a pasty white Jesus with the white robe and the purple sash. It's always bright, there are these gold streets and mansions that are impossibly large and look nothing like I'd ever be interested in. Again, no thanks.
We're like the Predator. Our human eyes can't comprehend the majesty and beauty of Heaven. What we have are images of what people imagine it to be -- clouds, pearly gates and chubby babies with wings.
What if Heaven isn't like that at all? What if Heaven is this beautiful country with a vast desert, deep jungles, miles of unblemished coastline, mountains that stretch for miles and miles and miles, rivers that roar with whitewater one moment and, in the next, gently trickle across smooth stones. What if our house is a modest little place right on the beach with a hammock out by water that's so clearly blue you can see right through to the bottom. What if you could sleep on that hammock for hours and hours and no one would bother you. Ever try to explain color to someone who is completely color blind? What if you wake up from your nap on that hammock -- I'm talking a real good nap, too, one that's a whole lifetime in the making -- and you're just in time to see the sun set and look like it's sinking into that pale blue water, and when it does there are colors in the sky that you and I have never seen, colors so beautiful we'll sit and stare for days on end just trying to come up with names for them all.
What if it's this great big party, the best outdoor barbecue you've ever seen, with scrumptious grilled lobster, steamed crabs and juicy steaks? What if there's a live band, and everyone gets along?
What if there's no fear of walking alone because no one wants to hurt you. Indeed, everyone loves you with a perfect love. And you love everyone else, too. What if every bad thing that's ever been done to you isn't just erased from your memory ... it never happened in the first place. That means you'd never need forgiven for anything you'd done to someone, either. What if you knew no emotion but pure happiness?
What if you could tell your granny how much you missed her? What if you could tell your grandpa you were proud to bear his name while on earth? What if they looked as wonderful as you remembered?
And what if, in the middle of this fantastic country, is this majestic city with a skyline that stretches for miles, and it's full of mansions and high rises and five star restaurants with the most wonderful food you can imagine; there are deluxe hotels where you can sleep in when you visit, stunning monuments more beautifully sculpted than anything you've ever seen, art galleries where painters and musicians display the masterpieces a finite life on earth never allowed them to finish.
What if, best of all, Jesus is in the middle of it all, calling the shots and making sure the whole thing runs perfectly? Because, you see, Jesus makes ALL things new.
What if you could visit Him anytime you wanted? What if you could have lunch with Jesus, go on a walk with Jesus, shoot pool with Jesus? Does that sound silly? It's not.
What if you could touch his hands that bore the nails that pierced your sin? What if you could hug Him and feel the warmth from his arms and feel His heart beat against your chest and hear Him say, more beautiful than any song, "I love you."
What if that is Heaven?
Yeah, me too ... I want to go there.
My church -- Agape Christian Fellowship in Charleston, W.Va. -- now has a website and a rudimentary pocast of Sunday sermons available. I say rudimentary because we're working to do a better job with it as soon as our technical expertise matches up with the vision. Here's hoping our heads are as big as our hearts.
You can visit the website here. It's a blogspot site for now, but it looks like we'll be moving to our own domain name in the near future. Stay tuned.
Speaking of local churches, a couple of larger churches in West Virginia have caught my eye, and both are related.
The leaders up in Morgantown decided to plant a church in my hometown here in Charleston, and River Ridge Church is what they came up with. I had a chance to meet its pastor, Matt Santen, recently, and came away impressed. Visit their website here.
Finally, check out the lyrics to the song "I Need To Wake Up,", written by Melissa Etheridge for the documentary An Inconvenient Truth -- you know, Al Gore's environmental opus. I have a few thing I'd like to share about it in the coming days. To be thinking about it, just pay close attention to the words of the song.
Here's the first discussion thread at a new Facebook group I've started. You can check out the group by clicking here, and can sign up for Facebook here. If you want to join, drop me an e-mail and we'll get you into the discussion group.
So, here's the discussion thread, re-posted below. Feel free to comment here on the blog, but it would be great to get the Ephesians514 Ministries discussion group up and running, so, please, head on over to Facebook, sign up for a free account and then join our group.
On to the thread ...
The following excerpt is from "Searching for God Knows What," by Don Miller. "God wired us so that He told us who we were, and outside that relationship, the relationship that said we were loved and valuable and beautiful, we didn't have any worth at all. As horrible as it sounds, it would make sense that things of worth are things God loves, and things that don't have worth are things God doesn't love ... maybe a human is defined by who loves him. I know it sounds terrible, because we have always grown up believing that a person is valuable even if nobody loves them, and I certainly agree with that because God made everybody and the Bible very clearly states that He loves everybody. But if those relations are disturbed, the relatiopns between God and man, then we feel the desire to be loved and respected by other people instead of God, and if we don't get that love and respect, we feel very sad or angry because we know that our glory is at stake, that if there isn't some glory being shown through us by somebody ... we'll be dead inside, like a little light will go out and our souls will feel dark, like nothing can grow there." Your thoughts? Is this the reason we try to hard to please other people? Are our priorities at fault because we are seeking love and approval from the world instead of from God? Or, perhaps, did you get something else out of the passage? (Oh, by the way ... I highly recommend reading the book, and another by Miller called "Blue Like Jazz." Look them up on Amazon. You won't be sorry.)
NOWthat same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him. He asked them, "What are you discussing together as you walk along?" They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, "Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?" "What things?" he asked. "About Jesus of Nazareth," they replied. "He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see." He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, "Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over." So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?"