Sunday, February 26, 2006

Caution....Falling Idols ahead!

It’s a sad commentary on our pop-culture when someone like Bode Miller can command the attention of the nation, (and the world via electronic communications), while actually accomplishing nothing in the process. After going 0 for 5 in qualifying for medals in his Olympic events, Bode Miller is officially the Paris Hilton of Turin, (“Looks great walking into the party, but totally without substance”).


Entering the Turin winter Olympics, Bode created a buzz and outrage as he admitted to (basically) skiing “buzzed” and/or hung-over and that many other skiers did likewise. We were all glued to the morning papers to read how he inferred that both Lance Armstrong, (the most tested athlete on the planet over the last 7 years) and Barry Bonds, (duh?), used performance enhancing drugs. And finally, we shuttered as he blasted the prohibition against drug use by the international ski federation. Why would we, (the American people), stand for this type of behavior by someone who is supposedly representing the best “we” have to offer on the world stage? The answer is simple…because we thought he was “that good”!

It’s no surprise that we cut our biggest stars, (be that movie, TV or sports celebrities), a lot of slack for their public behavior, or where their propensity for saying something either totally stupid or at least not well thought out, is concerned. And that is only because, when they are at the starting gate, or the tip-off, or when the whistle blows, (insert the appropriate metaphor here _____), they bring the goods! It’s put up or shut up time for these people we choose to idolize, and if they prove that are worthy, we allow them to share whatever nonsense is in their heads, ‘cause after all….they’ve earned the right to speak their mind through their ability entertain and compete! But those who cannot deliver on their boasting are not given that opportunity, or soon lose it when the shine wears off their star. If you doubt this concept, I offer up as an example the latest Nike commercial featuring the accused rapist, Kobe Bryant. Can you imagine…Nike literally lists all the reasons why Kobe is hated around the country during the spot, but of course leaves out his legal problems, (almost like they are winking at them in the public eye), Would any company make a man their spokesman who most likely bought himself out of a rape charge and then especially design an ad campaign that stressed why we hate him, if he didn’t just put up the second most points in the history of the NBA in a single game? As Charles Brown was known to say…gad!

As the Olympics wind down, that’s why we can all hope that Miller is on the final 30 seconds of his 15 minutes of fame. He earned his because of his breakout performance in the last Olympics, (in the Salt Lake City games), and for being ranked number one in the World rankings coming into the Olympics, (something that is rare for a USA skier). But in not even coming close to standing behind his boastful and incredulous words, with a championship like performance, not only made him look somewhat the fool, (and us foolish for idolizing him in this way), but it made us consider if he wasn’t being 100% honest when he told us he liked to ski high!

Then to top it off, instead of using this as a platform to appear gracious in defeat and a class act, he simply dismissed his poor performance (and the Olympics in general), as not really mattering, and just thanked the world for giving him the opportunity to party. According to Miller’s statement after going zip for five in his events, “It’s been an awesome two weeks. I got to party and socialize on an Olympic level,”…said allegedly with a former Playboy model on his arm.

This is a great example to the kids at home…consider whom you choose to worship. Here's a young man, who was given a tremendous natural gift. When he used that gift to aspire to the highest levels within his sport, rather than being humble, thankful and appreciating what he was given and what he had acheived, he chose "the dark side" and was focused on just himself. It was all about him, his ability, his right to party, his right to not have to live up to any standards other than his own. And like all people who abuse a God Given gift, it eventually is taken from them. After all, we are all stewarts to what God has given us. We can either care for it wisely or not...but we must be willing to then suffer the consuquences for our actions.

Here’s to hoping this will be the last we have to hear from Mr. Miller, at least in his current state. Let him retire with the millions he’s made from unwitting sponsors who have helped give him the platform from where he fell from, and whom he disappointed with the disinterest he has generated when they counted on him the most. Here's to also hoping he doesn't have to fall TO FAR into the darkness, before he is willing to look toward the light! But that being said...the light will always stay lit for him, whenever he's ready to look for it...just as it does for us all.

But take heart Bode…I hear Paris has a spot reserved for you at her next NYC party though! As Bode would say, "Dude… that Rocks!"

Friday, February 17, 2006

What the heck is Faith?

The reason I began to produce the Eye Witness series, was to answer what I saw as a calling from God, to use the talents I have always had in his service. More specifically, to use the medium I grew up reading, studying and working a tool to share God's word and message of salvation for all, (the Gospel story of Jesus).

As a result, I hear from and communicate with many people from around the country, (and some other countries where the book is making its way to), that ask me questions related to the basis for this work. I can relate to this curiosity, since just 6-7 years ago, I was one of these people...having been exposed to Jesus and the Holy Spirit for really the first time in my life and not really understanding a lot of the "Christian Speak" that was involved in the Bible and in Churches. I think as you become more familiar with God's word, (given to us through the Bible), it is very easy to become slightly insensitive to the fact that not everyone understands the basic concepts we take for granted.

So I will do my best to help clarify and translate into common terms some of these concepts for those who are readers of this blog.

First up: FAITH!

This is a biggy, since the term is at the very root of believing in God and more specifically, believing in Jesus and the whole underlying concept upon which Christianity is based.

Faith, to put it simply, is: "believing in something when all the evidence to do so might be absent." Worldly example: I have faith that Jerry Jones will bring the city of Dallas another super bowl championship through the Cowboys. There has been no evidence the last two seasons that the Cowboys are anywhere close to becoming world champions, (since they have not even made the playoffs). But I believe in the proven track record of the coach (Bill Parcells), and the drive to be the best of the owner, (Jerry Jones), that this will occur. So, though there is not concrete evidence that supports my Faith in this team, I just know it to be true.

The word Faith is used 232 times in the Bible and is shown to be the primary means through which man enters into a relationship with God. Going back to the ancient texts of the Old Testament, (cornerstone of both Christianity and Judaism...and Islam?), Abraham was a man of tremendous Faith. He believed God's promise to provide his descendents with a land of their own....though at the time he did not even have a child, (and he and his wife were old by our current standers: He 99, his wife Sari, 90), and the land God spoke of was already populated by many other people's. Because of his tremendous amount of Faith and not wavering from what God told him to do...all things promised to him came to pass.

Now this is where man, (especially the Man of today's highly educated and advancing scientific world), will stumble with Faith. God is not found in human reason, but only through Faith! Why? Because he's God, and you're not! That's over simplifying it, but look at it this way...if you truly believe that there is a God, and this God had the power, understandings, abilities to actually create the universe we know (including creating life from scratch...which at our current level of science, we still can't quite figure out) could we possible expect to totally understand him, his thoughts, his motivations and his plans? We just are not equipped "yet" for matter how much we assume we are. Analogy:No matter how hard you tried, could you explain the concept of evaporation to your family dog? Of course not, because no matter how well you had trained him, his brain does not work on the same level as ours. Food for thought....are we even that close to God's level, as a dog is to ours? Hmmmmmmmm?

Taking it back to our Biblical example: Could modern medicine explain now Abraham's wife Sari concieved and delivered a child in her 90's? Possibly, but most would dismiss it, because we just don't have the level of understanding to explain that. But it does mean it did not happen. 120 years ago, scientists would not believe 300 people could travel 600 miles per hour at 20,000 feet above the ground...that was pure fantasy or Jules Verne stuff. Why? Because they didn't have the level of knowledge to understand it. But it didn't mean it could not happen. See my point?

But here's the good news (according to pastor Matt Chandler/Village Church/Highland Village, TX)...."Faith takes us beyond our reason and empirical data-abilities and allows us to see the spiritual world that God has revealed (though the writers of his word...the Bible). He gives us faith in order for us to experience the world as "he" sees it and to trust in him. Though this knowledge is not exhaustive, it is adequate to know God intimately and gives us a fuller understanding of reality as it has been revealed to us by God himself"

See: Romans 10:9-10, Deuteronomy 29:29, Isaiah 55:8-9, 1st Corinthians 13:12...1:21, John 17:3

I'll end this with one final thought....Proverbs 3:5-6, states about Faith: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight." Taking this kind of stance in our "John Wayne, pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" society can be tough, but from my personal experience let me tell you its very comforting to know you have a friend, partner, mentor, father...who can and will help lead you in the right direction, when we can't do it alone! comfort!

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The end of an era?

Let this be your offical notification that the end of an era many of us have grown up with is just about over? No, I am not talking about the fact that Western Union has offically stopped doing telegrams, (but that is interesting to note, both of these stories came out on the same day)...I am referring to the fact that both AOL and Ya-Hoo, (two of the world's largest providers of e-mail accounts), are about to roll out their "Priority E-Mail" programs and the end of unlimited FREE EMAILING is over!

In a nut shell, this means that you, (as someone who wishes to send emails through them, or to their subscribers), can get "preferential treatment" of that mail, if you pay a quarter-cent, up to a penny for each message sent. So what the heck does preferential treatment mean? At AOL, (for example), they will go straight to users main mailboxes and will not have to pass through spam filters, which might divert them spam inboxes or strip them of thier attachments or links. The companies say they will still accept mail from all senders, but the paid emails will have special treatment and this process will help them cut down on the amount of junk e-mail, identity theft and other scams. Yeah right!

This is problematic for a number of reasons. One: raise your hand if you don't think well funded spammers will jump right on this, and use this paying feature as a way to bypass all those wonderful spam protections we all use, because they will get "special treatment"? Two: Don't be fooled by the humanitarian stance AOL and Ya-hoo are using to explain the reasoning for this...there is only one reason why they are doing this....BOTTOM LINE! Both AOL and Ya-Hoo are major companies that have quarterly reports and stockholders to report to. It was just a matter of time before they cracked the nut open, (so to speak), on developing an additional income stream for their email services.

YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST...This is just the beginning of this "taxing" of our emails, with each passing year, they will add more and more fees and take away more and more of the FREE-ness of our e-mail accounts, (I can hear it now...the price of preferenial treatment just got raised to 2-5 cents per mail, etc...) They know they are sitting on a literal goldmine here, if they can just get it off the ground without to much PR trouble.

So what can we do? Immediately send AOL or Ya-hoo a FREE email message and let them know if they do this, you will immediatley cancel your subsription and move to another provider that is not jumping in bed on this plan! It's the only way we (as individuals and small or home based businessman), can stop this thing. If we wait, it will be too late....because once it's up and running and the big companies buy into it and buy thousands of dollars of email postage up front...other companies will want to "join this gravy train" and then FREE e-mail will go the way of FREE PARKING!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Was Jesus the Bill Gates of his time?

Disclaimer: I’m not against capitalism or wealth, just those who use God as a tool for developing wealth, but either pretends that they don’t, or justify that the Bible dictates their doing so.

Living in the heart of Texas we are right smack-dab in the center of the mega-church universe. The Dallas area has numerous houses of worship (from various denominations), whose weekly attendance exceeds 10,000. In addition to that, many of the largest are on the cutting edge of media technology and broadcast their messages, (as well as sell their proprietary spiritual products), all over the USA and in some cases around the globe on radio, TV and the internet.

I bring this up, because I sometimes become troubled thinking about the huge business operations that evolve around these incredible large ministries, which sometimes leads to untold wealth for the leaders and pastors, (it’s an issue that helped to keep me away from God for many years). This in turn plants a seed of doubt in me where their motivations really lie. Is it still to do God’s work and bring more people closer to him, or is it all about covering rising overhead, having the most spiritual bestsellers and accumulating wealth? I personally have been a part of a church like this, where the pastor is all about the packaging of his message to the TV masses and totally cuts himself off from personal contact with the run of the mill member of the church …in fact, even when his family walks through the church they are flanked by security...nothing says come up and chat, like CIA operatives behind you!

A couple weeks back the Dallas Morning News ran a feature piece about a new biography on T.D Jakes, (Bishop at the Potters House Ministry, in Dallas). Bishop Jakes has done some wonderful things for people in Dallas and around the USA, but within the article it also talked about the multi-million dollar homes he has and that he drives a Bentley, (which I would dare to say costs more than many of his members homes)! The article went on to say, (I’m paraphrasing here), to answer the critics that say his ministry might be just as much about the accumulation of money, as it is to honoring God, Jakes had stated that Jesus was rich, so it’s okay that men of God are also!

Well, as sometimes happens for me, upon pondering a question such as this I was lead to an answer in scripture, during my morning quiet time, (which usually occurring between 6-7am). In 2 Corinthians 8:9, Paul tells us: “For you know the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you, through his poverty might become rich.”

This begs the question…does this mean that Jesus was rich in a material way, or a spiritual one, (you know since he was the Son of God)? And even if you say material wealth, it is then quite clear that whatever riches he had he shared or gave away and became poor, so that through his poverty we might become rich, (by emulating Jesus, so we may receive our riches through the Holy Spirit). So if he ever was materially rich, he gave it all away once he started his ministry.

But I feel the riches Paul is speaking of here, is God’s riches, which are received through our obtaining eternal life, which is not based on what we have, but what we have given to others, (so that others can obtain God's riches through our poverty). So this pretty much shoots down the foundation of the prosperity Gospel, that God wants us to be rich, (worldly through possessions), rather than spiritually rich because of whom we have helped through what we have earned. It’s one thing to grow a thriving-vibrant congregation which provides for you, your staff and your families, but when we start talking about multi-million dollar homes, yacht, cars with a sticker price closer to a house, it might be just me, but I start wondering how much might be too much for a men who’s job description is suppose to be about giving more than they are taking?

(Copyright 2006 Robert James Luedke, no re-publication without express written permission).