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Christmas-PageantThat’s the last thing my kids need! All they think about is Christmas!

I know what you mean. I remember one of our grandkids who, as a three-year-old, took all the toy catalogues that came in the mail and circled everything in each one that Santa should bring!  And, of course, almost everything was circled!

I just wonder if doing some things intentionally with our children to help them remember Jesus might counteract some of the overwhelming advertising that they see every day? 

Let’s do this first:  without any framing or context, just ask your kids why Christmas is a holiday. You might do it like this:

1)      Hey, kids, why do we have Christmas anyway?

2)      Does anyone know how Christmas got started?

3)      What’s the best thing about Christmas?

I’m guessing that at least 50% of the time, you’ll get something about presents. Older kids may mention Jesus, so if they do, here are some follow-up questions for you to try:

1)      So what does the birth of Jesus have to do with Christmas?

2)      Do you think most people are celebrating the birth of Jesus?  What do you think most people are celebrating at Christmastime?

3)      When do you think about Jesus at Christmas?

That’s just the starting activity for you as parents to find out where your kids are.  Knowing what they think will help you prepare for the rest of Advent.

Of course, I don’t know what your kids will say to these questions, so I’m just going to share with you some different activities that you might try to help your kids think about Jesus during this season.  You pick and choose what works for your kids–or discard completely and substitute your own ideas.

 

This first week of Advent is almost over, so use these ideas the rest of this week and on Thursday, I’ll post the second week of activities, and then each week, I’ll give you some more ideas for that week. I’d love to hear the ideas that you add to these. Please share them with all of us.

First Advent Week      God So Loved the World

The Big Idea:

From the beginning, God loved us so much that He planned to send Jesus—to the whole world!

Ideas:

  1. You might find an inexpensive globe—any size—and use it to talk about God making the whole world and loving every single person in every country.  You could take some modeling clay and let your child make a big Earth of clay and then “populate” it with dots.  Message: God planned when He made the world to send Jesus to help us because He loves us so much!
  2. I love advent calendars—you know, the ones with 25 little windows that children can open each day before Christmas. The typical ones have little pieces of candy behind each window.  Candy is part of God’s goodness, so I wouldn’t avoid those. There are also Christian advent calendars that have verses behind each window—or pictures of some nativity person or event.  You can find them at Christian bookstores or online.
  3. I saw a great idea for making your own advent calendar while we were in Germany.  They took a simple length of rope—maybe 4-5 feet long—and then they used very small children’s mittens, one for each day, hung on the rope by a wooden clothes pin.  I don’t think you put 25 up, rather 7 for each day of that week, and then you can put a little verse, a little picture you have cut out, a little figure perhaps—and don’t forget a little piece of candy!
  4. If your kids are a little older, you might try reading Isaiah 9:6-7, and talk with them about the fact that Isaiah is telling about Jesus 700 years before Jesus is born. God loved us so much that He began His plan hundreds of years (really thousands—you can go back to Abraham’s promise(Gen 12:1-3) —or further to the first prophecy of Jesus to Eve (Gen. 3:15).  Then, I’d suggest asking your older child, what could they do that would bless someone in the future, maybe someone who would be born 100 years from now—and let them do it!

I want to suggest some good music each time as well. I myself am a big believer in exposing kids to good classical music, so the first song I’d suggest is from Handel’s Messiah, “For Unto Us A Child Is Born”—one of my favorites.

If you need something lighter, but still classy, Mary Chapin Carpenter’s song “Come Darkness, Come Light” is one that has great words, a simple melody, and it will be new to your kids.  You can find both of these easily online.

That’s enough for the first week of Advent. I’ll have more for you for next week on Thursday.  Let me hear how this first week goes.

 

(Reposted from 2012)

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Alan_Alda_Hawkeye_MASHSherrylee and I lived in West Germany from 1971-1979. Our years outside of American culture meant that we missed out on some of the cultural changes that took place during the tumultuous seventies. By the time we returned to the States in 1979, a quite apparent cynicism toward government had set in, likely the result of Viet Nam and Watergate.  The sexual revolution of the sixties was pretty mainstream by the end of the 70s. Women had been liberated; African Americans were much more prominent in television and movies; and the extreme individualism of what some called the “Me Generation” had been legitimized in conservative politics.

Shortly after our return to the States, I accepted a position on the faculty of Oklahoma Christian University—a dream job for me.  Not only did I love the classroom, but the comradery of the faculty and staff, such a wonderful, intelligent, interesting group of people, filled a deep need that we had for friends and fellowship in our new home.

Every day after chapel, many faculty members would gather in the little room set aside as the faculty lounge on the backside of the Learning Center. After a while, I realized that one of the aspects of American culture that had changed was the way colleagues and friends discussed ideas, especially when they disagreed.  I had never been around people who obviously liked each other, but who poked at each other so sarcastically or at the ideas of a third party quite so cynically!  Often it was disguised in humor, but, in fact, to me it was barbed!

As a new and very junior member of the faculty, I usually just listened and tried to keep my mouth shut, especially when the more vocal ones pontificated and sarcastically dismissed those who tried to take them on.

One day a couple of months into my first semester, however, one of the leaders of the conversation started saying something about socialism in Europe, something which I knew to be completely absurd from our experiences in Germany, so I responded to him.  Well, in his own pompous way, he acknowledged my existence, but sarcastically dismissed my uninvited contribution.  He was not mean spirited; he was just humorously . . . dismissive.  I did not respond.

One of the other faculty members picked up on the fact that I might not be up to that kind of verbal combat, so he tried to draw me back into the conversation with a respectful query as to whether I wanted to respond to the One.

I don’t know where it came from, but I remembered something my Dad had said once, so I offered it as my own attempt at humor:

“Well,” I said, “I don’t think I do.  My dad taught me once that you can’t outpuke a buzzard!”

I don’t know whether it was the unexpected response or the outlandish idea that this young nobody just off the boat from Germany might actually join the skirmish, but the whole room burst into appreciative laughter—even the One who had dismissed me–and from that day on, I never felt on the outside of the faculty again. I had won a place in the room.

In spite of my minor victory, I really never became comfortable with this mocking kind of conversation that had surfaced in the seventies.  I called it M*A*S*H humor because it seemed to be the predominant mode of Hawkeye and BJ. Their irreverence, their disregard of authority, their cynical and self-serving approach to most relationships had first entertained Americans, then became American.

Thirty-five years later, now much of what was humorously sarcastic and cynical has become vicious and uncivil. We do not make fun of our opponents with respect; we demonize them. Even worse, we mock them.

Let me conclude with some biblical wisdom about mockery and mockers. I will let you draw your own political and cultural conclusions from these God-inspired words:

Proverbs 21:24   The proud and arrogant person—“Mocker” is his name— behaves with insolent fury

Proverbs 21:24    Mockers are proud and haughty; they act with boundless arrogance.

Proverbs 9:7   Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults . . . .

Proverbs 15:12   Mockers resent correction, so they avoid the wise.

Proverbs 29:8   Mockers stir up a city, but the wise turn away anger.

Proverbs 22:10   Drive out the mocker, and out goes strife; quarrels and insults are ended.

Psalm 1:1   Blessed is the one who does not . . . sit in the company of mockers

 

 

 

 

 

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Crown of righteousnessI do not believe in coincidences.  That my daily Bible reading has been in the books of Kings and Chronicles for the last several weeks, books which vividly describe God trying to lead a nation through prophets, judges, and kings, but being constantly thwarted by the people’s desire to lead themselves, judge themselves, and rule themselves, this does not seem like coincidence.

We Americans find ourselves in a time of national indecisiveness, national dissonance, and national disunion, not the first time in our history, but certainly in extraordinary proportions for recent memory. It is no coincidence, I believe, that fewer Americans are committed to following God.

People who do not believe in God nor confess Jesus are not reading this blog, so I am not addressing them; rather, what I have been reading seems to speak to the People of God, to those confessed and committed, but who have forgotten Who calls nations into existence, Who decides whether they prosper or suffer, Who causes them to rise and fall.

“From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall. . . . “ (Acts 17:26, NLT)  The ancient nation of Israel kept forgetting who called them into existence, so the prophets over and over again remind them that it was God who made them a nation, who called them out of Egypt, and who expelled stronger rulers and bigger nations to give Israel its place in history.  Read Psalm 105, but notice especially this passage:

For he remembered his sacred promise to his servant Abraham. 43 So he brought his people out of Egypt with joy, his chosen ones with rejoicing. 44 He gave his people the lands of pagan nations, and they harvested crops that others had planted. 45 All this happened so they would follow his decrees and obey his instructions. (emphasis mine, mw)

America has its William Bradfords, George Washingtons, and myriad others who built America—just like Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David are early founders/builders of ancient Israel, but these people did not create nations, nor cause them to rise.  God did—and He alone. If we forget this, we forget so much more!

God blessed the descendants of Abraham with all that He had promised. Once the nation started prospering in the promised land, they quickly began to forget the One who created them, so God allowed conflict with foreign kings to remind them whose they were. In His love for them, he listened to their repentant prayers and raised up judges to lead them in battle and relieve their suffering.  In spite of his Goodness, the story of the judges ends with one of the most accusatory verses of Scripture (Judges 21):  25 In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.  Do we recognize our own times here; how important in our country that everyone has the right to do what they believe to be in their own best interests?

Israel begs for a king—stronger leadership, greater national defense, more international influence, greater wealth for the nation.  God tells the prophet Samuel to anoint their king, “for they are rejecting me, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer (I Samuel 8:7). They wanted Him as their God, but not their king—clear separation of church and state, not in a constitutional sense, but in the minds and hearts of the people of the nation.

So ancient Israel has some good years, then they experience Civil War and divide. The North completely abandons God, not becoming irreligious, just putting their own creations first; the South experiences an occasional revival, but over the course of time also forgets the God of their Fathers.  Both lose God’s protection, so they are utterly defeated, their nation as created was destroyed, with only a remnant surviving in an almost unrecognizable form, but enough for God to fulfil his promise to never forget those few who never forgot Him. A once flourishing, wealthy, powerful nation forgets God and dissolves into schism, political intrigue, unholy alliances, and self-indulgence, so God who had raised them to their zenith now lets them fall.

The cause of the downfall of ancient Israel was their turn from complete dependence upon God to a dependence on their own wisdom, their own might, their own rights, their own chosen leaders, their own military, their own alliances, their own wealth, their own . . . .

As we move through our time in history, as we struggle with political choices, as we experience the effects of dependence upon military force, as we witness moral turmoil and attempts to redefine integrity, it is not our vote for a particular candidate that will determine our destiny, it is whether we choose God as our King—and I don’t mean that metaphorically.Crown of righteousness

 

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fatherHappy Father’s Day to all of you fellow dads! One of the moments I enjoy the most is sharing the postings of new fathers to Facebook.  The scores of pictures of that unique little baby, almost always wrapped around gushy, sometimes tearful, praises for the amazing woman who made you a father!  I’m not making fun of you guys because I was exactly the same way on three wonderful days in 1974, 1976, and 1978.  And, honestly, I have re-lived all of those emotions  when our nine grandchildren were born, watching our sons (including Tim) become fathers!

The strangest thing happened to me after my father’s death twenty-five years ago this week.  For a period of time after his death, I found myself talking to him in my prayers.  It was not anything mystical or intentional. I would be talking to my Father in heaven and conversation would just merge into talking to my dad.  I don’t really have a theology that supports praying to saints, so at first I was a little shocked and felt slightly guilty to realize what I was doing, but the phenomenon didn’t last long.

As you can tell, however, I’ve remembered this vividly for twenty-five years and have actually come to believe even more strongly that God has always intended for earthly fatherhood to be a first experience for both fathers and children of His relationship to us. If He has bound His Fatherhood and ours so closely together, then perhaps it is not so unique or unnatural for our hearts and minds to merge the two.

God as Father was a gift from Jesus His Son. Yes, there are a handful of references to “Israel my son” (Ex. 4:22) and David “my son” (2 Sam. 7:14), for instance, but such references are extraordinarily rare in the Old Testament.  On the other hand, God is called Father over 160 times in just the Gospels. In his letters, Paul talks of the fatherhood of God over forty times. Peter and John also use the same word they had been taught to use by the Lord. That Jesus taught his followers to understand God as father is special and uniquely Christian.

I have a sweet story to tell you to illustrate this point.

Sherrylee and I were in north Africa in a predominantly Muslim country. One night we met for prayer with a group of Christians, and there was one young woman present who told us this story.  She had been raised in a Muslim family, having no contact with Christians. One night, however, as a young girl, she had a dream about God. She dreamed that God appeared to her and told her that He was going to do something special for her. He was going to allow her to call him “Father.”  She treasured this dream in her heart and in her own prayers and meditations, she secretly and silently called God “father,” thinking she was the only one with this privilege.

Years later, as a young woman she traveled to a western country where she made friends with another young woman who was a Christian.  At some point they were talking about God and the young Christian woman said something about God, calling him  “my Father ” The Muslim woman was shocked—not because her friend had blasphemed or disrespected Allah, but because she had used the Muslim girl’s most special, secret words as if they were her own.  The Muslim girl asked her friend why she had called God father and thereby discovered the special relationship that all Christians have with God. It was not long until she too was adopted as His child, and her dream became reality.

And for those who have had abusive, troubled, unfaithful, sick fathers, I can only imagine that it is extremely difficult to relate to God as Father. Someday all that is broken in this world, including fatherhood, will be made right again.  The first taste of this perfection is allowing God the Father to renew you, to re-birth you, to adopt you into His family. Your pain is real, but God’s willingness to be a loving Father to you is real too!

Today is Father’s Day!  Our gathered family is going to grill and talk and watch the World Cup today in celebration.  But first we are all going to spend time in praise and prayer to God, thanking Him for being our Father.

Our Father, who is in heaven, holy is your name!”  

Reposted from June 2014

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Oklahoma_City_bombingFive years ago, the first year I blogged, I wrote this piece about the Federal Building bombing in OKC on April 19, 1995.  The importance of that date is still with us, so I’m updating and republishing these earlier thoughts.

Fifteen years ago today, I was standing in my office at Oklahoma Christian University when one of my colleagues rushed in and said, “A bomb just exploded downtown!”  I thought, “That’s interesting,“  imagining something like a small letter bomb or something that blows up an office, set by some disgruntled employee.

Of course, within minutes the reports started coming of what was until 2001 the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil in modern times.  Now fifteen years later, the country has experienced worse, so it is easy to forget what we learned from Oklahoma City.  Here are a few of my thoughts:

  • Home-grown, flag-waving extremists are just as dangerous as foreign jihadists. Immediately following the bombing, reports of Arab-looking suspects were all over the news; the real bomber, however, was born in New York of Irish Catholic parents, voted “most promising computer programmer” at his high school, a decorated veteran of the first Gulf War, and an outspoken anti-tax, pro-gun, anti-government proponent.  The current extreme political rhetoric and hyper-polarization frightens me!
  • The use of war metaphors does not justify killing innocent people. McVeigh declared war on the federal government, so killing kindergarten children in the Murrah Building was for him an unhappy, but acceptable consequence of his military objective. Neither as individuals nor as countries should we be confused about the morality of killing innocent people for our own benefit.
  • Average people are amazingly good and amazingly brave in a crisis. Immediately following the bombing, police and medical personnel rushed towards the bomb site. One of our church members was among the first police officers to arrive; he crawled into the rubble to pull out a baby covered in ash—but alive.  Vendors brought bottled water, sandwiches, blankets, medical supplies; people of all sorts came to help however they could.  Students at OC with just minimal training in first aid rushed to the scene, wanting to do something to help.  I’m not sure I have ever experienced a greater sense of community.
  • Everyone is damaged; the world is diminished by such acts of violence. Our friend the police officer was so traumatized by what he saw and experienced in the first hour after the bombing that he spent months –maybe longer—seeking help and attempting to recover.  Not only the families of the victims, but the friends of the families of the victims, and the relief workers, and those who narrowly missed being victims just by “chance,” and the man who rented the delivery truck, and people who sell fertilizer, and everyone who works in a government building who goes to work every day, the whole community has been damaged. There are no armies, no federal agencies, no screening devices, nothing that can restore this world to wholeness. We can only forget–which we will with time.

But Christians must live in certain hope, participating with God to transform this world from being a bombed-out shell to a place where swords have been beaten into plowshares and lions lie down with lambs. What we can’t forget is that we belong to the Prince of Peace!

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AdeleWoman in Gold (2015) is a David and Goliath story that would make Malcolm Gladwell proud.  The film y is based on true events surrounding Maria Altmann’s attempt to reclaim five paintings by Gustav Klimt that had belonged to her family prior to the Nazi Anschluss of Austria.  Her Jewish family had been a gathering place for many famous artists including Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss, Johannes Brahms, AND Gustav Klimt.  Her uncle Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, whose wife Adele was one of Klimt’s favorite models, bought the portraits of his wife from the artist, and they hung in the home that Maria grew up in.

Shortly after her marriage, she and her husband barely made a harrowing escape from Austria before the Nazis closed the borders and eventually found their way to California.  When in 1998, Austria passed new laws to make restitution of Nazi-stolen art more accessible, Maria began a process of trying to get back the Klimts that belonged to her family—and that is where the film begins.

As always, Helen Mirren is remarkable as the older Maria Altmann. Her foreign accent and German pronunciation are absolutely convincing. Ryan Reynolds is a little pale beside her, but is adequate to the part of her attorney.  The foreign cast members are terrific, especially Allan Corduner who plays Maria’s father.

The agenda of the film is the same as the George Clooney The Monument Men (2014), but this is more about the personal impact of the Nazi pillaging as well as the struggle for closure for the victims and their families.  One of the most poignant scenes finds Maria weeping after her victory because it did not bring back the people or times that had been stolen from her.

If you care about such things, and you do—but you may not realize it—the production values of the film are also outstanding:  the golden tones play with the “Woman of Gold” theme, the widely varied soundtrack (from Schoenberg to O Mary Don’t You Weep), and the lush sets from fin de siècle Vienna all capture your senses.

Although the film has a happy end, the limits of restitution, both for the victim as well as those who create barriers  are carefully explored, so, while it is not a complicated film, the drama feels authentic.

You will enjoy this film, and you’ll want to go see the Klimts in person the first chance you get.  Those are worthy results from two hours in the cinema.

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ADI hope you were among the many who watched the NBC mini-series A.D. The Bible Continues which premiered Easter Sunday.  This series, as you likely know, is a welcomed sequel to The Bible which aired on the History Channel in 2007 with extraordinary ratings.

Sherrylee and I did not see the first series as they aired, but we bought the DVD and used them as part of our devotionals for several weeks.  The only negative thing that I will say here about A.D. is that it is going to be much better when watched without all the commercial interruptions.  It’s pretty difficult to jump from the raw emotions of the crucifixion to car commercials appealing to your most materialistic pleasures.  We intend to DVR the program and skip the commercials in the future.

The executive producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey have kept the scripts well within the biblical context, while—and this is their genius—adding the creative imagination to the gaps in Scripture. Of course, the writers take some license with the biblical text, but not so much that most of us who believe are offended as was the case with some recent attempts of Hollywood to appeal to Bible-readers—think Noah (2014), which you may not have even seen.

Probably to take advantage of opening on Easter Sunday, this first episode rehearsed the entire Easter Story again. Fortunately in my opinion, while the horrific suffering of crucifixion is not mitigated in any way, the focus is more on the drama surrounding the death of Jesus and the struggle for faith of its witnesses.  Joseph of Arimathea must go against his own high priest to bury the body of Jesus in his tomb—because it is the right thing to do.  The few disciples who have even found their way back to the others wrestle with whether to wait three days and see if there is really any chance of His return—or not!  Even Pilate has to deal with his wife who is convinced by her dreams that Jesus is a good man.

But the Burst of Resurrection is the best moment!  I love the angels in these two series.  They are warriors!  We first see this in the two who go to Sodom to test and rescue Lot and his family.  The “wings” crossed over their backs are swords with which they fight their way through the wicked city.  On Resurrection Sunday the angel, standing in dazzling light, pulls his sword, challenging (unnecessarily) those who guard the tomb.  I love the show of strength and power as opposed to wispy, softly-blurred angels.

Just as with the angels, the other characters are a little stronger, a little more raw, a little more Middle Eastern than we have often seen—and it makes this production better!  I can’t wait to see what they do with Stephen and Paul and Simon Magus and Lydia.

In addition to the mini-series itself, NBC and the co-producers are launching what they call a digital talk show called Beyond A.D. , which will be taped with a live audience and will basically be a dialogue between audience participants and some of the cast, the producers, and other special guests.  The description says that both historical and spiritual topics will be discussed.  Beyond A.D. will launch next Sunday night April 12 and should create wonderful new possibilities for people to explore the Story.

Cynics will argue that NBC is just lining its pockets with a sure hit—taking advantage of the many American Christians starved for something decent to watch on television–and I’m sure there is some truth to the comment. Surely, however what St. Paul said to the early Christians in Philippi is true here also:

It’s true that some are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. But others preach about Christ with pure motives. . . . Those others do not have pure motives as they preach about Christ. They preach with selfish ambition, not sincerely, . . . But that doesn’t matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice.        (Philippians 1:15ff).

9.5 million people watched A.D. last Sunday.  That’s good!

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bluebloodsBlue Bloods, the CBS TV series about the New York Police Department starring Tom Selleck, may be the best Christian drama on television.  I know that seems like an odd thing to say, but let me elaborate.

Blue Bloods premiered on CBS in 2010 and has remained a Friday night staple since, with a viewership of 10-13 million weekly.  While there is always the police versus criminal element in the show, much of the drama surrounds the Reagan family, four generations of law enforcement in NYC.

Frank (Tom Selleck) is now the Police commissioner, the Top Cop, of NYC, after serving on the force his entire adult life.  His father Henry (Len Cariou) had also been police commissioner, but is now retired.  Both father and son are widowed.

Frank has three grown children: Danny (Donnie Wahlberg), Erin (Bridget Moynahan), and Jamie (Will Estes). Danny is a top detective though highly volatile. Erin is a rising Assistant District Attorney, and Jamie is a Harvard graduate with a law degree who has given up law to take up the “family business” as a beat cop.  Another son Joe was murdered in the line of duty before the series opened, a loss that is always close to the surface in this very tight-knit family.

Danny is married to Linda (Amy Carlson) and they have two sons. Erin is divorced and is raising teenage daughter Nicky (Sami Gayle), a good girl but very strong-minded, and Jamie is very eligible.

Every Sunday this entire family sits down to dinner together. Every episode includes this often moving, sometimes humorous, and occasionally tense intersection of the family’s personal and professional lives.  And every meal begins with a prayer!

The Reagan family is Irish Catholic, and they are devout, not in the maudlin manner of Christian TV with everyone holding hands in church, but in what I believe is a more realistic way, in a way that affects every minute of their lives. Sure, there are often references at the dinner table about the homily at Mass that day, and sure, their saying grace is sometimes just a simple family ritual—but there is an assumption in this family that their faith is real and that it is an omnipresent, all-encompassing framework for both their private and their public lives.

And that is why I think Blue Bloods might be the best Christian program on TV!

As police officers, all of them face moral dilemmas almost daily.  Does the right outcome justify using any means to achieve it?  Is life fair when the victims of crime lose and the “perps” walk free on legal technicalities?  When does one keep the letter of the law or opt for the spirit of the law?

Last week’s episode was especially interesting, involving a detective who was cleaning up neighborhoods of drugs, but then buying up the drug houses, cleaning them up, and flipping them for a big personal profit.  After being investigated by Internal Affairs, no one could find anything illegal about this cop’s actions, but Frank maintained it was wrong, even if it wasn’t illegal!  His moral point was that the police must use a higher standard than just the criminal code to evaluate themselves. Not everyone agrees with him—and so the ethical and moral debate characteristic of almost every episode begins.

The drama of the debate, the challenges of their lives are brought to the family dinner table each week.  Often it is the two young boys who innocently raise the moral questions:  “So are you going to kill the bad guy who shot the cop?”

Of course, there is family drama as well: Will Danny be tempted to be unfaithful by women he meets in the line of duty?  Will he cross boundaries in trying to get justice?  Erin and Nicky have the usual single Mom versus teenage daughter issues, and Jamie has such a soft heart—the heart of a priest, as they say in one episode—that he is often in conflict with what is right legally and what is compassionate.

These are not perfect people.  All of them make choices that you wish they had not made, but don’t we all!  The show is almost completely free of profanity—almost—which is refreshing. You can actually admire all of the main characters.  The action and drama are absolutely engaging.

Evil is always evil and never good.  That fact sets this show apart from almost all drama in our increasingly amoral culture.

And God has a lead role.  If you have Catholic hang-ups, get over them and be thankful for a TV show that shows serious believers, practicing their faith publically and privately in the real world. Be thankful for people who believe in truth.  Be thankful for people who pray.

Previous seasons of Blue Bloods are available on Netflix and Amazon–maybe others as well.

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Martin_Luther_King_Jr_St_Paul_Campus_U_MNI can’t remember ever believing that I had absolute freedom to say whatever I wanted to say. 

Terrorists in France attack and kill cartoonists for publishing words and pictures that Muslims find offensive—sometimes even blasphemous.  The world media is appalled at the attack on what many consider a basic human right, that is, freedom of speech.

Most Christians in the United States would stand on the side of freedom of speech, but we are sometimes among the first to want to censor those who oppose what we believe to be true.

Moving out of the world arena and into just a congregational context for a minute, think about how “freedom of speech” is sometimes controlled and/or completely censored among Christians.

I personally know of one congregation where the leadership does not want non-Christian visitors to attend services because they might say something that was not true!  The argument is that if they say something that is not true, then that might lead other people to follow them into untruth.

I know of another congregation where the preacher was instructed never to talk about hell because one of the leaders of the congregation doesn’t believe in hell and nobody wants to offend him.

Some forms of censorship at church are more subtle.  How many of our congregations, for instance, would tolerate the preacher saying anything positive about Obamacare from the pulpit?  Or what about anything negative about the U.S. military establishment? Or something complimentary of Pope Francis?

And it is not just the preacher whose freedom of speech bumps into arbitrary boundaries. I just heard about two congregations who weren’t speaking at all to each other because one of the churches refused to speak out publicly, condemning the use of musical instruments in the assembly.  They were not actually using instruments, but they wouldn’t/didn’t judge others who did. They would not say the right words, so other Christians won’t speak to them!

No one really believes in absolute freedom of speech.  All believe in laws against libel, that is, purposefully publishing damaging remarks about someone which you know are not true.  We Americans don’t believe anyone has the right to threaten the life of the president.

Once we were driving to California when Sherrylee saw a minivan that was splashed with painted slogans all over in 1960s hippie fashion.  The largest words painted on the side which we passed said, “Kill Obama!”  Or so we thought.

She called 911 and reported this to the local police who promised to investigate.  Shortly, thereafter, she got a call on her cell phone from the Secret Service wanting more details, and asking her if it were possible that the painted van said “Kill Osama,” not “Kill Obama,” since they had found and investigated people in an anti-Osama minivan matching her description!  Oops!

God talks a lot about speech—but I don’t think He ever mentions free speech.

Today, at LST we read Ephesians 4, where the Holy Spirit through St. Paul speaks about speech.  These are good words for all of us to hold on to:

          15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. . . .

        Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. . . .

         29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. . . . . 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Something seems to be more important than freedom of speech and that is the truthfulness and the intent of the words, as well as the heart from which the words come.

       “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1)

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churchofchristsignI think many Churches of Christ are caught in a dilemma that they don’t even know will have a long-term effect on them.  See if you agree with me.

Prior to the last quarter century, Churches of Christ viewed as part of their core identity their non-denominationalism.  In fact, the earliest roots of the Restoration Movement in the U.S. were a reaction to the fact that denominationalism had become the means of excluding those from one’s fellowship who had different creedal beliefs.  By laying aside all human creeds and denominational organizations, restorationists believed they were more perfectly practicing the unity of the Spirit in the one Body of Christ.

During the 1970s, many in Churches of Christ began to believe that regardless of our theology, our practice had become denominational.  Churches of Christ had in practice adopted a brand that was defined by its own traditions and that brand was used to exclude rather than include.

Whereas in the sixties, we argued over whether to write “church of Christ” with a capital C or not, by the 70s, those debates were over, and we had become totally tolerant of talking about “Church of Christ” preachers, “Church of Christ” colleges, “Church of Christ” elderships, buildings, JOY buses, and when asked about personal membership “Church of Christ” was the only acceptable answer.  The term “Church of Christ” no longer was just a descriptive name borrowed from Romans 16:16, but rather a brand name and trademark of a very particular group of Christians—the very definition of denominationalism.

Interestingly enough, about the same time period, two new developments began to surface in the broader Christian community:  a number of new non-denominational  groups like Calvary Chapel, The Vineyard,  and The Way were started.  Also the whole Bible church and community church movements flourished. These were typically individual congregations very loosely associated with other churches, if at all.

As these independent non-denominational churches became more numerous, they were seen to be taking advantage of growing tolerance among evangelical Christians in particular.  Congregations of mainline denominations, seeing the tide moving away from denominationalism, began changing their congregational names to more generic names.  New names like Harvest Church, Covenant Church, New Life Church, etc., replaced old names and left old denominational identifications to very small fonts in parentheses, if visible at all.  Some of these churches quit their denominational organizations, but most just changed names.

 So as I see it, about the time the Churches of Christ became comfortable about being one among many churches—at least among evangelical churches (although I myself think we are very inconsistent to only identify with evangelical churches),  those same denominations started moving away from that very position and towards the non-denominational position that Churches of Christ were abandoning.

Here are my conclusions for Churches of Christ:

  • Churches of Christ need to return to their roots and recover their non-denominational theology.  What a great opportunity to be what we have historically claimed to be, a unity movement.  What a great time to preach and actively embrace the unity in the Body of Christ.
  • Churches of Christ need to quit trying to imitate “successful” churches and decide who God wants them to be and what He wants them to teach. Turning to market research for our identity has two big drawbacks: It leaves us being a lesser imitation—a knock-off—of an original, and it means we are always catching up to the “latest trends” often after those who established those trends have moved on.
  • The highly autonomous congregational approach to church is robbing Churches of Christ of the power in community, in fellowship, in “many members but one body!”  We must learn to be more collaborative, to look for true fellowship in the work of the Gospel, and to welcome partnerships with other members of the Body.  Isn’t that the only way to be a whole and healthy Body!

Watch for more on this last point later.

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