Category Archives: Christianity

Christianity in Africa

Here’s a break from the usual. An article about the growth of Christianity in Africa and Asia, characterized as a “religious revolution” by Tim Funk of the Charlotte Observer. Via RCP. Global Christianity’s center of gravity continues to shift as the world turns.

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IHOP comes under fire

That headline was written with no pun intended, btw. But the IHOP worship center in south KCMO is being sued by the IHOP pancake chain for trademark infringement. This article by Donald Bradley in the Kansas City Star – linked to by the Drudge Report tonight – has some of the details. Frankly, I’m surprised this didn’t happen sooner. It would seems the restaurant corporation has at least a decent case, though I’m unfamiliar with the details of trademark law.

I read all the comments on the Star’s website, and some are quite critical of IHOP and its members. There are also a few IHOP defenders making their points and offering thoughts. Yes, there’s the question of the trademark dispute, but there’s also the question of IHOP itself and the nature of its essence. Like most things, simple characterizations one way or the other do not accurately portray the real nature of this issue.

I grew up in South KCMO before IHOP was around. I swam at the Red Bridge YMCA, played baseball at 3&2 near the Grandview triangle, attended church at Colonial Presbyterian Church at 95th and Wornall. It’s not a perfect place but in many ways its a pretty good one. Places always change, and this part of town has changed, is changing, and will continue to change in the near future. IHOP seems to be part of that.

IHOP no doubt sees its mission as a global one and a spiritual one. But IHOP lives in the temporal world, and has a street address. It has bills to pay, floors to clean and neighbors to live with. For the locals, and particularly those who lived in the area before IHOP arrived, it is the practical things that define this new resident and whether its presence is a welcome or unwelcome one.

Spoken or otherwise, there are questions and answers that will determine these matters. Are its members kind and courteous? Are they honest and responsible? Do they treat the place and its people with respect? As religious people, are they thoughtful and temperate, or superstitious and fanatic? The IHOP family must first and always seek to love its neighbors.

I’ve known a number of IHOP folks over the years, including several I regard with affection and respect. To a modest degree, I’ve had some contact with the extended Bickle family, and, as it’s said, have “known people who know” the Bickles well. I’ve personally been to IHOP on a handful of occassions, mostly several years ago, usually to sit in the prayer room and read a bit of my Bible, and to pray and think and take in some of the music. I’m something of a night owl, so it was nice having a place open 24/7 where I could go and do that.

However, I do think there is at least potentially something to the general notion that IHOP is trafficking in the strange and sensational (a topic I have started to write about and will try to publish on later), and that its followers have developed a certain set of psycho-social distinctions, not all of them positive (though I would not call it a cult, as one or two commenters on the Star’s website did). I say this even though, let me repeat, that I know and care for some who have been involved with IHOP at one time or another.

There are all sorts of groups out there, with all kinds of beliefs and practices. Here in America, that sort of thing flourishes, and always has. The one thing they all have in common, however, is an opportunity and obligation to do what is in their ability to be good neighboors. It’s up to IHOP to determine what that means, both as local residents and responsible members of the business community.

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The Christmas Story

No, I’m not talking about the 1983 film classic that seems to run stop on TBS every holiday season. With Ralphie plotting and pining after his beloved would-be bb gun. (Though that is a classic….I couldn’t resist watching just a few minutes last night before going to bed).

In fact, I’m talking about the real Christmas story, the birth of Jesus. Here it is, from the gospel according to Luke, who was the earliest biographer of the man from Nazareth:

From the English Standard Version.

The Birth of Jesus Christ

2:1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when [1] Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, [2] who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

The Shepherds and the Angels

8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” [3]

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

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Mike Pence on keeping the faith

Congressman Mike Pence (R-Indiana) spoke to Bill McCleery of the Indianapolis Star recently about his life of faith as a member of the United States Congress.

In the Q&A, Pence laments the moral failings of some of his fellow public servants caught up in recent high profile scandals. He says his wife and kids keep him grounded, and that the accountability of fellow believers along with time in the Word and time in prayer keep him on course.

I pray that Mike Pence keeps the faith and serves with distinction and  honor throughout a long career. And I have confidence that he will.

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Christian obedience to the government

As a libertarian (loosely defined), the words “government” and “obedience” are not two I would typically use in the same sentence. In fact, together they nearly make me cringe.

However, I was reading in Romans 13 in the New Testament of the Bible last night, and the Apostle Paul has some specific instructions to the believers in Rome about submitting to earthly authorities. I want to explore the historical context to enhance my understanding of how this passage relates to how we are to relate to our government today, particularly one lead by decision-makers we will so often disagree so strongly with.

While there are many differences between historical Rome and modern America, it seems clear that the lesson can be drawn that we are to respect the place given to governmental authorities. I expect to develop this topic in future posts, but for now, here’s the scripture:

13:1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.

3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.

5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.

7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

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South Park premiere has hits and misses

The popular show South Park entered its 13th season tonight, premiering at 10pm EST on Comedy Central.  I have become a SP fan over the last year or two, but that’s not to say I enjoy or endorse every aspect of the show. Tonight’s episode was no exception in its usual mix of the worthy and the utterly irredeemable.

(I had trouble embedding the preview clip tonight, but you can watch it here Notice: contains some crude sexual language).

In general, I revel in some of the libertarian-leaning show plots that skewer a range of liberal sacred cows. If the underlying theme of South Park is its unrelenting irreverence, politically correct social constructs often take the brunt of its designs. That’s the part I love.

What I’m not huge on is the incessant potty-humor, and otherwise crass or lewd behavior. More significantly, the show often puts up straw man presentations of Christianity and knocks them down mercilessly. I don’t mind poking fun at organized religion or certain pop trends in contemporary church culture, but SP sometimes extends this critique to core Christianity.

Teen act and pop sensation the Jonas Brothers are featured in the latest South Park episode

Teen act and pop sensation the Jonas Brothers are featured in the latest South Park episode

In “The Ring,” Kenny gets a girlfriend whom he takes to see the Jonas Brothers in the hopes of hooking up with her after the show. To his dismay, the boy band is promoting abstinence through the wearing of purity wings. We learn that the wholesome image is the cynically motivated product of Mickey Mouse and his Disney Channel, capitalizing on the naivete and excesses of female adolescent infatuation with boy bands.

The show dismisses abstinence outside of marriage, failing to present an accurate view of the motivation or benefits of the practice. In this, the show misses the mark of truth and is probably unfair to the Jonas Brothers (I haven’t followed the group closely enough to get a feel for how genuine their beliefs are).

Nonetheless, its satire of the inanities of the teen boy band phenomenon and the oversexulization of youth culture, is a riot. For the moment, I will continue to watch South Park – at times turned off, and times falling off my couch with laughter.

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Calm amidst the storm

This morning, my pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church pointed out that when times are tough, people are more likely to seek the truth of God (I think that’s an accurate, if simple paraphrase, but very soon you can listen to the whole sermon here). I was interested, from a spiritual, sociological and historical perspective, what form that [yearning] has taken in America in recent generations.

Last December, the New York Times summarized that “Bad Times Draw Bigger Crowds to Churches.” I don’t know that it totally captured the core reality behind why church attendance seemed to rise (why human nature seeks a higher hope, for instance) , but it’s an interesting look at this trend.

It seems natural that church attendance would rise in economic down times, but it’s also disturbing. If God is real and always there, why do we wait until times are bad to seek Him?

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