American Idol: Here Comes Da Judge?

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Have you ever tried your hand at memorizing a few verses from the Bible?

Now, before your eyes glaze over and your mind tells you that sort of thing is only for pastors and professors who toil away in dusty seminary dungeons, here’s a shocking insight –

Kind of like the kid who discovers that what he thought was candy was really something – ugh!”-  good for you, you may have already memorized Scripture without even knowing it.

In fact, let me share with you a verse from the Bible that is so well-known, it is literally the first words I often hear when sharing the message of Jesus with an antagonistic non-believer.

“Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matthew7:1)

I know. I know.

Usually this verse is used as a deflector shield by those who come perilously close to the truth that living to stimulate one’s nerve endings isn’t the highest form of morality.

But the idea of  “judging not”  as Jesus speaks  it, isn’t to adopt a code of ethics with the consistency of cotton candy.

But it is a pointed warning about looking at life and people in a superficial and cynical way.

And let’s face it, it is much easier to base our judgments on outside appearances and well grooved experience based expectations  than to expend the time and effort necessary to look beneath the surface and catch a glimpse of the heart.

A classic example of the dangers of snap judgment not only happened on national television last week, but actually spawned an internet phenomenon.

OK, we’ve seen this before.

Early cattle call style auditions on American Idol.

A few gold nuggets to be found in a sea of people who have an unfortunate mix of large egos and little talent.

Presented for your approval, the strange, delusional and freakish – like this old guy who has the nerve to call himself “General”.

The judges could barely keep a straight face.

Until the real story of the “General” came to light.

Atlanta “General” Larry Platt, whose original ditty “Pants on the Ground” cracked up everyone on “American Idol” Wednesday night, is not your standard “Idol” outtake (and not only because he’s well over the cut-off age of 28).

Beaten by law officers during the 1965 “Bloody Sunday” march in Alabama, Mr. Platt was nicknamed “General” by Atlanta civil rights icon Hosea Williams for his heroic role in the civil rights era. (See a picture here. Platt is the young man on the left looking at the camera.) These days, Platt is going at it alone, protesting that too-stubborn urban fashion statement: pants worn low, crotch almost at the knees – a sign, to many, of disrespect and a thumb in the eye to many civil rights activists like Platt who fought to raise the profile of black Americans in US society.

Sure, some communities – including Atlanta – have tried (with dubious success) to outlaw the fashion statement, saying low-rider pants are obscene. But Platt’s catchy ditty about youths with gold in their mouths, baseball caps turned sideways, and “looking like a fool with your pants on the ground” could do more to discourage the look than any local ordinance, especially now that his tune is getting remixed on YouTube. Unusually cheery, “Idol” grump Simon Cowell predicted: “I have a horrible feeling that song could be a hit.”

It looks like Simon Cowell was right.

“Pants On the Ground” has become an internet sensation, the most downloaded song of the month on YouTube.

There is a groundswell of calls for the General to sign a record deal.

But don’t miss the point.

What looked like a play it for laughs non starter of a contestant on American Idol, turned out to be a man with a noble history and a passion to make things better in his community presently.

Appearances can be deceiving.

The case of  “General” Larry Platt underscores a powerful challenge to each of us in our day-to-day lives.

While judging others superficially may be a valuable time saver, it can end up robbing us of benefiting from the rich life experiences that sometimes can come to us dressed in unusual packages.

And the other funny thing about judging others is this –

When we judge others, we often reveal the true condition of our own hearts.

Did you catch the rolled eyes, the hidden laughing, the “Oh, brother! Not another goofball” atmosphere that dominated the panel?

Unfortunately that response said more about the panel of judges than it did about the “General”.

We need to think about that “General” principle the next time we feel inclined to put people down or write them off.

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A Faustian Earthquake?

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If you’re a reader of the German writer Goethe,

an opera buff,

a watcher of the old Twilight Zone series,

or even a Charlie Daniels Band fan you’ve heard the story before.

A poor, unfortunate soul makes a deal with the Devil, and , well, there ends up being Hell to pay.

Most of us are aware of the devastating 7.0 earthquake that has laid waste a good portion of the already poverty-stricken nation of Haiti.

A resident looks at debris being removed from the national palace ...

But what you may not be aware of is that at least one national commentator is claiming that the destruction of Port-au-Prince is a case of the Devil collecting his due.

In keeping with his natural gift for stirring up controversy, Pat Robertson of the 700 Club made the following remarks this morning.

“Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it,” he said. “They were under the heel of the French … and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, ‘We will serve you if you’ll get us free from the French.’

“True story. And the devil said, ‘OK, it’s a deal,'” Robertson said. “Ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after another.”

Robertson’s remarks have stirred up a hornet’s nest of controversy, so much so that a spokesman for the 700 Club issued this clarification to blogger Ben Smith of Politico.com.

On today’s The 700 Club, during a segment about the devastation, suffering and humanitarian effort that is needed in Haiti, Dr. Robertson also spoke about Haiti’s history. His comments were based on the widely-discussed 1791 slave rebellion led by Boukman Dutty at Bois Caiman, where the slaves allegedly made a famous pact with the devil in exchange for victory over the French. This history, combined with the horrible state of the country, has led countless scholars and religious figures over the centuries to believe the country is cursed.

Dr. Robertson never stated that the earthquake was God’s wrath.

If you watch the entire video segment, Dr. Robertson’s compassion for the people of Haiti is clear. He called for prayer for them. His humanitarian arm has been working to help thousands of people in Haiti over the last year, and they are currently launching a major relief and recovery effort to help the victims of this disaster. They have sent a shipment of millions of dollars worth of medications that is now in Haiti, and their disaster team leaders are expected to arrive tomorrow and begin operations to ease the suffering.

I think it is fair to say that however one might view Robertson’s remarks, there is no doubt he has put his ministry’s money where his mouth is concerning constructive acts of compassion for those suffering in Haiti.

In fact, I find it ironic that so many of Robertson’s detractors rail against his intolerance and then in the same breath heap curses upon him that would curl your hair.

But enough of the “We will not tolerate intolerance!” tail-chasing.

But when an event like the Haitian earthquake takes place, a disaster that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called one of “Biblical proportions”, the inevitable question gets asked –

Why did God allow this to happen?

And there is a Biblical answer.

When God finished creating the heavens and the earth he looked upon all that He had made and pronounced it “very good” (Genesis 1:31)

There was no suffering, no death, no disease – no devastating earthquakes.

And God created man with a unique nature and a unique responsibility.

Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:15-17)

Our first ancestors were given the choice of saying yes or no to a love relationship with our Creator.

They were also told what the clear consequences of their decisions would be.

The phrase “you shall surely die” is emphatic in the Hebrew. It can be literally rendered “dying you shall die.”

There would be both physical and spiritual consequences for turning away from the Author of Life.

And the rest is, as they say, history.

When we separated ourselves from God, spiritual and physical death filled the void.

And we all experience the effects of this fall every day.

The apostle Paul put it this way:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. (Romans 8:18-21)

So when we are hurting or find ourselves hurting others, it goes back to the fall.

When we find ourselves struggling with a sense of emptiness and frustration in the deepest part of our souls, it goes back to the fall.

When we at once see the remaining traces of the beauty of creation, and the mind-blowing destruction that same creation can deliver, it goes back to the fall.

And so, in a sense, Pat Robertson was right.

When Adam and Eve listened to the voice of the serpent, the result was a cursed creation.

But that curse isn’t restricted to Haiti, or the coasts of Indonesia and India when the tsunami disaster hit.

It effects all of us.

And every time we sin, we ratify that same decision that rendered the once “very good”  creation into what we live in today.

But the good news is, in spite of what we have done, God continues to love us.

In fact He loves us so much, He became a man and lived in this same fallen world we live in today.

In Jesus He lived a life we could never live – without sin –

and laid down that life on a cruel Roman cross so that we could be forgiven and reconciled to God.

And so, when we see tragedies like the Haitian earthquake take place, we mourn together for those caught in harms way.

And following in our Father’s footsteps, we reach out to do what we can to alleviate the effects of the fall.

In this light, the best question we can ask in the aftermath of almost unimaginable disaster isn’t so much “why?”, as much as it is “what?”

What can we do to make a practical difference in the lives of those who suffer?

What can we do to share the message of God’s love and His desire to forgive and reconcile us to Himself with the hurting?

If you want to get involved with both, follow the link to a wonderful Christian relief organization, Compassion International.

Colt McCoy:Redefining the MVP

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“They got a name for the winners in the world

I want a name when I lose..”

– Donald Fagan and William Becker

We’ve all seen it a hundred times before.

The media star athlete taking a moment to thank “the Man upstairs” for their moment of glory.

Let’s face it, in ego driven days like these when the Holy Trinity has been redefined as “Me, Myself and I”, even a smidgen of humility seems refreshing.

But have you noticed that the giving of thanks sounds a little hollow when offered under a shower of champagne?

And not just when the Deity gets credit when an artist wins a Grammy for “The Most Soul Corroding Video of the Year”.

And when nonbelievers watch winners sharing their platform with the Almighty,  a few less than comfortable theological questions get raised.

Like:

If this athlete, actor, musician or politician is thanking God for this victory, does that mean they would also be blaming God if they lost?

Let’s face it,  we all tend to suspect that most of these usual suspects who give God the glory in triumph would just as easily be taking His Name in vain if they had dropped the pass, missed the pitch or watched a rival walk off with the award they were convinced they deserved.

But occasionally we come across an individual that scrambles our jaded sensibilities.

An individual whose relationship with God is the same – win or lose.

And especially, when they lose.

Consider the case of University of Texas quarterback Colt McCoy.

A Heisman Trophy finalist, McCoy saw his life long dream come true when his Longhorns took on Alabama’s Crimson Tide in the BCS National Championship Game.

But early on, disaster struck.

McCoy was hit from behind in a pile up after a running play.

The impact caused his entire right arm to go numb.

McCoy ended up watching his team mates lose a close game from the sidelines.

An entire life devoted to realizing this moment, only to be denied the chance to play when the moment came.

How to deal with seeing your greatest dreams crumble and fade away?

Colt McCoy’s answer was stunning.

“I always give God the glory. I never question why things happen the way they do. God is in control of my life. And I know that if nothing else, I’m standing on the Rock,” McCoy stated.

“I want people to know that having a personal relationship with Christ is probably the biggest decision that any of us will make. It goes deeper than going to church, than just acting like a Christian,” McCoy wrote for the group’s Web site. “It goes with really deeply knowing and coming to know Jesus and having a personal relationship with Him.”
Who knew that Colt McCoy would get the opportunity to demonstrate the reality of those words as he faced what must have been the biggest disappointment of his life?
And this is where we find a principle that is applicable in the lives of every Christian who wants to be used by God to impact the lives of others.
As soon as it becomes known in our home, school, workplace or neighborhood that we are Christians, nonbelievers will start watching our lives to see if what we say we believe is real.
Sometimes we think we are making the most headway when people see us being blessed.
But the fact of the matter is, the greatest impression is made not when we are thanking God for victories, but when we are the same person in the shadow of defeat.
Anyone can be a “sunshine soldier” for Christ.
But when people see that Jesus is more than just a good luck charm, or a way to get what we want out of life, that is when a real testimony begins.
Colt McCoy will undoubtedly have his share of ups and downs in his walk with God. We all do.
But for one shining moment at the national championship game he redefined the initials MVP – from Most Valuable Player to “Most Verifiable Personal Relationship With Christ”.

Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul,  having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation. (I Peter 2:12-13)


Spotting Terrorists? The Eyes Have It

Pop quiz:

You are working for the Transportation Safety Board at a major airport.

The Department of Homeland Security has raised the terrorism threat level to “Red”.

Where should you best focus your attention?

A. On unattended luggage

B. On nonconforming bottles and containers in carry on luggage?

C. On passengers with Arabic names?

D. On passengers with one way tickets?

Actually, the answer is:

E. “None of the above”.

At least according to the people tasked with providing security for the number one preferred target for terrorism in the world – Israel.

Israel has a radically different and amazingly efficient counter terrorism strategy than we do.

And believe it or not, it is based upon a solidly biblical concept.

The Toronto Star provides a fascinating appeal for what has been called the “Israelification” of airport security.

The ‘Israelification’ of airports: High security, little bother

While North America’s airports groan under the weight of another sea-change in security protocols, one word keeps popping out of the mouths of experts: Israelification.

That is, how can we make our airports more like Israel’s, which deal with far greater terror threat with far less inconvenience.

“It is mindboggling for us Israelis to look at what happens in North America, because we went through this 50 years ago,” said Rafi Sela, the president of AR Challenges, a global transportation security consultancy. He’s worked with the RCMP, the U.S. Navy Seals and airports around the world.

When the security agency in Israel (the ISA) started to tighten security and we had to wait in line for — not for hours — but 30 or 40 minutes, all hell broke loose here. We said, ‘We’re not going to do this. You’re going to find a way that will take care of security without touching the efficiency of the airport.”

That, in a nutshell is “Israelification” – a system that protects life and limb without annoying you to death.

Despite facing dozens of potential threats each day, the security set-up at Israel’s largest hub, Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, has not been breached since 2002, when a passenger mistakenly carried a handgun onto a flight. How do they manage that?

“The first thing you do is to look at who is coming into your airport,” said Sela.

The first layer of actual security that greets travellers at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport is a roadside check. All drivers are stopped and asked two questions: How are you? Where are you coming from?

“Two benign questions. The questions aren’t important. The way people act when they answer them is,” Sela said.

Officers are looking for nervousness or other signs of “distress” — behavioural profiling. Sela rejects the argument that profiling is discriminatory.

“The word ‘profiling’ is a political invention by people who don’t want to do security,” he said. “To us, it doesn’t matter if he’s black, white, young or old. It’s just his behaviour. So what kind of privacy am I really stepping on when I’m doing this?”

Once you’ve parked your car or gotten off your bus, you pass through the second and third security perimeters.

Armed guards outside the terminal are trained to observe passengers as they move toward the doors, again looking for odd behaviour. At Ben Gurion’s half-dozen entrances, another layer of security are watching. At this point, some travellers will be randomly taken aside, and their person and their luggage run through a magnometer.

“This is to see that you don’t have heavy metals on you or something that looks suspicious,” said Sela.

You are now in the terminal. As you approach your airline check-in desk, a trained interviewer takes your passport and ticket. They ask a series of questions: Who packed your luggage? Has it left your side?

“The whole time, they are looking into your eyes — which is very embarrassing. But this is one of the ways they figure out if you are suspicious or not. It takes 20, 25 seconds,” said Sela.

The rest of the article details the common sense approach Israel takes concerning issues like unattended luggage, or the spotting of a suspicious object in X-ray.

But the recurring principle that makes the system work is again emphasized when a passenger gets to the body and hand luggage check.

“Here it is done completely, absolutely 180 degrees differently than it is done in North America,” Sela said.

“First, it’s fast — there’s almost no line. That’s because they’re not looking for liquids, they’re not looking at your shoes. They’re not looking for everything they look for in North America. They just look at you,” said Sela. “Even today with the heightened security in North America, they will check your items to death. But they will never look at you, at how you behave. They will never look into your eyes … and that’s how you figure out the bad guys from the good guys.”

That’s the process — six layers, four hard, two soft. The goal at Ben-Gurion is to move fliers from the parking lot to the airport lounge in a maximum of 25 minutes.

Sela goes on to say that attempted airline bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab would have never made it to the gate at David Ben-Gurion Airport.

Did you catch the simple biblical principle that undergirds the Israeli security effort?

It goes back to a statement Jesus made in the Sermon on the Mount:

“The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23)

Isn’t it interesting that in our culture fixed eye contact tends to make us uncomfortable?

It’s as if we know that a long look into our eyes will put all our cards on the table.

It is also interesting that such powerful results have been achieved by Israel in the crucial area of airport security by consciously or even unconsciously applying a simple biblical principle.

It makes me wonder how different our lives could be if we made it our aim to skillfully and practically apply even the most basic teachings of Jesus in our day-to-day lives?

But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:25)

Fred Flintsone’s GPS

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Remember the Flintstones?

The running gag that set up the program was that cave men weren’t all that different from us.

That “modern stone-age family” had to deal with traffic jams and harsh bosses just like we do.

Bowling alleys, airports, less than cooperative house pets, the Flintstones had them all.

Imagine that – primitives whose lives were nasty, brutish and short acting remarkably sophisticated?

What a hoot.

Or maybe not.

The more we uncover about our ancient ancestors, the more we discover that our stereotypical view of their lives and even their level of technological advancement need some serious adjustment.

A remarkable case in point was recently uncovered in Britain.

How a prehistoric sat nav stopped our ancestors

getting lost in Britain

The sophisticated geometric system was based on a stone circle markers.

Our ancestors were able to travel between settlements with pinpoint accuracy thanks to a complex network of hilltop monuments.

Enlarge   sat nav

The prehistoric pointer was based on stone circles and way markers that appear to be placed in a triangular grid

These covered much of southern England and Wales and included now famous landmarks such as Stonehenge and The Mount.

Researcher Tom Brooks analysed 1,500 prehistoric monuments, including Stonehenge and Silbury Hill in Wiltshire, and found them all to be on a grid of isosceles triangles – those with two sides of equal length – each pointing to the next site.

He believes this proves there were keen mathematicians among the ancient Britons 5,000-6,000 years ago, at least two millennia before the Greeks who were supposed to have discovered geometry.

Many monuments are 250 miles or more away but GPS co-ordinates now show all are accurate to within 100 metres and provided a simple map for ancient Britons to follow.

Incredibly, the triangles still exist today as many medieval churches, abbeys and cathedrals were constructed on top of the original stone circle markers.

Fox News and the Apocalypse

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Have you ever encountered something so bizarre,

so unexpected,

so completely removed from the pattern of modern life that it made you wonder if the end of the world was actually at hand?

I just had that experience while watching the Fox News Channel.

In the SRL Files under “He said WHAT?”

I have to confess that when I first heard these words proceed from Brit Hume’s mouth I thought I had eaten one too many holiday See’s candies.

I mean that kind of talk can get you fired as a Walmart greeter, let alone as a commentator on a national news network.

To say that Tiger Woods problems are essentially spiritual would have been shocking enough here in the land of the free and home of the secular.

But to add that what this fallen icon really needs is a new heart, and that kind of transformation is possible through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is mind-blowing.

Now, the response to Hume’s bold analysis is somewhat predictable.

The resident atheist at the Hotair.com blog inserts the snark tinged question, “What kind of advice would Brit Hume offer (disgraced South Carolina governor and professing Christian) Mark Sanford?”

MSNBC host David Shuster went so far as to say that even mentioning Christianity on a secular program “diminishes” the faith.

No word from Shuster as to whether discussing someone else’s discussion of a faith is an act of  “diminishment” as well.

But back to the Sanford issue.

Although it is clear that the purpose of posing the question wasn’t to seek an actual answer – kind of like when the dime store philosopher in the college class asks, “Can God create a rock so big He can’t lift it?” – there is an important biblical response.

Although I am absolutely sure Brit Hume can speak for himself, you’ll pardon me if I step in and share.

A Bible believing Christian would have the exactly identical advice for both of these men.

Tiger Woods experienced a life-sized melt down when his pathetic track record of serial womanizing was publically exposed.

Mark Sanford’s infidelity came to light when a professed sudden yen to hike the Appalachian Trail turned out to be a cover for a sleazy encounter with his mistress in Argentina.

And whether it was a carefully crafted image of a man who marvelously balanced being the most highly recognized athlete in the world with a classy commitment to being a family man, or the reputation of a rising star in Republican politics whose creed and conduct were miles apart, both have two things in common.

Their sin found them out.

And there is still a Savior Who seeks them.

And when the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they said to His disciples, “How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?”
When Jesus heard it, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Mark 2:16-17)

Could you imagine what this last holiday season must have been like for Tiger Woods or Mark Sanford?

I’m sure neither of these men ever imagined that their Christmas dinner menu would include a heaping helping of humble pie.

But as the old adage goes, we usually have to hit bottom before real constructive change can happen in our lives.

Perhaps from the perspective gained from that low water mark of life, the advice of a man like Brit Hume will do more than just cause consternation among his critics.

You see Brit Hume didn’t come by his spiritual convictions easily.

In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter Hume shared his relationship with God came at a dark time in his own life.

I certainly want to pursue my faith more ardently than I have done. I’m not claiming it’s impossible to do when you work in this business. I was kind of a nominal Christian for the longest time. When my son died (by suicide in 1998), I came to Christ in a way that was very meaningful to me. If a person is a Christian and tries to face up to the implications of what you say you believe, it’s a pretty big thing. If you do it part time, you’re not really living it.

Both Mark Sanford and Tiger Woods could benefit from that kind of perspective.

And if they have ears to hear, both of these men who have known public disgrace might just find a real relationship with God that can bring genuine change and healing to their lives.

No matter how many secularists are offended in the process.

And That’s What Christmas Is All About..

A beautiful video, that gives us just a hint at what the real event was like..

Enjoy and take a moment to thank the Lord for the extraordinary lengths He went to save lost people like us.

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.

Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
“ Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.”

And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.

Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.

Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them. (Luke 2:8-20)