Monthly Archives: December 2013

Left Behind

tsa-bins

Last year, the TSA collected $531,000 in pocket change left behind in those bins at security checkpoints.

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There Outa Be a Law

Texting While Walking

A Japanese company makes a mobile phone with a “Safety” mode. If you try to use the phone while walking, you get an error message: “Using your smartphone while walking is dangerous. The phone senses you are walking. Please stop.” Of course, you don’t need to activate “Safety” mode. But still, it’s a good idea. The march of progress.

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Are “Christian” Songs Born Again?

Switchfoot-HD-Wallpaper

Jon Foreman, lead singer of the band Switchfoot, was asked if Switchfoot is a “Christian” band. He gave a fascinating response.

To be honest, this question grieves me because I feel that it represents a much bigger issue than simply a couple SF tunes. In true Socratic form, let me ask you a few questions: Does Lewis or Tolkien mention Christ in any of their fictional series? Are Bach’s sonata’s Christian? What is more Christ-like, feeding the poor, making furniture, cleaning bathrooms, or painting a sunset? There is a schism between the sacred and the secular in all of our modern minds.

The view that a pastor is more ‘Christian’ than a girls volleyball coach is flawed and heretical. The stance that a worship leader is more spiritual than a janitor is condescending and flawed. These different callings and purposes further demonstrate God’s sovereignty.

Many songs are worthy of being written. Switchfoot will write some, Keith Green, Bach, and perhaps yourself have written others. Some of these songs are about redemption, others about the sunrise, others about nothing in particular: written for the simple joy of music.

None of these songs has been born again, and to that end there is no such thing as Christian music. No. Christ didn’t come and die for my songs, he came for me. Yes. My songs are a part of my life. But judging from scripture I can only conclude that our God is much more interested in how I treat the poor and the broken and the hungry than the personal pronouns I use when I sing. I am a believer. Many of these songs talk about this belief. An obligation to say this or do that does not sound like the glorious freedom that Christ died to afford me.

I do have an obligation, however, a debt that cannot be settled by my lyrical decisions. My life will be judged by my obedience, not my ability to confine my lyrics to this box or that.

We all have a different calling; Switchfoot is trying to be obedient to who we are called to be. We’re not trying to be Audio A or U2 or POD or Bach: we’re trying to be Switchfoot. You see, a song that has the words: ‘Jesus Christ’ is no more or less ‘Christian’ than an instrumental piece. (I’ve heard lots of people say Jesus Christ and they weren’t talking about their redeemer.) You see, Jesus didn’t die for any of my tunes. So there is no hierarchy of life or songs or occupation only obedience. We have a call to take up our cross and follow. We can be sure that these roads will be different for all of us. Just as you have one body and every part has a different function, so in Christ we who are many form one body and each of us belongs to all the others. Please be slow to judge ‘brothers’ who have a different calling.

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Nelson Mandela: Goodbye to a Great Man

Nelson-Mandela’s-Top-Five-Contributions-to-Humanity

During the 1980s, I read much about apartheid, outraged that such evil could exist in our world. And I was outraged by the support shown to the apartheid leaders by Ronald Reagan and Christian leders like Jerry Falwell.

When apartheid finally fell, I assumed that the long-suppressed blacks would seek both justice and vengeance for the many decades of abuse they had suffered. In fact, I favored that. Evil must be punished.

I remember that day when Nelson Mandela was released, and he spoke to a huge crowd for a couple hours. I watched, captivated. Nobody would have sympathized with the white racist rulers had Mandela advocated recriminations and seeking justice for decades of oppression. I wouldn’t have.

A bloodbath could have occurred with nothing more than a nod from Nelson Mandela. But instead, Mandela spoke of peace and reconciliation. It was clear to me that I was seeing the beginning of Greatness, and that I had much to learn.

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Grammar Class: Unnecessary Words

Today, class, we’ll talk about unnecessary words.

If your sentence begins with “Needless to say…”, the whole sentence is apparently unnecessary. Why say it? If the information is NOT needless, then chop off the “needless to say” part.

Consider this sentence:

“I am sending you a check for the total amount of $300.00.”

Depending on how much info is necessary, you could boil it all the way down to, “I’m sending $300.”

The shorter the better…and the clearer.

Consider how to shorten this puffy sentence, which exemplifies what is far too common in the workplace:

“We wish to bring to your attention the fact that the meeting will be held next Thursday.”

You are correct. All you need is, “The meeting will be held next Thursday.”

That’s all for today. Be tight, be clear. Axe the needless.

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Muslims and Christians in Sierra Leone

At a Sierra Leone Muslim conference in 2013.

At a Sierra Leone Muslim conference in 2013.

The mosque in Kono

The mosque in Kono

Freetown Central Mosque, built by former Libyan dictator Muamar Gaddafi.

Freetown Central Mosque, built by former Libyan dictator Muamar Gaddafi.

I recently interviewed the United Brethren bishop in Sierra Leone, West Africa, and wrote several articles based on that interview. One of those articles dealt with the good relationship between Muslims and Christians in Sierra Leone.

Americans often take a one-size-fits-all view of Muslims. That size is typically a combination of Saudi Arabia and the Taliban. But that narrow, black-and-white image is by no means universal. Not even close.

Billy Simbo, a former bishop in Sierra Leone, wrote, “Those of us who do ministry in Sierra Leone are thankful for the religious tolerance that exists in Sierra Leone and the openness of people to receive the message of the Gospel. That is why it bothers us when we read about and hear of preachers in the US who have made it their mission to burn copies of the Qur’an and speak ill of Muslims. It makes our work harder and closes doors for us.”

Here is the article I published on UBCentral.org, our denominational news site.


We don’t think of Sierra Leone as a Muslim country—not with its background as a British colony and the long history of Christian missionary work. Yet 60% of Sierra Leoneans are Muslim. Only 20-30% of the people are Christians. The remaining 10-20% follow tribal religions.

Despite the predominance of Islam, Bishop John Pessima says Christians don’t encounter opposition from Muslims in Sierra Leone. At least not like in some other countries.

The lives of Christians and Muslims are intertwined in many ways, says Bishop Pessima. These intertwined relationships breed mutual respect and understanding.

“Even though I’m a Christian bishop, I have relatives who are Muslims. We sit and talk together. We live together, talk together, move together. We give them things during Ramadan season. Some Muslim clerics who are my friends.”

approval-rating338He also gives a lot of credit to the country’s Inter-Religious Council, which consists of Christian and Muslim leaders. John is a member.

“Whenever some national issue arises, we come together,” he says. “It was that group that went into the bush and spoke with the rebels about peace. Last year during the election some problems created a stalemate. The group met with the president and the opposition and said, ‘We want peace. Let’s talk it over.’”

The Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone formed in 1997, partly to avoid opening a religious dimension to the rebel war. Founding members included the Council of Churches of Sierra Leone, which represents 18 Protestant denominations (including the United Brethren), the Pentecostal Churches Council, the country’s three Roman Catholic dioceses, and various Sierra Leone Muslim groups—the Supreme Islamic Council, the Muslim Congress, the Council of Imans, the Federation of Muslim Women Associations, and the Islamic Missionary Union.

Soon after the IRCSL formed, a coup put a military junta in charge. Though the junta began targeting religious leaders, the IRCSL’s role is credited with preventing much worse conditions from prevailing. Later, as Bishop Pessima indicated, the IRCSL played a major role in peace talks with the rebel forces.

In July 2013, a United Nations human rights expert, Heiner Bielefeldt, visited Sierra Leone. He reported that the high degree of religious tolerance in Sierra Leone far exceeded his expectations. Everyone he talked to “agreed that religious communities, in particular Muslims and Christians, live peacefully and harmoniously side-by-side.”

He continued, “The unusual degree of interreligious tolerance and cooperation remains a great asset for rebuilding and developing the nation….People generally do not encounter problems when bearing witness to their faith in private or in public, and they can also invite others freely to join their community.”

He recalled that a Christian person remarked that when the church is overcrowded he might well decide to go to a mosque to pray. “Such a statement, which in many countries would be fairly unusual or even unthinkable, seems rather indicative of the tolerant situation in Sierra Leone,” he stated. “Likewise, Muslims told me they have no difficulty to pray in a Christian church.”

920 Muslims from Sierra Leone participated in the October 2013 pilgrimage to Mecca.

920 Muslims from Sierra Leone participated in the October 2013 pilgrimage to Mecca.

Sierra Leone Conference has pushed into the southern district of Pujehun to evangelize the Vai people. But even though Pujehun is predominantly Muslim, Bishop Pessima says, “There is no opposition.”

But are Muslims open to the Gospel?

“Oh yes,” he says emphatically.

He has heard Muslims refer to Islamic fanaticism in other countries, like Nigeria, where much bloodshed occurs. They tell him, “We are not hearing about Christians doing these things—it’s just Muslims. So I don’t think I’ll continue being Muslim.”

Also, the generosity of Christians makes an impact. “When it gets close to Easter, we encourage our churches to give out used clothing. That is something we’re doing for Pujehun. Christians are known for giving handouts. Even during the war, a number of people were led to Christianity because churches were giving things to people, like food and clothing.”

However, he is concerned about the Muslims clerics who come to Sierra Leone from other countries. They don’t share the mindset of native-born Muslims and Christians, and have the potential of injecting animosity into the relationship. But for now, Sierra Leone’s Muslims and Christians live together in healthy and peaceful coexistence.

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Why People Invite Friends to Church

This is a truly superb article–“What People Are Really Thinking When They Invite you to Church.” The author, Angela Jamene, strikes just the right tone. It’s a good example for Christians to follow in an increasingly secular society, in which fewer and fewer people have any church background.

She says when people invite you to church, they’re saying, “I love you and I want this indescribable love, peace, and joy for you because I genuinely care about you.”

That’s what the person that has sent you countless emails and texts about next Sunday, or called you every Saturday night asking to pick you up in the morning, wants for you. Every card from your grandma with bible passages written on it means she wants this for you. Every flyer from your neighbor, or old high school friend, about another church event means they want this for you….

The people that invite you to church are just like that friend that insists that you try the new Puerto Rican restaurant downtown, they have experienced something amazing and they want it for you too. It’s like that, but on almighty steroids.

When a friend or a kindly stranger, a relative or a playgroup parent, says “Hey, why don’t you come to church with me on Sunday?” what they mean is “I love you so much, I cannot describe what I know you can get from this because I can’t even put into words what it has done for me.” We understand that when you live in a world of sneaky advertising and suspicious sales scams, this sounds like just another one. But, it isn’t.

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