Category: "faith/skepticism"

Beta testers wanted

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

I'm looking for some people to volunteer as beta testers for the church web site I'm designing. I would prefer if you have some experience with web design or at least a good feel for how things should look and function. Once I have a list of volunteers and the site is ready I'll email out the instructions. I'll probably have tasks to do, questions to answer, etc., and then have you turn in your responses. If you're interested, please email me. In your email let me know a bit about your background (if I don't know you) and maybe include a link to some design that you've done. Thanks in advance for helping me improve this site.

Satirrific

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

Once again, from HealYourChurchWebSite.com, here's a link to a church web site parody. I especially like the dancing Jesus animated Gif.

What (Not) to Wear

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

If there is one issue that incites passionate feelings from all ages and degrees of liberal- and conservative-ism, it the issue of personal modesty. Perhaps it is because, according to most parents and other adults, adolescent girls are dressing too provocatively. Perhaps it is because, according to said adolescent girls, there is no conceivable way to dress according to a standard that is incredibly outdated and prudish. Whether for these reasons, or for a host of others, the fact remains: the teenage wardrobe has become a breeding ground for harsh words, hurt feelings and confusion. Add in the problem of "causing others to stumble" and modesty, or a lack thereof, becomes a major forum for Christian debate.
What is the issue, exactly? Too much skin, or too little discretion? A world filled with impossible standards, or Christians who hold impossible expectations? And if modesty can't be defined in objective terms by unbiased parties, should the problem simply be avoided? Not according to Leida Pickett, a Certified Health Education Specialist who teaches teens about abstinence. Pickett admits that she once thought modest dress was an unimportant concern, but now believes it does have merit. She does not, however, agree with the methodology many choose to employ.
"I'm not comfortable with adults trying to make fashionable things taboo with guilt, punishment, criticism and shaming. I don't think that works," she said. Pickett even disagrees with using the word 'modest' as an exhortation to more pleasing behavior, describing it as, "antiquated, outdated, outmoded and unrealistic—every connotation is negative." Embodying the typical teenage mindset, she explained, "'Modest' kids don't get noticed, they don't have any fun, and they aren't fun to be around—your basic downer."
If this is the message girls are receiving from adults, no wonder it gets such a cool reception. In fact, to a perceptive Christian teen, this message seems downright hypocritical. "The Bible doesn't teach that the body is something evil or shameful that needs to be hidden. Modesty should grow out of a sense of gratitude for what God has given us and a sense of responsibility about how God wants us to use our bodies," explained Melissa McBurney in a 1996 Christianity Today 'Q and A' segment.
Demanding modesty from non-existent Biblical texts leads to little or no compliance and more rebellion. And even if the right reasons are cited, adults are often guilty of overlooking the core of the issue—teens are learning to make the difficult choices that go hand-in-hand with growing up. "[Girls are] frustrated by the clash between their values and by their very real, very valid need to be noticed and appreciated as females," Pickett explained.
Whether we would like to admit it or not, telling a teenage girl she can succeed in anything she wants with one breath, then telling her she must be modest with the next is contradictory. To these young women, a harsh stance on modesty today comes at a price—present success in their own world, which is often a primary concern. The adolescent life is based on acceptance, and a major blow in this area can have harsh consequences, as feelings of self-worth seem to develop substantially in this short time period, but often last a lifetime.
Should we put this issue aside because it carries the potential for damaging self-esteem? Perhaps a look inside the teenage mind will bring clarity. "I think that it's very important for Christians to dress conservatively," says Lisa Wainwright, high school sophomore and ACC member. "You're a reflection of God for others." Wainwright is far from the typical modesty advocate; she admits she likes clothes that are "really cute" and enjoys dressing in the latest fashions. But her concerns reach farther than her own closet: she realizes that wearing some types of clothing carries a lust-inducing risk in members of the opposite sex.
"I hate when guys look at girls because of what they're wearing: it's disrespectful. But then again, girls shouldn't wear clothes [that cause] this, Wainwright said.
On some level, Wainwright and her adult counterparts agree on a solution. But if resolving the modesty issue is as simple as "wear more clothes," then why is it currently unsettled? Danny Ferguson, ACC's Associate Minister who works primarily with youth, said he thinks the problem may have more to do with adolescent males. "Sure, [young men] are affected by the way girls dress, but I don't think we can get girls to dress in a way that won’t affect them at all," Ferguson said. He added, "I don't think a girl can force a boy to sin because of [what the Bible says in] I Corinthians 10:13 –there's always a way out."
Ferguson is not hard-hearted, he is simply realistic—the male mind is tuned to female frequencies, and no amount of clothing will stop a lustful thought if it is going to be had. While he admits that "girls can make it less difficult" by wearing less-revealing clothes, he knows that images of the female body can be everywhere, and not every female is concerned with covering her body.
Ferguson shares a message of hope for the young (and older) men who do try to think modest thoughts. "Most of the guys who are making an effort to [think pure thoughts] spend a lot of time feeling like they are terrible people. I think they need to understand that everyone has a problem area and you can do better."
Ferguson's own practical suggestions, "view women as people, not objects; look women in the face; walk the other way if necessary," demonstrate that he, himself, is not immune to immodesty's potential dangers. Modesty is an issue to which most women and men can relate, whether in their teenagers' lives or in their own. For those looking to make a real difference, both Pickett and Ferguson offer advice.
"Parents should have a standard of modesty for their kids; if they're too strict on it, their kids will rebel, but if they're reasonable and can explain why, it can help kids develop their own convictions," Ferguson said.
Pickett also believes in setting standards. "Adults should help kids come up with workable alternatives—work with them, not against them," Pickett encourages. "Don't fight the fashion—change it. If a daughter wants to wear fashionable V-neck shirts, but mom thinks they show too much cleavage, mom should buy her an equal number of higher-cut tank tops that she is required to wear with them."
Pickett said she believes that if adults will model modesty in their own lives, and if they will teach young men to not only accept, but to praise and to respect modesty in their female peers, the issue will be closer to a resolution. And if Christians of all ages are working toward purer lifestyles, real spiritual maturity cannot be far behind.

The Passion of the Christ

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

I saw the Passion of the Christ last night. This will contain some spoilers and my opinion, so if you're like me and you prefer to form your own opinion before reading other people's, then stop reading now and see the movie. This post will still be here when you get back.

Full story »

New section

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

I've added a new section to the Cabin: "Stuff I Wrote." The link is on your left, just below the "About me" link. I posted my Lord of the Rings sermons and there's also another message from a few weeks ago. Let me know what you think.

The Holy Observer

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

If you like satire like The Onion, but think the Christian sub-culture should be made fun of, too, then you might enjoy reading The Holy Observer. I especially like last month's Guide to Christian Capitalization. If you are either a) easily offended, or b) a big fan of the Trinity Broadcasting Network, then you may want to steer clear of The Holy Observer. (Thanks to Matt S. for the link.)

Tuesday is my Monday

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

Since Monday is my day off, Tuesday is the day when I come into the office, catch up on blogreading and email, watch the latest Strongbad email, and start thinking about getting down to business. I've got one more sermon in my Lord of the Rings series. I think it's gone well so far. Maybe when I'm finished I'll post my manuscripts.

After Sunday I'll start work on the church web site. This will probably take several weeks, but I'm excited about getting started. Brendan recommended that I use PostNuke, or something like it to organize and update the site. We haven't bothered with a church website up to this point because we don't want something that will just set there and never get updated or used. Thanks to Brendan's help with this Movable Type blog, I'm starting to feel up to the challenge.

Also, I've been enjoying the political discussions over at Brendoman.Com, especially between Gringo and Roland. It's been pretty educational for me.

Sponge Emma Stinky Pants Part 2

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

Click here to hear Emma. [MP3 77KB] I recorded this at dinner last night using my PDA's microphone.

What I've been doing at work

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

It's been a fun couple of weeks here at Adrian Christian Church. Last Wednesday I spoke to a bunch of jr. high and high school kids at Youth Alive. If you want to read what I said, click here. I'm working on some static content for this site, like sermons, photo gallery, 'about me' page, but I'm still learning how to use Movable Type. At the last church board meeting I presented the idea of a church website. I told them that within a few months I should be able to put something together that would be worthwhile. If you come across any church websites that you think are well done, email me the URL and tell me what you like about it. I'm also working on my 3-week sermon series based on the Lord of the Rings. It starts on February 8. Yesterday I spent my afternoon watching the first disc of the Fellowship DVD. I'm also reading a couple of books that explore the spiritual themes of the Tolkien trilogy. So I'm having a good time at work. I hope you are, too.

The Lord of the Rings: Spiritual Themes Part III

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

Friendship

Today is the last in my series about the Lord of the Rings. The final chapter of the story is about friendship. I think friendship is an important part of life. Many of you are familiar with the Purpose-Driven Life. I think all five purposes could be considered different forms of friendship. Fellowship is obviously similar to friendship. Ministry is being a friend and serving people. Worship is about expressing our friendship with God, and evangelism and discipleship are basically introducing your mutual friends, "Bill, meet Jesus, Jesus, Bill," that's evangelism. "Now let's all get to know each other better." That's discipleship.

The problem with friendship is that it's hard. It's hard to find a friend and it's hard to be a friend. Proverbs 20:6 "Many proclaim themselves loyal, but who can find one worthy of trust?" We all walk around with such high opinions of ourselves and such low opinions of other people. Friendship requires two things: 1) we have to make other people higher, showing mercy and forgiveness, and 2) We have to make ourselves lower through humility and sacrifice. These are two things that God has done for us so he could be our friend.

Mercy

Before Frodo was born his uncle Bilbo took the ring of power from Gollum's cave. Gollum told Sauron that the ring had gone to a Baggins who lived in the shire, then Sauron sent out the Black Riders to find the ring. So when Frodo is forced to leave his home, it's because of Gollum's treachery. When the fellowship travels through the mines of Moria, Gollum begins following them. After all of the trouble that Gollum has caused, Frodo wishes that Bilbo had killed him when they first met. But Gandalf says something that stays with Frodo till the end. [Video:

Frodo: There’s something down there.
Gandalf: It’s Gollum.
Frodo: Gollum?
Gandalf: He’s been following us for three days.
Frodo: He escaped the dungeons of Barad-Dur!
Gandalf: Escaped? Or was set loose?
Gandalf: He hates and loves the Ring, as he hates and loves himself. He will never be rid of his need for it.
Frodo: It’s a pity Bilbo didn’t kill him when he had the chance!
Gandalf: Pity? It was pity that stayed Bilbo’s hand. Many that live deserve death, and some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo?
Gandalf: Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise can not see all ends. My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before this is over. The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many.]

Later when Gollum attacks Frodo and Sam in the wilderness they are tempted to kill him, but Frodo remembers Gandalf's words and he shows mercy to the pitiful creature. As they get closer to Mordor the ring begins to take its toll on Frodo. He now gets a little taste of what Gollum's life has been like. He begins to have sympathy for Gollum. As Frodo comes to understand Gollum and really feel pity for him, Sam is getting more and more suspicious of Gollum. [Video:

Sam: Hey Stinker, don't go getting too far ahead!
Frodo: Why do you do that?
Sam: What?
Frodo: Call him names. Run him down all the time.
Sam: Because. 'Cause that's what he is, Mr. Frodo. There's naught left in him but lies and deceit. It's the Ring he wants. It's all he cares about.
Frodo: You have no idea what it did to him, what it's still doing to him. I want to help him, Sam.
Sam: Why?
Frodo: Because I have to believe he can come back.]

Because he was tempted by the ring, Frodo started to understand Gollum and he wanted to help him.

When Jesus was tempted in life, it made him sympathetic toward us. Hebrews 4:15 says, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin." And Hebrews 2:18 says, "Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted." Because of his sympathy he showed mercy to us. And he wants us to do the same for other people. Jesus told a vivid story about this in Matthew 18:21-35:

21Then Peter came to him and asked, "Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?"
22"No!" Jesus replied, "seventy times seven!
23"For this reason, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. 24In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. 25He couldn't pay, so the king ordered that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt. 26But the man fell down before the king and begged him, `Oh, sir, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.' 27Then the king was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.
28"But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment. 29His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. `Be patient and I will pay it,' he pleaded. 30But his creditor wouldn't wait. He had the man arrested and jailed until the debt could be paid in full.
31"When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him what had happened. 32Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, `You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. 33Shouldn't you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?' 34Then the angry king sent the man to prison until he had paid every penny.
35"That's what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters in your heart."

Jesus sympathized with our temptation and forgave us, and so he wants us to forgive other people, too. We can definitely relate to their temptations. So, like Jesus and Frodo, we should show mercy to our friends, and even to our potential friends. Sam lectured Frodo about the dangers of trusting Gollum, and people of his day were upset with Jesus for being friends with sinners. He said in Matthew 11:19, "The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners." ' But wisdom is proved right by her actions."" You'll also get criticized for showing mercy. People will tell you that you'll be corrupted or that you're supporting their sin but you'll just be doing the same thing that Jesus did. He loved people, he showed them mercy. He was their friend. But Christians have always wanted to judge other people. That's why Paul had to write Romans 14:4- "Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand."

How did Frodo's mercy affect Gollum? Frodo had saved Gollum's life twice. Once from Sam and once from Faramir. Then the little beast led them into the lair of the giant spider. He betrayed Frodo. They didn't see him again until they were on Mt. Doom, almost to throw the ring in and destroy it. Frodo suddenly has a change of heart. He tells Sam that he's not going to destroy it, and he puts it on. He starts to leave and then Gollum appears and springs on him. Gollum bites Frodo's finger off and then he finally has the ring. He has given in to his addiction one last time and he's so excited that he can't keep from falling from the ledge. And so the ring is destroyed. Frodo has shown mercy to Gollum, but been doubly betrayed. God must feel some of this pain when we fail him time and time again. And yet he continues to be merciful to us. This pain is part of friendship. There will always be disappointment and betrayal, but true friends never stop working toward healing. When you heal a friendship, you'll heal yourself. In the end, Frodo didn't save Gollum's soul, but he may have saved his own.

Sacrifice

Sacrifice is an important part of friendship. It helped advance the quest several times. Gandalf gave up his life to help the fellowship escape Moria. Boromir tried to take the ring, but then he repented and gave up his life fighting to defend Merry and Pippin. When Frodo decided to leave the fellowship alone, Sam, who like most hobbits was very afraid of water, was willing to do anything to help his friend. [Video:

(Frodo closes his hand over the Ring, and puts it into his vest pocket. He pushes the boat into the river and jumps in. Just then, Sam emerges from the woods. He sees Frodo paddling away and runs after him)
Sam: Frodo no! Frodo! Mr. Frodo!
Frodo: No Sam. (continues to paddle away)
(Sam runs into the river after Frodo. Frodo, hearing the splashes, looks back)
Frodo: Go back Sam! I’m going to Mordor alone.
Sam: Of course you are, and I’m coming with you!
Frodo: You can’t swim! Sam!(Sam struggles to swim then sinks into the water)
Frodo: Sam!!!(Sam sinks deeper and deeper. He sees the sun shimmering up on the surface. His arm floats limply as he descends into the water. Suddenly Frodo’s hand reaches down and grabs Sam’s wrist. . Sam tightens his hand around Frodo’s. Frodo pulls him out of the water and up into the boat and Sam tumbles in)
Sam (dripping and crying): I made a promise, Mr. Frodo. A promise! "Don’t you leave him Samwise Gamgee." And I don’t mean to! I don’t mean to.
Frodo: Oh Sam! (hug) Come on. (Frodo and Sam paddle towards the eastern shore)]

Friends will go to any lengths to help each other. Aragorn and Theoden, the great kings, were on the front lines of the battles, willing to die to save their people. And Frodo himself volunteered for the most hopeless and dangerous task Middle Earth had ever heard of.

One day Jesus was talking with his friends about love and friendship. One of the things he told them was this: "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13) I don't think they knew at the time that he was talking about his own upcoming death. It wasn't until later that they understood what his life and his death meant to them. When you read 1 John 4:10, you can see that they finally got it. "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."

Jesus gave us the ultimate gift in dying for us. But what he told his friends still holds true for us. "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." We can still do this today. For some people that means giving up their home, going abroad and giving their life to introduce people to Jesus. For some that means giving up your career for a while to raise a child. Or you may lay down your life by constantly putting other people's needs before your own. Philippians 2:3-4 "3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." When you're thinking of other people first, you're laying down your life and showing the love that Jesus told us about.

Jesus in Middle Earth

So where is Jesus in Middle Earth? Which character is most like him? Tolkien's story is not an allegory. He was very clear on this. An allegory is when there one-to-one correlation between the story and the principle being taught. For example, in the story Jesus told, the king was God and the man who owed millions would be like us. Or in The Chronicles of Narnia, the lion Aslan represents Christ. He is always the Christ character and no one else ever is. The white witch is Satan for the whole story. But Tolkien hated allegory. He was very critical of Lewis for making Narnia so obviously Christian. I think that what Tolkien did instead is even better. His story contains little hints of similarities between his characters and Jesus. This is much more interesting and it's why his story became so much more popular than Lewis'. So where is Jesus in this story? Gandalf is a little like Jesus, because he was sent to Middle Earth to help in the fight against evil. He died to save his friends and then came back to life. Aragorn is like Jesus because he was a lowly ranger from the north who was really the rightful heir to throne. He was a humble king, whose reign would fulfill the old prophesies. He was a healer. He passed through death and temptation before he could receive his crown. Bilbo wrote this poem about him.

All that is gold does not glitter,
not all who wander are lost,
the old that are strong do not wither,
deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
a light from the shadows shall spring,
renewed shall be blade that is broken,
the crownless again shall be king.(Fellowship of the Ring, 193)

Jesus was like Frodo because he carried evil on his shoulders, he bore not a ring, but a cross. He walked headlong toward death and suffering so he could save the world. That's what Jesus did: he gave his life up for the good of his friends. It was the only way. And now he is our only hope. If you want to be saved from the evil that surrounds you and the evil that you're fighting on the inside, then put your trust in Jesus.

Some of you may need to think about becoming friends with Jesus for the first time, and during our invitation song, I hope you'll make that choice. Many of us just need to think about being a better friend to our fellow humans. Some of us may need to stop thinking of other people as our projects, and start thinking of them as our friends. A friend is merciful, a friend does not judge, a friend is willing to lay down their life for others, whether that means actually dying or just laying down 30 minutes to talk with someone. Ecclesiastes 4:10 says, "If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!" Friends help each other up. And sometimes a friend is that person who just convinces you not to give up. [Video:

Frodo: I can't do this, Sam.
Sam: I know. It's all wrong. By rights we shouldn't even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end, because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it'll shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand, I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going, because they were holding on to something.
Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?
Sam: That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it's worth fighting for.
. . .
Sam: I wonder if we'll ever be put into songs or tales?
Frodo: What?
Sam: I wonder if people will ever say, "Let's hear about Frodo and the Ring", and they'll say, "Yes, it's one of my favorite stories!" "Frodo was really courageous, wasn't he Dad." "Yes, my boy, the most famousests of hobbits, and that's saying a lot. "
Frodo: You've left out one of the chief characters... Samwise the Brave! "I want to hear more about Sam. Frodo wouldn't have got far without Sam."
Sam: Now Mr. Frodo, you shouldn't make fun. I was being serious.
Frodo: So was I.
Sam: Samwise the Brave.]

Films © 2001-2003 New Line Cinema
Books © J.R.R. Tolkien

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