January 31, 2008
I picked up a copy of “I Sold My Soul on Ebay” by Hemant Mehta (published by Waterbrook press in 2007) recently and found it to be an engaging and entertaining book. Mehta grew up in the Jain faith in Chicago and spent time in Knoxville, Tennessee. He became an Athiest and is working on a masters degree in math education. He is a young man in his 20s and has worked and continues to work with Athiest organizations. He calls himself a “friendly athiest” and has no harsh feelings toward religion but does not believe in God. He had never attended a Christian congregation when he put his story on Ebay and was willing to attend the winning bidder’s church for a certain amount of time depending on how high the bid went. Through his experiment a minister won (the money did not go to Mehta but charity) and the minister and he came up with a plan. Mehta would attend 15 different churches (from small to mega) and write honest impressions on a web site. The project took off and created buzz and conversation. The first half of the book tells Mehta’s story and why he is an athiest. He then shares his insights on the churches (by name) and gives insight on what it would take for him to believe.
I loved this book. It is not a mean spirited book but a wonderful journey to church through the eyes of a athiest. As a minister we may not have many outright athiests come to church but we do have many seekers who do come. We also have folks come who have little connection to God and church life and the insights Mehta gives would apply to many of the folks who walk into the doors of our churches for the first time.
I would love it if every active Christian could read this book. Mehta draws from his experience insight that would challenge all of our churches. He has some real advice for ministers in particular. He also is honest with church members who sit in the pews. He feels that the preacher needs to be relevant, warm, use humor, and bring real life to what is said. He compares ministers to college professors. There are those who engage and excite the students and those that put them to sleep. Which one do we ministers want to be? He also talks about his observations of the people who sit in the pew. Some folks come in late, talk, sleep, pay no attention and seem bored with it all. He also was impressed by churches that were active and doing something in their communities. He believes that churches should also be willing to share multiple views of tough issues and to be brave and engage the real questions of the day.
There is much to learn from this short book. It is a book that you can read in a short time but will give you something to ponder.
In my next blog article I’m going to talk more about some of the issues he has raised in this book. If you are reading this please comment! What advice would you give Christian churches that would help reach the seekers in our world? What do we do right? What could we do better? This isn’t aimed just at the church I attend but any Christian church. What do you think about it? Let me know!
January 29, 2008
New Mexico wants to make kids lose weight and they might use taxes to do it! In order to raise funds to fight childhood obesity they want to have a tax added to the sale of televisions and video games that will go to this cause. TVs and video games are often items that lead to less excercise and more weight. Meanwhile in many cities laws have been passed to ban young men from wearing their jeans low and showing their boxers. Many community leaders argue that this style of hip hop clothing is offensive and that men need to grow up!
Let me say up front that I am not supportive of kids being overweight and I personally do not like folks (male or female) showing their underwear in public. Madonna wore her underwear on the outside long ago but now everyone seems to be doing it and I find it strange. Yet I also admit we did some strange things in the name of fashion when I was growing up. But what I wonder is can we really force people to follow a behavioral pattern through taxes and bans? I know we have laws for many things that are needed but can we have a law or tax for everything? I lived in Louisville when we did the smoking ban and I was in favor of that because second hand smoke is a reality. Smokers say that the ban violated their rights and yet those of us who breath the smoke of others have rights too. The talk moved from smoking to fast food. Cities began to debate banning certain ways fast food is prepared to lead our nation into a healthier trend.
I understand the reasoning and I honestly don’t know how I feel about the above issues. I want kids to be healthy. I want our society to have better values and be smarter. Laws are good and often necessary to protect us from ourselves and yet I realize that in the end until a person wants to do better he or she will find a way to be ‘bad.’
This is a Christian dilema. Within the church we want people to follow God. We want Christians to act like Christians! We want morality and we long for good decisions. And yet we know we can’t force anyone to do right but we can sure pray, encourage, and hope for them to see the need to do just that.
In various times in history Christian churches have tried hard to enforce morality and often fell into legalism. Christians at times in various places have been rather harsh. Yet arresting someone for not going to church on Sunday or reading their Bible probably will not work. The best approach is to show people why they need Christ and to allow the love of God to change hearts. And yet we have to speak out on issues and we do have to teach morality, ethics, and what it means to be a Christian. But we can never force anyone to do what they need to do. In the end they have to decide for themselves to follow Christ. Converting by force has never worked.
So am I against such laws or taxes on saggy pants, Big Macs, and smoking? I have no idea. I’m not a politician and I’ll leave the merit of those laws to others. Sometimes I like the attempts and other times I don’t. Yet in the end I do know I can’t change anyone who doesn’t want to change.
January 23, 2008
Today another Hollywood star has died. Heath Ledger, 28, was the star of “10 Things I Hate About You”, “A Knight’s Tale”, “Patriot”, “Brokeback Mountain” and the upcoming “Dark Knight” (Batman movie). While watching the evening news of his body being taken out one reporter said that it was hard to understand how a man who could have everything could die so young. At this moment no one knows the exact cause of death. The reports are saying there were pills on the scene and that he has been depressed since the end of his relationship to the mother of his child. Ledger has always been a Hollywood outsider and not involved in the party scene. In the past few months he has been seen dating super models and even Lindsay Lohan. Reports of alcohol and drug abuse are circulating. It amazes me how the body can only be a few hours and so much information can already be out!
It remains to be seen how and why he died or if anyone will ever know. It may have been natural causes, accidential drug overdose, or something else. One reporter already said he was another James Dean. Mel Gibson who costarred with Ledger in “The Patriot” expressed his sorrow and prayers for one who died with so much potential.
I’m still thinking about that phrase about a young man with so much who died so soon. Our culture still seems to equate fame and material wealth with having everything. We see someone with good looks, talent, money, and success and can’t believe they are miserable. I do not know anything about the spiritual conditions of Ledger, Dean, or the other young stars who have died but I do know that those things simply are not a key to joy. The book of Ecclesiastes should serve as a reminder that sometimes “everything is meaningless.” The Teacher in that soul searching Old Testament book reminds us that all the things under the sun can seem empty at times. The ultimate quest all humans long for is meaning and that we know is found only in a relationship with God. And yet this story reminds us that even if Ledger had this relationship that life can be tough and that we as a church need to be there to minister to those who are hurting. Mental illness is a reality that the church must talk about and we need to not allow depression to be an unspoken reality but rather something we can talk about openly. The church does a great job with those who struggle physically but those who suffer mentally often do so in silence. May we as a church repent of such failure and do a better job in the future.
January 18, 2008
As a child I got very excited when talk of snow would begin. The night before a big snow I would hope and pray that it would hit so we could stay home and not go to school. Now that I’m adult I sometimes dread snows. Life is so busy and I have so much to do that the idea of being ‘stuck’ at home and unable to get out to my busy life sometimes worries me.
Not this time.
When I heard a snow was coming I got excited again. Why? Life is still very busy and I wanted a break! When a snow storm hits and you can’t get out of your house it’s a nice way to just stop and enjoy a day off from everything. My wife and daughter and I took a walk down the road to visit the cows and a nearby goat. We hung out, made breakfast, rested, played, and just enjoyed the day.
If life were a remote control it usually would be on fast forward but snow days are God’s way of hitting the pause button (apologies to those of you who had to go to work anyway). Everything seems to shut down. The community just feels different.
Maybe we need to hit the pause button more often. I’m not saying we need to get lazy. I believe in hard work and doing what you need too. But sometimes in our rush we forget to enjoy the simple things in life. Sometimes a cup of coffe, spending time with family, and visiting cows is just what you need! Life is too short and we need to pause sometimes.
God worked this into life. He gave us the Sabbath (Saturday for the Jewish folks and now Sunday for us Christians). The Jews even were instructed to take time for the land to rest and so on. God even rested after six hard days of work.
Some people say that is why they don’t go to church on Sundays. They say it is their only day to ‘rest’ or take it easy. Those folks miss the point. Spiritually we need time to hit the ‘pause’ button on life and be in God’s house for praise, prayer, fellowship, discipleship, and our own spiritual formation. When I miss church on Sundays I always feel like something is missing. I need Sunday to get through Monday.
So enjoy the snow days and sometimes make your own snow day. Take a day off if you can and spend it with those you love and enjoy life! And on Sundays hit that pause button and go spend time with God as a family.
January 15, 2008
I was at Food Lion tonight to buy diapers for my three year old. I found myself standing in line waiting in the only open aisle. I did what I normally do in these moments. I read the titles of the latest magazines. To my dismay eight of the magazines (half of the lot) had leading titles about Britney Spears (actually one was covering her sister’s latest pregnancy). Titles screaming at me said, “Britney’s Melt Down”, “My Last Day with Mommy”, and other attempts for me to spend my money to read the shocking details inside. Somehow I made it through my shopping trip without purchasing any of the copies.
My mind went back to a day recently when I found myself working out at the YMCA. At our local YMCA there are five TVs you can choose to read the captions or plug in your headphones while you bike or walk on the treadmills. I watched during the middle of a Friday lunch hour while for one solid hour CNN displayed a special edition regarding the latest Britney meltdown the night before.
Why is this news? In the 70s when Elvis died I read that a major announcer on the news refused to lead with his death because that was entertainment news and not headline news. If the King didn’t get a leading mention how does one out of control, self-obsessed former Mickey Mouse girl get such press?
Since I seem to know more about the Spears clan then perhaps I am as guilty as everyone else. For some reason we can’t get enough of watching the young and rich spiral out of control. There are so many other stories going on. While Britney lost her mind in her bathroom Bhutto had died trying to run for office in her own country. While we ponder whether K-Fed will get full custody of his children from Britney the homeless shiver in the cold and children are neglected by their own parents. Our world often seems to be losing its mind and I guess rather than deal with the real issues of life we follow the daily drama of the famous.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want anything bad to happen to Mrs. Spears. As a Christian I hope she will find sanity and that she will not become another statistic in the long line of celebrity tragedies. I wonder if I have ever stopped to pray for her rather than mock her? And maybe I am part of the masses guilty of giving so much attention to the private lives of people I don’t know and will probably never meet.
As a Christian I know churches often are guilty of dealing with distractions rather than facing the needs in our communities. How often do churches get bogged down in details and non-essentials while people hurt and suffer all around? Am I guilty of ignoring those who need to know Christ and need the hope Christ offers? This is not an accusation to any particular congregation or believer but to the entire Christian church in North America. Maybe we are too worried about our own creature comforts and what we prefer rather than the people who are desperately needing the message we sing about each week?
Derik Hamby (www.dwhamby1.wordpress.com)
January 11, 2008
So it is getting even hotter! I’m not talking about the weather (although it has been a tad warmer this week here in VA) but the national political scene that is! And of course we will hear more and more about the election as time goes on. As a news junkie and loyal American I follow this process every time. I try and listen to debates. I read and attempt to get the information I need to make an educated vote. As a Christian I know that all Christians are shaped by their faith values and who you vote for tends to be a result of many factors and hopefully your faith is a vital part of your decision. Some Christians are concerned about various moral hot button issues and vote regarding those (abortion, homosexuality, etc). Others Christians are worried about poverty and other social justice issues and vote regarding those topics. Any given church will have Democrat, Republican, and Independent voters sitting in the pews this season.
So how am I going to address this season as a minister?
Well…….I am not going to stand in the pulpit and tell people who to vote for and I will not turn the church into a political machine. Jesus talked about a better kingdom even though there were those who wanted to see him ‘run for office.’ My job is to deal with bigger issues and yet those bigger issues will impact our everyday decisions including voting. I am a strong Baptist and practice the separation of church and state. So I will not tell you who to vote for this year. I will not declare one party to be God’s party. I will encourage you to live your faith and to be involved in your community and that includes your citizenship in this country.
So who do I endorse? I hear ministers endorsing different candidates. I heard a mega church pastor say he is not sure yet who he will endorse. You’ll just have to guess when it comes to me. I will not say because if I do because I have public role then I’ve crossed a line that I will not cross. I will vote in November. But I will not be sharing from the pulpit who gets my vote. Some of my friends might know or guess, but in the end that’s between me and God.
Pray this season for peace during this process. Some countries face bloodshed over voting. Others can’t vote. Thank God we live in a country where we can vote and where we may have nasty words but we will not have bloodshed from the various parties.