Baseball & Frailty

I’ve often said that other than the things that actually matter in life, baseball is my favorite thing in the world.  Occasionally, those things that matter will collide with baseball in a startling way.  Today is one of those times.  Last night I watched Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart make only his fourth career big league start, allowing no runs and striking out five over six innings, only to have the bullpen cough it up in the ninth inning.  This morning on a break at work, I went on the Internet and discovered that Nick Adenhart is dead.  After the game his car was struck by a hit-and-run driver, slamming it into a light post.  He died in surgery about six o’clock this morning.

People die, and die tragically, everyday.  Open the newspaper, watch TV, or surf the web and you’ll see and hear stories about people killed in car accidents, drive by shootings, in wars, disease, or one of any other of endless possibilities.  In just the last couple months we’ve seen stories of police officers gunned down in the line of duty and a group of immigrants murdered while taking a citizenship test.  All unexpected, all tragic.  Nick Adenhart being a professional baseball player doesn’t make his death any more or any less tragic than these others, but perhaps because we often see professional athletes as being at least physically impervious to the pitfalls of this world, it makes a big impact.  Here he was, 22 years old, his whole life and career ahead of him with seemingly nothing to stand in his way to success and fortune.  Now its all gone.  In the case of those police officers in Oakland and Pittsburgh, while we don’t expect our cities finest to be gunned down in the street on a weekly basis, we know that its a dangerous job and that they knew that when they signed up, so while we don’t, and shouldn’t, accept it maybe it doesn’t seem quite as inconceivable.  In a professional athlete we see an insular life of privilege and wealth, not often found amongst the ranks of law enforcement officers.  But now we are reminded–because we already knew it in the back of our minds–that all the money and privilege in the world can’t insulate anyone totally from the travails of life.

And so we’re left to wonder, why?  Why are those whose futures appear so bright taken from us by those who, at the same age, already have DUI convictions on their record and a suspended license?  It isn’t fair.  But we know life isn’t fair, don’t we?  If it was, would a perfect Man have to have died to pay for the crimes of you and me?  This life is frail.  It can seem sturdy and well constructed on the outside, but the frame and foundation may be crumbling and we don’t even know it and it could come to a crashing end at anytime.  The only certainty is Christ.  Hebrews 13:5 says, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  All the money in the world can’t guarantee you a thing, but once Christ is in your corner there’s no losing.  No more bullpen to blow a solid start.  He’ll be with you all the way.  If he’s not in your corner yet, don’t hesitate.  I hope Nick Adenhart didn’t.

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Mild He Lays His Glory By

babyAt church recently the pastor, who also happens to be  my dad, has been taking us through the Gospel of John.  As providence would have it, yesterday we studied John 1:14, which is very appropriate for the season.  It says, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  The Word that this verse speaks about is Jesus Christ.

Being my first Christmas season as a father, I’ve been thinking more than in past years about how amazing that verse really is.  The Word became flesh.  God became a person; a person in every sense.  He started out in this world just like we all do, as a helpless baby.  When you’re the parent of a baby you really get a greater understanding of what this means.  Before Lily was born the knowledge that I was 100% responsible for her survival was a terifying thought.  Babies have to have everything done for them.  They can’t eat on their own, they can’t shelter themselves, they can’t even sleep right if not properly taken care of.  After almost a year of parenthood now, the terror has subsided and I feel confident that we can make it to year two.  But in this first year, having seen first hand how dependent a baby is on it’s parents, and thinking about Christmas in those terms, the fact of And the Word became flesh is an even greater miracle than I originally realized.

God became a man, first as a child.  He needed to be fed, He cried, He felt pain, He needed his mother to dress him, He had to learn how to interact with people and His environment.  As I watch Lily go from being able to hold her head up, to rolling over, to crawling, to standing, and making all kinds of exciting discoveries–like what that little piece of dirt on the floor tastes like and what happens when she slams her fingers in a cupboard door–I realize that Jesus as a baby went through the exact same thing.  Let me be even more frank; Jesus Christ, the God of the universe who spoke the world into existance, the savior of all mankind who calmed the storm with the mere sound of his voice and healed the lame, had to have his poopy diapers changed.  If that didn’t just blow your mind, you either need to check your pulse or get yourself right with God.  It doesn’t get any more humbling than having someone else clean you up after you’ve soiled yourself.  God the Son left the glory of the Father for that.

And why did He do it?  The line that follows the title of this post in the great Christmas carol tells us, “Born that man no more may die.  Born to raise the Sons of Earth. Born to give them second birth.”  Glory to the newborn King indeed.

The Wednesday Review: Jesus Camp (film)

Jesus CampI watched a movie, a documentary, called Jesus Camp Monday.  When I first heard about this movie several months ago I was immediately intrigued, and more than a little wary.  With a title like Jesus Camp how could I not be?  Is this a Michael Moore-style hit job on Christianity or a corny, saccrine Christian production, or an intelligent, balanced look at a slice of the Christian culture.  All this just from the title.  Though intrigued, I hadn’t really planned on making a special effort to see it.  But then I saw it in the Netflix queue of a friend of mine.  A friend who does not share my Christian convictions.  I decided that at the very least it would be beneficial to see in case he were to ask me about it.  I’m glad I did (though said friend has not asked me about it).

The movie is a look into the culture of a portion of the Evangelical Christian community through the lens of the Kids on Fire summer camp put on by a Penecostal children’s minister named Becky Fischer.  Its important to note that this is just one particular branch of the Evangelical Christianity.  I would identify myself as an Evangelical Christian but I don’t speak in tongues, as they do often in the film, and though I would agree with much of what Fischer and others have to say in the film, I do not think that her methods are 1). healthy and 2). biblical.  In all the scenes of Fischer speaking to the kids, I don’t recall once where she cracks open her Bible.  Granted, we only get snippets of these messages, but if this is in fact a Bible camp, it should not be hard to spot the Bibles.  I’m not by any means claiming that Fischer is a charlatan, quite the contrary.  She appears very sincere and devoted to Christ in reaching these kids for Him. However, I think her methodology is misguided.  As an example, in one scene the kids are admonished to pray for our government and for righteous people to rise up within it, certainly a noble prayer, but then are invited to smash ceramic mugs labled “government” with a hammer.  I wasn’t exactly sure what the connection was between mugs and government.

Government and the Christians role it was a major theme in the movie.  Fischer encourages the kids at the camp to be politically active as they grow up, especially on the issue of abortion.  Some of the language she usses in doing so could and does make those outside the Christtian communtiy more than a little nervous.  Here’s a quote: 

It’s no wonder, with that kind of intense training and discipling, that those young people are ready to kill themselves for the cause of Islam. I wanna see young people who are as committed to the cause of Jesus Christ as the young people are to the cause of Islam. I wanna see them as radically laying down their lives for the Gospel as they are over in Pakistan and Israel and Palestine and all those different places…

Now, do I think that she is advocating the formation of pre-teen Christian suicide bomber battalions?  No, of course not.  But it isn’t hard for me to understand concerns that non-Christians would have when they hear this kind of language.  Because I know Christian-ese, I know that when she says things like “the army of the Lord”, she is not referring to an actual military force in the physical sense, but that there is a spiritual battle going on.  But to the outsider, it sounds militant.  The counter-point in the filme to Fishcer is a liberal Christian talk radio host name Mike Papantonio.  The movie bounces back and forth between the camp and Papantonio on his radio show railing against the influence of the religeous-right in American politics.  Again, I understand, though do not agree, with folks like Papantonio who are fearful of some kind of Christian coup of American government.  But I often find their arguments hollow and disengenuous, mostly because they are involved in the same kinds of activity on the other side.  Papantonio says at one point, something to the effect of, and I’m paraphrasing, “These people are training their kids to grow up to vote a certain way, to change the government into something they’re comfortable with.”  And this doesn’t happen with other groups?  Hmmmmm. 

On some level I am uncomfortable with the meshing of Christianity and political activism.  Do I thnk there are moral issues that Chsirtians should should take a stand on?  Absolutely.  But Evangelicals need to be reminded that God is not a Republican.  It just so happens that on many moral issues, like abortion, the Republican party tends to come down on the side more in line with many, if not most, Christians, though this is becoming increasingly less so.  That fact not withstanding, that shouldn’t give Christians license to look the other way when a political leader they support is caught up in some other immoral behavior or position.  Being pro-life doesn’t give a politician the right to rob the bank.  There is a scene in which one of those life-size carboard cutouts of President Bush is brought out and the kids are encouraged to pray over him.  Should we pray for our leaders?  Of course, but it would have been interesting to see if they would have done the same thing had John Kerry won the 2004 election.  Politics is a dirty business and to remain true to God’s commands and still climb that ladder….it makes me a little suspicious.

 However, the most interesting part of the movie was the kids.  It focuses on a couple in particular and its quite fascinating, and humbling, to hear them talk about their love of Jesus and to see their actions proving it.  During the end credits, we see two of the kids handing out tracts on the street and trying to witness to people.  Many have criticized Fischer’s camp as being a place where kids are being brainwashed or indoctrinated.  That she’s taking advantage of their moldable minds to create a massive future conservative voting bloc.  The group times are very emotional, over-the-top so, which makes me wonder, not if these kids are being brainwashed, but if the fervency they have is real, or if it, like emotion, will fade.

Overall, I thought the film was a fair look at this culture, with a coule relatively minor exceptions.  Some soundbites seemed cut a little short to give a certain impression and at times the music lent itself to a forboding mood that was probably unfair.  But on the whole, the filmmakers pretty much kept their opinions out of it.  There is no narration, and what you see is pretty much what you get. Fischer herself has endorsed it, though the reaction among the Evangelical community at large has been varied.  Defrocked pastor Ted Haggard, who appears briefly in the film, has denounced it, but given his recent troubles I don’t think thats an opinion we should be too concernced about.  This is not the church that I have known, or am completely in line with, theologically or methodoligically.  However, if all Christians had the passion of these kids, without perhaps the mug smashing, the world would indeed under go revival.  As one of the boys, Levi, says, “I feel like I’m different.  But if all Christians acted like they should, then I wouldn’t be.”

Magic Carpet Ride

I want all of you reading this to know that today Jennifer and I were blessed with an extraordinary and unexpected gift. We received in the mail a very special letter. On the envelope was printed “Two homes are about to be blessed…Then it must go to another dear friend.” To the right of that was “YOU FIRST!” I could not contain my excitement. What is this miraculous blessing that doth bestow itself upon our humble home? With bated breath I tore open the envelope. What could be in here? A check for $10,000? The answer to all life’s riddles? An all expenses paid vacation for two to Maui? A new puppy? What could it possibly be?!? Oh. It’s a prayer…rug…made out of……..a piece of paper.

But that’s not all. In addition to the handsome “rug”, complete with artist’s rendering of a thorny-crowned Messiah, was a letter of explanation, another letter of prayer rug user testimonials, another letter folded over and sealed, and a return envelope (postage paid). The letter of explanation gave us instructions on what to do with the rug and had a section on the back for filling out prayer requests to send back to Saint Matthew’s Church where this little sacred delight originated. We were to go into a quiet place with no distractions, place the “Holy Ghost, Bible Prayer Rug” (other names included were Faith Church Prayer Rug, Bible Prayer Rug, Church Prayer Rug, Bible Faith, Church, Prayer Rug, and Church Faith Prayer Rug) on the floor and either kneel on it, or place it over both knees. They were very adamant about it “touching both of your knees.” Then after saying our prayers we were to take the rug and place it in a Bible at Philippians 4:19. If we didn’t have a Bible, “it’s OK–just slide it under your side of the bed, for tonight.” First thing the next morning, it instructed us to “get this unusual blessing Church Prayer Rug out of this house and back to” them as soon as possible. We were not to keep the rug for more than 24 hours! We were to write our requests on the letter, or fill in the appropriate provided boxes (My soul, a new car, to stop a bad habit, a better job, etc.) and mail it back as well.

The sealed letter was also very interesting. On the front it said “A sign from the Lord about your future.” Under that it carried this ominous message: Important – Only break open this sealed prophecy after you have put this Church Prayer Rug and your prayer requests back in the mail to this 56-year-old church ministry. If for any reason you are not going to return this Church Prayer Rug, then this sacred prophecy must be destroyed, unopened, and unread, because this is a sacred, spiritual prophecy, sealed word, concerning you and your future. Remember, the Bible says, “Let your requests be made known unto God.” Philippians 4:6

Now, I happen to be in full agreement with Philippians 4:6. I just don’t think it said in Philippians 4:7 that my requests need to be made while both my knees are touching a computer printout of a Jesus rug. Wait, let me check on that. Nope, didn’t think so.

And that’s the real problem with all of this. I don’t know anything about this Saint Matthew’s Church and this didn’t appear to be an overt appeal for funds. The rug was free after all, though they did want it back. If this is indeed a sincere call for those in need to submit their prayer requests to a willing and loving group of praying friends than fine. The problem is that their well meaning intentions are not rooted in scripture, concerning this prayer rug business. I checked out a little bit the the FAQ on their website and here’s a couple of things I found:

Question: Do I have to have a St Matthew’s Church prayer rug letter to be able to pray to God?

Answer: No. A Saint Matthew’s Church prayer rug letter is simply a tool for inspiration, an encouragement to get you down on your knees and praying to God.

OK, so not a requirement, that’s good, but couldn’t the rug, besides causing detrimental confusion leading to that question, become something of a security blanket, i.e., an idol? I don’t think we’re supposed to have those.

Question: Does St Matthew’s Church encourage prayer rug letter use?

Answer: Yes. Using the Saint Matthew’s Church prayer rug letter can inspire one to pray when they find no motivation elsewhere. St Matthew’s Church believes and teaches that God answers prayers. St Matthew’s Church will never stop preaching this message.

I would never ask SMC to stop preaching that God answers prayer. He does. I’ve seen it in my own life, in my wife’s life, and in the lives of countless others. Hearty agreement there. But please, please, enough with the rugs already. Fifty-six years is long enough. People are being mislead into thinking that if they have a magic carpet to pray on they will be blessed. It smacks of Benny Hinn. You don’t need a rug. God and God alone decides what blessings to bestow and to who He will bestow them. Giving someone a picture of a rug, it’s not even a real rug!, is only masking the greater problem of the fact that we are all sinners and without salvation we’re destined for trouble. You can’t hide that stain with a decorative floor covering. If you’re hurting, if you’re wandering, if you’re lost, if you’re empty inside, turn to Christ not a fake tapestry with “His” face emblazoned on it.

Oh, and I totally opened and read the prophecy.