Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Theology Devoid of Love

A sort of squabble has erupted in the comment section over at Justin Taylor's Between Two Worlds over snobbish, prideful Calvinists foisting their theology onto others. That was not the intent of the article, but that is the brawl that has taken place none-the-less.

For full disclosure as a Calvinistic guy, I want to heartily agree with some of the commentors and affirm that Calvinists are indeed a prideful, snobby, and sometimes elitist brood. I also want to heartily affirm that this is true of everyone, regardless of your understanding of the atonement and regeneration, which is precisely why we are in need of the grace of Jesus Christ in the first place. So I confess my guilt and humbly beseech my dissenting brethren to search their hearts as well.

So why is it that folks can be so vindictive, divisive, and hateful over theology? Undoubtedly, all would agree that there are errors that are deal-breakers such as disagreements over, The Triune Nature of God, the full deity of Jesus Christ, the true of salvation by grace alone through faith alone, the need for Christ's atonement, the veracity of Scripture, and etc. When I say "deal-breaker", I mean that if you mess up one of these you have strayed into heresy so deep that your soul is in peril.

The truth is that Arminian and Calvinistic theology both fall neatly between the orthodox ditches, and while the disagreements are real, there is ample room for charity. Indeed, both sides should hold the other in high regard, and I pray that the Lord God make it so. So why is there such division?

For one, I think the problem is that too many Christians have nothing to lose. Who is causing the trouble? Many would say that it is the Young, Restless, and Reformed. So let's analyze who these folks are. They are probably youngish, well-read folks who have waded in to the deep end of theology but are still in the baby pool concerning love. The reason, perhaps, is that while they are to be commended for taking the doctrines of Christianity seriously, they probably have little deep regard for brothers and sisters as they are. In other words, they have fallen so deeply in love with their understanding of the 'ideal' church that they are unable to function in the church as she is.

Here's my meaning. Let's say you have a single, romantically minded young man who desperately wants a wife and he really wants to be a good husband. So, he reads up on it in the Bible and he comes across the magnificent Ephesians 5:22 that teaches wives to submit to their husbands. So on every date the young man goes on, he queries his potential mate and evalutes her potential as a wife by asking, "Are you going to submit to me in all things as you would to the Lord Jesus? If you don't, I can tell you that this isn't going anywhere." What do you suppose is his likelihood of finding a wife?

The guy is right about a wife's call to submit to her husband, but his ignorance concerning the rest of the beauty of marriage makes him an idiot. Plus, he's really got no emotional attachment to the deal, he generally runs all prospects off on the first date. The only reason he invites them to dinner is because they looked attractive until they were put off by his Biblical mindset, so he thinks. Indeed, he probably gets a bit of a matyr complex and bemoans the condition of a world filled with women unwilling to submit to men as to the Lord.

Let's say, by the grace of God, this guy actually does get married. Let's pretend also that, shockingly, he actually turns out to be a tender and caring husband. Over the course of time, he feels that the Lord God is calling him to pack up and take a job in California, far from family and home, and well, his wife is not too keen. Do you suppose that he should take out Ephesians 5:22 and pound her over the head with it until she throws up her hands in surrender and moves to California? Theologically, he's got it in the bag, right? Ideally, she trusts in the Lord and moves to California. Realistically, it may take time for God to overcome doubt and refine the heart to love His call and Word.

That's my rough analogy for why Calvinists and others act so idiotically over their theology. They have nothing to lose because they are just flirting around with the church and the people in it, and if it does not immediately conform to their ideal, they puff out the chest and go someplace else. Isn't it true that it is possible to "understand all mysteries and all knowledge" and still be nothing? (1 Cor. 13:2).

As a special point to the most zealous of the divisive theologs, I have to wonder if where you are now theologically is where you began? Did you get here without struggle and honest questions? And what truth do you have now that God did not grant you to have? Do you think that you figured things out because you are smarter and wiser and less sinful than other men and women? If you are truly enlightened, then you owe it to both the wise and the unwise to be patient, gentle, forebearing, long-suffering, and kind. If not, we poor rubes may never see the glory of God as clearly as you see it, and that would be a lousy stewardship of the gift that God has given you, wouldn't it?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Burnt Offerings, Leviticus 10:1-20

The smell of burnt flesh lingered in the tabernacle, a noxious, unforgettable smell that burns into the memory like the flame that gave rise to the stench. The high priest stares, his eyes watering from the sting of smoke and the sight of charred ephods and burned hands; hands that once held his own, they were smaller then and plump, they were soft once and not black as they are now.

Just yesterday those hands were used to help him, the high priest, offer the blood which he had sprinkled on the altar for the people, the altar before which they now lay in utter ruin. They had stood by as he had lifted up his hand and blessed the people:

The LORD bless you and keep you; The LORD make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.

Just yesterday they had seen the fire come out from the presence of the LORD and consume the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. Now they are gone. Their hands will assist here no more. The same fire that consumed the burnt offering has consumed his sons.

"This is what the LORD spoke, saying: 'By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; and before all the people I must be glorified.'" Moses spoke these words into the ear of his brother, still taking in the sight before him, and Aaron held his peace. Moses called to Aaron's cousins, and they came to take away the remains of Nadab and Abihu.

"Don't uncover your heads nor tear your clothes, lest you die, and wrath come upon all the people. But let your brothers, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning which the LORD has kindled." Aaron could only stand and watch as the bodies of his boys were carried out of the camp before the eyes of all the people.

Aaron turned to his remaining sons, Eleazar and Ithamar. This very day, they would wear the ephod and minister before the LORD. Their hands would assist in the task of intecession. They will not mourn their brothers. Today, they will offer incense and offerings before the LORD as Nadab and Abihu before them. Tonight, they will lie down to the chorus of a million wailing voices, expressing a grief they cannot utter themselves.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Traditional, Contemporary, or Blended? Part 3

Finally! We can get to the theological part of why I believe a 'blended' service is a Biblically faithful service. The reason that I say "Biblically" or "theologically" faithful is because I get the feeling that most traditional churches go for a "blended" style just to throw a bone to the young folks. In other words, the switch is born out of pragmatism, not out of theological reflection. As food for thought, I want you to think of all the traditional churches you know who have tried to make a move to be more blended, for whatever motivation. Have you, on the other hand, ever heard of a contemporary church making a move towards a more traditional blend? (Failed conversions don't count!)

I want to center my thoughts on one main passage, and you can then judge for yourselves whether my conclusions have any merit. Paul taught this to the Ephesian church:

Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:18-21)

Do you see that Paul includes psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs? That is, in my mind, a blanket statement including every sort of song there is. Notice also at the end of the section that all of this praising of God and singing is bound up under our mutual submission to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Here is where I poke the traditional crowd. I have often heard it said that most contemporary worship is simply irreverent. The usual offense is either the loudness of the music, the instruments used to make the music, or the exuberance observed in the worshippers participating in the contemporary service. Behold Psalm 150: 1, 3-6:

Praise the LORD!...Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet; Praise Him with the lute and harp! Praise Him with the timbrel and dance; praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes! Praise Him with loud cymbals; praise Him with clashing cymbals! Let everything that has breath praise the LORD!

If the guitar bothers you, then you only need look at this psalm. All stringed instruments are included, even commanded, to be used in the service of God's worship. (A lute is, after all, the forerunner of the modern guitar.) If drums bother you, behold the timbrel and cymbal! Ancient percussion was used in the worship of God, indeed, it is commanded. Further, the psalmist liked loud cymbals! And they danced! Dancing was commanded! So beware, beloved traditionalist, beware. There is no sense in trying to be more traditional than God's Word, and there is no sense in being less enthusiastic than we are commanded to be. It could be that, in part, the contemporary guy is right: You are sinfully uptight. Sinfully? Yes, sinfully. The Psalm commands the praise of the Lord in this manner, not always, but sometimes, and if you stifle that, you stifle genuine praise. Beware, lest you go the way of Mical who "looked through a window and saw King David leaping and whirling before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart" because "David danced before the LORD with all his might" (2 Samuel 6: 16, 14). She thought his worship was shameful, but it was she who should have been ashamed.

If you really want to see variety, look no further than the Psalms. Do you hate 'repetitive' praise and worship songs? What do you do with Psalm 136 that repeats the line "His mercy endures forever" 26 times in 26 verses? Are the contemporary songs too short and fluffy? What of Psalm 117 that weighs in at a whopping two verses? Perhaps you find long hymns a drag? What of Psalm 119 that has 176 verses? Can you imaging a Worship Pastor saying, "Turn in your hymn books to Psalm 119, we will be singing all 176 verses."

I had planned on finishing this today, but I got busy. I'll finish up my thoughts on this tomorrow, if God wills. Suffice to say that if you are really anxious, just look up how many times we are commanded to sing a "new" song to the Lord. That should keep you busy for a bit.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Traditional, Contemporary, or Blended? Part 2

Today, I want to explain why I find the blended approach to a worship service the wisest, and I believe, most Biblical pattern for corporate worship. Before I dive into that, let me say a quick word about musical tastes.

I find that the typical objection to music used in worship is simply a matter of taste. In the worst case, the offending 'style' is thought to be detrimental, perhaps even evil, in its essence. In the best case, it is merely considered an annoying distraction. The first objection is patently absurd except in the case of 'discordant' music. The second, I hope to point out, is a selfish reaction that can be turned to a fuller worship experience if we are wise.

I am personally convinced that every music style is a 'tradition,' even contemporary praise and worship music. It is a tradition in the sense that it is what one is familiar with and it is the musical 'habit' one has developed via the radio, purchased CD's, or etc. For example, you may purchase a CD because you enjoy one or two songs on the CD. At first, these may be the only two you enjoy. However, after a period of consistent listening, you find that you are coming to appreciate, if not downright enjoy, some of the other selections that you once skipped. The reason for that is repetition and a growing like for a particular artist's style. Or, you may have come to appreciate an aspect of the song that you previously overlooked in your haste to get to your favorite song. This is why, in my opinion, many are 'hooked' on contemporary, Southern Gospel, traditional, or etc. It is simply all they have listened to in the context of personal worship.

To give a personal illustration, I freely confess to a period of country music obsession. I moved from pop/rock straight to "Boot, Scoot, Boogey." All the buttons on the radio were reset. My Poison/Warrant bumper sticker was replaced by Clint Black. I cannot pinpoint exactly how this happened, but it did, and through consistent listening to country music, I developed a taste for it. From there, I moved to the Blues. This happened via an accidental encounter with Eric Clapton's "Unplugged" performance. That CD, by the way, is still considered by yours truly to be one of the most outstanding CD's of all time. Just so you know. Basically, I have moved all over the musical map at some point in time, and I have found that time spent in any genre makes that genre more personally appealing. Hopefully, you will have found that to be true with your own tastes as well.

So why do we get aggravated when our local church sings contemporary songs when we like traditional or vice versa. I believe it is due to immaturity and a wrong-headed view of corporate worship. What the average church goer wants in corporate worship is what they experience on their commute to work. We become trapped into thinking that the way we worship individually should be exactly how we worship corporately. I submit to you that if your worship experience in your church gathering is basically the same as your corporate worship experience, then you are probably missing out on the corporate aspect of worship. They are, by design, supposed to offer differing experiences of the greatness of God. After all, if corporate worship is the same as private worship, why would we be called to gather together to worship God?

Part of the thrill of corporate worship is seeing and hearing others worship the risen Lord. Sometimes, that may mean seeing and hearing them worship to a different tune or in a different way than we are disposed to do it. For example, how many parents have worshipped the Lord through their little ones singing, "Jesus Loves the Little Children"? They are grateful that their children are learning the truths of God's Word, and they delight to hear them sing God's praise. Would they really want that sort of style for Sunday morning worship? Do they sing that in the car on the way to work? Or are they altogether enjoying watching and hearing and seeing someone else praise the Lord to a song that is not their first choice?

This brings me to how we can turn aggravation to a fuller corporate worship experience. Instead of being dismayed that a particular, perhaps unfamiliar, style or song is being used, why not watch and listen others. We can, and I believe that we should, enjoy that they are enjoying God. What is more fun at Christmas, opening your own present or seeing the delight of others as they open theirs? Both are great, aren't they? Can worship be the same? Why can we not worship and glorify God because others are worshipping and glorifying God? A good dad may not even bring his own fishing rod when he goes fishing with his son. Why is that? Does he not like to catch fish? Or is it simply that he finds more satisfaction in seeing his child catch one than catching one himself? In corporate worship, we have the opportunity to both personally praise God and to enjoy others praising our God. Perhaps some of us might worship more fully if we occasionally quit singing and started listening.

All this and I still haven't gotten to my main point. I'll work on it tomorrow.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Traditional, Contemporary, or Blended? Part 1

My greatest joy in life is the worship of the Living God. I love to worship Him with the gathered church, and I love to worship Him when I am alone. I love to worship Him in song, I love to worship Him in thought, and I love to worship Him in deed. Most of all, I love to worship Him through the proclamation of the Scriptures.

I confess that I find it downright aggravating that so much hoopla surrounds worship in song. I have heard people on both sides of the contemporary/traditional divide say things like, "I just cannot worship to that style of music." I find that remarkable. It seems to me that it should be rather easy to worship God in a gathering of saints to most any kind of orderly and doctrinally sound song. If a Christian can worship over the casket of a deceased child, if Peter can worship after a beating, if Paul can worship in shackles in a Roman prison, then surely we can suffer through, and even worship during, a Christ-exalting ditty that does not strike our musical palate as the "best" way to sing God's praises. Can you imagine Paul and Silas in jail, suffering in the Roman stocks, and Paul saying, "Hey Sy, let's sing 'How Great Thou Art'." And Silas saying, "No way man. I don't go for the old stuff. Let's sing, 'How Great is Our God.' I just can't seem to get in a worshipful mood with a less than contemporary beat."

I firmly believe that if we lived in a time of persecution, as do many of our brethren worldwide, then not only would we be happy to sing a contemporary or traditional song with a brother, we would simply be overjoyed to have someone to sing with at all. At least one of our problems is that we are so wretchedly spoiled with our Christian radio, CD's, and plethora of church choices, that we have come to value music style and personal taste over our own family.

That's my short rant. Now that it's over, I'll spend the second part of the 'series' actually dealing with why I believe theologically that a blended service is the best way to go.

Monday, April 14, 2008

It's a Girl!!!

Our daughter, Zoe Suzann Williams, was born this morning at 7:49 am. She weighed in at 7 lbs. 13 oz. and is 19 3/4 inches long. She has jet black hair and a powerful set of lungs. Mommy's doing very well and is holding baby Zoe as I type this. Please pray for our family this week! My grandmother, Zoe's great-grandmother, passed away this morning at 2:20am, she was 96 years old. Today is a day of rejoicing and mourning for our family. Pray for us when you think of us!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

This Kills Me

I saw this by following a trail from Jonathan Moorehead's place on his Friday quotations. This is just too funny to pass up. I'll return to regular programming tommorrow. Do yourself a favor and go here and check this out.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A Lesson in Hymnody: They are Better Than You Think, Part 2

Yesterday I described my conversion experience to the joys of hymnody. Today, I want to tell you a little bit of the genius behind hymns and why it would be a great tragedy to lose that magnificent tradition. I will begin by investigation that great hymnal, The Baptist Hymnal, to tell you why I like it so much.

First, I will begin by naming a few of my favorite hymns. In no particular order they are: "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty," "A Mighty Fortress is Our God," "O Worship the King," and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." Here's a look at the respective authors.

The first hymn was written by Joachim Neander (1650-1680). Joachim was a member of the German Reformed Church and was one of the greatest of the early reformation hymn writers. This particular hymn is probably his greatest, and of the four verses in the hymn book, I like the second particularly well. Joachim writes:

Praise to the Lord, who o'er all things so wondrously reigneth,
Shelters thee under His wings, yea, so gently sustaineth!
Hast thou not seen How thy desires e'er have been
granted in what he ordaineth?

Ah yes! Even in tragedy the Lord guides us to the desire of our heart, which is, hopefully, conformity to the glorious image of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The second was written by none other than Martin Luther himself (1483-1546), the German leader and most outspoken proponent of the Reformation. Herr Luther reminds us to "Let good and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill: God's truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever." Amen, Brother Luther!

The third was written by Robert Grant (1739-1838). Sir Robert Grant was a member of English Parliament and the eventual governor of Bombay. Sir Grant poetically describes God's gracious provision, "Thy bountiful care what tongue can recite? It breathes in the air, it shines in the light, It streams form the hills, it descends to the plain, and sweetly distills in the dew and the rain." Wonderful poetry, is it not?

Finally, I love Charles Wesley's "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." Charles was the brother of the famous John Wesley, and Charles lived from (1707-1788). He even had a little help on the hymn from the great George Whitefield. Now I know that technically the angels are not said to sing, but don't let that deter you from loving one of the greatest hymns ever written in the history of the world. The entire hymn is magnificent from start to finish. The second verse is probably the greatest poetic expression of the incarnation of Jesus Christ that I know of anywhere. I promise you, it just does not get much better than this:

Christ, by highest heav'n adored, Christ the everlasting Lord:
Late in time, behold Him come, offspring of a virgin's womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail th'incarnate deity!
Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel.
Hark! The herald angels sing, "Glory to the newborn King."

If you'll notice, none of these contributors to the Baptist Hymnal are Baptists. Neander was a German Calvinist Reform, Robert Grant and Charles Wesley were from the Church of England, and Martin Luther was, well, he was Luther. These hymns in particular transcend denominational confessions to teach core, orthodox Christianity. Indeed, they make doctrine devotional, and for that, we are immensely in their debt.

This underscores one of the facets of the beauty of hymnody. The reason that we have these great ancient hymns is because they have spoken truth in a way that has resonated with Christians for hundreds, or perhaps even closer to a thousand years. "All Creatures of Our God and King" is included in the hymnal and was penned by Francis of Assisi who lived from 1182-1226. If the Lord should tarry, I seriously doubt any modern praise and worship song will survive the test of time as these hymns have.

Think of the richness in singing a hymn that is 300 years old. That means that when you confess this truth as you lift your voice, you are singing a song that has encouraged believers just like yourself for centuries. You are confessing the same confession, and you are worshipping the same God. The same truth about God that moves your heart in the song moved theirs as well. In every way, such hymns transcend time, culture, and language to stir the hearts of that peculiar group of people known as Christians.

Next, we will look and see why overhead projection is limited and why hymnals are in some ways superior to them. Also, we will see that the poets of the hymnbook were master wordsmiths and not necessarily musicians. Finally, I'll talk about choir and why we should encourage the younger generation to join one for the glory of God.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A Lesson in Hymnody:They are Better than you Think, Part One

I love hymns. I confess it freely and unashamedly. I will confess further that if I had to pick between a hymnal and a compilation of the latest praise and worship music I would pick the hymnal hands down. What we have, for the most part, in our hymnals are the greatest poems and songs written in the past 1,000 years. While some of the current 'praise and worship' music is enjoying a season of popularity, they will not be sung in churches 100 years from now, or even 2 years from now.

I must admit that I was converted, rather shockingly, to a love of hymnody. I became a Christian in college, and I attended a "contemporary" worship service at a local church and I went to Campus Crusade through the week. Needless to say, there was never any organ music present at those events. Indeed, the country music band Alabama once had a hit song that said, "If you want to play in Texas, you've got to have a fiddle in the band." That sums up nicely how I thought of worship music, "If you want to have the Holy Spirit, you've got to have the drums, a guitar, and a band."

But that all changed, radically, my first chapel service in seminary. Upon walking into chapel, the first thing that I noticed was a monolithic pipe organ that would not even fit into most of the churches I have attended. It was not even subtly old school; it was in your face. And, to my great dismay, I saw no drums or guitar, just cold, steely pipes staring down at me like great gatekeepers of the old guard.

As i was taking in the sight of the new chapel, the music director came to the podium and announced that we would be opening with "And Can it Be" on page such and such. I dutifully turned to the page in the hymnal and looked at the bottom for the credit. It read: Charles Wesley, 1707-1788. Oh brother! Not only were they going to be using a pipe organ, but this song was older than dirt.

My conversion to hymnody was almost immediate and was certainly miraculous. The pipe organ spoke, and it demanded attention be paid to the music. It made all other organs I had ever heard sound like cheap, carnival hand-crank organs to which the monkeys dance. The sound did not come only to my ears but literally went through me, reverberating in my heart. And the singing! Over a thousand preacher boys with their wives and old professors and preachers lifted up their voices with one accord and sang this grand old hymn. It was as if that organ and the voices of that congregation lifted my soul to Pisgah and showed me a glimpse of the Promised Land.

I faithfully attended chapel all the years of my seminary experience. I can honestly say that after hearing three sermons a week for three years that I probably remember only five. I do not even remember who preached or what was preached that day, but I remember that song and I remember that organ. Part of me never left that place and that time, if you can believe it. That song and that music and that moment are still bouncing around in my soul as I sit here typing this post.

That conversion experience led me to take a closer look at hymns and the rich tradition that lies behind them. Indeed, it was because of hymns that I decided to join a choir and to learn to sing harmony. In more ways than I probably know, hymns have helped to shape my thought and my praise to God. Over the course of the next post or two I want to share a couple of neat things that I have learned about hymns and why I think that choirs are awesome. I look forward to your comments.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Privacy Fences and Neighbor Love

I am currently engaged in building a fence in my backyard. When completed, it will be five feet tall and have pickets spaced approx. one inch apart. God willing, it will also be straight and sturdy. It should be, considering I dug some of the post holes almost as deep as the posts were tall and then proceeded to pour 40 lbs of concrete into them. Barring tornado or natural disaster, some of my posts will remain until the Lord's return.

What bugs me about our culture is our great tendency to isolate ourselves. Nearly everyone in the community has build a six foot wall encircling their backyard. I wonder why we do that? What in the world is going on in those backyards that they don't want everyone else to see? Sun-tanning? Bizarre cult rituals?

As for me, about the most exciting thing that will happen in my backyard is baseball tossing and hamburger grilling. I look forward to standing on my deck on a nice spring day, flipping juicy steaks with grill spatula in one hand and waving to neighbors I can see with the other. As long as my fence keeps my children and my dog out of the street, I will be content. I am building the fence to keep my family in, not to block my neighbors out.

It seems strange to me that we, as a people, flee home after work every day to get behind a closed garage door as quickly as we can. Why don't we want to come into personal contact with one another? Why do we erect impenetrable barriers between ourselves and and our neighbors?

As a Christian, I wonder what sort of signal it sends to our neighbors when we build a privacy fence? Though it may be subtle, doesn't it say to them, "We want to keep you out?" Where is the God-given command to love our neighbor in that? If we were only interested in keeping things in, wouldn't a five foot fence with gaps do as well as a six foot fence with no gaps?

I don't know what everyone's motivation for building a fence may be. I know that I could never build a fence that would not allow me to wave at my neighbors. I want to know my neighbors, and even more shocking, I'd like to share my burgers with them. To me, that would be immensely more fun than watching TV or sun-bathing, and it would seem, far more Christian.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Pregnant Man?

Oprah has the ear of the world, and she has chosen to use that influence to highlight this. If you follow the links, be warned that the picture of the pregnant "man" will be disconcerting to say the least. The bottom line is that this man is no man at all. Rather, she is a woman who chose to pretend that she was a man and had surgery to make her look the role. However, the female reproductive organs were left intact, hence she is still able to carry a child.

Instead of whining about how terrible the world has become, the church should see things like this and realize that we must be actively on mission for Jesus Christ. Without Jesus Christ, without His Holy Spirit bearing witness that we are His, people are truly confused about who they are and what they are: image bearers of the One, True God. That's why people do things like this.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Personality Profiles are a Sham

I hate personality profiles. I hate them because I waste my time on them. I overthink them and speculate on the nature of the questions and what they are really asking. I always decide that I need to change a couple of answers after I submit them, and I am hardly ever satisfied with the results. More aggravatingly, I cannot seem to help but take them.

Today, I was sent two that everyone seems to be taking. They are both 45 question personality profiles. One is, "Which World Leader are You," and the other is "Which Movie are You." I turned out to be Mother Theresa and the Godfather. How is that even possible?

And how are you supposed to answer a question like this on a scale of accurate to not accurate?:

You desire the spotlight.

Obviously, I would enjoy more people to preach to on Sundays, and I would really like to write a book that lots of people would read. But does that mean I want the spotlight? So is that an accurate statement? Inaccurate? Sort of accurate? Forty-five questions like that and the day is nearly a waste.

Anyway, I'm just glad I'm not Sadam Hussein.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Cycling Hero

Ministry is not conducive to good health. I mainly sit around and read and think and pray and worry. (One of those is sin, by the way, and I am by no means promoting it.) When I am not sitting, thinking, praying, reading or studying, I am riding around to meet with someone, usually for a meal. None of these things will help to shrink my waistline or give me a healthy heart. So I have to seek out ways outside of work to exercise this body.

One of the ways I seek to do that is through gardening. This year, my garden is 25 feet wide by 45 feet long. That'll keep me pretty busy, and it is a good form of exercise and will be, God willing, a good source of healthy food. But my newest and greatest love, the love for which I have basically abandoned running, is cycling.

There are so many wonderful dimensions to riding a bicycle that I am surprised that more people are not involved in this sport. If you can get past a few pride-killing issues, it is one of the most manly sports I've ever participated in. Let's do the bad end of it first, because I am convinced that if more men could get past this part we'd have more cyclists.

First, there is the spandex. Nothing says "sissy" better than a pair of spandex shorts. After that, there's the goofy helmet you have to wear. It seems to be made of a combination of Styrofoam and plastic. It does not give me the feeling of safety and only makes me feel like an idiot. Then there are the jerseys. You've seen them on the Tour de France...maybe. If you have, you know that they are quite often bright yellow or even polka dotted. And they often fit like, well, spandex. They are not flattering in a manly way. Next thing that comes to mind are the fingerless gloves. These might be manly in the right environment, but in combination with those things mentioned above, they only seem sort of Michael Jackson-ish. The only redeeming factor in this ensemble are the sunglasses. They are sort of like the stinger on a honeybee. There is no way that you get get away with wearing that much yellow without some sort of edge and that is precisely what the sunglasses provide. Just as you are about to laugh at a cyclist for his apparel, he looks at you with those razor sharp glasses and you think, "Whoa. Better not."

I freely admit that all of the above are a little difficult to get past. But if you can get past the outfit, what you will find are manly elements that more than make up for the uniform. Allow me to mention just a few.

First and foremostly, there is the bicycle itself. Mine is a Giant TCR with a combination carbon/aluminium frame, a Compact crank, and Shimano 105 components. Fully loaded that baby weighs in at slightly less than 20 pounds, and the paint job on her is something you really must see to appreciate.

Then there is the speed. My personal best is currently just over 48 mph. I cannot do justice in mere description how much fun it is to go 48 mph in a 35 mph zone on a bicycle. My goal is to break 50, which I expect to accomplish within the next few weeks.

Finally, and probably my favorite part of cycling, is drafting off of other riders. If you get a group of guys in a line and you are tucked in behind a couple of them, you can go the same speed as the lead man with at least 20% less effort. That makes cycling a genuine team sport. By taking turns being the lead man, a group of riders expend far less effort than a single rider and can average much higher speeds. On the last group ride I made, I averaged 15.9 mph over the course of 25 miles. I was, regrettably, dropped from the main group or I would have averaged a little better. I can't keep up with the guys yet being the newbie that I am. I look forward to be a little more competitive. For now, I am content just to be riding.

If you happen to be in the area and see us while you are out driving, remember these tips please: One, give us plenty of space when you pass. Two, we will not be as easy to pass as you think because we'll be rolling at around 20 mph. Three, not every guy in spandex pants is a sissy. I'd wager that most of us could still outrun, outplay, and outdo you even after riding 25-40 miles. If that doesn't convince you, then just look at our cool sunglasses.