Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Miracle of the Ice Cream Cake

[If you haven't done so already, please read this introduction to give you some background for this account: http://whorechurch.blogspot.com/2006/12/do-you-know-mumble-man.html ]

During the time I was trusting God to provide all of our needs, we consistently had enough food, rent money, utilities, gas for our car. But we didn’t have any extras. Like pretty much everyone else is the US, we were used to occasional “treats”—a night out, a dessert, etc.

After a while you miss those things.

One morning as I was praying I was impressed with the idea of God speaking to me asking “what kind of treat would you like?” It seemed silly that God would ask anyone such a question, but I answered anyway.

“I would LOVE a piece of Dairy Queen ice cream cake.” I really enjoy ice cream cake—when it’s my birthday my wife always gets me one.

“Is that all? Do you want anything with it?”

“You know what would be cool? If it came with hot fudge to put on top of it.”

While I noted the exchange in my journal, I figured I was just being nuts. Surely God had bigger things to do than provide me with ice cream cake with fudge topping. I was a little embarrassed to have prayed such a prayer, and I didn’t tell anyone.

I didn’t give it much thought throughout the day.

Later that evening we were going to have some friends over for dinner (we had scored a beef brisket.) When they arrived they brought with them half a Dairy Queen ice cream cake and a jar of hot fudge.

I didn’t “need” the cake. I didn’t “need” the topping. The combination was not only tasty, but reminded me of God’s very specific care for me.

As I think about this I see several possibilities:

1. It was just a wild coincidence. Improbable, but possible.

2. I really did hear this from the Christian God and God answered my prayer.

3. There is some sort of psychic/spiritual/common consciousness that allowed me to “know” this couple was going to bring the cake and hot fudge.

4. I’m nuts.

5. I’m lying.

I think had I not written this down in my journal 12 hours ahead of time or if I had not shown it to my wife as soon as our guests left, I might think I was nuts. The written record seems to demonstrate otherwise.

My wife was also there to witness the event so she knows I am not lying.

I think it's tough to explain this kind of thing as other than a supernatural event--especially since it was not simply an isolated coincidence but a regular occurance. I will document more later.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Do You Know the Mumble Man?

The day I got fired was a Wednesday.

I had been working at an investment firm while doing unpaid ministry. Mostly visiting elderly shut-ins in the mid-town projects. It was satisfying and soul enriching for me; I can’t speak for them.

Getting fired was a “good news/bad news” experience. I hated the job and it was providing only a meager income, but it was providing a meager income.

Wednesday my wife and I went to Wayne’s World (it was at the $1 theater) and decided, Tara-like, to think about my job tomorrow.

Thursday morning I got up at my over-early customary 4:30am and began my daily devotions. It would be helpful at this point to tell you just a little about my devotional routine.

Being an ADHD poster child, the pious image of kneeling at bedside on camel-like saint knees doesn’t work for me. Instead, I pray as I walk. Back in the early 80’s I learned to put the people I wanted to pray for on index cards and thumb through the cards praying out-loud as I went.

There are few up and around at 4:30am, but those who saw me must have wondered at the strange man wandering around the neighborhood before sun up, talking to himself. I’m sure some of my unknown neighbors referred to me as “Mumbling Guy” or other similar moniker.

After walking each day for an hour or so, I would return to our rented condo to spend time in worship. The laundry was at the opposite end from the bedrooms so I could play my guitar and sing without waking anyone.

Once I had completed some time in worship I would do some Bible study, ending the daily ritual.
This Thursday I prayed for a job. We didn’t have any money and I needed to get to work right away if we were going to survive—two boys under the age of 5 don’t understand not having food to eat.

This Thursday, during worship, I had a distinct impression. I didn’t hear a voice; I wasn’t bombarded by a shaft of light. But suddenly it was as if someone instantly communicated and understanding into my brain. It was like reading a paragraph and grasping its meaning in a tiny fraction of a second.

“God will provide you with a job, just wait on him. He will take care of all your needs just as he did with Elijah.”

I would like to tell you I responded with faith-inspired confidence, knowing my God would provide. I would like to tell you I was moved to tears as I wondered at the awesome love of God.

The truth was I was scared. A part of me knew I would obey this impression, but I also knew I would have to explain to my wife why I wasn’t out beating the bushes. While it wasn’t the first time I believed I heard a message from God, this time it had an impact on my family, not just me.

When I talked to my wife she was pretty calm about the whole thing. We decided to wait until Monday and see what happened. We also agreed to not tell anyone I had been fired or that we had no money.

Friday at 8am I got a call from Donnie. He was a friend from church and worked as a painting contractor. He was short handed and wondered if I could work for him for a day.

This lifted my spirits and faith. I put on my best worst set of clothes—jeans with holes, just not in the naughty parts and my old Garfield sweatshirt.

I typically think too far ahead. As I painted that day I kept imagining my life as a painter. I figured this must be the “God Job” I was supposed to be doing. Sure I was either too slow or too sloppy, and at one point I tracked paint through a living room carpet, but God had told me he would find me a job and now I had one.

At the end of the day we stood by Donnie’s speckled work van and he gave me my “cut”—7 hours at $5 per hour. Yeah, diapers and formula for the weekend!

Then he told me “thanks, we really needed you today. If I need you again I’ll let you know.” Only then did I understand he didn’t give me a Job, just a job.

I went back to the condo, taking this one-day job as a possible sign of God’s provision and hoping I would get a call by Monday offering me a “real” job.

It was a miserable weekend for me, filled with anxiety, hoping somehow God was going to move someone to offer me the perfect job. But no job came. Monday morning, however, did come.

My wife was still asleep as I wrestled with God, the laundry room becoming my own Peniel.

The more I prayed, the more I was convinced I was to wait on God to send me a job. He promised to pay all of our bills, provide all of our needs.

I gave God three parameters.

First, I wasn’t going to ask for money from anyone or even tell anyone we had a need. The only person I was going to ask for help was him.

Second, I wasn’t going to get on any type of charity program—if this was his idea and if he is God, he can take care of our needs.

Third, I wasn’t going to have my wife be responsible for “praying in” our food, utility money, etc. She could come to me when she needed something and I would worry about how to get it.

When my wife awoke I told her of my conviction and she was reluctantly willing to give it a try.

At the time I was still thinking short-term unemployment. A week, maybe two. Little did I know it would be 8 months.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

How to Evaluate a Personal “Supernatural” Experience

Before I share some of the supposed “supernatural” experiences I’ve had, I thought it might be good to think through how experiences can be evaluated.

When I relate an experience, there are several possible understandings:

1. It is truly a supernatural experience.
2. It is coincidence/natural process which I misinterpreted
3. I’m lying
4. I’m deceived (either by my own psychosis, my unintentional superimposing after the fact some details that weren’t really present or by other’s intentional plan)

I think that pretty much covers the possibilities, but if there are others feel free to let me know.

Facts and Faith

I have been spending some time the last few months over at AntiEvolution.org and the After the Bar Closes forum.

While there I have learned all sorts of things about the Theory of Evolution and the hard science behind it. But it's not a place for Chrsitians who are faint of heart--learning that Intelligent Design and "Darwin's Black Box" are not scientifically supported runs contrary to what evangelicals have believed since the mid-90's.

It has caused me to review my reasons for my own personal faith and see if they still hold water. So far I have been able to bring my faith in line with fact.

But I have noticed a disturbing trend: On this topic most people are doing just the opposite...changing "facts" to line up with their faith.

Over the coming weeks I will be posting some of the reasons for my faith. Feel free to comment and check out my logic.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Is it time to Stop Preaching?

Man, that’s a provocative title if I ever wrote one. (And I’ve written more than a few.)

I was reading this article about how one preacher has taken his message into bars/clubs. On one level it makes perfect sense to me—Jesus hung out with drunkards and prostitutes and I’m a big fan of bars. But it made me consider how this really works.

It starts out like a bad joke: “This priest goes into a bar…”

I suspect if Jesus were in human form walking around today he would spend a good deal of time at places where people congregate. Regular people. People who are sometimes struggling or almost always struggling. That means bars, shopping malls, restaurants.

But I don’t know how much he would preach.

At least not with the same “3 points and a joke” Baptist template. Let me illustrate.

When Paul wanted to reach “pre-Christians” (that’s the politically correct current term), he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath and reasoned with them. Let that sink in…he went into the synagogue, got out the Torah and attempted to convince them Jesus was the Messiah.

The guy had some brass ones. I see why maybe they stoned him.

Would we attempt such a socially insensitive approach today? Certainly not. Heck, this week Jews for Jesus got maligned for simply telling Jews outside the synagogue they can be both Jewish and Christian.

We have accepted societal changes have brought changes in our methodology of evangelism. (Though we still haven’t figured out good ways to reach Jews.)

So, back to preaching.

How are people introduced to new ideas today? I mean, when you look at Joe and Josephine Six Pack, where do they find answers when they have questions?

One medium they turn to is television. Sure, there are sitcoms, but there are now tons of programs dealing with everything from archeology to space exploration. Many times these programs have significant implications from a Biblical viewpoint.

Another source of information for J & J is the internet. How can I cope with and help my teenager who’s struggling with a drug problem? How can I restore romance to my loveless marriage? What’s the cheapest local price on gas for my SUV?

Fiction is also a place people love to pursue answers. The Da Vinci Code was a run away fiction best seller worldwide. The movie, not so much.

The internet is wide open: Christians have barely begun to understand how ideas—meaningful ideas—are communicated via this medium. More than the forum at Athens, this is the place where ideas are exposed and debated.

The most important place we often go is to our friends. Real friends, people who have demonstrated over the long haul they care about us. We know they love us. We know they don’t have some hidden agenda.

Joe and his lovely bride are not likely to go see the latest lectures on the travels of Paul. Nascar is on. They may, however, invite you over to watch the race on their widescreen—and if you pitch in they’ll do the pay-per-view in car cam.

I wonder if we spent more time at the bar just talking, just being human, if we wouldn’t have more of an impact than preaching. I wonder if we participated in the world as humans and let others see we’re slightly different because of our love of Jesus, if we wouldn’t have to preach so much.

Maybe our witness is stronger when we are polite to a waitress who’s having a bad day than when we leave a tract with our 5% tip (after all, the fries were cold.)

Maybe having the Icthus on our heart will be a much better expression of faith than an ichthus on our car.

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Secret Lives of Preachers

There is a festering boil on your minister’s butt.

Give yourself a second to let that image sink in…your minister, bending over, pants around ankles, butt exposed, red, drippy, pussy boil staring at you like a cycloptic eye.

(If you’re Catholic you won’t have to imagine, just remember Father McFeelme when you were a boy. Ahhh…that’s it.)

The recent infamous murder of a Church of Christ minister in Selmer, Tennessee by his wife is simply a caricature for the reality going on in most ministry homes today. It’s an exaggerated expression of what most ministry families feel every day.

In court documents this week Mary Winkler described the emotions and events leading up to the murder. This account was recorded at CNN.com:

“She told police she had an ‘uneasy feeling’ after she put her children to bed March 21 and her husband ‘started ranting about problems he was having and personal feelings about the church administration.’”

So, she blew a crater in his back with a shot gun.

But what does this have to do with your minister? (Remember, he’s the guy with a pussy bump on his posterior.)

When we hire ministers today, we have high expectations. More than high. We expect them to be perfect.

Before you differ, let me ask you…

What would you do if you found out your minister lost his temper and cussed out a ref at a high school basketball game?

How would you respond to him if his 15 year old daughter got pregnant?

What emotions would it stir up in you if you found out his wife was a chain smoker or his son had a Mohawk and sang in a punk band?

Now how would your response be different if we weren’t talking about your minister but were instead talking about someone you work with?

Yeah, I know.

It would take a race of highly developed super-humans to live the expected lifestyle. Perfect faith, perfect family, perfect finances, perfect dispositions, perfect words, perfect dress.

What’s the result of these unrealistic expectations? Fear.

The average minister is in constant fear of rejection from his congregation. What if no one comes to the service? What if they don’t like my sermon? What if someone finds out that my finances are in a shambles? What happens if someone opens that cabinet and finds my Seagram’s?

It’s a ton of pressure. 24/7/365. While some ministers in huge churches get their share of privacy and down time, the reality faced by most is no days off, no real relationships, constant scrutiny by the whole community.

As a result of this constant pressure, ministers often pressure their families to be perfect as well. Over time that pressure can build to an overwhelming load, tearing families apart. Spouses leave. Children rebel.

All the time the church clucks its collective tongue and wags its enormous head.

“Too bad about Pastor Smith.”

“Yeah, who knew he was having so many problems at home.”

“Can’t really blame the church for letting him go—after all, you can’t have someone with those problems at home in the pulpit.”

And the puss continues to seep.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

I’m Sorry for the Gaping Hole in Your Back

“I’m sorry.”

It’s the reply you would often hear for accidentally stepping on your friend’s foot, spilling wine on your neighbor’s rug, releasing an unplanned angry diatribe.

“I’m sorry.”

I’ve said it many times. More than often. I said it when I last argued with my wife. I said it when I opened the door to an occupied bathroom stall. I said it at my friend’s when I accidentally dropped his prized snoopy coffee mug and broke off the handle.

“I’m sorry.”

We all have said we’re sorry. Sometimes for little things; sometimes for big things. We say we’re sorry because deep in our psyche we believe if we FEEL badly for something we did we somehow deserve a greater level of forgiveness for doing that thing. It’s our emotional get out of jail free card.

We want the offended party to extend grace to us.

Often they do.

Sometimes, however, sorry just doesn’t cut it. Like in the case of Mary Carol Winkler.

You remember her, right? She’s the Church of Christ preacher’s wife who loved her husband to death.

This past week she was arraigned. She asked for bail. She wants out. As part of her pleadings her statement to police was read. She said that after she shot her sleeping husband in the back, instantly severing his spine, obliterating his stomach and leaving his shredded internal organs to soak into the sheets, she told him those two magic words “I’m sorry.”

Yes, Mary, you are sorry.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Demon Television - A Note to the Bigots

Anti-television fanatics are poopy-heads.

Yeah, you heard me right, they’re poopy-heads. Not only that, they’re doo-doo brains. (And you can quote me on that.)

For some 3 dozen years there has been a secret, yet consistent war on television and I think it’s time to bring the fight out in the open. To reveal the secret agenda of the bookish-right who seek to keep us from our precious, desperate housewives; the exuberant joy and gut-wrenching despair of our American idols. The bibliophiliacs who seek to replace our perky Katy Couric with the dull headlines of a New York Times.

Their argument goes something like this: Books contain understanding, dispensed from the nimble wise minds of The Greats, lovingly placed between two hard covers (paperbacks are for ninnies) for our enlightenment.

After all, where would society be without Steinbeck’s angry grapes, Hemingway’s desperate attempts to prove his manhood, Mailer’s singing death dealer?

But that’s the problem: TV hating book lovers are bigots. Bigots of the lowest order. Just like a white man who judges all blacks by the actions of a few despicable criminals, so these book bigots assume television is just a variation on The O.C.

Of course, that’s not the case. In one evening we have a choice of watching hundreds of television programs. Some are bland, mindless banter. Some are the basest form of humor and licentiousness. Many are thoughtful, entertaining and informative.

We are all drawn to what appeals to us—some read “Gone with The Wind” because they lack the social skills to have real relationships. They live vicariously through Scarlett and her affairs. Others watch “Ancient Mysteries” on the Discovery channel to learn the intricacies of Etruscan architecture.

The message, not the medium, determines the value.

I have a friend who has a “designated reading time” with his family every evening. From 7pm until 9pm each evening he gathers with his teenagers and their books in the living room and silently reads. He calls this “family time.”

Yet, surprisingly, his children still seem distant and unresponsive to him. How can that be? He has HOURS of family time each week, right?

Contrast that with my own experience…
Three or four evenings a week, my wife, teenage son and I watch television together. We are far from quiet. We laugh. We discuss what we are watching. We mute the television on the commercials and share about our day. Sometimes we watch The Simpsons, sometimes we watch the Discovery Channel, sometimes we watch American Idol.

But here’s the thing…WE watch. WE talk. WE share. WE get to know one another better.

I’m confident that if Gutenberg had printed a Harlequin rather than a Bible, and if the first television programs had been “Travels with St. Paul,” these same knee-jerk bigots would probably be decrying the book as the depository for the basest of humanity.

One more thing…

Most of these people have televisions. They watch television—probably some every day. Why would they think the majority of television is mindless drivel? Unless, that is, the only thing that appeals to them is the mindless stuff.

Maybe that’s the reality they fear most of all. Poopy-heads.