Archive for April, 2009

Culture Corner – Here we go again…

Posted in Culture, Theological with tags , , , on April 30, 2009 by joetheyouthpastor

Well, here we go again… If I had a Christian newspaper, the headline this morning would be ‘Well-Meaning Christians Make the Rest of Us Look Like Idiots’.

You may remember Carrie Prejean, the California representative to the Miss USA pageant this year, and outspoken Christian. There was controversy surrounding her and the pageant after she answered a judge’s question about gay marriage by saying that she believed that marriage should be between a man and a woman. The initial media reaction was incredible. Hollywood stars fell all over themselves to speak out in favor of gay marriage. The news media was all over the story. Prejean had appearances on most of the morning shows. The end result of all of it was that Prejean herself came out ahead and looking pretty good. After all, she was just the beauty pageant contestant who answered a question honestly and got lambasted for it. Right…?

Then this morning she was back on the Today Show, taking advantage of her 15 minutes – by speaking out publicly against gay marriage. I watched the interview and heard her utter phrases like, ‘You know, Matt, I’m just here to protect marriage,’ ‘whatever it takes to protect marriage,’ and my personal favorite, ‘We just need to respect each other, even when we disagree.’ I should point out that she delivered all of this charming mantra with about as much conviction as Bobby Jindal defending the Republican party’s position in a news conference a couple of months ago.

The sad truth is that Miss Prejean has allowed herself to do what so many Christians do. Namely, she has allowed herself to be completely defined by one single issue. I am aggravated at the way Christians are portrayed in the media, but I can’t say I blame them when all we seem to want to talk about is gay marriage and abortion. Prejean said in today’s interview, ‘I’m just here to protect marriage.’ No, Miss Prejean, you’re here on this earth to bring God glory. I fail to see how stoking this controversy brings God glory. Instead, you’ve simply become another talking head on the news, saying the same thing that all the other self-appointed ‘protectors’ of marriage are saying.

As Christians, we should be bringing God glory by expressing His love to those around us, by caring for them, by showing mercy, compassion. In Dan Kimball’s book They Like Jesus but not the Church, he interviews several non-Christians and asks them what words come to mind when they think about Christians. One of the top responses was ‘anti-homosexual’. We have allowed ourselves to be defined by that issue alone. When non-Christians think about Christians they should use words like ‘loving’, ‘caring’, ‘genuine’, ‘the nicest people I know’. They don’t because we aren’t.

In the interest of full disclosure, here’s my position on gay marriage. From a scriptural perspective, I totally agree with Miss California. I believe that God has ordained that marriage should be between husband and wife. And that’s the real difference between marriage and ‘civil union’ for me. A civil union is an act of the state. If states want to pass measures to allow civil unions and grant benefits like the ability to visit their partner in the hospital, that is fine with me. I disagree with homosexuals’ lifestyle choices, but then again I disagree with some of my own lifestyle choices, too. Marriage, on the other hand, is not an act of the state but a sacrament of the church. I would argue that any church that would allow same-sex marriages has moved away from scripture, and therefore away from God’s will. Regardless, we should always be compassionate and caring towards all of God’s children, whatever their choices.

Peace.

Paradigm shift

Posted in Theological with tags , , , on April 29, 2009 by joetheyouthpastor

I had an amazing week preparing for last Sunday’s lesson. I was focusing on Matthew 4:17 and the core of Jesus’ message. To be honest, I went into my preparation expecting to teach about love. I can’t even remember how many times I’ve read that Jesus preached on love more than any other topic. It may be true that the word ‘love’ appears in Jesus’ quoted teachings more than any other topic in the Gospels. But, as I learned, love was not at the very heart of Jesus’ teachings.

Matthew 4:17 says – “From then on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.'” This verse seems to indicate that Jesus’ main message was that we should repent. All of his teachings about love, sin, money, grace, hell, etc., come in the context of repentance.

It was a paradigm shift for me. Plus, it totally threw off my plans for this month’s message series. Thanks, God…

Peace.

Haiti Top 5

Posted in Causes, Life with tags , on April 23, 2009 by joetheyouthpastor

There have been too many words and not enough images on this blog over the last few weeks. So, to correct that problem, and to further communicate the impact of my recent mission to Haiti, here are some images from the trip. These are ‘representative top 5’, meaning that these are 5 images that sum up our trip in as neat a nutshell as you can with 5 pictures. More will come later.

pastor-val

toto

port-au-prince-trash1

dor-relaxing

haitian-landscape

Peace.

‘Idol’ Recap

Posted in Culture with tags , , on April 21, 2009 by joetheyouthpastor

Disco week. Yuck. Nobody really likes disco, I think. There are some great disco tunes from the 70’s, but not many. Here’s the rundown.

3 – Up

Kris – This guy just gets better and better each week.  The jazz club/singer-songwriter spin on ‘She Works Hard for the Money’ tonight was great. Despite Paula’s weird comments about Kris ‘shopping in the women’s department’, it was a very enjoyable segment on tonight’s show. The judges keep saying that they’re looking for originality and artistry, and for my money, it’s pretty much down to him and Adam for the title this year.

Nostalgia – It was a great night for music reminiscent of some of the video games I grew up playing. I’m talking, of course, about Anoop Desai’s arrangement of ‘Dim All the Lights’. It reminded me of the ending sequence to Mega Man X. Also, mad props to Anoop for proudly sporting what I like to refer to as the ‘9th grade mustache’. Between that and the polyphonic midi arrangement of his song, I was pleasantly reminded of my middle school days (’96-’98, for those of you interested).

The Show’s Pace – They really moved things along this week. It almost felt rushed – and I loved it! I can’t even remember how many articles I’ve read over the years bemoaning the amazing amounts of filler in American Idol broadcasts. It seems like the show’s producers finally noticed. Much appreciated, AI!

3 – Down

Danny – I’m tired of Danny. The judges just can’t seem to get enough of him, and I don’t get it. I’m tired of the glasses, tired of the weird faces when he sings, tired of him flailing around on stage, tired of the cheese. His voice is great, I’ll give him that. But that’s all I’ll give him.

Allison – There literally wasn’t anything that I liked about her performance tonight. The arrangement was bad. The vocal was bad. Her outfit was beyond bad. She’s just trying too hard. I mean, come on… Glitter makeup?!

Matt – Stayin’ Alive? Not after tonight’s performance. It looked like he walked into a costume shop and said, “I want to be Justin Timberlake for Halloween.” Tonight was just one too many drawn-out falsetto endings for Matt. Too predictable. Too pitchy. Too many weird facial expressions. Too… not… good. The judges liked it (except for Simon). They are crazy (except for Simon).

As I’ve said over the last couple of weeks, the contestants who have some genuine artistry in them are setting themselves apart more and more each week. Tonight featured boring and predictable arrangements (L’il, Danny, Matt) contrasted with unique and original arrangements (Kris, Adam) and weird arrangements (Allison, Anoop). Unless something very unexpected happens in the next few weeks, I predict we’ll be seeing Adam and Danny in the final. If you were paying attention, you’ll remember that I don’t like Danny. I don’t. But I think enough people love him that he’ll end up in the final with Adam. It’s a shame, really, because Kris really deserves to be in the final. Let’s see who gets eliminated tomorrow!

Peace.

Culture Corner – Perez Hilton v. Intellectual Integrity

Posted in Culture with tags , , , , , , , on April 21, 2009 by joetheyouthpastor

perez-hilton1I thought I’d add a new feature here at Images and Words called ‘Culture Corner’. In Culture Corner I will periodically grab something that is current and relevant in our American culture and discuss/dissect/analyse it. Discussion, as always, is welcome.

For the first Culture Corner ever, I couldn’t think of a better topic than the recent controversy over Miss California Carrie Prejean’s answer to the question from celebrity gossip blogger Perez Hilton in the Miss USA pageant. Prejean was asked by Hilton, “Vermont recently became the 4th state to legalize same-sex marriage. Do you think it should be legalized in other states? Why or why not?” Her response was, “We live in a country where people can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage. For my country, my family, the way that I was raised, I think I believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody out there, but that’s what I believe.”

I want to share some comments that Hilton has made over the last two days, and then explain why this story is an even bigger issue than same-sex marriage v. ‘opposite marriage’.

On the Today Show this morning, Hilton was asked about his question, Prejean’s response, and how Hilton thought Prejean should have responded. He answered, “She should have given any other answer! She could have said, ‘I don’t want to bring politics into it…'” The problem is that gay marriage is an extremely political issue, and Hilton is the one who brought it up. If he was expecting a non-political answer, he should have asked a non-political question. Or, he should have posed the question to someone with less integrity.

Later in the same interview, Hilton stated, “She’s a Christian, but I don’t want her talking about Jesus. That would offend all the Jewish Americans out there, and Muslims, and atheists.” If you follow Hilton’s logic, no one should ever be allowed to say anything important about any important issue, because they might offend someone who disagrees. Oh, and nevermind that Hilton himself does that exact thing all the time. It’s okay for him, because he believes in ‘tolerance’. Provided, of course, that you don’t disagree with him.

A day before, on MSNBC, Hilton said in an interview, “I wasn’t upset about her disagreeing with me. I was upset and frustrated with how she answered the question…. A beauty queen should represent all Americans.” Let’s not even worry about the obvious absurdities in this statement (no one can represent all Americans – if Prejean said she was in favor of gay marriage, she would have alienated an even bigger portion of the population than she did). Let’s focus on Hilton’s hypocrisy itself. Later in the same interview, he also said, “I called her the ‘B’ word, and I don’t apologize. I called her the ‘B’ word, but I was thinking the ‘C’ word.” It didn’t even phase Hilton that in one breath he claimed that he wasn’t upset at Prejean herself, and in the next breath he defended calling her profane names.

The real issue in this little snapshot of our culture is the tension between political correctness and intellectual integrity. It is politically correct to state that gay marriage is okay. It is intellectually correct and honest to state your beliefs (whatever they are), even if those beliefs happen to not be politically correct. The voice of ‘tolerance’ in our society cannot stand to be contradicted. Ironic, huh? Perez Hilton might think he’s all over the news because Carrie Prejean made ‘anti-gay’ or ‘divisive’ comments. In reality, he’s all over the news because she answered a question honestly. Honesty is something sorely lacking in our culture. Kudos, Miss California, for stating your beliefs with conviction and not backing down. Score one for integrity.miss-california-carrie-prejean1

Fellowship

Posted in Life, Reflections on April 20, 2009 by joetheyouthpastor

This is the second post in my series about my recent short-term mission to Haiti. The first was titled ‘Excess’, and explored what I consider to be the most shocking experience of my entire trip – our return to American culture after a week in Haitian culture.

In this post, I want to talk about my best experiences in Haiti. There are three or four that jump out as the kind of memories where you don’t even need a picture to remind you because the image seems like it’s seared into your brain on an entirely different level. Know what I mean? The common thread running through all these memories is an idea that we misunderstand all too often in our culture – the idea of fellowship. I’ll run them down in the chronological order that they occurred in.

Sunday, April 5, 2009 – We worshipped on Palm Sunday at an orphanage in Jacmel, on the south coast of the island of Haiti. Our group leaders, Jeff and Rita, have been supporting this orphanage since 2006, and in that short amount of time it has changed from a complete and total dump to what is in most respects a nice place to live, particularly by Haitian standards. There is a chapel in that orphanage, and so at 10AM all eight of us, plus a group of five or so from Canada, plus the 73 kids who live there piled into this little room and had a worship service. It was something I will never ever forget. At one point I nearly lost it because I was so overwhelmed by the import of what was happening – We were singing ‘Lord I Lift Your Name on High’, the Haitians singing in creole, us and the Canadians singing in english, and the Holy Spirit moving through everyone. It was a truly beautiful moment.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009 – Our main project for this trip was to build a chicken house at another, smaller, much more needy orphanage near Christianville. As we started to build it, several men from nearby came to help. They never asked for money in return for their labor, never asked for a share of the chickens that would be raised there, they just showed up to help because they understood that the chicken house would benefit the orphanage and the community alike. Despite all the barriers that we felt like were in the way (language, race, economic status, culture differences), God once again showed that fellowship doesn’t hinge on any of that. There was a moment on Tuesday when we were putting the roof on the chicken house when several of the Haitian men and myself were standing around watching (when roofing, the guys on the ladders do the lion’s share of the work). The Haitian men were joking around with Exod, our Haitian ‘foreman’ for the job, and Jeff. Even though all of those supposed barriers separated me from these men, I felt like I was being included in their fun. We had ceased to be Haitians and Americans, dark-skinned and light-skinned, creole-speaking and english-speaking, impoverished and well-off… We were simply a group of men building a chicken house together and enjoying one another’s company.

The theme of true fellowship was heavy on my heart throughout our entire Haiti mission. I have thought more than once over the last couple of years that we might not truly understand fellowship in the United States. In our churches, the meaning of the word fellowship is often restricted to, ‘standing around in the fellowship hall talking’. In reality fellowship is much more closely related to the concept of ‘doing life together’, of sharing all of our meaningful moments (both good and bad) with those we are close to. In Haiti, people are much closer with one another than they are here. It’s out of necessity – the Haitians we were around understand that if they don’t work together, none of them will survive.

It’s a lesson that I think we could stand to learn here, too.

Peace.

Sexting and consequences

Posted in Culture, Life with tags , , , , , on April 15, 2009 by joetheyouthpastor

There has been a tremendous amount of attention in the news media and among bloggers (youth ministry blogs included) about ‘sexting’ – the sending and receiving of sexually explicit photos and videos via cell phone, particularly by middle and high school students. First there were reports and explanations of what it was, followed by stories of young people being caught and prosecuted for child pornography, followed by myriad articles and blogs about how common it is, followed by myriad more about how the initial numbers were skewed and exaggerated, and now followed by the ‘who do you believe?’ articles and blogs. This last group raises a particularly important point – what polls do you trust, how was their research conducted, how large was their sample size, from what groups (geographically, racially, socio-economically, etc.) do its respondents come from? Personally, I tend to believe some of the higher numbers, at least for more technology-based areas, such as urban areas and affluent suburbs of cities. I believe this because I grew up near Rockdale Co., Georgia, where you may remember seeing national news articles about the syphilis outbreak among high school students there about a decade ago. But for the purposes of this post, I’m going to leave all of this behind and focus in on something I’ve been paying attention to over the last few days.

The state of Vermont has been in the news for considering legislation that would prevent 13-18 year olds from being prosecuted as sex offenders for sexting. I have very mixed feelings about this. Let me say up front thatVermont senator John Campbell, who was on the Today show this morning, made a fantastic point that I had not considered before. He used the following hypothetical situation – a 14 year old girl ‘sexts’ her boyfriend a picture of herself topless, is caught, and prosecuted for child pornography; she then has to register as a sex offender; she then has difficulty getting into college; she then wants to go into education, but finds it utterly impossible to get a job because she is a registered sex offender – all for a bad decision she made almost a decade before. Put in that light, I can at least see the point of view of those in Vermont who want to pass this piece of legislation. It should also be noted that the people who see this legislation as ‘legalizing sexting in Vermont’ are incorrect. The law would not remove all penalties from 13-18 year olds who sext, it would only prevent prosecuting them for child pornography.

Here’s my problem with it, though. Ours is not a culture that usually learns things the easy way. We, as a nation, typically have to learn our lessons the hard way if they are to stick at all. Think about it. It took ten years of the worst economic downturn in our nation’s history to teach our grandparents and great-grandparents about the dangers of credit, over-lending, over-borrowing, and speculation on the financial market. Sixty years later, we let the regulations that helped to stabilize our economy expire, and here we are once again – after a decade of rampant speculation, borrowing, lending, and spending, we’re facing another severe economic situation. And these mistakes were made by educated adults with years of experience. Can we really expect a 14 year old who’s brain is not fully developed to learn without the guidance of severe penalties?

Maybe I’m just being too hard here, but it hasn’t been too long since I was a teenager. I remember the way I thought when I was 14. If someone said to me, “This action used to carry a severe penalty, but now it carries a much milder penalty,” that would translate into my 14 year old mind as “This used to be wrong, but now it’s okay.” And I think that’s the message that young people will get if Vermont passes this piece of legislation. Yeah, it will stink for the ones who have trouble later in life because of a bad decision they made as a teenager. But will teach them an even more valuable lesson about living with the consequences of their actions. To try to spare them from the consequences of their actions will only lead to an attitude of entitlement later on in life. America’s young people have to learn personal responsibility and accountability.