Thursday, December 20, 2018

WHO KNEW WHAT MARY KNEW (Another Look at a Popular Holiday Song)

With all the hubbub over the classic holiday song, Baby, It's Cold Outside, it's easy to forget another Christmas offering that has been the subject of derision in recent years.

We're speaking, of course, about the iconic Mary, Did You Know? This hauntingly beautiful song, written by Mark Lowry, has been covered by dozens of artists over the years such as Kenny Rogers, Cee Lo Greene, and Pentatonix. It has become a staple of most modern holiday albums. It is a poignant song about the fact that Jesus was not just an ordinary baby, but none other but the great I AM. At its core, it highlights the deity of Christ, a central doctrine of the historic Christian faith.
Why do some feel it is their life mission to snipe and point out the flaws in such a moving tune?

Yet, snipes come. And surprisingly, most of the vehemence comes from Christian circles. Theologians smugly smile and point out that Mary did indeed know how special Jesus was. Most trot out doctrinal distinctives the same way they point out how silly it is to have three wise men at the manger when every knowledgeable believer knows that there were more than three wise men and they did not show up until two years later at Joseph's house. Others are a little more blunt, saying, "I hate this song--of course, Mary knew!" There's even a post that questionably changes the lyrics to read, "Mary freaking knew. . .that her baby boy. . .would someday walk on water . . ."

Yes, Mary knew. Maybe not every specific detail of Jesus' life and ministry (since they had not happened yet), but yeah, she knew that Jesus was not just a baby in the manger. Nobody disputes that.

What the "Christmas critics" don't seem to get is that the question, "Mary, did you know. . ." is a rhetorical one. Like an interviewer who asks a marathon winner, "who got to the finish line first?", the singer of this song is not fishing for information, but reinforcing what is already known. He or she is not interrogating Mary, but reminiscing with her.

And really, most importantly: the song isn't for Mary. It's not about her or what she knows or knew or anything. It's not actually asking Mary if she knew.

It's asking us if we know.

Did we know that the Baby in the manger that we so casually reference every December is none other than God in human flesh? That He came for a purpose, a reason, a terrible, tragic, exciting, blessed mission to save mankind from sin?

And does knowing this make a difference in our lives? In your life?

The problem is, a lot of people don't know. And a lot of people who do know, don't really believe it.
As we prepare for Christmas, may we realize that the little baby in the manger is indeed Lord of all creation and that He is the great I AM: God in human flesh.

Do you know?


Thursday, November 29, 2018

YEAH, I HEARD THAT (A Christmas Meditation)

I love Christmas. I like the festivity and the fun and the warmth and the music and so on.

And obviously, I believe that Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of my Savior. That's the big reason for the season, the thing that puts the "holy" into this holiday. As many have observed, you can't have CHRISTmas without CHRIST.

So quit trying to pour cold porridge on my celebration.

Yes, I know Jesus was not born on December 25. I am aware of modern research that places the manger in a cave, or a roof, or a tent. I know the three kings weren't kings, there weren't three of them, and they arrived much later. I know there was no innkeeper, lowing cattle, or little drummer boy.

Furthermore, I know about the history of how December 25 was originally a pagan holiday and that many of the customs and traditions and symbols of Christmas were actually borrowed from these pagan practices.

And don't even start telling me about Santa Claus.

The critiques come from many sources:
  • The guy who comes to my door and recites all this stuff in hopes of causing me to forsake my un-biblical traditions and embrace his system.
  • The atheist/agnostic/liberal skeptic who smugly expounds on these things so that I will awkwardly admit that my faith is silly.
  • The otherwise Christian expert whose mission in life is to make sure every single jot and tittle are precisely lined up according to their own infallible scholarship.
  • Sincere people of every stripe who traditionally resist anything that is traditional.
The fact is, I can knowledgeably expound on most of the Christmas objections. Most believers who attend Bible believing churches can respond to these observations. It's not "new." Facebook posts announcing "13 Startling Things You Didn't Know About Christmas" are usually rehashed content from years gone by.

So why, in spite of everything, do I really, really like Christmas?

Christmas is a recognition that God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, became a human being. He lived a sinless life, He died to pay the price for my sins, He was buried, and He rose again three days later so that, by trusting Him as my Lord and Savior, I can have a brand new life and day-to-day relationship with Him.

No, there is nothing in Scripture that calls upon us to recognize the birth of Jesus. But the importance of the Incarnation is stressed. For example, 1 John 4:2-3 says, "By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God,  and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God." Do we need to hold a Western world style "birthday party for Jesus" to celebrate His coming? No. Do we need to recognize that He came? Oh yes!

So yes: I'm celebrating. All the festivities and fun and warmth and music are ultimately in recognition of the First Coming. The world may celebrate in ignorance, but like Paul in Acts 17, we can show them Who and why we are throwing the party.

If you have serious problems with Christmas, I would be the last to talk you out of your convictions. Richest blessings on you. But I want you to know why I'm celebrating.

And if you're just cranky and you want to unload your Christmas critique, I would ask you to quit trying to dampen my joy.

Because it's safe to say, I've probably heard it all before.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

BIG BLUNDERS

When I was a Children's Pastor, actively involved in the wonderful, wacky world of kidmin, I was pleased with what we got to do week after week. I rejoiced in the victories and accomplishments, knowing that it is from the Lord, who used an incredible team of volunteers to help minister to the children in our church. When we had a win, it was most definitely of God and surely an "us" moment.

And if something "tanked" or "went south," well, that was all me.

But contrary to popular belief, even failures can be a measure of success, because it is in those failures that we learn. So it is in that spirit of education that I present three of my greatest blunders in kidmin. Word of warning: these are not all the "ha-ha, lol blooper"kind of  blunders, but examples of poor planning, bad decisions, or maybe even pig-headed stubbornness that led to a less than ideal outcome.

1. And the winner is. . . 
It was uniform inspection night and I needed to select the Awana kid with the best uniform, the one with all the awards in the right place. I don't remember how many contenders there were, but there were three or four who excelled. Every leader in the place knew that Bobby was the clear winner. Their eyes shifted toward Bobby. Bobby smiled self-consciously.

I picked Kyle.

At the time, I justified my selection in that Kyle was a bright kid who tried really hard every week and probably needed the encouragement. But it was my wife who summed up what was on everyone's mind: "Did you see the look on Bobby's face?"

Yeah. Without intending to, I crushed Bobby's spirit that night. While my motivation may have been good, I really needed to find a different way of expressing encouragement to someone without downplaying the clear achievements of another.

2. New Year's rush.
The first Sunday of the New Year was coming up and I had the bright idea to give the congregation a taste of the fun music we do on Sunday morning. So I asked, begged, pleaded, and cajoled the powers that be to let our Children's Church kids do a couple of songs during the Morning Worship Service. Great way to start the new year, right?

So the week before our "performance," I told the kids what we were doing. We sang our songs just like we always did, and I reminded our children that we would be doing this for our parents next week.  I looked forward to sharing this incredible blessing with our church.

But what I know now, and really, what I've always known, but somehow ignored, was that singing in children's church was far different than "performing" in adult church. Running through our songs the week before did not constitute "rehearsal." In my haste and zeal to showcase our children, I left out the three most important ingredients of a great performance: practice, practice, practice.

The results were squirm-worthy. Most of the kids stood frozen, their eyes glazed, their voices soft or silent, and their arms unable to do the motions that I and another leader were valiantly trying to coach.It was all very awkward. The audience politely applauded, but absent was the enthusiasm for what was normally a very fun, very active children's program. I mumbled something about how stage fright could often take over with kids.  But while stage fright was no doubt part of it, the failure mostly came  from my desire to rush into our first service of the New Year without taking the time to prepare the kids and help them practice.

3. A good idea at the time.
Speaking of public performances, it is not always acknowledged that programs involving kids also involve leaders. One year, as I was planning the end-of-year calendar, I was faced with three programs: our church daycare annual Christmas program, our annual children's ministry Christmas program, and the annual Live Nativity, which was sponsored by a community organization, but staged by our church. Many of our leaders were involved in all three, so I got to thinking: wouldn't it be nice to get all of this out of the way so our leaders could have most of December to relax, have time with family and friends, and not have to worry about planning and preparing and performing? So I picked the first extended weekend in December to launch our programs. Thursday would be the Day Care  Christmas program, Friday, the Live Nativity, and Sunday, Children's Ministries program. I did it for the leaders, we would get all our programs out of the way at the first of the month, leading to a care free December.

Yes, well. . . .

The Day Care and Children's Ministry programs, of course, required rehearsal (see lesson #2 above). So it took some creative scheduling to get kids and leaders into the building often enough to practice. That didn't include coming up with costuming, props, and sets for two different events

As for the Live Nativity, it didn't take as much rehearsal (it was a procession through the town and ending at the church, with no speaking role except for the narrator), but there still had to be a certain amount of coordinating shepherds, wise men, and angels, many of whom were also kidmin leaders who were quite busy with the other two programs.

To this day, the weekend is remembered with a fuzzy haze. The kids did fine (even though some of them had more than one program), but as we progressed through the weekend, the adults seemed to proportionately drag. Being outside in the cold for the Live Nativity triggered more than a few sniffles by the time Sunday night rolled around.

Having three programs almost back to back was a big investment of time, effort, creativity, and "oomph." And a word of commendation: our kidmin leaders stepped up and excelled! But as the "leader," I should have known better. Children's pastors should minister to the leaders as well. I failed to look out for the health and well being of the men and women who served so faithfully. Not only that, but parents of kids who were in multiple performances not only had multiple commitments at church, but they had school programs as well.  By grouping three events close together, nobody had a chance to catch their breath.

There are no doubt more foul-ups throughout the 15 years I served as a Children's Pastor. I did not always make the best or wisest choices and sometimes I charged forward with an idea that really needed more refinement or wise counsel. The mistakes were there, but they carried with them important lessons that made our victories and accomplishments that much sweeter.

Did you have any notable blunders in your children's ministry? What did you learn? Respond in the comments below.

Friday, December 01, 2017

RANDOM THOUGHTS ON THE EVE OF DECEMBER

It's about 11:20 p.m. on the last day of November. Tomorrow (or perhaps today, depending on when you are reading this) is December 1. Thirty one days until the end of another trip around the sun for me and the start of a new journey (cryptic, enigmatic way of saying December 31 is my birthday). I've had a good night of study and I've listened to some Christmas music ("Santa's Sequel Sellouts", a volume from the annual revered Tanner's 25 Days of Christmas Music).

Since I'm not quite ready for bed yet, I thought I'd just string together a few random thoughts and observations. No sparkling prose here, folks, just good old fashioned "thinking through my keyboard."

It's been four years since I've written about the "War on Christmas." I think I'm due for another edition. But to summarize my position in as few words as possible, I think the expression "Happy Holidays" is silly, not sinister. Honestly, retailers, when you've got your store decked out in Christmas decorations, is anybody really fooled when you use "Happy Holidays?" Seriously? But on the other hand, the poor clerk who follows orders and says "Happy Holidays" is not the emissary of Satan out to destroy the Christian faith. All we have to do is smile, say "thanks," and maybe wish them a "Merry Christmas."

You'll have to read it to understand this, but Ezekiel 7 is pretty clear and understandable. And that's what makes it so unsettling. 

Old blog with new makeover: Telegrams From My Own Mind Field, written by O. Dean Neal. Agree or disagree, he has some interesting insights.

Grateful for the church's computer tech, who fixed an unsettling problem at my station with just a few keystrokes. Too bad all our challenges couldn't be corrected that quickly.

A little touch of melancholy: another year is passing by without being able to visit my home state of Colorado. Money and time always seem to be a factor. I'm not totally depressed, nor do I obsess over it to the point of distraction. I know the time will come. I have a list of things I want to do when I'm there, so the anticipation is good. So if you're family or friend from there, watch out! If I don't know when I'm showing up, then you sure don't know either!

One of my personal traditions when I drive home after Thanksgiving dinner is to put on Mannheim Steamroller's "Hallelujah Chorus", crank the volume up higher than usual, and, frankly, rock out as I'm driving. During the Christmas season, I also make it a point to listen to The Young Messiah, The New Young Messiah, and, of course, the traditional Messiah--yes, the whole thing.

Although this seemed like a short read, it has taken enough time to write that I now feel comfortable heading to bed. Good night one and all.


Thursday, November 30, 2017

MY FIRST PUBLISHING EFFORT: WHAT WENT WRONG?

It was the late 1970s. My hair was a little thicker and my waist was decidedly not. I was the very model of a minor major uhhhhh...pick your label: geek, nerd, brainiac. I was the top of my class, active in speech and debate and drama, and my budding writing career was still in development.

I was also a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. I had felt God's call to the ministry back when I was a sophomore in high school and I fervently prayed for His leading as to how that would play out in my life. Meanwhile, I wanted to spread the good news of the gospel using whatever means at my disposal.

And CRA was born. A friend and I were discussing how to use our talents and abilities for the Lord. And we came up with CRA.  CRA would become a leading publisher and distributor of Christian literature, gospel tracts, study guides, and more. It would become the launching pad for Christian novels and comics, allowing us to write and create. I could picture the shelves of books and pamphlets in our garage, ready to be packed and shipped to a number of bookstores and churches.

But first, we needed to write something.

So my friend and I brainstormed ideas and concepts and formats, and, after several weeks, we came up with the idea and plot for our first book: The Coming of the Agents of CRA. Two Christian young men help a young woman stranded on the side of the road, only to become stranded themselves. Finding a house in which they can seek shelter and use a phone, the trio meet the mysterious owner who has a secret (cue dramatic, mystery music). Spoiler alert: because it was to be an evangelistic tool, the young men share the gospel with the woman and with the mysterious homeowner.

Concept and outline in hand, I sat down to do the actual writing. My senior year was wrapping up and college was looming, so I worked hard to hopefully get this great work published before I left town. Using whatever spare money we could gather together, we rented a post office box for an address, then paid a Christian printer in town to do the actual publishing. This printer had created gospel tracts and reprinted books, so we knew we were in sound, professional hands. The Coming of the Agents of CRA, the flagship publication of CRA, was ready for is public debut.

It was bad.

Okay, Coming was not that bad. But it lacked several things:
  • Proofreading, editing, revisions, rewrites. In short, everything a professional writer would pour into a book. While my submission was not quite a first draft, it was light years away from being a polished manuscript. I was in a hurry and it showed.
  • Length. On paper, Coming looked a lot longer than it was. It certainly felt longer as I was writing it. When I finished the manuscript, I remember the sigh of relief after spending so much time on the thing. But the finished product was, at best, about the length of a short story, and, at worst, the size of a magazine article.Unless the printer was going to use 100 point type, we weren't looking at a 300 page novel.
  • Publishing. I visualized a standard size paperback, maybe with a textured cover with a heavier weight. The typesetting would be professional, with left and right margins straight and even, and even if it was short, it would still look like a quality booklet.
    What we ended up with made my heart sink. I don't remember the exact measurements, but I think it was roughly 2.5 x 2.5 inches, printed on standard paper. The courier type looked fresh from a typewriter, and some of the pages looked uneven. It was as if a couple of high school kids handed a printer what little money they could scrape up and expected something that came from the presses of a New York publishing company (which is pretty much what happened).  And, by the way, I don't blame the printer--he is a lifelong friend who probably did the best he could with the little bit of cash we gave him. But looking at it now, I cringe a little.
  • Distribution plan. Our original plan was to send complimentary copies to local and nationally known pastors and organizations, in hopes that it would stir up further interest. Sadly, our distribution plan was limited by the amount of money to buy stamps and envelopes and pay monthly box rent. My friend did the bulk of the work in this, as I had moved to San Diego to attend college. We were hoping maybe Billy Graham or Jerry Falwell would have read Coming and endorsed it, maybe offer it in exchange for a love gift of whatever or more. But the only acknowledgement we received from the "big names" was a "welcome to our mailing list" newsletter. And I don't know if anyone actually got saved after reading it (although, maybe they did...if God could speak through a donkey, He could easily have used the message in Coming of the Agents of CRA.)
  • Internet. This isn't a 20-20 hindsight observation, it's more of a time warp situation. Nearly every issue mentioned above could have been solved in our modern computer age. I've written and designed flyers, bulletin inserts, and other literature pieces that look really nice (if I do say so myself). Knowing what I know now, I feel I could not only publish a good looking print edition of Coming, but we could even distribute it online.
    Alas, we were a few decades too early. 
So today I'm bald and working hard at losing the weight that I have gained. But as I think back over The Coming of the Agents of CRA, I realize just how much I've learned and grown as a writer, minister, speaker, and person. Every author has that first book or first story which they wish they could hide away. Every preacher has that first sermon. Every singer has an early demo tape. Every actor remembers their role as bellhop #2. As I near the publication of my upcoming book (please don't ask me when, it's not that near), I look back with a certain amused pride that I am, indeed a published author, with that first work that I have hidden away. And who knows? Maybe one day,  you'll see the revised, expanded edition of The Coming of the Agents of CRA. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

CONFESSIONS AND ADJUSTMENTS: CHANGES AT "INCOMPREHNSIBLE"

It is 10:13 a.m. on Tuesday. I am in the midst of my morning routine of reading the Scripture and praying, working out, eating breakfast, and watching the news. I hammered out some more on my best selling novel which will hit bookstores sometime after I hit it a few more times (in other words, I'm not finished yet!). It's been a fairly decent, if not routine, morning. Before long, I will be getting ready to go to my (paying) job.

So now it's time to think about my other ongoing project: "the blog."

Someone asked me recently about the fact that I haven't posted any entries lately. I didn't have a good response, except that was a good topic about which to blog. It seems like my lack of blog activity comes down to two things: 1. Lack of time and 2. Lack of focus.

I could probably manage the time thing better. I have seen and used those charts that track my day in 15 minute intervals and I clearly have chunks of time that some may consider "wasted." I won't try to defend these moments, but sure--I can do better. And compared to some seasons in my life, I am doing much, much better. So chalk up time management to an ongoing process.

The deal with lack of focus is somewhat related to time. You see, I have a very vivid imagination and a very active brain. When I watch the news, I will often carry on an imaginary dialogue with the politician, activist, or celebrity, systematically refuting his or her points. I'm constantly reviewing my teaching notes in my mind or plotting my next creative endeavor.

But what happens is when I start to put everything to writing. Blogging is a wonderful way to express one's views, opinions, and personality. It's been said that blogging is one of the last, truest forms of free speech. And I want to opine on everything. My day's activities, my latest ideas and encouragements in the area of children's ministry, the notes from a message I gave, a summary of my vacation or day trip, an analysis of the President's speech, an evaluation of the latest legislation affecting families, a review of the latest movie, a look at my hobby, a promotion of my book (look for it in bookstores--when it's finished!), and a dozen other thoughts clamor for my blogging attention. And did I mention, I want to do it now? Right now. This minute.

I don't know if this a "thing," but my writing activities often suffer from "priority paralysis." I don't know what to do first, so I end up not doing anything. And that, dear reader, is why I don't post as much as I could/should/want to. Do I want to spend an hour plus writing a summary of a great kids' curriculum for Sunday School when a congressman just said something inflammatory and wrong during a speech? Hey, it's a great curriculum and I can't wait to let my kidmin friends know what I think about it, but I really need to add some balanced, cool-headed analysis to shed some light on the politician's speech. So, I write nothing.

So, I started thinking. I got out my yellow pad (the greatest invention for the enhancement of human thought) and asked, "what do I want to talk about?" I started this blog about 12 years ago. A quick scan of the topics show that "INCOMPREHENSIBLE" has often had a bit of an identity crisis. So I'm going to focus, organize, and compartmentalize my thoughts. So this blog will now be a home for children's ministry/adult ministry related items and personal reflections on stuff in my life. I am in the process of creating new homes for all things political/current events, pop culture, and even hobby related. And yes, when I feel I'm ready, I'll start pushing my book on its own blog.

I cannot guarantee that each of these blogs will appear on this particular platform. I may use a pen name for some of the columns. I may even use invited posters from time to time. But hopefully, by structuring my blogging in this fashion, I can focus on one subject at a time without wondering how to fit it all into INCOMPREHENSIBLE.

As always, I welcome your feedback and comments (unless you're a spammy robot; in which case, move along!).

Thursday, June 01, 2017

PAYBACK TIME AND SEVERED HEADS

I was about to swear off political posts, but thoughts began to flood my mind late into last night and I figured I ought to write something. I did this in a hurry, so if you notice some spelling, grammatical, or other mechanical irregularities, please forgive me. And, as always, I welcome your comments, but be nice and respectful. We're all friends here.

Kathy Griffin held up what looked like the severed head of the President. An amazing backlash ensued from across the political spectrum, with pundits and pollsters, liberals and conservatives, in rare agreement that this crossed the line. CNN severed ties with Ms. Griffin and there's even talk of a Secret Service investigation. Kathy Griffin even publically apologized for the incident.

But it really did not come as a big surprise that "counter memes" began appearing, showing pictures of President Obama being lynched, hung, stabbed, and mutilated and the posters wondering why "conservatives" weren't that upset at those acts of disrespect.

I can't speak for all conservatives, but as a conservative, yes, I was upset at the disrespectful way President Obama was treated. As I've written before, I have a personal code about respecting the highest office of the land. This includes being careful to use the title President (or alternatively, Mister) when referring to the POTUS, avoiding the use of derogatory nicknames, giving the man the benefit of the doubt and not pouncing on every rumor or allegation, and certainly, not supporting anything suggesting harm or violence against the President.

But one of the myths that "my side" has propagated is that conservatives sat nobly on the sidelines in stoic, respectful silence during the last eight years of Mr. Obama's presidency. Ummm, no. we. did. not. Smarting over the trashing that President Bush received by liberals, we jumped at Mr. Obama and jumped hard. Derogatory nicknames, pushing rumors, and joking about shooting or hanging the President were common place. Some of my conservative friends even went as far as to declare that Obama was "not my President." Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

And now it's payback time, with the liberal left out for revenge. And while we can all agree that Kathy Griffin's horrifying display was, well, horrifying and that it crossed the proverbial line and that it was uncalled for, the fact is, it didn't stop her from doing it in the first place.

The severed head picture is only a visual representation of the overwhelming disrespect accorded to Mr. Trump since before the election. Barely past the first 100 days of the Trump presidency, the liberal left has vowed to resist, counter, stand against, and fight tooth and nail against anything and everything the President does or says. Instead of allowing us to weigh all the evidence and draw our own conclusions, many news outlets declare Mr. Trump's statements false in the headline itself! I mean, why bother reading the article when the reporter has already reached the conclusion for me?

So does Ms. Griffin's stunt sadden and anger me? Yes.

Does it surprise me? No.

We live in a wonderful country, where we are free to disagree with our leaders. And just as I could list the areas in which I disagreed with the politics, policies, and philosophies of President Obama, I could start a list for President Trump.  I can almost guarantee that I will make both sides mad at me to some degree.That's America, people.

But as long as every negative word, every disagreement, every counter-proposal is characterized as "hate speech," we will grow insensitive to truly hateful speech and actions and we will create a climate that seeks to "dish it out" in the same or greater measure. "What's good for the goose is good for the gander." (feel free to supply your own cliché at this point).

My prediction is that, before long, Kathy Griffin will attempt to defend her photo shoot by saying that Mr. Trump provokes that reaction in her. Bit by bit, her fans and celebrity friends will come to her aid, maybe invoking the first amendment, but most certainly saying that Ms. Griffin is only responding to the same heat unleashed on President Obama by the right.

And the cycle will continue.