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09 January 2014

Abstinence of Evidence

"Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions." (Jesus in Matthew 7:20, NLT)

"So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (Jesus in John 13:34-35, NLT, emphasis obviously mine)

Believe it or not, unassailable doctrine, large churches, observance of strict moral codes, etc., are not the best indicators that we're followers of Jesus, although they may sometimes come along for the ride. But it doesn't get much simpler than this: our love for one another will prove to the world that we are Jesus' disciples.

Is it possible that followers of Christ tend to live under the impression -- and teach and imply -- that our abstinence from such-and-such "evil" will prove to the world that we're indeed Jesus' disciples? Certainly there are codes of conduct that are taught to the believer in Scripture, and often those things begin with "do not." I'm not saying or implying otherwise.

The problem, though, may be that we're so concerned with the "do not" parts that we tend to forget the "do" parts. Consider the fact that Jesus did not make any of these statements:
  • "If you do not associate with sinners, you will prove to the world that you are my disciples."
  • "If you do not use foul speech, this will prove to the world that you are my disciples."
  • "Your abstinence from alcohol will prove to the world that you are my disciples."
  • "If you do not support businesses that act in a way that is contrary to Scriptural principles, the world will know that you are my disciples."
  • "If you do not gossip, it will be obvious to the world that you are my disciples."

Some of those things are fine (unless they're accompanied by legalism, at which point they're tainted), but according to Jesus, none are the most solid evidence that we are His disciples. In fact, our reliance on "do not" rules can have a tremendous negative effect. (Dave Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons' eye-opening 2007 book, unChristian, is a great place to start in learning about this, and I highly recommend it.)

One of my favorite quotes about the Church is one made by a man known as Julian the Apostate, emperor of Rome from 361-363. He wrote in a letter to Arsacius, the high priest in Galatia, "These impious Galileans [Christians] not only feed their own poor, but ours also; welcoming them into their agapae, they attract them, as children are attracted, with cakes." It wasn't that this early group of believers stood up for their religious rights, abstained from certain foods and drinks, or didn't associate with pagans. It was direct outward evidence of their love for other people (which blossomed out of their love for Jesus) that was evidence that they were followers of The Way.

For the sake of Jesus Christ, let us become a generation of believers that is known for what it does rather than what it does not do.

(This post was originally made quite some time ago; you've just read a re-post. But that's okay. It was free!)

23 January 2013

Mostly Harmless

GARDENDALE | Wed Jan 2, 2013 8:15am EST -- Several years ago in Gardendale, Alabama, a suburb of Birmingham, a group of people with similar interests began to meet in a community center they rented every other Saturday. The facility in an upper middle class section of town; an area where people took pride in their landscaping, had solid high-paying jobs, two and a half kids, etc.

There was nothing at all unusual about people meeting in the community center, but when word got out that the crowd was made up of parolees, convicted felons, and people who'd been accused of any number of crimes from petty theft to rape and arson, the community was none too happy, for obvious reasons.

Fairly soon it was discovered that the meetings were essentially seminars where attendees were given what amounted to step-by-step tutorials on topics like disarming alarm systems, offensive combat techniques, and weapons training. As this leaked out, the well-to-do neighborhoods nearby became paralyzed with fear. Sales of high-end security systems, video monitoring systems, and home window security bars nearly tripled in the first two months of the group's meetings.

Over time, however, the community residents were surprised that although there was an occasional burglary in the neighborhood or a petty theft at a nearby convenience store, the crime rate didn't actually rise. On top of that, the extra income generated by the facility rental allowed the community center to make improvements on its property, initially adding a baseball diamond and after a few years, a swimming pool. The leader of the group continued to make occasional appearances on local-access TV channels and in spite of being outspoken and having rather alarming commentary on some issues, his ideas never gained traction outside the group.

It wasn't very long before the group of people meeting in the community center came to be classified as "mostly harmless."

The above is a work of fiction; a parable submitted for your consideration. Has the Church become all bark and no bite? Are our meetings just informational seminars that rarely result in action or implementation? Do we expect to get by on our reputation or things we've done in the past? Are we really "mostly harmless"?

If we lived and practiced what Jesus taught and what we teach in our meetings, wouldn't we expect to see some crazy changes in our communities?

22 December 2012

Christmas Thoughts...

As I noted a bit earlier this morning via Twitter, I discovered last night that the version of It's a Wonderful Life that exists in my memory is notably superior to the Frank Capra film.


I feel unChristmas-like when I say that it was not only boring, but for some reason I had a hard time believing that Harry Bailey was graduating high school at what appeared to be something like 36 years old, and that George Bailey was only slightly older than your typical college-aged guy when he looked 52. Kinda like Napoleon's classmate and antagonist Don in Napoleon Dynamite.

In other news, we're about to go get the ingredients for Christmas Eve fondue! I'd like to point you to BestFondue.com, where last year I discovered an incredible beef fondue recipe. I made the mushroom dipping sauce, too. Not only did the family not hate it, they (and I) actually loved it. I think it kept our Christmas Eve fondue tradition from dying. Had it been bad we might not have planned to do it again this year.

Finally, stop by Amazon.com and download the absolutely free Green Hill Christmas Music Sampler! It's a straight-ahead, mostly traditional (and on occasion easy-listening) Christmas album.

Merry early Christmas!

06 December 2012

Christmas Classics Flash Poll

Okay, dig in:

1. Mannheim Steamroller or Trans-Siberian Orchestra?
2. Johnny Mathis or Nat King Cole?
3. Andy Williams or Frank Sinatra?
4. Dean Martin or Bing Crosby?
5. Jimmy Durante or Burl Ives?

Your responses and vicious arguments are solicited. Leave your comments below.

05 December 2012

Ten Least-Loved Christmas Songs of 2012

I have about 750 Christmas songs on my iPod. The problem, if it could be called that, is that I've cycled through most of them a few times already. (That's okay, because albums like "A Charlie Brown Christmas" never seem to get old.)

So, after listening to our two local Christmas-music-only radio stations in an attempt to enjoy a little variety, I have determined that only about 50 Christmas songs must have ever been recorded other than those on my iPod. Among them are three versions of "Last Christmas" and roughly 26 versions of "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" (all nearly identical, which makes me wonder why they bothered to record the other 25 versions).

As fate would have it, those two songs are on my "Ten Least-Loved Christmas Songs of 2012" list. It's not enjoyable to wake up to an alarm blaring either of those, so I've decided to start using the buzzer on the alarm instead. It's more inspiring.

Because I enjoy not enjoying certain Christmas songs, I'd like to present the complete list for you. It varies a bit from last year's list in that it's a little longer. Please reciprocate by listing your bottom 10 (or however many you'd like to include) Christmas songs.

Dean's Ten Least-Loved Christmas Songs of 2012:
  1. Last Christmas (Wham!, Taylor Swift, the Glee Cast)
  2. Step Into Christmas (Elton John)
  3. All I Want for Christmas Is You (Mariah Carey)
  4. Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree (Brenda Lee, etc., etc., etc.)
  5. Happy Christmas (War Is Over) (John Lennon, etc.)
  6. Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town (Jackson 5, Bruce Springsteen, Mariah Carey, etc.)
  7. The Christmas Shoes (NewSong -- it's a huge victory that I've only heard this song once so far all season!)
  8. Do They Know It's Christmas (Feed the World) (Band Aid)
  9. Little Saint Nick (Beach Boys)
  10. Run Rudolph Run (Chuck Berry)
Don't forget to post your own list!

01 December 2012

Christmas 2012 Freebie 2

Here's the second set of freebies of the 2012 Christmas season! Like the first, this set of freebies is Christmas music. However, you'll need to be much more selective with these songs than you were with those in the first post.

During my hunt for instrumental (and tasteful) Christmas music last year I uncovered FeelsLikeChristmas.com. Some of the songs will make you feel like Christmas in a way that makes you all warm and fuzzy and makes you pine for olden days -- happy golden days -- of yore. Some may make you recoil in disgust like that one time you heard your Aunt Erma singing Christmas karaoke. It's okay if none of you has an Aunt Erma or has ever heard a family member doing Christmas karaoke. You'll still recoil in disgust at some of these recordings. However, some are excellent!

But they are all free.

First I recommend visiting the Traditional Instrumental Christmas music page. You can preview a song by clicking on its title. Then you'll be taken to a page where you can click the play button and preview it. Like it? Then just right-click on the title of the song and "Save as" to your "My Music" folder (assuming you're using a PC).

If you mouse over the "FREE CHRISTMAS MUSIC DOWNLOADS" menu item you'll see a pop-down of a few other categories to explore.

Your mileage may vary, but hopefully you'll find some great new renditions of old favorites.

30 November 2012

More Sleigh Bell!

Were the classic Saturday Night Live cowbell sketch with Will Ferrell and Christopher Walken executed in a Christmas setting, Walken would be Arthur Fiedler and Ferrell would be the person who played the sleigh bells on the quintessential Christmas favorite " Sleigh Ride." Of course, Blue Öyster Cult would be the Boston Pops Orchestra. (If you're not familiar with the SNL sketch, click here to see an excerpt at NBC's website. Mild language warning .)

"I've got a fevah (fever)... and the only prescription is more sleigh bell!" Although I'm not sure Arthur Fiedler put it that way, this is what comes across in the Boston Pops recording (link goes to Amazon.com's MP3 store), and although one rarely hears a percussion instrument droning in an orchestral song from start to finish, I'd have a hard time imagining "Sleigh Ride" without it.
The 1867 lithograph "A Brush for the Lead" by Currier and Ives
For this post I made a moderate effort to find the name of the Boston Pops member who played the sleigh bells on this song but I came up empty. If you know, I'd love to hear from you. It's a little odd; the person who has one of the most important parts in the song has gone relatively anonymous since 1949.

Fiedler has enjoyed fame as a conductor, the Boston Pops Orchestra has been in the limelight (if you consider orchestras as being in the limelight), and according to a reference at Wikipedia, "'Sleigh Ride' ... has been performed and recorded by a wider array of musical artists than any other piece in the history of Western music."

But for all that, the sleigh bell player remains an unknown. He did his job, did it quite well, and his effort has assumed its place in history. If he could have foreseen the popularity of the song (written in 1948, lyrics added in 1950), do you think he would have said to himself, "I can't see the benefit for myself in this. It will just promote the conductor, the orchestra, and the record company will make loads while I'll remain a nobody," and as a result decided to let someone else play on the record? I rather doubt it.

Raise your hand if you can tell that I'm about to draw a really obvious parallel here.

As we put our gifts to use as one of many parts of the body of Christ, we are called to play our part and do so to the best of our ability. We are not given direction or license to envy someone who has a seemingly more important role or to have resentment if someone else gets credit for what we think was our work or our accomplishment. That's not easy.

"Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ." - Colossians 3:23-24 (NLT)

"In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary." - 1 Corinthians 12:22 (NLT)

I've got a fevah... and the only prescription is more sleigh bell!

27 November 2012

Christmas 2012 Freebie Number 1

I've no idea how many of these I'll be passing along, but here's the first freebie of the 2012 Christmas season!
I stumbled across classical guitarist Jon Sayles' holiday music site and found a plethora of well-executed traditional instrumental Christmas songs. He's posted them all for free download here. You'll have to right-click and save them one at a time, but the investment will be well worth it.

If you visit his site and download his music, I encourage you to send him some feedback. There's a contact link at the top of his Holiday Music page.

NOTE: after you save the songs to your computer you should ideally edit the song names, artist name, genre, etc. (the ID3 tags) for each MP3 so that when you play the songs on your computer or put them on your MP3 player, the correct song title and artist will display. If you don't know how to do this or don't know what I'm talking about, you can contact me and I'll do my best to walk you through it. I couldn't find anything very usable on the web -- just a glut of "free" ID3 tag editors you can download -- but it's all confusing if you've never thought about this before and I'll do my best to help.

Don't be intimidated and don't let that stop you from grabbing these tunes, though! If you don't want to contact me or mess with the ID3 tags, worst-case, you'll have a handful of songs called "Untitled" on your MP3 player.

Keep checking back for more free Christmas music over the next few weeks.

May you be a blessing to someone this Christmas season!

25 November 2012

Abandonware

I believe I'm part of the first generation that grew up with video games. I haven't really ever known life without them. I remember the Christmas when my brother got a Pong console (the APF "TV Fun" console) -- two built-in paddle controllers and a handful of games that featured lines and squares and three sound effects.
Eventually I enjoyed the Atari 2600 (we actually had the Sears Tele-Games system, the OEM version), then the Apple IIe, and a while after that was the Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Genesis, an IBM PC, Dreamcast, PlayStation 2, Xbox 360, and several others along the way. I still fondly remember playing Yars' Revenge and turning the score counter over 33 times. Another game that sticks in my mind is Lode Runner for the Apple IIe.

The nice thing about having grown up and having technology grow up right along with me is that many of those games are available and playable now in the exact form in which they were released. It doesn't happen too much, but occasionally I'll have the urge to play a classic from yesteryear, so I fire up my browser and hit a few of my favorite sites for old video games. Abandonia.com is the first place I usually stop. Abandonia hosts all kinds of old games that are legal to download for free now because the games have been abandoned by their copyright holders (that's the gist of it). This kind of software is, appropriately, called "abandonware."

Suppose I wanted to get my retro video game fix and I visited abandonia.com, only to find out that it had been shut down due to lack of funding. For a moment or two I'd be disappointed, then I'd Google for some more classic gaming sites. It's just what we do these days. I don't have to maintain a website or a huge archive of old games; I just get to enjoy the resources of those who do.

You see, I like old video games -- I'm a bit of a fan. But I'm not a hardcore classic gaming freak. Many people are, and many of them run websites devoted to the genre. If I find myself of a mind to act on my fandom, I expect that there will be plenty of resources out there to help me indulge that impulse. I'll play for a while, enjoy it, then forget about it until next time.

This kind of habit is rampant in Christianity. Not gaming (though that's certainly something Christians do), but the up-and-down fandom and periodic indulgence in a form of perceived holiness. I'm sure it's been a trend since Christianity's inception, even since worship of YHWH was instituted in ancient Israel. We fondly remember some of the good things in our past when we've experienced God doing great things. Maybe we recall Christmas Eve services as a child and remember how inspiring they were. When the impulse comes to do something about it, we run to the people who maintain a deep walk with Christ or people who simply fit into an established, revered religious office. There we can hear religious truths, be made to feel good about ourselves, but have no accountability or longevity. Ultimately, there is no change.

When we're done we put those feelings back on the shelf from which we got them, happy to have been able to experience something good and religious, and maybe even Godly. But all too often we leave it to someone else to maintain the websites and offer free downloads of abandonware. We can be pseudo-fans of Jesus and think we're doing something acceptable.

"I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!" (Revelation 3:15-16, NLT)

10 November 2012

Where I've Been

It's been a while since I spouted my opinions here. In that time, we in the USA have experienced much. Hurricane Sandy, many heinous crimes (and many acts of charity that are never reported), a presidential election, and... and... some other stuff. And I've had opinions on all of it.

But I haven't viewed much from the perspective of a traveler through a strange land; an alien to this world.

To be honest, I think I've been more focused on "stuff" than I have on the God who has saved me. You know, the God who flung the stars into space and stretched the universe out. The God who imagined and placed the duck-billed platypus and the giraffe and the cuddly little puppy on this planet (also the dinosaur and the carnivorous saber-toothed cat). The God who put the laws of physics in place. The God who set -- and sets -- the standard for truth.

That God.

The one who did all those things but has time and enough interest to interact with me. The one who wrote a book that I have the unfathomable privilege to read.

It truly boggles my mind how I could take God for granted.

16 September 2012

As God Is My Witness

"As God is my witness [insert something you're terribly determined to do]." Some reserve this saying for those very special occasions when a simple declaration just won't cut it. Maybe the most well-known version was when Scarlet O'Hara announced (to herself, I think) that she'd never be hungry again. And she meant it, darn it. Paul the Apostle even used the phrase in the beginning of his letter to the church in Rome.

While it appeals to the all-seeing, all-knowing characteristics of God, we use that reference to call on the nature of the One who is supremely trustworthy, otherwise it makes little sense. It's like a first cousin of the phrase "May God strike me dead if..." It promises that no matter the odds or the difficulty, we are going to do this particular thing.

Has it occurred to you that God essentially says this of His followers every single day? The statement of Jesus in Acts 1:8 -- "you will be My witnesses" -- indicates that He is saying to the world, for instance, "As Dean is my witness, anyone who believes in Me has eternal life," or to the Church, "As Dean is my witness, the world will know you're My followers by the love you have for each other."

That's a very tall order. But it's not only possible for us to be that kind of witness, it is reasonable and it is even expected of every follower of Jesus Christ. This is how much God has entrusted to us. The Church is His body on earth. I am His witness. You are His witness. He gives enough of Himself to us to expect us to be supremely trustworthy; to be carriers of His name and guardians of His character.

15 September 2012

20 Items Or Less

A while back I was driving toward an odd five-way intersection and was about to make a left turn. I put my blinker on and waited for the police car coming toward me in the other lane to pass by. To my surprise, without using his blinker, the policeman slowed for what seemed like an eternity and made a right turn onto the road I was waiting to turn onto. Without sarcasm (to my wife's surprise and to my own), I said to my wife, "Hey, he didn't use a blinker. And look! He's talking on the phone!"

Very uncool.

As I was on my way to a church meeting one Sunday morning (also a while back), chugging along at the speed limit, a car zoomed past me, shattering the speed limit. The driver was dressed well, and given the time of day and the fact that we live in the Bible Belt, it's a moderately safe assumption that he was on his way to church services somewhere. I'm not stating that he was; just saying that it's probable.

I'm too critical -- this I know. However, in both cases above, I'm likely not the only person who'd notice that something was at least slightly awry.

All those reading are probably familiar with Jesus' parable of the talents in Matthew 25. There are a couple of points that are super-important. First, we're expected by God to be good stewards of the title "Christ-follower" and all that it includes. Second (not mentioned in the parable, so thereby not to be taken as the words of Jesus, but as my own) people are watching to see what we do. I should interject that I really need to give my two example people the benefit of the doubt, and I do, but they were perfect examples for this post. The cop may have been dealing with a personally stressful situation on the phone, and the speeding car could have been driven by a guy on his way to see his lady friend or something.

Following is a very short list of the kinds of things that the Christ-follower should never say. Legalist thinking? Not in my opinion.


  • "I know I have 37 items in my basket, but this 'express' line at Chaos-Mart is shorter than the only other one that's open, so I'll use it anyway."
  • "He won't ever know the difference."
  • "I just don't feel convicted to obey the speed limit."
  • "He needs to be taught a lesson." (...when uttered with a malicious heart. Otherwise, this one's permissible and can possibly be adviseable sometimes.)

These thoughts and others like them lead to wrong behavior -- behavior that people will observe. Even if we somehow don't consider the resulting actions to be destructive to our walk with Christ, that they can, and very likely will, wind up being destructive to our witness.

"Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world." (1 Peter 2:12, NLT)

Ripping off my own writing, this is a repost of "Obeying '20 Items or Less'" from EGBDF in 2008. Image above by Shaun Ellsworth, copyright The San Bernadino County Sun

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