Monday, December 22, 2014

Defending Santa

Every year at this time, I read lots of posts and hear lots of people discussing whether or not they are going to play up the Santa myth with their kids. Thoughtful young parents, especially evangelical Christian ones, tend to lean on each other to find their path in matters such as this. We do a good job in our subculture of making every decision a bigger deal than it probably is and laying guilt on ourselves to be the perfect parents whenever possible. We live in fear that we will commit the unpardonable parental sin that leads our kids into apostasy, atheism, or the wearing of skinny jeans.

The logic usually goes like this: If I tell my kids Santa is real, I am lying to them. When they find out I lied to them, they will no longer trust me. Therefore, when I talk about Jesus, they won't trust me on that either. Furthermore, Santa also steals the real meaning of Christmas away from Jesus, and I want my kids to love Jesus more than they love Santa. Therefore, I will not allow any Santa in my house, thus fulfilling Commandments 1, 2 and 9.

I'm overstating it a bit to make the point, but the whole issue does cause me to wonder if perhaps we all need a spoonful of lighten up. So, I've decided to defend my position. I am defending Santa.

First, I must confess that I'm a bit biased. As a child, I believed in Santa. I loved the mystery and the anticipation of him. My parents would send me to bed at midnight on Christmas Eve. I would be so excited for Christmas morning that my skinny body would be charged with electricity and the footy pajamas I was wearing would be nearly busting at the seams. I knew that Santa would not come if I was awake, but I would always have trouble falling asleep. So I would attempt to lie there perfectly still, my eyes half closed, trying to trick Santa into thinking I was asleep while I listened for his approach on the roof. I wanted to hear the proof of the hoof, see the shadow of the reindeer against the moon. I never made it past 12:30.

In the morning I'd find a package "from Santa," and it brought me nothing but joy.

I love those memories.

Karen and I played up Santa with our kids to a lesser degree. Jon was always too smart for us. He figured things out early on and relayed the message to his brothers. Nevertheless, we dutifully stuffed their stockings with packages marked "from SC" in silly handwriting to throw them off. (Santa apparently shopped at the Walmart checkout line a lot). A couple times before they were entirely sure, the boys tried to "catch" him by tying a thread across the fireplace that he would have to break upon entry.

So I have a special place in my heart for the big fella. Which is why I am writing this blog in his defense. So, with all due respect for those who disagree, this is why I think we should all get our chimney cleaned before Christmas.

Here are a few facts I am certain of. First, we should not fear messing up our kids with every decision we make. We aren't going to derail their faith in us and send them into decades of therapy because we put a present from Santa under the tree. We aren't going to send them on a path to hell because we allowed them to read Harry Potter or go trick or treating. We aren't going to ruin their worldview because we forced them to watch old Star Trek episodes on Netflix (although some of the sillier episodes may leave a scar).

I believe we pose a much greater risk to our kids' well-being and faith when we fret about everything, fill our homes with lots of worry, and make the Christian life more work than play. Joylessness is the killer of faith.

Second, telling our kids that Santa is coming doesn't make us liars in the biblical sense. Is God angry with us when we wake our kids up at 6:00am on April First and tell them there's a camel in the yard? Does he judge us for telling them mom and dad were in the bedroom, um, "talking?" Are we in danger of eternal fire when we tell our three-year-old that, "Why yes, of course I knew that was a picture of me you just drew"?

Telling a five-year-old that Santa is coming will not turn you (or him) into a liar. I know my dad ate that cookie on the hearth, just as my boys know that it was mom who got those stupid drinking straw eye glasses at Kohls. I never once thought of my parents as liars, and I'm sure my kids don't think of us in this way either.

Third, one of the best things we can do for our children is feed their sense of imagination, wonder and awe. This is a mission we have to pursue relentlessly, in every way imaginable. If we do this well, it's like giving vitamins to our children's faith in Christ. Eventually, they'll discern the difference between the fable of Santa and the reality of Jesus. In the meantime, we cannot overfeed the imagination. The Santa story is really about wonder and possibility, and I think it helped feed my appreciation of the wonder and possibility inherent in the Gospel. How could God become incarnate in a baby, and how could a man walk on water? If we worry Jesus somehow won't be able to overcome "reality competition" from Santa, it seems we don't truly believe in either of them.

Lastly, having fun with Santa can help create the kind of winsome family atmosphere kids need to flourish, It's not the only thing -- not a necessity -- but it worked for us. We kept the Santa story alive as long we could, but it was just one piece in the game box. We also told lots of ridiculous stories at bedtime (I made them all up--liar!), read lots of good books (the Chronicles of Narnia top the list), and played lots of games of whiffleball in the backyard. Our kids grew up in a family that likes to laugh. They grew up aware that the world is filled with wonder and mystery. (For years, I had them convinced there was a secret compartment in my car that they could never find.) As pastor's kids--sometimes privy to the strain that church life can bring--they grew up knowing that home was a fun place to be and their parents were normal people. Most importantly, they grew up knowing that the Lord Jesus--who was at the center of our lives in a thousand ways--was the giver of joy, not the killer of it.

Santa faded, but the warmth and winsomeness of our family system endures to this day.

So here's to you, Santa, you big red figment of my imagination. Thanks for the memories. Haters gonna hate, but don't be late! I can only stay awake so long.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


The Pittsburgh Steelers laid an egg on Sunday against the New York Jets. Coming into the game as the league's hottest team, the Steelers somehow managed to give away four turnovers and not score a touchdown until there was a minute left in a 20-13 loss. There was lots of blame to go around, from QB Ben Roethlisberger (2 interceptions) to receiver Antonio Brown (2 fumbles) to coach Mike Tomlin (1-8 vs. teams with a winning percentage under .200). But the most likely cause of this loss was the pre-game visit from Justin Bieber. According to reports, Bieber paid a visit to the Steelers' team Bible study on Saturday, thus throwing off the Steelers' ever-so-fragile mojo and tossing them into the black hole of NFL weirdness on Sunday.

Justin Beiber was at the Steelers' Bible study on Saturday. That sentence alone boggles the mind on a number of levels, but it makes perfect sense that this would cause the Steelers to lose. It also got me thinking what would happen if Justin Bieber visited other NFL teams? If you're a football fan, you might agree with me.

If JB visited the Washington Redskins, Dan Snyder would sign him to a 7-year contract.
If JB visited the Dallas Cowboys, Tony Romo would fumble the handshake.
If JB visited the Houston Texans, JJ Watt would invite him to the school dance.
If JB visited the Baltimore Ravens, John Harbaugh would blame him for bad officiating.
If JB visited the Denver Broncos, Peyton Manning would find a way to get him 10 TDs.
If JB visited the New York Jets, Rex Ryan would get a naked tattoo of him on his arm.
If JB visited the Green Bay Packers, Aaron Rodgers would give him the Discount Double Check.
If JB visited the Chicago Bears, Jay Cutler's face would not change expression.
If JB visited the Cincinnati Bengals, he would have the shortest arrest record.
If JB visited the Cleveland Browns, he'd be mistaken for Johnny Manziel.
If JB visited the Kansas City Chiefs, Andy Reid would eat him.
If JB visited the New England Patriots, Tom Brady would date him.
If JB visited the Oakland Raiders, they would still lose.

As a precaution, I suggest that Justin Beiber never show his face around the Steelers ever again. I think James Harrison will tear him in half.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Education is a Three-Letter Word

My wife is a second-grade teacher. She returned to education eight years ago, but this is the first full-time position she has had since our first son was born. Things have changed a lot over those 22 years.

Karen is a diligent person and she is working like a dog to be the best teacher she can be. It's a challenging environment, with a fascinating mix of economic and cultural diversity. To meet the demands of her job, she gets up at 4:45am and often doesn't get home until 7:00pm. She spends her weekends grading papers, writing lesson plans, and stressing about the coming week. She thinks and talks about her job all the time. I hear all the details; the rowdy students, the demanding and absent parents, the faculty drama, the prowling presence of reviews and requirements. There are joys--she loves her "little peeps," but mostly I hear about the manifold layers of meetings, management and morass that have enveloped public education in its current form. It's overwhelming to a person whose primary skill is loving kids and making them feel good about themselves. Don't get me wrong; she can teach a great lesson on counting money or reading diphthongs, but she's not so keen on keeping up with the 127th revision of the math curriculum for seven-year-olds. Education has become so data-driven, so technology-toasted, so change-charged, that they have created an unfathomable volume of bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo that would send the hardiest IRS agent to the asylum with his fingernails buried in his skull. Sometimes in her frustration she utters four-letter words. But mostly, she utters three-letter ones. Our conversation usually goes something like this. All of these acronyms are real.

ME: "Good morning, honey. What's on your agenda for today?"

KAREN: "I have a meeting this morning with the guidance counselor to discuss Jacob's BIP. It's probably because his home life is such a wreck; we just have so many FARM friends. Then I have to meet with the reading specialist to go over DeShaun's IEP. Between that and Tamara's DRA, it's going to require the entire SST to get these kids to meet their SLOs. I have to stay late today because we have a PLC to talk about the CCR and CCSS, so I don't know when I'm going to have the time to work on Henry's DRA. At least he's meeting the SMP. And Kimberly's parents think she's a rocket scientist so they want me to provide her with a personalized ELO. Truth is, she's not as good in math as Sonya, even though she's ESL. Oh, and I also have a meeting in the Learning Cottage to discuss the latest additions to the TAC. I think they are online but I lost the password. You'd think I was an ELL! Ha ha. Anyway, by Friday I have to turn in my PDP to the principal. It's the teacher version of the AYP, which is required for the CFA. I don't know how I'll do it; I guess I'll just roll the number generator. It's a good thing I'm covered by the FCTA. How about you?"

ME: "Wow. I don't know what to say. All I have to do today is PEE."

KAREN: "What's PEE?"

ME: "I just had my second cup of coffee."

She is amazing, my wife. She does all this, and somehow remains as HOT as a perfect score on the SAT.

Thanks to all teachers who navigate through the minefield of edubabble to teach our kids to read, write, and be kind to one another. You all deserve a BEER.

(No letters were harmed in the writing of this blog.)

Monday, October 20, 2014

We Don't Know Squat

I like to think I know a lot about baseball. I've been an avid fan my entire life. I've played it and coached it. I won my fantasy league this year. I've watched untold amounts of it in person and on TV. My kids get annoyed with me when we watch a game together because I will boldly tell them what's going to happen next. I'm often right.

There were 10 teams in the Major League playoffs this year. Of those 10, there were a few I thought were the favorites. There was only one whom I thought had zero chance of winning it all--the Kansas City Royals.

The World Series starts tomorrow in Kansas City.

I don't know squat.

It isn't just sports, either. There are other areas of life I like to think I know something about. I've been to seminary. I have a degree in communications. I do a lot of public speaking. I've read a lot of books. I've raised three sons. I've been married to the same woman for 26 years. I've never been in a car accident that was my fault. I've watched every episode of The Walking Dead.

I'd like to think I know something about these things. Perhaps I'd even dare to say I was an expert in some of them. That would give me the right to tell you all the great things I know.

I don't know squat.

I've been thinking about this lately because I've been reading the Bible. The Bible takes us into a world beyond ourselves, where we meet God and his character. The Bible has a way of putting us in our place. I've been reading the Sermon on the Mount and the Psalms.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is the teacher. He teaches us about everyday life--relationships, anger management, money, prayer, religious activity. He says to forgive freely, give generously, pray discreetly, and serve humbly. In a nutshell, says Jesus, life is humility through and through because we are not God.

In Psalm 89, we meet God in his home:

The heavens praise your wonders, Lord,
your faithfulness too, in the assembly of the holy ones.
For who in the skies above can compare with the Lord?
Who is like the Lord among the heavenly beings?

The question is rhetorical, of course. No one compares to the Lord. He set the distance between the earth and the sun, between the sun and Betelguese, between the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies, between the center of our planet and the farthest reaches of the universe. He formed the black holes and red giants, the quasars and pulsars. He staked down the core of the earth and set us in motion. He made jellyfish and the elephant. He crafted your pinky finger and the brain which allows you to read this and comprehend it. He exists before and after all things.

"Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made." (John 1:3)

I like to think of these things whenever I'm tempted to think I'm somebody who knows a lot. I am reminded how small I am, how briefly I'll be here, and how little I actually know.

I have some bad news for you, my friend. You don't know much either. You might have experience, education, skill, research--even superior intelligence. You might be the best read person you know. You might know seven languages. You might think you have the answers to the Ebola crisis, the Isis threat, immigration reform, and global warming. You might have advice for marriage, money, child-rearing, and the best way to cook a chicken. You might have graduated from Harvard and Yale on the same day. Heck, you might even be able to convince me that you've figured out the answer to the debate between predestination and free will. Yes, you might be really smart, and have a track record of knowledge and accomplishments so deep that they are carved into that stone bust of yourself that sits on your impressive mantle of success. You might really be something.

Have you ever been here?

No, I didn't think so. I haven't either.

We don't know squat, you and I. Pondering God brings humility, and humility brings us closer to him. I think I got that right.

Good luck to the Kansas City Royals tomorrow night.

Monday, October 13, 2014

No Longer The Man

Once upon a time, I was THE MAN.

I was the 17-year-old lead trumpet tooting my horn front and center at the 50-yard line.

I was the 27-year-old shortstop stealing basehits and pummeling line drives into the gaps on the softball field.

I was the 35-year-old cool guy hired to be the pied piper of teens and build a youth ministry for the ages.

I was the 39-year-old excitable and creative preacher everyone wanted to hear.

I'm not any of those any more.

Instead, I'm now the "age of which we do not speak" guy who hasn't played the trumpet in 20 years, can no longer throw a lick, and whose role at church has changed from the cool youth pastor to the bald guy whom new kids mistake for the church custodian. Over the years my role has changed from being The One who does everything (and gets most of the attention) to being a guy who stands in the back and cheers others on, unnoticed when present and un-missed when absent.

And I'm okay with it. In fact, I'm better for it.

Here's a more concrete description of what I'm talking about. My role as a pastor is now primarily one of development instead of being hands-on, front and center. Instead of hanging out with kids and leading every meeting, I create structures and equip staff and volunteers so that we can have the maximum effect and reach as many kids as possible. I do things that few would notice so that many others will be noticed.

Yesterday, I saw this play out before my eyes. Instead of me: Our former youth leaders got the hugs from kids coming back from college. Our middle school director absolutely nailed the morning sermon. Our Girls Director made a fabulous first impression welcoming the new family. Our student leaders joyously rocked the worship, flawlessly handled sound and tech, and warmly welcomed our guests. Our current youth leaders deftly led our Family Groups.

There was a time when I did all these things in the same day. And while I might have complained a little too loudly in order to make sure everyone knew how amazing I was, the truth is that my ego enjoyed being The Man who could pull it off.

Not any more. I'm no longer The Man. I'm becoming something more.

Now, if I'm honest with you (and this is my blog, so I can be honest here), the mere fact that I'm writing this is evidence that I'm still wresting with it all. As the youngest of three brothers--the baby of my family--I've always been perfectly happy as the center of attention. I don't think I was obnoxious about it (my brothers might disagree), I just think I was spoiled enough--and good enough at enough things--to enjoy the limelight a little too much. I was happy to allow people to feed my ego with words of awe over my very mild achievements. Even as adults, we remain the children we've always been.

That's why change doesn't come easily. But it's also why change is inevitable. We grow, we mature, we move into seasons of life that force us to reinvent ourselves. As we do so, we draw upon our experiences and lean into opportunities we were not ready for in younger days. They might be less glamorous, but more meaningful. John Eldredge lists six stages of Manhood--Boyhood, Cowboy, Warrior, Lover, King and Sage. Cowboys and Warriors get most of the glory, but it's the Kings and Sages who are the most fulfilled. So now, as I near "the age of which we do not speak," I am beginning to let go of my need to the The Man. I'm helping others win the applause, get the glory, succeed in the spotlight. I'm moving to the back of the room, with a smile on my face and a cup of coffee in my hand, cheering them on. I kind of like it back here. Not always, but mostly. I'm still working on it.

I'm no longer The Man. And by God's grace, I'm becoming a better one.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Plowing for New Wedding Ideas

In a few weeks, I am performing the wedding ceremony for my niece, Melinda, and her fiance, Michael. It's going to be a traditional wedding, taking place in an old church in Lancaster County, complete with wooden pews and stained glass windows. This "old" thing is going to feel like a new thing, because lately all the weddings I've attended have been barn weddings.

"Were you born in a barn?"
"No, but I was married in one."

In the past three years I've been to seven weddings that were either in a barn, near a barn, or celebrated afterwards in a barn or barn-like atmosphere. It's the latest trend in weddings. Pinterest is going ham with a silo full of barn wedding ideas. I hear there are 700 pages dedicated to the mason jar alone! Martha Stewart must have had a cell mate from Iowa when the Feds sent her up the (Mississippi) river. Young people today are milking this theme for all it's worth, and as a pasture, I mean, pastor, I think it's pretty cool.

I love barn weddings. In fact, I think weddings today are way more fun than they were back when Karen and I got married. Our reception was in a country club. I wore tails. There was china on the tables. The photographer took boring, posed pictures. My favorite is of Karen's grandparents--in their wheelchairs--with the nursing home attendant standing behind them. How did this stranger make it into our album? It's like American Gothic: The Later Years. Anyway, the wedding was very nice, and I was young and in love and didn't care too much about the atmosphere. But I was sweating the whole time and worried about getting chicken cordon bleu on my tux. It was too formal for the kind of people we are now. I much prefer a laid-back, casual hoedown where a guy can take off his boots, throw some corn-hole, and unhook his suspenders before he does a little line dancing with a mason jar of Angry Orchard in his hand--yeehaa!

But the number of barn weddings has me thinking: How long will this trend last? What will the next big trend be? I have a few suggestions:

Baseball Park Weddings: Marriage on the mound, reception in the bullpen.
Chipotle Weddings: A much greater variety of meats than most receptions, and with sour cream.
Moon Weddings: The bride could take one giant leap down the aisle. The kiss might be tricky, though.
High School Cafeteria Weddings: A slap in the face to that teen crush who dumped you there.
Zoo Weddings: Nobody would even notice your weird Uncle Frank among the chimps.
Roller Coaster Weddings: For the groom with cold feet; once that bar is down, there's no turning back. "I now pronounce you husband and wiiiiiiffffffffffffeeeee!"
Lego Weddings: Finally, a wedding kids can enjoy!

These are just a few of my thoughts. I'd like to hear yours.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Noah's Art

Noah comes out this weekend. You've probably seen the trailer a few times by now, with Russell Crowe looking pretty studly as he prepares to save humanity once again, this time as a muscle-bound version of an agonized prophet preparing for a flood of biblical proportions.

I think I'll go see it. It looks like it could be a blockbuster, and I could use a night at the movies after 150 days of lousy weather.

I don't know how Noah will be received. It wasn't made by a Christian. It was made by a talented and reportedly atheistic filmmaker named Darren Aronofsky. It seems that Christians as a general audience have one of two responses to any movie which is based on the Bible or a biblical theme. If we feel the filmmaker has taken too many liberties with the story, we'll put on our sentinel faces and sternly warn the masses to stay away because this "isn't what the Bible says." If we like it and deem it "true to the text," we'll buy a block of 300 seats and make it a big church event, followed by a 4-week Bible study using a devotional published by Zondervan (free t-shirt, too!) and an invitation to all our non-believing friends to join us for awkward discussion groups in our living rooms.

I think I know why we do this. For a long time, evangelicals abandoned the arts because they didn't serve our purpose, which is to "get people into heaven." Once we realized that our lack of artistic involvement had made us irrelevant to the people we were trying to reach, we started making "Christian" art to get back in the game, so to speak. This explains things such as Left Behind movies and this music video which defies description:

Anyway, over the years I've developed a theology of art. (I wrote a paper on it in seminary. Yes, I got an A.) I believe that art for art's sake glorifies God. I believe that, as creatures made in the image of our Creator, we were made to create. It's an expression of the imago dei in each of us. Whenever and whatever we create--whether we acknowledge our Creator as we create or just create because we are creative--we are glorifying the Creator who created us. (That, my friends, is one heck of a sentence I just created.) So we glorify God when we spin a pot on the wheel, draw cartoons of talking animals, carve a wooden box to hold our jewelry, write a poem about Kansas in July, or edit a video of our children dancing in puddles. We don't have to write a verse on it or put a cross on it to make it "Christian." The art itself is enough. Theologian Philip Ryken says, "The doctrine of Creation teaches that by God's common grace, the gift of art inevitably declares the praise of its Giver." This is beautiful. This is what it means to be human. This is a gift from God. I can't think of anything on earth which points to God more than people making beautiful things.

So I don't know if Noah will be any good or not. It might be boring, boorish, or even blasphemous. I do know for certain that it's not completely true to the biblical narrative, because that story involved a hundred years of waiting, bark-stripping and beard growing, which sounds about as entertaining as watching Out of Africa, backwards, in French, on my phone. But this time, instead of judging its value based on whether it's "Christian" enough, let's determine if it's well-acted and well-shot, has believable characters and a good score, and gives us something to talk about over dinner. (At least it has Russell Crowe!) And good or bad, let's not start up the Christian bandwagon with an 8-week series' called "Drowning?" or flood the culture with cries of protest. Let's just grab our $5 Milk Duds and $8 Coke, then sit back, enjoy the movie, and remember that we create because he first created us.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Wave

I just walked my dog. It's one of my favorite moments of the day. I've been out of town a lot lately, but Treble has not forgotten me. She came pouncing into my room at 6:45, a happy, expectant grin on her face. By the time I got my shoes on, she could barely contain her delight.

There are lots of things I enjoy about walking my dog. I like being outside early in the morning. I like the exercise. I like the sound of the birds chirping. I like the conversation I have with myself, my dog, and my God.

But my favorite part of the trip around the block is the Poop Wave.

Treble has her favorite drop location -- halfway on the journey -- at the most conspicuous place possible, where three roads meet. I guess she likes to be make a show. You might say she's a party pooper. Anyway, she stops, hunkers down like a football center before the handoff, and with neck out and tongue wagging, leaves her deposit. It only takes a few seconds before I dootifully pick it up with my plastic bags (two for better support). Mission accomplished, we continue on our way with a word of affirmation from me and a grateful grin from her. I hold the leash in one hand, and a bag full of poop in the other.

But it's not over. In fact, next comes my favorite part, probably because I have a strange sense of humor, having spent a lot of time taking middle school boys to camp. One of my neighbors will drive by. Being friendly, he waves. Being friendly, I wave back. Not the leash hand, either. The other hand goes up, from the elbow only, plastic bag steaming in the breeze like a fresh sacrifice offered at the temple. It's a greeting unlike any other, a canine blessing, a celebratory toast. "Carpe Diem, my friend. Today is a gift. Let's squeeze it for all it's worth. May things go smoothly for you. Go! Be warm and well-filled!" I suppose my neighbor was just being nice, but the Poop Wave brings me no small amount of joy.

Well, that's all for today. The bags are in the garbage and Treble is asleep on the floor. I hope you'll excuse me now. I have to go.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Why Ken Ham Doesn't Speak for Me

Last night there was a much-ballyhooed "Evolution/Creation" debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham. People were posting links on Facebook and talking some good Christian vs. Atheist smack. I didn't watch it; I was too busy being annoyed.

Perhaps you don't know who either of these two men are. Bill Nye is the former host of Bill Nye The Science Guy, a Disney-endowed, bow-tied Mr Rogers for the science-minded millennial generation. I wouldn't have known who he was, except I've been told I look like him. This offends me. I'm far more handsome and I've never worn a bow tie.

Ken Ham is the Founder of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum. He's an outspoken advocate of Young Earth Creationism and a literal translation of Genesis 1. He's from Australia. Perhaps that's why he likes to hear himself talk.

Bill Nye was there to represent science. Ken Ham was there to represent Christianity. I wouldn't put my stock in the credentials of either of them. Bill Nye has a bachelors degree in Mechanical Engineering from Cornell and three honorary degrees, including one, impressively, from Johns Hopkins. He also has a patent pending on ballet toe shoes (no kidding). Ken Ham has a bachelors degree in Applied Science from Queensland Institute of Technology, and two honorary degrees from Baptist universities. He raised $27 million for his museum. Neither qualifies as an expert in anything other than self-promotion.

Bill Nye denies the existence of God. He believes in the Big Bang, but has no explanation for what caused it. He says we'd be better off forsaking any religious teaching and focusing solely on science. Hamhockey.

Ken Ham denies the Big Bang. He thinks the earth is 6000 years old, that humans hung out with dinosaurs, and that anyone who believes otherwise is a heretic. He has frequently attacked Christians who interpret Genesis 1 as a long period of time. "In many ways these sort of people are more dangerous to Christianity than the atheists," he says. Hogwash.

I love the subject of how the universe began. I find it fascinating to think about and discuss, and every time I do, my faith increases. I'm no expert, but I've read enough on the subject to at least be able to define some of the arguments and form an opinion. There are way too many points to even begin here, but here's what I believe: The universe started with a Big Bang, the earth is really old and finely tuned for life, and a Creator God is the only explanation for any of it. This is a belief system called "Intelligent Design." I also believe the Bible is a majestic and glorious book which always leads to ultimate truth. This is called historic orthodox Christianity. Ultimately, I believe Intelligent Design to be the scientific description of God's universal truth found in the Scriptures, which leads to a personal God, who is Jesus Christ. This is called robust Evangelical Christian faith.

This is why the mere prospect of this debate annoyed me so much. It's a stunt. Nye is a media-friendly atheist with a face a child need not fear. Ham is a media hound and self-appointed spokesman for God and Evangelical Christianity. With Ken Ham speaking for us, Christians risk seeing the beautiful and powerful arguments of more nuanced biblical interpretation buried in the wasteland of pop cultural hash. The public will equate what Ken Ham believes with what all Christians believe, much like they have done with Phil Robertson, or Pat Robertson, or any number of Christian "celebrities" who garner more attention than they merit.

Furthermore, it offends me that Ken Ham finds Intelligent Design to be the enemy of God and often goes "ham" on his fellow believers. I'm fine with those who believe in a Young Earth, but by making Old Earth vs. Young Earth a test of orthodoxy, Ham castigates many of today's most influential Christian theologians, scientists and apologists. (A brief list includes JP Moreland, JI Packer, Hugh Ross, Tim Keller, John Piper, Michael Behe, William Dembski, Hank Hannegraff, and even CS Lewis).

So while Ham believes that an Old Earth interpretation of the Bible will lead our children straight to faithlessness, atheism, and hell, in truth, it is Ham and his divisive spirit which risks losing a generation of thoughtful young people who want to believe in a God big enough to handle whatever discoveries science throws their way. As a father, youth pastor, and Christian, I want to teach kids to investigate, not just debate. God can handle it, and so can our kids. In fact, they are the hope for the next generation of scientists who will glorify God with their amazing faith and discoveries.

I'm sure there are opinions as to who won last night, but I think we all lost. Most of today's religious news will focus on Ken Ham and Bill Nye. There are ten thousand more representative stories of our faith being worked out on the planet today. But it's okay. No matter what your opinion of origins, the world has been around a long time and this too shall pass. I remain fully confident that God, who created the heavens and the earth (not to mention strange fellows like Ken Ham and Bill Nye), can handle our most rigorous questions and our silliest posturings. To think anything less of him is baloney.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Venting My Way to Mental Health

Despite my good intentions (explained in my previous blog) to become more like Jesus in 2014, I confess it's not working. I must have woken up New Year's Day on the wrong side of that Sleep Number bed I was in, because I've been feeling grumpy since this new venture started. My son Thomas calls it the "Grumpy Hat." Maybe it's the fact that the Steelers aren't in the playoffs. Maybe it's the polar rain-filled vortex hovering over my house. Maybe I have a weasel nesting in my shorts. I don't know, but I've not been feeling very charitable towards you or the world lately. The sarcasm has been building up behind the dam of my lips, and it has nowhere to go. So, in order to clear my head and dispel this fog of agitation and animosity towards all things living and dead, I'm going to offer my TOP 12 CURRENT PET PEEVES. I'm hoping I can vent myself into a state of bliss or at least ignorance. If this doesn't work, I'm going to punch my exercise ball and eat two gallons of ice cream. So here we go. I'm taking the parking brake off, baby!

12) Colonial Jewelers Radio Ads. Why do you try to be my friend? Why do you insist on making it seem like we've met, and my life is better because of your jewelry? Please stop. Truth is, I haven't bought jewelry in 25 years, and anyone dumb enough to pay more for your box is just paying more for your box.

11) Steven A. Smith. Other than his ten dollar vocabulary, insistence on using his middle initial, and self-admiring diction, what do we know about this guy, and why does ESPN feel the need to get his opinion on everything? "Let's hear what Steven A. Smith has to say about the next coaching hire for the Cleveland Browns? Let's hear what Steven A. Smith thinks about the origins of the universe. Let's hear what Steven A. Smith thinks about the early release of the Hobbit Trilogy boxed set?"

10) Mel Kiper Jr. So when did Dracula become a football analyst? With a haircut from the crypt and all the winsomeness of an IRS agent, this guy manages to turn 21-year-old athletes into widgets and make the NFL draft as much fun as an audit. I'll be happier when this joyless version of Grandpa Munster becomes Mr. Irrelevant himself. By the Teeth of Transylvania, I sure hope there's no Mel Kiper III!

9) Paper-Pushing School Administrators. We've been playing basketball at 6am at your school for 15 years without incident. Now you tell us we can't play because there's a problem with our paperwork (which we completed online)? Hey Roz, we were here long before you were, and we'll be here long after you're gone. Stop messing with our harmless outlet for exercise and competition before I throw down a sick reverse windmill dunk over that bee-infested bonnet you're wearing.

8) Bored FCPS Higher-Ups. (See number 7 above) Whose bright idea is it to move principals to new schools every year? What happened to the days when principals established themselves in a community and built relationships over time with families, faculty, and the random old guys playing basketball in your gym? Is consistency and stability not a good thing? Sheesh, I didn't think they were serious in 5th grade when they offered us the chance to be "Principal for a Day."

7) Confused Baseball Hall of Fame Voters. Some of the people in the BBWAA must have taken a foul ball to the head. You didn't vote for Greg Maddux? He pitched for 23 years, won 355 games, and had a lifetime ERA (in the steroid era, no less) of 3.16. He won at least 15 games a remarkable 20 years in a row. He faced 20,421 batters in his career, and just 310 of them saw a 3-0 count. He was a pitching savant. The only reason you may not have voted for him is that, a) You doubted he was human, or b) Your pencil lead broke after you cast your vote for Greg Gagne and Jacque Jones.

6) The Wendy's Red-Headed Ad Campaign. I don't know who was in the focus group when they developed this series of unfunniness, but they must have been high on bad chili and Frostys. The new Wendy Girl's smug, fast-food-elitist attitude and lousy jokes really get on my nerves. I'm tuning you out and going to Chipotle, Honey, because there's nothing remotely funny coming from your mouth except fake cheese and a horrible script. You wouldn't make it 15 minutes with Geico.

5) Ben Roethlisberger Rapist Jokes from Steeler Haters. How many ways can you work an insult into his name? Yes, the guy became a caricature of the entitled predatory athlete. Yes, he was a slimeball. His actions were despicable and he deserved more punishment than he got. But he seems to have found his better self and changed his ways. He's married, has a second child on the way, and has been eating humble pie for the past four years. He's a good teammate, kind to the press, and trying hard to restore his image. Last time I checked, King David killed a guy and got a second chance (I could make a Ray Lewis joke here, but I won't because I'm not you). So move on, Hater. The ship of your clever puns has sailed, along with the Ravens receiving corps.

4) Dr. Kevin Hornsby, MD. If you listen to Sports Talk 980 out of DC, you'll know who I'm talking about. It's the local radio version of the awkward moment when you are watching football with your teenage son and your Presbyterian mother, and the "double bathtub in the backyard" and "men at the age to get things done" commercials come on. "If you are a man, listen to me," Dr Hornsby implores. "I'm so sure you'll have a positive reaction to the medication, right here in my office, that if you don't, you'll pay nothing, guaranteed." Holy Eiffel Tower, who wants that? A positive reaction right there in the office? With people watching? Isn't that the nightmare of every boy who's ever had a sports physical?

3) Basketball Coaches Who Play Only 6 Players. By the Hair Grease of Pat Riley! It's an average JV team in an average sports county, not the NBA Finals! Hey John Wooden, your reward for winning games at this level is the small print under the varsity box score. So for the sake of my Linsanity, give the rest of the guys on the team more than 3 seconds of playing time, if you even know what 3 seconds is. They might surprise you.

2) Frederick County Planners and Commissioners. You know, if there's anything we MUST HAVE around here, it's another Super Monster Inter-Continental Mega Walmart across the street from the Entirely-Sufficient, Newly-Remodeled Walmart we have now. Oh, and let's build a WHOLE NEW TOWN on a twisty, dangerous, overpopulated road the width of my driveway, right down the street from the elementary school that already has 371 portables. This makes perfect sense. And good heavens, for the sake of all that is good and right in the world, DO NOT let that church in Urbana put a cross on the side of their building! What are you trying to do, ruin our pristine county and create unfathomable traffic problems?

1) Grumpy Bloggers. Seriously, didn't your mother ever tell you, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all"? Maybe you should take your Grumpy Hat off and wash your keyboard with some Jesus soap, you sarcasm-laced scoundrel.

Wow! My brain was on fire, but I feel better now. The fog is lifting. I can go back to being Mr. Nice Guy...

Monday, January 6, 2014

New Year; New You

2013 was a great year for me. I enjoyed it very much.

I traveled far and wide, including a mission trip to Ecuador, weddings in Arkansas and LA, and a conference with some buddies in Indy. The church has continued to grow, and I've had the privilege of leading our excellent and influential youth ministry into the prime of its life. I celebrated my 25th wedding anniversary with the world's best wife at a nice hotel in Annapolis. I watched my kids drum, play, sing, strum, shoot, swing, score, win, lose, laugh and grow. I read some good books, saw some quality movies, and got addicted to the Walking Dead. I didn't get too old to play basketball. Heck, the Pirates even made the playoffs! Yes, it was a fantastic year!

I like the new Facebook feature called "Year in Review." It takes you on a quick trip down memory lane, featuring your most popular posts and pictures from the year. What a hoot! It reminds me how fun this year has been and how blessed I am. The picture above is in mine. It's from a retreat with the high school kids this summer. It was good to have hair again, if just for a few minutes.

But I confess I've also been a bit sad about the passing of another year. Maybe it's the sugar crash of the post-Christmas diet, or this depressing weather. Or maybe it's the lack of progress I see in certain areas of my life. I'm not sure. But it gives me a reason to pause and reflect on what I want this year to be like. What do I want to accomplish? How do I want to change? (I know, everyone makes resolutions. How cliche`!) So bear with me as I jump into 2014 by asking myself the two best questions I can think of:

How can I know Jesus better a year from now?
How can I be more like Jesus a year from now?

Those are two pretty good questions, don't you think? They are really the only questions that matter that much. If a year from now, I know Jesus better and am more like him, that would be wonderful. I wouldn't so much call this a "resolution" as I would call it a pursuit. A pursuit of my Lord, and a pursuit of my best self. So as I've pondered these questions, I've come up with a plan to help me meet my goals. I won't give all the details, but here are some words from my journal that will help.

Daily, Weekly, Monthly, Quarterly
Encourage People
Encourage My Family
Lead, Become, Stretch, Fulfill

These words are the core of some disciplines and rhythms that will help me grow closer to Christ this year. The Bible is a big factor. So is prayer. I'm hoping God will grant me the discipline necessary to follow through on my desires. It would be great if my progress was so obvious that you noticed it.

Perhaps you have goals for 2014 also. I would encourage you to think of them through the lens of those 2 questions I mentioned. How can I know Jesus better a year from now? How can I be more like him? That will make for an outstanding 2014 for you, and all who know you. Here's to the year ahead, to becoming what Jesus wants us to become, and to making 2014 a year worth reviewing.