September 1, 2014

Missions in Bom Gosto

Last weekend members of the Ebenezer congregation made their monthly trek to the rural community of Bom Gosto. As always, our purpose there is to evangelize the community and edify the believers that are still there.

On the road again!

Selling used clothes at deep discounts brings the people out of their homes to meet us, helps the community, and defrays the cost of the trip.

Equipment must be muscled into place.

There+s usually time for a dip in the river.

Warming up before the service.

Solemnly waiting for the service to begin.

"Come into the light!"

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August 29, 2014

Feeling Empowered

A few days ago someone posted on Facebook a story about a popular female entertainer and her pornographic performance on stage at a recent awards ceremony. I will not link the article here, suffice it to say that the author spoke in glowing terms of the artists "empowering" performance. This is not the only time I have heard that word used to describe actions that are anything but. I posted the following story in response to the article. It is not normal fare for this blog, nevertheless I thought I would share it here as well.

A group of dirty old men sat around a table in a smoke-filled room. A smudged, tiffany lamp with one bulb missing cast a dubious light over the proceedings. As per usual, the topic of the inauspicious conclave was women and the best ways take advantage of them. Raucous laughter filled the air as, one after another, each septuagenarian regaled his colleagues with tales of the conquests of his glory days. No names were remembered, just bra size, hair color, and relative skill “in the sack”. Completely absent was any recognition that the females in question served any purpose other than the satisfaction of their prurient desires.

“Ah, those were the days,” sighed one geezer, setting down his scotch and taking a swig on the smoking remains of the Cuban in his hand.

“You got that right,” said another, lifting his glass. “To the girls who believed our lines!”

“Hear! Hear!” the seedy group joined in hearty acclamation.

“But what about the ones who didn’t believe our lines?”

All eyes turned to the man sitting in the corner. He had been nursing the same glass of whisky all night, and now he stood and walked over to the table.

“Granted,” he said, putting his as yet unused cigar to his lips and fishing around in his vest for a match, “We had some great lines. But, when you get right down to it, the only girls who fell for them were desperate, or drunk, or charged for their services. No girl with her act together would have ever spent five minutes with us…much less a whole night.”

Silence reigned as each man reflected on “the ones that got away”…and it was true. Their sad excuse for masculinity only appeared attractive to girls whose judgement was severely impaired.

Finally the first man raised his glass, breaking the silence. “Thank God for drunk women!” A chorus of “Hear! Hear!” broke out once again.

“But you have to admit...” it was the newcomer again. “…you have to admit that the girls who turned us down—and there were a lot of them—they were some of the most beautiful girls out there.”

More silence as the men looked into their glasses. “But what if…” and again all attention was on the standing speaker. “What if there was some line we could use to get those girls—the really beautiful ones, the ones with everything going for them—to do whatever we want. Imagine for a moment each one of those girls, the ones that turned us down, prancing around half naked, shaking and shimmying, putting on a killer show just for us.”

Of course it took no effort for the gin-soaked men to imagine it. Wicked lights came to their eyes, evil smiles turned at their lips. It was clear that these imaginations were frequent visitors to their minds.

The speaker took a long drag from his cigar, then blew out the smoke in a steady stream. “What we need,” he mused, “is the line to end all lines. A line that will make even the most “with it” girl think that making us happy is somehow good for her.”

“Any suggestions?” The men were paying attention now. The subject intrigued them to no end, for obvious reasons.

The man mashed his cigar into a tray. “I’ve been giving it some thought. Try this on for size: ‘Honey, if you do what I ask, it will be empowering for you.’”

There was a pause as the men at the table looked at each other. Then as one they collapsed into gales of uncontrollable laughter.

“Empowering! Listen to this guy!” gasped one, choking on his beverage.

“And here I though you were being serious.” rasped another. “What a joker!"

“Get real, man!” wheezed another, finally regaining his composure. “What intelligent girl is going to believe for a moment that the things we want her to do are in any way empowering?"

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August 18, 2014

Musical Interlude: He is yours truly

Earlier this year I took up the saxophone. It's been lots of fun...and not a little therapeutic. Last night I played my first-ever special number at one of our local congregations.

Nothing spectacular, but Kenny G and Boots Randolph had to start somewhere...

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Robin Williams and the Desperation of Hollywood

Note: I had this article ready to run last week, then sickness hit and all blogging went by the wayside. So this is a little late, and was written before revelations about Williams' Parkinson's disease. I am posting it anyway, however, as I still feel it to be very important.

Confession: I’m a movie junkie. Perhaps atypical for someone in my line of work, but there are few things I enjoy more than sitting down next to the Brazilian Bombshell with a bowl of popcorn and watching a good flick. I’m into the new superhero movies and epic adventures, but what I really dig is a good comedy. Not the gutter slime that pass for comedies today, but the ones that reach inside my brain and tickle until I am in gales of uncontrollable laughter.

And I’ll be the first to admit, it’s pure escapism, but who doesn’t need to escape every once and a while? There is more to it than that, however. A good comedy will make you think in between the spasms of hilarity. God used a comedy to radically change my outlook on life…but that’s a different story.

Many times over the years this divine mixture of mirth and mind has been delivered to me through the incomparable gifts of Robin Williams.

Robin Williams was a genius…there is no other way to describe him. He brought not only laughter but many many poignant moments to the big screen. He did it all, TV, stage, movies, comedy, drama, entertaining the troops…everything. He was the best Hollywood had to offer.

As it turns out, the best Hollywood has to offer is not enough. The ease with which Williams could turn off the laughter and replace it with profound emotion always suggested to me that deep sorrow lay just beneath the surface.

Now, at this juncture the temptation is to say “Such a shame! If only he had known Christ, things would have been different.” Well…maybe. The truth is, many, many Christians suffer from depression…and there are many who profess Christ who consider ending their lives. Some of the greatest examples of believers I have known over the years—men and women I hope to imitate—have confided in me that they suffer from debilitating depression.

No, Christ is not an automatic cure-all for depression. What Christ brings to the table is hope. It is not just a hope that one day, in glory, we will no longer suffer from the ailments that afflict us—although that is certainly a part of it. Rather it is the knowledge that the bone-crushing shadow that overwhelms us does not represent the ultimate reality, that the love of God through Christ informs us of who we are despite what every fiber of our being says.

And this hope is exactly what Hollywood cannot offer. Hollywood thrives on appearances, illusion, smoke and mirrors. As long as you are producing good movies and entertaining people, you’re OK. If you can’t control your impulses and your life spins out of control there is always rehab. No shame in that, as long as you are out in time to make the next big movie, film the next TV episode, or record the next song. If things get so bad that that you can’t do any of those things, well, you’re done—the entertainment machine has no more use for you.

This video, which came to me via Twenty Two Words, demonstrates this hopelessness. As Williams talks about what he hopes Heaven will be like, watch his face, especially just before the camera pans away at the end. It’s heart wrenching.

As I have observed (from afar) the lives of Hollywood’s shining stars, the same word comes to my mind: hopelessness. When the laughter ends and the applause dies down…it’s just them, and that is unnerving.

And because the entertainment industry has so effectively marginalized the message of the Cross, when these towering geniuses of stage and screen hit rock bottom there is no cross to cling to. Many of them would scorn the believer for needing such a crutch as the Cross, but is it not a much more reliable crutch than fleeting fame, destructive relationships, and substance abuse?

Sometimes our favorite celebrities come so close to the truth. So...tantalizingly...excruciatingly...close. The following is from an online interview Williams gave not too long ago, answering a question about what causes him wonder:

"My children give me a great sense of wonder. Just to see them develop into these extraordinary human beings. And a favorite book as a child? Growing up, it was The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - I would read the whole C.S. Lewis series out loud to my kids. I was once reading to Zelda, and she said "don't do any voices. Just read it as yourself." So I did, I just read it straight, and she said 'that's better.'"

Three thoughts jump out at me in that quote. First, he named his daughter Zelda. How awesome is that! Second, he read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and the rest of the Narnia series as well. One can hope that somewhere in the darkest moments of despair he caught the light of the message Lewis was trying so hard to communicate. Third (and this is where I want to go with this whole thing) his daughter preferred that Robin Williams—the man of a thousand hilarious impressions—read the books to her in his own voice. The ones who love us most love us for who we are—not for the roles we play. It’s true of our kids, it’s especially true of our God.

I guess if I had the platform and could communicate one thing to the Hollywood greats who have brought me so much joy and laughter over the years, I would say this: God is not interested in the roles you play and the awards you win. After the lights go out, He is interested in you, as a person—not for what He can get out of you, but for what Christ has already done for you. How I pray that someone will be able to cut through all the noise and communicate that before it is too late.

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August 11, 2014

Musical Interlude: Tom Jobin's "Wave"

Been a while since I featured these guys. One of the better a capela groups out there today.

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