Sunday, December 30, 2007

Pallbearers and cell phones

So I was officiating at a funeral earlier this afternoon--my second this weekend. I think it was during the invocation that the cell phone started ringing. The owner of the loudly ringing phone seemed to be in no hurry to get his hands on the thing.

It turns out that the phone belonged to a young man on the front row serving as a pallbearer. The ringing continued through the prayer and just as Terri, my wife and the Music Minister, stepped up to the microphone to sing "How Great Thou Art" the young man with the phone could be heard saying, "Hello."

That's right, he took the call.

This is a first for me. Oh, I have heard cell phones ring and pagers go off during worship services more times than I can count --even during funeral services. On numerous occasions I have seen worshippers take a call during a service. But never before have I been leading a funeral service when a pallbearer not only gets a call, but takes it.

What's your most shocking or maddening or embarrassing cell phone moment?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Family gifts I like buying

Terri and I do not buy our children Christmas presents anymore. Instead we give each of them cash that is enclosed in a card containing a particular message. The card encourages the recipients to enjoy the money as they see fit. It further reminds them that the true Christmas message is about sacrificial giving to benefit those in need and so it would be appropriate to use some portion of the gift for that purpose.

I like this approach because it at least causes our children to think about helping someone in need in this season in which we ostensibly remember the coming of Jesus who gave up everything to save a world in need. Furthermore giving cash relieves Terri and me of the daunting task of hunting down sometimes elusive gifts for our children. Besides, by receiving cash on Christmas day our kids can go and take advantage of those after Christmas markdowns for whatever portion of the cash they keep for themselves.

Terri and I do not exchange gifts on Christmas, nor do we give each other cash. Instead we make donations in honor of one another to organizations that assist those in need. On our birthdays we give one another more traditional presents, but not on Christmas.

There are a couple of exceptions to the Christmas gift-giving pattern noted above. We buy inexpensive stocking-stuffers for our children and Terri and I exchange Christmas tree ornaments. Furthermore, I always include a Christmas tree ornament in the stocking of each of my daughters.

I always look forward to picking out the tree ornaments and I choose carefully. This year I went to five stores in an attempt to find the right ornaments for my daughters. Normally each of them is given a different style, but this year I found one that I liked so much that I got the same one for each of them. It is a large glass ball with a painting of Mary, Joseph and Jesus in a stable. On the opposite "side" is the year, 2007, written in gold glitter-glue. I had Terri personalize each ornament to each daughter with glitter-glue and she did a great job--it looks like it was professionally done.

Terri likes glass ball ornaments from a particular gift shop near her hometown. This year I got her one from that shop on which I had engraved on one side "Terri 2007." On the other side I had engraved the scripture reference, Song of Solomon 7:6, and I prefer the rendering of the TNIV. Actually, there was not room for the entire book title much less the entire verse, so the inscription reads "S of S 7:6."

I'm pretty sure Christmas ornament buying is my most enthusiastic embrace of Christmas consumerism. I suppose, in the case of my daughters, I could try to make ornaments by hand which would stop me from shelling out cash after scouring five stores. In Terri's case, I don't see how I can make her preferred ornaments by hand unless I take up glass blowing and glass engraving.

For the time being, however, I am content to help a few ornament manufacturers and retailers to make a little money at Christmas.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Melissa's missions metamorphosis

Melissa didn't want to go. She griped and complained and whined and begged. Her parents made her go anyway.

Last weekend the youth group of our church went to an ocean front house on Holden Beach on Friday evening. Late into the night they baked Christmas goodies, many made with "no sugar added" recipes. After the cookies and other treats were prepared they were packed away into decorative holiday tins.

On Saturday and again on Sunday, after church services, the youth with their leaders, went out in the church van and delivered the goodies to area shut-ins. The recipients of these gifts were most appreciative--a couple of them were moved to tears.

All of the youth had a great time with this project, including Melissa who desperately did not want to participate beforehand. After it was over she gushed to her parents about what a wonderful time she had and how the youth had decided to extend to operation next Christmas--a plan that Melissa supports. Melissa's father looked at her quizzically and asked if this was the same Melissa that pleaded with him not to go in the days leading up to the event.

I wonder how often we grown-ups do not wish to invest the time and effort into hands-on mission activities. We don't have time. We have other things that we must (read "want to") do. Sorry, just can't right now.

Too bad our parents can't make us go anymore. If we were to get involved and get exposed to the joy of helping others we may undergo the same missions metamorphosis that Melissa did.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

One of the best Christmas stories

One of my favorite Christmas stories did not begin as a Christmas story but as a tale written by the Brothers Grimm, "The Fisherman and His Wife."

The poor couple lived in a filthy shack. One day, the fisherman caught only one fish, but it was a special flounder. The flounder explained it really was an enchanted prince and asked to be placed back in the ocean. The fisherman complied. He returned home and told his wife about the fish, initiating a cycle of unbridled greed.

The wife told the fisherman he should have asked for something and she sent him back to ask for a cottage. The fisherman did not want to go, but his wife was insistent, so he did her bidding.

The flounder asked what the wife wanted, and the fisherman described her desire for a cottage. The flounder told the fisherman to go home; his wife already had the cottage she requested. The fisherman returned to a new cottage and suggested his wife should be happy now, but she was not.

Soon, she sent her husband back to ask for a stone mansion. Next, she wanted to be king. After this, she insisted on becoming emperor, then pope. The flounder kept granting the wife's greedy wishes, and her power and prestige multiplied.

Then she sent her husband to tell the flounder to make her like God. Quaking with fear, the fisherman did as he was told. After he made the request, the flounder told the fisherman to go back home, where he would find his wife in the filthy shack, just as she began. The story ends by stating the couple dwells in that shack to this very day.

Many interpret the step back to the shack as a punishment upon the wife's greed. I disagree. The flounder merely gave the wife what she sought.The willful wife wanted to be like God. So the fish took her from a position of glory to a dirty shack--sort of like how Jesus left the glory of heaven for a dirty stable in Bethlehem.

The fisherman's wife was closer to God's revelation of himself in this world when she was in the shack than when she held positions of power and glory. The story of the fisherman and his wife and the story of Jesus show us that becoming like God in this world has nothing to do with worldly notions of glory.

In this Christmas season, let us ponder what it really means to become more godly. Let us ponder what it means to become like God in this world by pondering the lowly way God became flesh.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A different kind of Christmas movie

Perennially watched Christmas movies tend to be light stories with happy endings like It’s a Wonderful Life, and Miracle on 34th Street. One of my favorites is a 1951 movie version of Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol entitled Scrooge starring Alastair Sim. Then there are the Christmas TV specials that aren’t movies: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Charlie Brown’s Christmas, etc.

Last year there was a popular movie that came out depicting the birth of Jesus entitled The Nativity. There are several parts of this movie that I would prefer had been done differently, but overall The Nativity is a movie that would do well to join the list of Christmas movies worth watching year after year.

There was another Christmas movie released last year that was not popular. Actually this movie did not come out at Christmas around here, but it was scheduled for release on Christmas day. It was entitled Children of Men and it was based on a novel written by P. D. James. However, as at least one reviewer said, it would be more accurate to say that the movie was inspired by the novel, because there are significant changes in the movie version of the story versus the printed version of the story.

Children of Men is nothing like James' other books. Best known for her murder mystery novels, she wrote this story as an allegory of the birth of Christ.

I read the book and I saw the movie and I liked them both, but the book is better. However, if you are unwilling or unable to invest time in reading in this busy holiday season, then you may be able to pick up a copy of the movie cheap. It did not do well at the box office which may explain why, as of earlier this week, there were about a half-dozen previously viewed copies of the DVD available at a movie rental place here at the discounted of price of $2.50. I should warn you, however, that Children of Men is rated R for some very strong language and also for violence.

That's right, this depiction of the birth of Christ is violent. This allegory seeks to show the other side of Christmas—the side that we don’t like to talk about. The side that Simeon spoke of as he held the baby Jesus in his arms (Luke 2:22-35). The side about the baby born in Bethlehem being destined to cause upheaval and opposition (Luke 2:34-35). The side about Jesus' family being forced to become refugees in Egypt in order to escape a king's murderous intent (Mat. 2:13-15). The side about the birth of Jesus being the cause of the slaughter of boy babies in Bethlehem (Mat. 2:16-18). The side about the birth of Jesus causing considerable disruption in our world.

If you watch Children of Men then remember that it is an allegory. Elements of the story symbolize something else. The despair of humanity is symbolized by worldwide infertility. No babies had been born in the whole world for over 18 years.

The main character in the movie is named Theo and Theo means God. As the story progresses the viewer is introduced to a young woman, an outcast, who miraculously turns out to be pregnant. Those who know about the pregnancy agree that this woman and this pregnancy are the key to the future of humanity. The woman’s name is Kee. Everything hinges on getting Kee to a mysterious group called the Human Project and that requires a rendezvous with a ship called the Tomorrow. When Kee shows Theo her belly, revealing to him that she is pregnant, Theo says, “Jesus Christ!” When the child is born later in the movie, the first person to see it outside of the one who delivered it says, “Jesus Christ!”

From these few details it is probably clear that the symbolism in Children of Men is thinly veiled. Nonetheless you are going to have to think a little bit to follow the story behind the story. I wish I could explain more, but I don’t want to ruin it for you.

Actually my guess is that most of you would not like this movie--it bombed at the box office for a reason. It is dark and violent and the language is rough. The world is depicted as a chaotic place full of despair. There are terrorist bombings and there is an uprising. Surrounding the birth of this miracle child is treachery, deception, intrigue, and death. Most of you wouldn’t like it in my opinion and you surely would not think of it as a Christmas movie.

Yet for all its darkness, Children of Men sounds a definite note of hope through the miraculous birth of a child. And the reason I think it deserves some recognition as a Christmas movie is that, more than any other depiction of the birth of Christ that I remember seeing, it seeks to expose a truth about the Christ child that our culture largely ignores.

The Prince of Peace often disrupts lives and societies in order to bring peace. Because of his revolutionary values he continues to be a sign that is spoken against (Luke 2:24-35). The road to the glorious peace of Jesus is frequently and ironically paved with upheaval.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

I am Santa Claus

Hello, I am Santa Claus. I appreciate David giving me some blog space to communicate with you. My real name is Nicholas and I lived from A.D. 280-343 in the country now known as Turkey. I became a priest at a very young age and later I became a bishop. My parents were rich and, when they died, I became a very wealthy member of the clergy upon receiving my inheritance.

I gave away my fortune to the poor and needy. I tell you this reluctantly, because I am aware that Jesus said that we should help the needy secretly (Mat. 6:1-4). However, there is a character named after me in your culture whose story bears little resemblance to mine so I feel a bit of a need to set the record straight. Besides, I have been dead for more than 16 1/2 centuries, so what can it hurt to tell you now?

I took seriously Jesus' command in passages like Luke 12:33-34 where he told his followers to sell their possessions and give to the poor. Secretly I used my riches to assist the less fortunate in an effort to be obedient to this Christian calling. When my actions were later revealed, my story was told and re-told and some fantastic legends about me began to be circulated far and wide.

In the United States many of the popular tales about me appear to spring from some imaginative stories and a poem written about me in the early 1800's. I am known as a chubby guy in a red suit because of an artist's depiction of me in the U.S. in the 1800's. That image was picked up by other artists and it was made popular especially through Coca Cola ads that ran for many years beginning in the early 1900's.

I became connected with Christmas because I died on December 6. Many Christians from the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian traditions hold a feast in my honor on this date. In some areas the Feast of Saint Nicholas is held at the same time as the Feast of Christmas. So you can see how some traditions about me became mingled with Christmas.

I hear that many in this culture think this season is more about my coming than Jesus' coming. As a follower of Jesus I would much prefer that the Advent season be observed as the coming of Jesus rather than the coming of Santa Claus. However, if you are going to connect this season with me to your children or your grandchildren or yourself, then do me a favor and get my story right.

There are several children's books containing my real story that you can pick up and read to young people. There is a brief article about me that came out a few years ago in the Biblical Recorder that you can read here. I would really appreciate it if you might use such resources to recover the true story about me.

According to a traditional Christmas reading from the epistles, Jesus gave himself for us "to purify for himself a people zealous for good deeds" (Titus 2:14, NRSV). I hope my testimony of good deeds in some small way honors this purpose for which Jesus gave himself for us.

What about your Santa Claus traditions? Do they line up well with my real story? Are they true to the purpose for which Christ gave himself--to create a people zealous for good deeds? Do you sell your possessions and give to the poor as Jesus commanded?

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Who is a scrooge?

Sometimes those called "scrooges" in our culture are not really like the Scrooge from Charles Dickens' classic story entitled "A Christmas Carol." Dickens described Ebenezer Scrooge as "tight-fisted" and the story emphasizes his steadfast refusal to help the poor. Scrooge was filthy rich and he was proud of the fact that he would not share the tiniest portion of his wealth with those in need.

According to a "scrooge" is "any miserly person," which is a definition in keeping with the conduct of Ebenezer Scrooge. However, the label "scrooge" in our culture often has an entirely different sense. At least it does in my personal experience.

I suppose I am a bit sensitive about this matter because, from time to time, I have been accused of being a scrooge at Christmas time. However, I have never been labelled in this way for being tight-fisted toward the poor. Rather, I have been called a scrooge for expressing dislike for a couple of the most popular features of a traditional Christmas in our society.

We celebrate the coming of Jesus who came to "proclaim good news to the poor" (Luke 4:18), and who said that we should see his face in the faces of the poor and needy and help them accordingly (Matthew 25:31-46). Jesus' birth is the ultimate in giving away everything to help those in need (2 Corinthians 8:9). Mary said that, in the coming of Jesus, God "filled the hungry with good things but . . . sent the rich away empty" (Luke 1:53, TNIV).

So it would make sense that we would mark the coming of one who gave everything to help the needy by making assistance of the needy the top priority, but we generally don't. Most of the Christmas time, energy and money in this society are devoted to buying gifts that will be soon forgotten for people who didn't need them in the first place. Our children tend to get more excited about the coming of a mythical character who I will not name instead of the coming of the King of kings and Lord of lords. We, with our main Christmas tradition, nurture consumerism rather than sacrifice for the needy.

From time to time, from the pulpit and at home, I have pointed out my dislike of our standard Christmas gift giving and receiving priorities. I have mentioned that I do not think it is good to encourage among our children the veneration of that mythical character. I make a point not to be a grump in so doing. Nonetheless I have been called a scrooge because I do not embrace our Christmas consumerism and the trickery associated with a certain Christmas myth.

It is true that Scrooge despised the standard Christmas traditions of his day and I don't care for some of our modern Christmas practices. Yet this is where the comparison stops as far as I can tell. It seems to me that those who embrace the Christmas consumerism of our culture share more of a kinship with Scrooge.

Scrooge withheld his money from the needy at Christmas time and, for the most part, we do too. Many will give a little to help the poor, but that figure tends to pale in comparison to the amount that most spend on unneeded gifts for those who are not poor. Such a lack of generosity toward the poor is pretty doggone Scrooge-like.

So who are the scrooges among us?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Kindness to the ungrateful and wicked

"Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." (Luke 6:35-36, TNIV)

How well do we reflect the mercy of God by being kind to the ungrateful and the wicked? Mere non-retaliation is not the calling of those who would obey Christ at this point. Showing kindness toward those who do us wrong is the command of the Messiah. Do our lives indicate that we trust Jesus' teaching that doing good to our enemies results in a great reward?

Do the followers of Christ have a reputation for being kind to the ungrateful and wicked?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Is the death penalty fading away?

I saw a National Journal article earlier this week in which Stuart Taylor, Jr. wonders if the death penalty might be slowly fading away in this country. Current polls show that 65% of the public still supports capital punishment, but that is down from 78% in the early 1990's. While nearly two-thirds of people in this society support the death penalty in the abstract, there are other signs that the practice is becoming less popular.

Taylor points out that the number of juries choosing the death penalty "has plunged, from 317 in 1996 to 128 in 2005, the latest year for which complete data are available." In like manner the number of executions "has dropped from a modern high of 98 in 1999 to 53 in 2006."

Numerous factors are cited for the weakening popularity of capital punishment in practical application:

  • DNA evidence has exonerated some 15 death-row inmates and almost 200 other persons convicted of murder or rape, mostly since the late 1990s alerting death penalty supporters to imperfections in our criminal-justice system that could lead to the execution of an innocent person.
  • Fewer defendants are getting the death penalty and the cost to taxpayers for a death penalty trial tends to be far more than life imprisonment. This reality has made prosecutors less likely to seek death.
  • More states are offering life without the possibility of parole as an alternative sentence which causes more jurors to believe that dangerous criminals don't have to be killed to be kept off the streets.
  • Current concerns about the lethal injection method of execution may continue a long-standing trend of the rejection of method after method of execution.

  • Taylor raises interesting points that lead me to wonder if the death penalty might end in this country not by being outlawed but by slowly falling from favor. While I would prefer the practice end sooner rather than later, it is encouraging to see that capital punishment is becoming less popular.

    Romans 1:16 tells us that the gospel is "the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes" (TNIV). The power of God is powerful enough to transform anyone, even murderers, but not if we give them lethal injections first. We can protect society from the most dangerous criminals short of killing them. Because life is precious and because the gospel, the power of God, can transform anyone we must put murderers in prison for life rather than executing them.

    Saturday, November 17, 2007

    Prophecy being fulfilled?

    I went back in time 12 months and found a prediction from Tony Cartledge, retired editior of the Biblical Recorder and now a professor at Campbell University Divinity School and contributing editor to Baptists Today. After the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSCNC) gathering in November of 2006, Cartledge made a forecast in the Biblical Recorder that you can read here and the trend he foretold continued through this year's convention.

    He pointed to a sharp drop in the number of messengers attending last year's BSCNC. Cartledge said that numerous factors may have contributed to the small attendance figure, but he believed the main reason was a "growing lack of rivalry regarding leadership." Feeling increasingly disaffected, fewer moderates attend the BSCNC. With fewer moderates showing up, many conservatives do not feel the need to go and outvote them. So Cartledge concluded a year ago, "If that cycle continues, it won't be long before the BSC can save a bundle on convention expenses by meeting in one of our larger church facilities."

    Fast forward to 2007 and the headline in the Biblical Recorder days before the convention was "Crowd expected for annual session" The article said that three controversial issues were expected to draw a large group and so the BSCNC staff prepared for 4,500 messengers. If that number had shown up, it still would have been a lot fewer than the 6,400 messengers that attended in 1990, but it would have been an increase of about 1700 messengers over the 2006 number.

    So, how many messengers actually came to Greensboro this year? According to a convention wrap-up article at the Biblical Recorder web page, "just 2,784 attended the annual meeting which promised beforehand votes more significant than any in recent years. Attendance was just under last year's 2,832 and was the lowest since the 2,316 who attended the 1985."

    Early signs favor Cartledge's prediction of last year. The seemingly highly charged issues of the BSCNC's relationships with the Woman's Missionary Union, Baptist Retirement Homes and the five Baptist colleges promised to pack in a large crowd. Instead we had fewer than last year's puny number of messengers.

    It is too early to tell if Tony Cartledge may be a prophet in this matter, but it does at least look like he might be on to something.

    Thursday, November 8, 2007

    Premature funeral

    It must have been a terrible day for Gina Partington. The 58-year old mother from Urmston, Greater Manchester, reported her 37-year old son, Thomas Dennison, missing last month. Three days later she received word that a body had been found in Rusholme, Manchester. Partington went and formally identified the body as that of her missing son. After an inquest the body was cremated on October 30.

    What Partington didn't know was that police had located her son, Thomas, in Nottingham four days before the cremation. He was very much alive. The body Partington had identified as that of her son was not the body of her son after all.

    This is a strange story that you can read about here. The police department said in a statement: "This set of circumstances is clearly distressing and urgent inquiries are ongoing to establish how this happened."

    For Gina Partington I cannot imagine the emotional rollercoaster ride she took from having a missing son to news of a body to identifying a body to a cremation to news that her dead, cremated son is alive after all. The last bit of that ride is not the sort of news a grieving parent typically hears: "You know the son you held a memorial service for the other day? Well, he's not dead."

    Normally when parents attend the funeral of their child the funeral is considered premature not because that child turns out not to be dead but because the child is in fact dead. Usually the grief of losing a child is not short circuited by the news that the child is still alive. As a rule the agony of typical premature funerals goes on for a very long time.

    I do not speak from personal experience. But I live near Ocean Isle Beach, NC where seven college students died in a house fire two days before Gina Partington thought her son's body was cremated. I am a graduate of Virgina Tech where, on April 16 of this year, 32 students and staff were shot dead. I think of the parents and the other loved ones . . . I think of other friends who have lost children . . .

    I think of them and I say a prayer for these who have attended premature funerals.

    Saturday, November 3, 2007

    Treadmill potato

    I'm walking as I type this blog entry. In the last 21 minutes I have checked the weather forecast online, read a couple of articles, kept tabs on the the muted Alabama vs. LSU ball game and I have been walking during all of these activities. I'm sure my writing progress is not nearly as efficient as normal, but its not bad considering that I'm getting in some exercise while I do it.

    I'm walking on a treadmill on which I have attached a shelf for my laptop. A few feet away is a TV and the remote rests in a pocket on the treadmill. This setup allows me to be a "treadmill potato."

    Rather than parking my rear end on a couch and surfing the Net while watching a ball game, I now make a regular practice of walking during these activities. This is better for my heart and my waistline. During the Virginia Tech vs. Georgia Tech game on Thursday evening, I walked 10.3 miles and burned a little over 1,600 calories if the meter on this treadmill is accurate.

    Mind you, I don't set any speed records walking this way. Right now I am moving along at 3.5 miles per hour. But I suppose some progress is better than no progress.

    Four years ago I temporarily lived right at the beach for six months. During those months I lost almost 70 pounds. How? I walked on the beach for about 80 minutes a day nearly every day: 30 minutes each morning and 50 minutes each night. I loved those walks.

    After moving off the island of Holden Beach and onto the nearby mainland I did not walk as much. I still walked some, but not nearly 80 minutes each day. I just could not seem to get motivated to walk around the neighborhood like I walked on the beach. Slowly I put a great deal of that 70 pounds back on. Not all of it, but too much of it.

    A few months ago I invested in a used treadmill and I started walking more. Two weeks ago I made a commitment to walk 80 minutes a day on the treadmill in order to hopefully duplicate the good results I had walking on the beach. In order to reach my 80-minute goal I multi-task on the treadmill as described above. It has only been two weeks but I have lost a few pounds and I am enjoying being a "treadmill potato" for now.

    Thursday, October 25, 2007

    The most important thing

    "The game of football is the most important thing and we can't lose focus on that."

    Tomorrow I am scheduled to deliver a devotional to the players on our local high school football team, the West Brunswick Trojans. Earlier I was googling around for something for the devotional when I stumbled upon the quote above. According to an article at, Roger Goodell said on the day he became the commissioner of the National Football League 14 months ago that the most important thing is the game of football.

    I am a big football fan, but I certainly don't think "the game of football is the most important thing." I know some football fans so passionate about the game that I have sometimes wondered if football is the most important thing to them, but none would say this is the case even if it is. Goodell is the NFL commissioner and one would expect him to assign a high priority to the game of football. Yet I was still a bit surprised that even one in Goodell's postion would call the game of football the most important thing.

    Maybe it is not so unusual for NFL big wigs to think football is supreme. A few days before the Super Bowl this year I read an article in which Tony Dungy, coach of the world champion Indianapolis Colts, relayed the story of an instance when he was being considered for another head coaching job while he was still a coordinator. During the interview Dungy says that he was asked, "If you get this job, is this going to be the most important thing in your life and are you going to treat my team as the very most important thing." Dungy says that he responded, "No, I'm not." He said that his Christian faith comes first and along with that his family. Football would not be the most important thing to him.

    Dungy did not get the job.

    I intend to encourage the young football players that I will address tomorrow to have priorities like Tony Dungy's rather than Roger Goodell's. Indeed, those are good priorities for us all, football players or not.

    Sunday, October 21, 2007

    Taking spiritual pearls home

    Years ago I heard Billy Hanks make a case for taking notes on sermons. I may not have the numbers exactly right, but I think he said that, after 48 hours, we forget around 95% of we just hear. If we hear something and write it down we retain about 50% of it after 48 hours according to what I remember about Hanks' numbers. (I did write the numbers down, but its been way more than two days ago that I heard them.)

    Hanks referred to the verse in which Jesus spoke of casting pearls before swine. He said that he is convinced that if we could look with spiritual eyes around our church facilities we would see all these spiritual pearls laying about that the congregation failed to take home with them.

    I am not at all comfortable with the notion that the members of the congregation are swine in the Hanks' analogy. However, his overall point is valid.

    Most of my undergraduate college days were spent in the field of education and what I learned there confirms what Hanks' says. The more senses we involve in learning the better we retain the material. That's why I have have for years inserted in our church bulletins "listener guides" which include key statements from the sermon with key words left blank in each statement. As congregants listen, they fill in the blanks. Not everyone in the congregation uses the listener guides but many have told me the guides help to focus their attention and to remember what they have heard.

    Almost two years ago we added a contemporary service that meets in our fellowship hall and, from day one, we used a PowerPoint presentation not only to display song lyrics but along with the sermon as well. We provide the same listener guides in this service as those used in the other services, but, in the contemporary service, the listener guide statements are projected onscreen as they come up in the sermon. I also add other PowerPoint slides with pictures along with a movie clip now and then.

    In the contemporary service, then, even more senses are involved in the learning that takes place during the sermon. The congregation hears my words, sees some of them onscreen and writes some of them on paper. Now we are working on adding video capability to our sanctuary allowing us to use PowerPoint with the sermons preached in our two traditional services so that those worshippers may have enhanced opportunities to retain what they hear and see.

    PowerPoint presentations do add to sermon preparation time, but I enjoy the process and I believe the slides aid learning. Hopefully hearing the message, seeing the message and writing the message combines to assist worshippers in taking a few spiritual pearls home with them.

    Thursday, October 18, 2007

    Hunger: Needs up; funding down

    Last night at a church business meeting Jim Brown reported on the community food pantry called Loaves and Fishes that is housed in our facilities. Numerous local churches, business, and community organizations assist in this effort to help those at risk for hunger in our area who are . Lately we have seen a dramatic rise in the number of folks requesting food.

    In May we assisted a record 417 households by giving them 1,806 bags of groceries. In September we helped 781 households with 3,141 bags of groceries. In case you're wondering, the numbers were up in each intervening month too: 518 households in June, 575 in July, and 630 in August.

    Why the sharp increase? It is not that Loaves and Fishes is a new ministry that folks are just finding out about--we've been doing this for about 10 years. Here in Brunswick County, North Carolina our economy in recent years has been heavily dependent on construction and real estate and both are down--way down. Last night a real estate broker and deacon in the church said of the local economy, "These are hard times."

    So contractors and related businesses have laid people off or cut back on hours and many workers are feeling it and the lines get longer at local food pantries. Complicating matters in the case of Loaves and Fishes is that one of our important funding partners experienced a funding shortfall and was forced to cut back on grants to our food pantry and many other hunger relief ministries they assist. It is never a good time for any ministry to get the news that it will be receiving less money, but with Loaves and Fishes seeing record numbers of people requesting food every month lately it is a particularly bad time for us to get such news.

    With our local economic downturn many local supporters are not in a position to dig a little deeper to make up for the grant reduction and to respond to the increased hunger needs in this community. Our Loaves and Fishes reserves are critically low. We are staring at the real possibility of turning away large numbers of needy people. We've never had to do that before.

    We have made the congregation aware of the situation and we have asked that folks give more attention to bringing nonperishable food items and place them in a container in the church set aside for that purpose. Of course we have made an appeal to members to make designated offerings to Loaves and Fishes.

    Today is distribution day for the food pantry. We'll have a bunch of volunteers from several churches running a well-oiled hunger relief machine--it is a sight to behold. Jim Brown, a Loaves and Fishes leader, is concerned. How many hungry people will show up today? Will we have enough food for them? What about next month?

    Thursday, October 11, 2007

    Homosexuality: A bigger problem than we thought

    Don't get the wrong idea from the headline above. I am not saying that homosexuality is more widespread than we may have believed. I am saying that the response of some Christians to homosexuality may have a much larger potential to harm churches than many church folks think.

    According to an article in USA Today, new research published by the Barna Group indicates that young people, ages 16-29, overwhelmingly see Christianity as anti-gay. The numbers are startling: 91% of non-Christian young people and 80% of Christian young people view Christianity, first and foremost, as "anti-gay."

    Many in the Christian community, especially in the evangelical Christian community and particularly in the Baptist community, have obviously not seen an anti-gay position as something that would adversely affect their churches. They see gays as comprising a relatively small percentage of the population. So, many Christians seem to feel free to strongly and repeatedly denounce gay people without hurting the overall outreach of the church. This new study suggests otherwise.

    According to David Kinnaman, Barna Group president, "The anti-homosexual perception has now become sort of the Geiger counter of Christians' ability to love and work with people." So it isn't that the anti-gay position of many evangelicals has hurt their outreach only to gay people. Rather the anti-homosexual stance of many Christians leaves 91% of non-Christian young people thinking that we cannot love and work with people generally.

    Can you see what these numbers could mean for the future of the church? We say we want to reach young people, but more than 9 out of 10 non-Christian young people believe that we are not loving and they think that way because of the hatred that many Christians have expressed toward gay people.

    Evangelicals tend to respond to homosexuality in one of two ways: (1) They talk about gay people pretty regularly in extremely negative terms, or (2) They avoid talking about homosexuality as much as possible. This study suggests that Christians are going to have to talk about homosexuality a lot in their outreach efforts and they are going to have to consider ways to talk about the matter such that they do not appear anti-gay. Of course, before we can do that, we may have to figure out how to stop being anti-gay in the first place.

    Yeah, the thing is, the overwhelming majority of the young people in that survey are right. Many Christians, especially in evangelical and Baptist circles, are, in fact, anti-gay. We are reaping what we have sown. When Jesus said that the greatest commandment includes loving your neighbor as yourself he did not say "except when your neighbor is gay." We have done a lousy job of loving gay people in violation of the command of our Lord and now we are paying for it because the future of the church is calling us on it. So, what are we going to say in response?

    Believe it or not there is more bad news in this study than I have talked about, but I'll stop here for now.

    Thursday, October 4, 2007

    My life as an arson suspect

    Did I ever tell you about the time that I came upon a scene of arson while the building was still burning and the apparent arsonist was still there?

    I guess it has been almost 12 years ago now. I was headed down route 17 South toward my office very early on a Sunday morning--it was still dark. Near Bolivia, NC I noticed that the building of Faith Baptist Church was on fire and there was a man standing near the fire watching it. I whipped into the church parking lot, rolled down my window and shouted to the man: "Did you call the fire department?"

    I seemed to break some trance he was in and he jerked his head in my direction. "There's a fire in the house of the Lord!" he yelled back.

    I could see that.

    I repeated my question, "Did you call the fire department?"

    He replied, "There's a fire in the house of the Lord!"

    This conversation was going no where.

    I did not have a cell phone so I zipped out of the parking lot headed for a pay phone less than a mile away. As I ripped out of the parking lot I noticed another car headed south on route 17 that had stopped, the driver no doubt noticing the fire. As I came out of the parking lot, this car fell in behind me. I knew what they were thinking so I quickly pulled off into the median and walked back toward the other vehicle that had pulled over behind me.

    There were several men who appeared to be businessmen in the car. One of them had a bag phone that was standard for the few people who possessed cell phones at that time. He was already on the phone with 911 dispatch talking about the situation. As I suspected these men assumed that the operator of the vehicle tearing out of the parking lot (me) was the arsonist. They had not noticed the man standing in front of the church watching the fire. After I pointed him out the man on the bag phone told the dispatcher about the fire watcher.

    Soon the businessmen (if that's what they were) and I were sitting in our cars in the church parking lot watching the man who was transfixed as he watched the burning church building. It wasn't long before both firefighters and sheriff's deputies arrived. The firefighters set about putting out the blaze and the deputies took into custody the man staring at the fire. He didn't try to escape. He stood there in his trance until he was peacefully led away.

    In the end the fire was ruled an act of arson and the damage from the blaze itself was confined to a small area of Faith Baptist Church. However, the smoke damage was extensive throughout the facility. For months the folks at Faith had to meet in their fellowship hall which was in a separate building. I never heard what became of the man who stood and watched the burning church.

    Of the lessons that might be learned from this event, one lesson is related to this fact: For a few moments I was an arson suspect. The men in that car saw a church on fire at the same moment that they saw a car tearing out of the parking lot. They got on the phone telling authorities about the fire and describing my vehicle as they tried to get close enough to get my license number.

    Sometimes I have wondered what would have happened if the fire-watching man had run into the woods surrounding that church after I spoke with him. One day in the week after that fire I spoke with someone in law enforcement who told me that the man who was arrested was a drifter who was not from this area. If he had run into the dark woods and had waited out the excitement and continued to wander somewhere else, what would have happened to me?

    What if, when I went to point out the man watching the fire to those apparent businessmen, he was gone. I might have said something like, "Well there was a man there a minute ago." What would those businessmen have thought about me then?

    What if, when the deputies arrived, those businessmen had told them what they saw and then I had told them about a strange man who was now no where to be seen. No one in the area had heard of a man who fit his description. If that man had run away witnesses would have been able to put only one person at the scene of that fire: me. And I would have been hurrying away from the scene at that.

    Would I have been arrested? Would I have been charged? Would I have been convicted? If I had managed to convince the authorities or a jury that I had nothing to do with that fire, would many in this community have nonetheless thought of me as an arsonist anyway?

    I had only been the pastor of the church I now serve for a little while when this incident happened. If I had been suspected or accused in that crime, what would it have done to my standing in the congregation? What might have happened to my future as a pastor in any church?

    Because of this experience I tend to take a little more seriously the legal principle of "innocent until proven guilty." I try hard not to rush to judgment. Jesus' injunction in Matthew 7:1 that we judge not lest we be judged took on new meaning for me 12 years ago.

    I suppose the thing that bothers me the most is that, if I had been in the position of those businessmen, I would have drawn the same conclusion they did. If I had seen a church on fire just as I had seen a car tearing out of the church parking lot I would have thought an arsonist was speeding away in the car leaving the church.

    That thought scares me as much as the thought that I was falsely suspected of committing a terrible crime.

    Friday, September 28, 2007

    One saved, one dies in Texas

    Carlton Turner gave glory to God when his life was saved yesterday. Michael Richard, however, didn't make it.

    According to an article here the U. S. Supreme Court yesterday halted the execution of the 28-year old Turner less than two hours before he was scheduled to die in Texas by lethal injection. On Tuesday the high court agreed to hear a case on the constitutionality of executions by lethal injection. Turner's lawyers tied an appeal to that case and a last minute stay was issued.

    On the other hand the same report says Michael Richard died in Texas by lethal injection on Tuesday just a few hours after the Supreme Court decision to hear a case on the constitutional merits lethal injections. His lawyers attributed the rejection of their appeal to the short time frame in which they had to prepare it before the scheduled execution.

    So, on Tuesday, Michael Richard died by lethal injection a few hours after the Supreme Court decided to review the constitutionality of the practice. On the other hand, on Thursday, the life of young Carlton Turner was saved pending that same review. Carlton Turner is rejoicing; Michael Richard is dead.

    I don't know Michael Richard but if there is anybody out there who cares about him this must be a very bad day for them. I cannot imagine what it must be like to get word that another man was saved under circumstances identical to those under which a loved one died two days earlier. Richard was pronounced dead at 8:23 p.m. on Tuesday. If his execution had been slated for just a few hours later, would that have granted enough time for the lawyers to put together the same sort of appeal that saved Turner? What must it be like for the family members of Michael Richard to know how close he was to living at least a little longer? But alas "we the people" decided to go ahead and kill him.

    The crimes of which these two murderers were convicted are heinous. Turner, at age 19, shot and killed both of his parents, dragged their bodies into the garage, and threw a party for the weekend. Richard raped and shot dead Marguerite Lucille Dixon, a 53-year-old nurse and mother of seven. For such utterly despicable acts these men deserve to be punished severely.

    I am convinced that life imprisonment would be a sentence more in keeping with biblical principles than execution. Yes, the Bible does allow for capital punishment, but the accounts of Cain, Moses, and David teach us that the scriptures do not require the death penalty for murder. The Bible also allows for slavery, yet the principles of the new Testament are credited with thankfully ending that institution in this country. The principles of the New Testament can and should do the same for the death penalty.

    Romans 1:16 tells us that the gospel is "the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes" (TNIV). The power of God is powerful enough to transform anyone, even murderers, but not if we give them lethal injections first. We can protect society from the likes of Carlton Turner and Michael Richard short of killing them. Because life is precious and because the gospel, the power of God, can transform anyone we must put murderers in prison for life rather than executing them.

    "Life for life" is the principle given in Deuteronomy 19:21 and several other passages. The state can embody this principle in its laws by taking the lives of murderers through life imprisonment. Indeed, taking the lives of murderers through life imprisonment is true to the "life for life" principle while upholding the crucial scriptural principle of the sanctity of human life.

    Study after study has shown that capital punishment has no deterrent effect on crime. Moral questions should not be decided based on money, but if we were to factor in dollars and cents, the death penalty costs more than life imprisonment. Capital cases, with the mandatory appeal process, are very expensive. We can't do away with the expensive appeals process, because we will run the risk of executing an innocent person as we almost did here in North Carolina in the case of Alan Gell.

    Come to think of it, from neither a biblical perspective nor a practical perspective can I come up with any decent argument to continue the death penalty.

    Carlton Turner got a last minute reprieve and Michael Richard didn't because "we the people" can't figure out what to do about the death penalty. Would that "we the people" settled the question by taking the lives of murderers through life imprisonment thus giving the power of God every opportunity to do its transforming work while at the same time protecting society from killers.

    Monday, September 24, 2007

    On sharing and duct tape

    Amanda is my youngest daughter and her car broke down on Friday evening about 50 miles away. As soon as she called to let me know I jumped in my car and went to her. I determined that her vehicle would not make it home and got it to a safe place.

    On Saturday I called some friends, Bruce and Cyndy, who are also members of the church I serve and asked if I could borrow their pickup and trailer to get Amanda's car to a mechanic. They readily agreed. My wife, Terri, and I went to pick up the towing rig. Bruce helped us get the trailer hooked to the pickup and soon we were on our way.

    When the trip was complete we returned the truck and trailer, but Bruce and Cyndy were not home. Terri called Cyndy on her cell phone and thanked her and let her know that we had returned the rig. Cyndy relayed a question to me--she wanted to know if I had used any duct tape. The next day at church Bruce caught me in the hallway and asked with a smirk if I had the right color duct tape for the car moving operation.

    Why all the questions about duct tape? I was afraid you'd ask that.

    In March of 2006 I borrowed Bruce and Cyndy's truck and trailer to move another car, except this one was new . . . to me. I drove to a government surplus vehicle auction planning to be successful by taking the tow rig. I got a good deal on a Ford Taurus that I still drive. Excited about my purchase I planned carefully to get it on the trailer, lining up the ramps just right and checking the clearance everywhere . . . I thought. After driving the car onto the trailer I breathed a sigh of relief. It wasn't until I went to secure the car to the trailer with chains that I saw it.

    In the loading operation I had damaged a piece of fiberglass or some such polymer compound under the front bumper. I wondered how in the world I had done it. After a little investigation I figured out that a corner of a small square of metal at the rear of the trailer was in just the right spot to rip the fiberglass.

    I was sick. I had driven my new car maybe 50 feet and I had already messed it up. It was a big time bummer. Making a bad situation worse was the fact that the sagging fiberglass nearly touched the ground. It would have to be secured in some way until I could get it repaired at a body shop. What could I use to hold up the broken piece until a permanent fix was in place?

    You guessed it: duct tape. The only bit of good news was that my new Taurus was gray--the color of standard issue duct tape. So my temporary solution, while painfully obvious to me, was not immediately obvious to others.

    I got the car home and unloaded without any further damage. I returned the truck and trailer to Bruce and Cyndy without saying a word about what I did to my car. In fact, they would not have ever known about it . . . if it weren't for my wife, Terri.

    Our youth were putting on a dinner theater at church several months after my car purchase. Cyndy directed the play. One night Terri, who is also the youth minister, was at a rehearsal sitting with Cyndy. The characters included a really funny church janitor who liked to repair everything with, of course, duct tape. Terri managed to keep it together until a scene in which the janitor proudly showed off the way he had repaired even his car with duct tape.

    My wife's belly laughs were disproportional to the humor value at this point and Cyndy asked what was going on. So Terri told her about the way I had repaired my brand new Taurus with the sticky gray stuff. Cyndy then laughed even harder than Terri.

    It is really nice of Bruce and Cyndy to loan me their truck and trailer on occasion. They always let me use it without hesitation. The practice reminds me a little of some expressions in the early chapters of Acts about folks in the early church having "everything in common" and not claiming "any of their possessions was their own," but sharing "everything they had" (Acts 2:44; 4:32). I have benefitted from Bruce and Cyndy's faithfulness to that New Testament pattern and I appreciate their help greatly . . .

    But I don't remember those verses saying anything about rubbing it in about duct tape repairs.

    Thursday, September 20, 2007

    A matter of perspective

    I was late. It was November of 1980 and I was driving from Appomattox, Virginia (my home town) to Roanoke, Virginia to catch a plane. This was the first time I ever flew commercially and I had not allowed myself adequate time for the journey. Complicating matters on this morning drive was a dense fog that slowed me down as I attempted a mad dash for the airport.

    And I mumbled and grumbled against that fog.

    But I made it—caught my flight just barely. I settled into my window seat and let the tension drain away. Helping to lower my stress level was an amazing scene below me as the airliner rose over the mountains surrounding Roanoke.

    The sky was a cool, crisp, deep blue and down below were autumn colored mountains. In the valleys between the mountains were giant cotton balls. Well, that’s what they looked like. Actually they were clouds but these clouds were not behaving in normal cloud-like fashion. Instead of floating high in the sky they hugged the valleys below such that they looked like giant cotton balls that God had pressed down between the mountains with his thumb.

    It was a beautiful scene.

    Then it hit me! Those giant cotton balls were the fog that slowed me down going to the airport! Down below I mumbled and I grumbled against those clouds. Up above I oohed and ahhed over their beauty. Same clouds. The only thing that changed was my perspective on them.

    The way we look at something or someone makes a world of difference. The opening verses of Luke 15 teach us something about the way we should look at people, especially the way we look at those considered the most immoral people of society.

    The Pharisees and the teachers of the law complained that Jesus formed close bounds with some of the most sinful people of that day. Jesus spent a lot of time with people with bad reputations and some of the most religious folks of that time thought this was terrible. They saw immoral people as despicable things to be avoided.

    In response Jesus told some stories about things of value being lost, sought after, found and celebrated. So Jesus saw those considered to be the most immoral as people of great value to be sought after. The most respected religious people saw them as scum to steer clear of.

    Same people. The only difference was the way they were viewed.

    What’s your perspective on those considered to be the most immoral people in our society? The way we look at someone makes a world of difference. Do we look at people with bad reputations in the way that Jesus looked at them?

    Monday, September 17, 2007

    Churched out and unchurched

    My wife, Terri, and I ate out twice in the last three days. At one of these meals we ate with a couple that is "churched out." At the other we ate with a couple that is unchurched.

    On Saturday evening we dined with a couple that I am only just getting to know. They are 60-ish and very active in their church. During the meal the husband, who I will call Ed, said that he had a question for me: "How often should a Christian be expected to go to church?" He explained that he gets to church every Sunday morning a 8:00 a.m. for a weekly men's prayer breakfast, then there is Sunday School and worship, and, if he is lucky, he gets away by 12:30 p.m. Often Ed has Sunday afternoon church committee meetings before Sunday evening services which he attends faithfully.

    On Tuesdays Ed's church sponsors a special worship service in the community for a group that is busy on Sunday mornings and he attends this service too. Wednesday evening means prayer meetng. Oh, and then there are the committee meetings on week nights.

    Four worship services, Sunday School and a prayer breakfast every week plus a steady diet of committee meetings. Ed is a businessman and he has a family. He is also very active in at least two other Christian organizations outside of the church of which I am aware.

    Ed is feeling "churched out," and I don't blame him. Maybe I shouldn't have, but I told him exactly what I thought about his church involvement: "That's too much."

    This evening my wife and I had dinner with a couple in their 20's that almost never goes to chruch. I read an article not too long ago about a study indicating that people in this age group are leaving church in droves. But, of course, the unchurched population is not limited to 20-somethings. According to some 3-year old numbers from The Barna Group, there are 75 million unchurched adults in this country and the average age of those in this group is 41. An unchurched person according to Barna's definition is one who "has not attended a Christian church service within the past six months, not including a holiday service (such as Easter or Christmas) or a special event at a church (such as a wedding or funeral)." Far below Ed's standards.

    So what is the answer to Ed's question? How often should a Christian be expected to go to church? I know that Hebrews 1o:25 says that Christians are not to neglect gathering together as some are in the habit of doing, but how often are we to gather? Luke 4:16 tells us that it was Jesus' custom to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath, but I wonder if he went to as many worship services in a week as Ed does?

    I don't think there are any simple biblical formulas for determining how often Christians should go to church. If Jesus' example is important to you, and I hope it is, then church services should be the custom of his followers as synagogue services were his custom. Exactly how many times a week should you go to church? I don't know, but I think it should be more than the couple we dined with tonight and probably less than Ed and his wife.

    I have a thought on this, but before I give it to you I need to redefine a word. In my faith tradition to be "churched" is to be kicked out of church. I never liked that term. I hereby redefine "churched" in its verbal form to mean getting someone in church instead of getting kicked out of church. In its noun form "churched" is the opposite of "unchurched." Got it?

    I do think we should be careful not to encourage the churched to get "churched out" like Ed. I wonder if one way to get the unchurched churched is by not "churching out" the churched. Maybe by not over churching the churched, the churched will have more time and energy to church the unchurched.

    Wednesday, September 12, 2007

    Baptist news on the web

    Since I am a Baptist pastor and since I promoted this blog to members of the church I serve, a few family members (who are Baptist), and one other friend (who is Baptist) I'm thinking that mostly Baptists are reading this. So, you web savvy Baptists, among the spots you visit on the World Wide Web, do you ever check out web sources for Baptist news? Let me point you in the direction of the Baptist news web pages that I check out regularly.

    Baptists Today features "Daily News from around the World" that may be of interest to Baptists and the thought provoking blogs of Tony Cartledge and John Pierce along with editorials from Baptist thinkers.

    Associated Baptist Press (ABP) is "the nation’s first and only independent news service created by and for Baptists." Besides Baptist news this page includes religious "news elsewhere" and opinion pieces from David Gushee. is the web page of the Baptist Center for Ethics. Here you will find numerous news items along with interesting columns and other resources as well.

    Of course the Biblical Recorder is the news journal of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina with which many reading this blog will be familiar.

    Check out these web pages. Think about creating a "Baptist News" folder in your "favorites" and include the links above.

    Sunday, September 9, 2007

    Still ticked at the NFL

    Sunday night football is on as I write this. I am a big football fan, but I am not really paying any attention to this evening match up between the Cowboys and the Giants. I confess that my TV is tuned in to the game, but the sound is turned down and I am staring at my computer screen rather than the television screen. Last year if this game were on Sunday night, the sound would be up and my eyes would be glued to the TV and there would be a bowl of popcorn in my lap and I would be commenting on the game and yelling at the screen every now and again. Not tonight.

    I live in North Carolina and earlier today the Carolina Panthers won. I know this not because I watched the game which was televised here, but because I saw the score posted online somewhere. I would have cheered them on last year and celebrated the victory. Not today.

    Why this coolness toward pro football? I'm still ticked off with the NFL.

    I have not forgotten their crackdown on church Super Bowl parties earlier this year. We, at our church, like thousands of other churches, were forced to cancel our Super Bowl party at the last minute because the NFL began sending threatening letters to churches in various parts of the country claming that such gatherings violate copyright laws. For the first time in years our fellowship hall was dark on the evening of Super Bowl Sunday.

    Certainly it is not a devastating blow to our church to discontinue Super Bowl parties. There is no verse in the Bible commanding us to hold such an event. But the scriptures do indicate that koinonia--fellowship--is very important. Our Super Bowl Party was an opportunity for members of the congregration and their friends to spend some time together and get to know each other a little better. Our church Super Bowl Party was not required by the scriptures but it was in keeping with scriptural teachings.

    We had enlisted one of our deacons who is a sports lover to deliver a devotional during halftime at our 2007 Super Bowl party. It is precisely such a proclamation of a biblical message that the NFL claimed was a violation of applicable copyright law. Oh there were other features of church Super Bowl parties toward which the league cast penalty flags. The broadcast had to be shown on screens of not more than 55-inches and there could be no admission charge. But the NFL also barred the proclamation of a message in conjunction with church Super Bowl parties.

    We never have charged an admission to our church Super Bowl gathering, however, our TV screen is 60-inches. We investigated borrowing or renting a smaller television, but decided not to. We were unwilling to cancel our halftime devotional to otherwise comply with the NFL's rules.

    I have tried to relate to the concerns of the NFL. If I understand correctly the TV ratings system is built on in-home viewing. Church Super Bowl parties, it is claimed, reduce in-home viewing which in turn reduces ratings which could adversely impact ad revenues generated by the game. This NFL argument against church Super Bowl parties might work better for me if the league did not grant an exception to sports bars broadcasting the game. It seems discriminatory to allow viewings of the Super Bowl outside of the home at places where alcohol consumption is at least as central to the gathering as the game but to disallow viewings outside of the home in churches where alcohol is probably not on the menu.

    Apparently the NFL does not want messages proclaimed in conjunction with the Super Bowl in order to protect the integrity of their product. I guess the league was concerned that some messages in church Super Bowl parties might somehow hurt pro football. However, it appears drunken epithets shouted in sports bars pass muster with the NFL.

    In the end it is the abridgment of freedom that bugs me most in the league's crackdown on church Super Bowl parties. It just does not sit well with me that a football league can tell us that we can't go to our church fellowship hall together and watch a football game if we want to. I don't like it a bit.

    I don't know how much I might end up watching pro football this year. I do know that I am not really excited about watching anything the NFL produces right now.