I really hope this column will bless you. You can read the most recent column below and previous columns at the archive.
I have a 4-year-old daughter who has an amazing imagination.
One day I sent her to timeout. My children sit in timeout in the corner between the door to our garage and the coat closet in our house. Her few minutes were up, so I went to go get her when I heard her voice whispering. I paused to listen.
"OK, are you ready to marry your husband? You're going to have a very happy life with the closet door knob. OK, here's your flowers."
She had made pretend friends out of the doorknobs to the two doors, and was presenting a leaf she found on the floor as a bridal bouquet. I didn't even know how to respond to her indomitable imagination. I just asked her if I could officiate the wedding. My closet and garage door knobs have been happily married for several months now.
"Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" by Judith Viorst was one of my favorite books as a child. Alexander woke up on the wrong side of the bed with gum in his hair, and every page of the book chronicles how everything that can go wrong in the daily life of a young boy did go wrong for Alexander. I got picked on a lot as a kid and I had more than a few bad days myself. There was always something cathartic about someone else's bad day.
God loved Nebuchadnezzar. God loved him so much, he gave Nebuchadnezzar dreams about the future.
The first time we actually read Nebuchadnezzar's words in the book of Daniel, he laments a mysterious dream that he had in Daniel 2. It was of a large statue made of different materials that was destroyed by a rock and replaced by a mountain. Though Nebuchadnezzar had not told him what the dream was about, Daniel revealed that God himself had given Nebuchadnezzar this dream. God used the dream to show Nebuchadnezzar the kingdoms of history that would follow his and to show him how the Kingdom of God — represented by the mountain — would supplant them all. Nebuchadnezzar praised Daniel's God because only a true and powerful God could reveal another man's dream along with its meaning.
There's a new girl in my youth group. The other day at church, she told me she had "the Force." Being the Star Wars nerd that I am, I understood this to mean she was claiming to be able to move things without touching them and do mind tricks.
And she was right.
In the state of Texas, it is illegal to shoot a buffalo from the second story of a hotel. Neither are you allowed to sell you own eye. In our state capitol, you may not carry wire cutters in your pocket.
I discovered each of these when I searched for Texas' strangest laws. You can find list upon list of laws for almost every jurisdiction in America that we might call "strange" because governments around the country passed laws that seem to exceed, or at least no longer perform, the proper function of government in comic ways.
On Christmas Eve in 1814, British and American delegates met in Ghent, Belgium, to sign a treaty. The Treaty of Ghent formally ceased hostilities between England and the United States of America, putting an end to the War of 1812. But no one told our soon-to-be seventh President Andrew Jackson nor the British forces sent to capture New Orleans until several weeks later.
On Jan. 8, 1815, the Battle of New Orleans broke out with British soldiers outnumbering Americans by more than 2 to 1. The American victory, however, was decisive. The number of British killed, wounded or captured was 2,034 — about a fifth of the total force. By contrast, only 62 Americans were killed, wounded or missing when the engagement ended on Jan. 18.
Humans are experts at destruction. In our history on this planet, we have demonstrated an amazing ability to break and kill. When you consider the things we actually manage to build and create, we seem to excel most at building things that destroy.
Most of the inventions we now enjoy in the modern era were the product of war efforts. Planes, computers, the Internet, orbital flight, nuclear power, GPS, wristwatches, stainless steel and even the microwave oven all have their origins in war in the 20th century alone. Our most successful efforts at creativity were stumbled upon as we intentionally sought out ways to kill each other better.
My first career was in information technology services. I did a lot of different things from desktop support to systems administration to even a little bit of IT sales. I am so thankful for those years. I learned so much about serving people during those years. I learned how to prioritize people over the machines. I even learned how to calm frustrated people down. It's actually quite easy.
"I am not your enemy. I just want to help you."
I have a friend who lived most of her life in Japan. After she married an American, her husband put considerable effort into understanding the culture that formed the way his wife thinks and sees the world. After all, as a Christian, he took the biblical injunction to dwell with his wife "with understanding" (1 Peter 3:7).
He once explained to me what he thought was the core difference between Eastern and Western thought. In Western thinking, the question is, "Is it right or wrong?" But in the Japan, he said, the core question is, "Is this honorable or shameful?"
Ironically, in my unmitigated Western mode of thinking, I immediately began to think, "Is it right or wrong to think that way?" In fact, I need to admit that I don't love anything more than being right. Conversely, I don't hate anything more than being wrong. For most of my life, this has informed my arguments. I would argue absolutely anything simply to win the argument — to be perceived as right whether I was or not, and to prove someone else was wrong whether they were or not.
I love to argue. It might be a personality flaw. There's something I have always loved about jousting with words.
And that's exactly what arguing used to be to me: Jousting with words. Poking at someone with my words in order to knock them down for no good reason beyond sport, entertainment or the release of aggression. I suspect many people think of arguing the same way. "Arguing" has become a negative word and activity. I would like to rescue the word.
I was alone on an island, hungry and miles of paddling away from any help. I had unwisely decided to spend a week of solo beach camping by living off the hook, and I hadn't caught a single fish in days.
I was hungry in a way I had never experienced hunger before.
I went with some friends to see the latest Christian movie in the theaters the other night. We sat in an air-conditioned building in large, comfortable, reclining chairs and watched a high-definition projected display while our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world sat in jail cells and torture chambers, or at least on a dirt floor hoping police don't discover their church gathering.
It strikes me as odd that in a country where movies appealing to "Christians" are cranked out several times a year, churches still struggle to grow. We've all heard the statistics about how Christianity is on the decline in the West. We are seeing the same historical pattern which led Europe into a post-Christian era play out here in America, even with a church on every corner and "Christian" movies in every theater.
A little more than a year ago (Jan. 1, 2015), one of the largest churches in the United States disbanded.
Mars Hill Church, boasting more than 12,000 in attendance across 15 campuses in five states at its peak, dissolved as an organization. Allegations of abusive leadership and plagiarism against Mark Driscoll, the founder and lead pastor of the church, surfaced and the ensuing controversy led the celebrity pastor to resign. Leaving a massive leadership vacuum in his wake, the church liquidated its assets, dismissed its staff and helped satellite sites become their own independent congregations.
Pastors do not have special powers. God does not listen to my prayers more than yours. I am no more righteous than you are. Pastors all struggle the same way other people struggle. We are people just like other people are people. We are not super-Christians.
I tell you this because, in my experience, you might not intuitively know it.
The most marvelous irony of the 21st century American church is its simultaneous obsession with and utter failure to mimic the first century church.