Black Friday Madness

With over $950 billion dollars of credit card debt in the US, I was surprised to see that Black Friday sales were up almost 4% from last year. Not only was I surprised to see a higher percentage of buyers this year; I was also surprised to hear some of the most ridiculous displays of consumerism.

A worker at Wall Mart was trampled to death after opening the doors. Let me write that again so it will sink in a little. A worker at Wall Mart was trampled to death after opening the doors. When workers attempted to help their co-worker, they were pushed out of the way by scads of people rushing to the electronics department. Realizing the staff at Wall Mart was out of their league, they called the police for crowd control and assistance. Unfortunately the police were not much of help at first. The crowds of people pushed them around as well. Eventually, the crowds of people were controlled and the man was taken to the hospital. He was soon pronounced dead. 34-year-old Jdimytai Damour, including a woman eight months pregnant, were injured during the stampede.

You know, I have to wonder about the “Christmas spirit.” An innocent man died because a bunch of people acted like a bunch of savages. One reporter wrote, “Roughly 2,000 people gathered outside the Wal-Mart’s doors in the predawn darkness. They were chanting, “Push the doors in,” the crowd pressed against the glass as the clock ticked down to the 5 a.m. opening.”

How did the crowd respond when they found out that their actions were the cause of a “heart attack” and death of an employee? One reporter writes, “When they were saying that they had to leave, that an employee got killed, people were yelling, “I’ve been in line since Friday morning!” They kept shopping.”

Consumerism is a plague that breeds off humanity. Unfortunately, it seems as though most of the US catches it and is unable to shake its symptoms. The results of consumerism range from mild to acute responses. For some of us, we slowly rack up credit card debt while others… well… You get the idea. For this holiday season, I hope we will find the remedy in Christ. If we do not get this disease under control, it could end up killing us.


Priorities for Preaching

I have been thinking a lot lately about the importance of preaching. I think about that guy who stands up front, carrying a glass of water and placing a few pieces of 81/2 x 11 paper on a pulpit, while he takes a sip of water. After he takes a sip of water, he puts it down or perhaps places it on a stool that had found its place nearby and turns around to look at a bunch of people looking right at him. With a spotlight in his eyes, he can hardly see anyone but knows there are several people patiently waiting for him to begin. Taking a deep breath, he checks one last time that his microphone is working with a small tap and a “hello folks.” Knowing the microphone works fine, he looks down at his notes and looks back up. For the next half an hour or so (sometimes more, sometimes less), the pastor will attempt to communicate the Word of God clearly to those who are in the congregation. He will use analogies to explain different points (three points to be exact) and end it with a heart-felt story that will bring everything back to where he had begun. After a, “Let us pray” and a, amen,” the pastor takes his cup of water and his notes and walks away from the pulpit. Another Sunday has come and gone.

Though a pastor’s job goes beyond a Sunday service, it is, for the pastor, an important part of his week. Proclaiming the Word of God is not like public speaking. It is a lot harder in fact. When one does a speech for a public speaking class, one can wax elegance and fake their way through a less than exciting topic or position. When a pastor speaks to a congregation, he is, in a very real sense, speaking the Word of God through His written revelation. You can’t wax elegance with God’s Word. You can’t fake it or make up something on the spot. Simply put, there is a lot more that goes into preparing a message than speaking. In fact, speaking is a very small part of preaching.

One of the more important facets of preaching is humility and transparency. I think the reason many probably wouldn’t consider these a greater priority than speaking is due to the inability to properly measure humility and transparency. One can’t go to a store and buy a “transparency meter.”

There is also an important amount of studying that should take place a head of time. Commentaries, other Bible translations, journals, books, and other audio messages can be useful for this aspect. The more we engross ourselves with the Word of God and materials that point us to His Word, the more we will be transformed and convicted by it. As God’s Words continue to convict us, we are transformed and challenged. If we do not lead a life of humility and transparency, we could and would deceive ourselves into thinking that we have it all together – and we don’ (I am speaking for myself on this one). I know for myself, I am a crazy messed up child of God who has a lot of work to do in the department of humility and transparency. I am working on that though.

Here is a short list of other essentials that are important for preaching (notice that speaking is not apart of this list):

A solid prayer life
A repentant heart
Clean hands
A leading by the Holy Spirit
A full cup of grace and mercy
A missional mindset
Knowledge that “we” are the Gospel of Jesus in the flesh
A desire to share God’s Word with the World
A community of people who pray for you (your pastor)
Love (For God, himself, others and the world)
The Word of God

Don’t get me wrong. Speaking is important, but it isn’t that important. A famous man once said, “Go out into all the world and share the Good New of the Gospel. And, if needed, use words.” I think we are missing that in many of our churches today. We have many “pastors” who can speak well and are decent human beings. We have a limited supply of pastors who live a lifestyle incorporating the list we have above.

Which leads me to my final points and thoughts. I want to be an effective pastor in the very near future. I believe God has called me to that lifestyle above. Am I there yet? Have I even reached a decent place to feel even the littlest point of satisfaction? No I haven’t. In some of these – in fact most of these, I am not even close. I need to pray and consider this list more seriously. To God, my future church, the world, and myself I have a lot of work to do but I know when God has opened the door, He will guide me through it each step of the way. That’s one thing I can be sure of – for now any way.

Italian Bloggers No More

Blogging has become, for many of us, a great way to express our feelings, emotions, our thoughts, and our beliefs about all sorts of things. Some blog about cats while others blog about an adoption process. For some, it is just a place to vent the day’s trails and hardships. No matter what the rhyme or reason might be there are millions of blogs that fill the World Wide Web.

What if you weren’t allowed to blog anymore? What if the government told you that you were unable to write your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and beliefs for the whole world to see? What if your thoughts were confined to a pen and paper instead of the cosmos? You might think those are ridiculous questions to ask here in the USA. Perhaps they are. For another country though, they aren’t laughing because that is exactly what has taken place.

In fact, a UK newspaper writes, “Italian bloggers are up in arms at a court ruling early this year that suggests almost all Italian blogs are illegal.” The newspaper continues saying, “This month, a senior Italian politician went one step further, warning that most web activity is likely to be against the law.”

One would think the Italian government wouldn’t waste their time concerned with this but apparently; they are not letting this one go away easily. In fact, bloggers can be fined 250 Euros or receive a prison sentence of up to two years – for owning or writing on a blog.

The issues go back to 1948. Italy has this “Article 21” guaranteeing the right to free expression as long as those who published information would register with the government. After fascism, the intent was to regulate publications that were more extreme than others. This is how the government deals with “freedom of the press.”

In 2001, a new law passed – “Law 62.” This law brings the World Wide Web into the same framework as Article 21. How does one then deal with blogs? Only a highly trained judge can decide that matter – and it was passed. Further thoughts expressed during this time revolved around the Internet itself. One man, The Minister of Justice stated, “current logic means that almost the entire Italian internet, by its very nature, could be considered illegal – “Stampa clandestine” – which is a complete contravention of the democratic rulebook.”

Reading this, you might laugh. At times, so do I. It is sad though. It is sad that people, especially here, in the US, take freedom for granted. It is hard to love something or even appreciate something when it isn’t out of our grasp. I am glad we have the freedom to write and to express what we want. I am glad that I will not be one of five million bloggers in Italy that could be thrown in jail for solely writing their thoughts down for the world to see. I guess I just have to learn to be more thankful for what freedoms I have.

Make a Sandwich – Change a Life

Last August or September, our Church began a trek to Philadelphia in hopes of reaching people through bagged lunches. Our idea was simple: Make bagged lunches, carpool to the city, hand out lunches, talk to those who found themselves in homeless situations, build relationships, talk, listen, pray, and go home. It isn’t rocket science. Yet, through the grace of God, we had met so many people who were willing to sit and talk with us. They would share their stories – many of which I have posted in the past. It seemed as though, throughout this past year, we were called to be there. I am glad. It challenged me and stretched me to be open, vulnerable, and transparent. I am not very successful at doing any of these three much, so the challenge was worth it.

It wasn’t until a girl from our church shared about her trip overseas, I began to wonder if what we were doing really made a significant difference in the lives of these individuals. Since the excitement and the “spiritual high” wore off quickly, I found myself wondering if we had a purpose and a reason for being there. The other day, one of the pastors said, “What is a sandwich worth to a homeless person?” These are some of my thoughts concerning this question.

First and foremost, a sandwich is a sandwich. We make them all the time and put them in plastic Baggies to pack in brown-paper bags. Two pieces of bread are put together with peanut butter and jelly in between. That is what our sandwiches looked like. Not fancy – the simpler the better.

For others, and myself it was more than that though. It was a key. It was a key that opened doors for others to come and listen and love. It allowed us to reach out our hands and touch another person. It allowed us to receive a smile and a “God bless you” every once in a while. After several weeks of sandwiches, friendships were made and grown. More people came out and experienced something unique that was happening in Love Park. There was a buzz about this group that came down on Monday nights to hang out with homeless people. So many homeless people would ask us, “Why do you come here? You have a nice home with heat and a TV.” That’s exactly why we need to be here,” I told someone. I know I don’t thank God enough for all He has given me the luxury of having. I am as selfish and capitalistic as the next guy. Give me more or give me nothing – I am an “all or nothing” kind of guy. Hanging out with homeless people changes that though. Allowed to only have one “personal” bag with clothes and other items, capitalism, even at its best, isn’t working for them at all.

That when we come in. We can’t fix anyone. I am not a doctor. I don’t have a manual that fixes homeless people. I can love and pray for those who live on the streets. I can stop feeling sorry for them and attempt to do something – even if it is something small like making sandwiches.

It isn’t about the bread or the peanut butter or the jelly.

One thing I am glad we did not do is put some “spiritual” message on the water bottles or places a tract in their brown bags. I think we need to display our actions and love for God before we attempt to throw it down someone’s mouth. If we aren’t living it well, why on earth should we expect others to follow suit? That is ridiculous. Hopefully our lives are displaying the love of Christ and giving out a sandwich or two will open the doors we need open to display the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the flesh. That is what we are called to do anyway.

It might just be a sandwich but it might be something greater than that. It might actually be an open door to a relationship and a friendship with someone you have never met before. Perhaps it will provide a small meal for someone who needs it. Perhaps they will think about you and I as they eat it. I wonder what they would say. So, while the sandwich is not the most important aspect of the ministry, it is nonetheless significant. I have seen something as simple as a sandwich invite people to share their lives with me. That is awesome. I feel so grateful. God is so good.

My motto is: Make a sandwich – change a life. That actually doesn’t sound too bad.

The Library: A Social Network Fad or a Major Nuisance?

I am sitting in a library right now. I wish I could say that it was quiet here, as most libraries are required to be. It isn’t though. In fact, I am sitting here right now while a pretty blonde is dumping her emotional baggage to some guy whom she probably considers more a friend than an ideal boyfriend. You can almost tell he is trying to listen to her as she spouts the word “like” 100 times in a sentence. In my personal opinion, she doesn’t have a clue that he likes her.

In a place where one might only consider the books to talk, there are voices scattered through out the wings. In quiet and sometimes not so quiet whispers, many individuals use this sacred space almost as a place of counseling. Girls seek advice from other girls about a guy. A group of people discusses how hard a teacher is and how unfair his expectations are for a project. Even as I sit here, there are sounds of laughter coming from another group of kids who have decided to take a break from reading a book to watch a YouTube video with the sound at half volume. For someone who has a lot of work to do, this atmosphere would not be conducive for his or her regime of study.

I guess in some ways, I should be upset. I am, after all, attempting to work on an important paper for a class. Instead, I am enthralled with what I am experiencing.

As I sit here, I wonder how many opportunities college-age students get to experience community with one another. I wonder how often trips to the library end up being a place of social events. I wonder why the library – a place to study – has, in some ways, become a place of active chatter.

Is the school system really failing at providing opportunities for college-age students to interact with one another? Are there no opportunities for these conversations to exist?

I am just wondering. Perhaps those who are here, talking away as if they are at a carnival or something, don’t even realize what they are doing. Perhaps they don’t really care. Whatever the case, I have found that coming to the library, especially on a college campus, is not only for the means of studying but has found its way into the social network. For better or for worse – no matter how many “PLEASE BE QUIET!” signs are put up and displayed – conversations will continue to exist here. And, for me, I need to remember to bring a set of headphones. So it goes…

Acne Drives me Nuts

Growing up, I struggled with acne. I think most kids struggled with it but, for some reason, I struggled with it hardcore. I used to get made fun of for my condition that I couldn’t control.

I was told the reason I had acne was because I had too much chocolate and sugar growing up. I later found out that was a myth. I was also told that I don’t wash my face enough so I decided to wash my face three times a day. I figured if I kept my face cleaner, perhaps I wouldn’t have acne anymore. That wasn’t the case though. I had a cleaner face but the acne still decided to show up, especially when I wanted to impress a girl. This is not what I signed up for when I went through puberty.

I wish I would have gone back and researched why acne occurs when I was younger. Perhaps I would have kept it under control better had I known the important aspects about it.

Acne occurs when the natural oils of one’s skin is blocked by the growth of hair follicles. Since the follicles get in the way, the oil in the skin build up due to blockage and creates a pimple. Since there are many follicles in the face back and chest, acne often shows up all over the face, chest and back. Another important thing to remember is that some people’s bodies produce more oil than others. If this is the case, pimples can and are often found.
So what can we do to help our natural occurrence? There are a few things: (1) There are three vitamins you want to look for: Vitamin A, C, and E. These three vitamins are important for healthy skin. (2) Treat your face kindly: Don’t scrub your face until it turns red. Allow your face to dry naturally or pat your face gently with a soft towel. (3) Make a mask – one with oatmeal and water. Wear it two times a week. The oatmeal will help open the pours and unblock natural oil flow (yes guys – you can do it too and still be “normal.”) (4) Look for products that have the word “Biotin” or a variant of that word in it. Products with this in it help opening pours as well.

Acne has made dating harder for men throughout much of a teenager’s life. I am one of those teenagers who had to experience acne in my life. I am learning more about how to take care of that issue. Being informed is important. Knowing what things work and don’t work are important as well. Don’t just take any product – they don’t all work.

Embracing Hope

“We have what we seek, it is there all the time, and if we give it time, it will make itself known to us.” – Thomas Merton.

I have to be honest and say that I have read very little of Thomas Merton. In fact, if I were really honest, besides the few times I have looked up quotes like the one mentioned above, and the few times I have heard his name mentioned in a sermon or a paper I had read, I haven’t really interacted with any of his writings. Today, I read this quote. I don’t know what to do with this quote because it seems simple enough but hard to believe.

I wonder what Thomas Merton is referring to here in this quote. Is he talking about world peace or the end of AIDS? Is he talking about racism, bigotry, hatred, or poverty? Or is he talking about stuff that is more personal – the selfish stuff that we continually ask God? Is our future wife or husband ‘just around the corner’ or is he perhaps talking about wealth?

In all honesty, I don’t think Merton is talking about any of that. As I said, I really have never interacted with Merton’s writing. I only know what I know through a couple of quotes like the one written above. Yet, I have a proposition that is perhaps, a better answer to the question of, “What is Merton talking about here?”

I think Merton is talking about hope. Hope is one of those things we overuse. Hope ultimately defines who we are as people. For most of us, we run after hope, trying to capture it like a butterfly in a net. Hope for some of us though seems more like trying to catch the wind in our hands than capturing a butterfly in a net.  For some of us, we start off looking for hope, only to quit. We become frustrated. We become angry – with God and ourselves. It seems as though hope has found a way to run off without us, leaving us confused and hurt.

Merton’s words though are comforting to me. “We have what we seek, it is there all the time, and if we give it time, it will make itself known to us.” I think when I am tired of trying to make sense of live; I can trust that there is hope even when I can’t see it. All I have to do is give it time and it will make itself known. Hope to Merton is not a wishful fulfillment but an expectation of its arrival. Time is the only factor that separates me from hope. If I am willing to wait, time will give me the hope I so long for. It will allow me to see that hope exists and that I am able to go another day. I can have hope if I am patient enough to receive it.

I am learning to hope. I am learning to be patient. I am learning to lean on time’s shoulder and expect its arrival. For me, learning to hope is new and almost exciting. The more hope manifests itself; the more my faith will be tested and grown. I know love is the greatest thing that remains (1 Corinthians 13) but one of the three that remain is hope. Without hope, I am not sure we can do the faith thing well.

I hope we can learn to embrace hope. Hope is like a beautiful flower. The more we look at it and embrace it, the more beautiful it looks. And, when we learn to embrace hope, the results of faith, love, and truth look so much clearer and enjoyable. Let’s learn to embrace hope together. Cause, ‘it is there all the time, and if we give it time, it will make itself known to us.’