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Published in: on February 6, 2012 at 8:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

Is the United States a Christian Country?

Some people have posted on Facebook recently that the Obamas will have a “holiday tree” this year instead of a “Christmas tree.” It’s just another hoax. President Obama did, however, make a  statement that the U.S. does not consider itself a Christian country. Many Christians disagreed, some loudly.

Is the U.S. a Christian country?

What makes a country Christian?

The U.S. is not a Christian nation because we are all Christians here. I know countless people who are not. Nor is the U.S. a Christian nation because Christianity is the only religion here. Americans cherish religious freedom for all. Some Muslims have used that freedom to set up a mosque in the Texan city where I live.

If the U.S. is Christian because it was founded on Christian values, why then do we Americans not follow them? Why do we not do what Jesus Christ says? Maybe some think we do. I’m afraid they’ll say one day, “Lord! I’m an American. We did all sorts of great things there,” and God will respond that he never knew them. (See Matthew 7:21-27.)

“Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation,” President Obama stated. For once, as hard as it is to believe, I agree with him. While I know a great many good, solid Christians living in this country of ours, people who follow Jesus, I cannot accept that the U.S. is a Christian nation. The sooner Christians can understand this and accept it, the better we will be able to do something about it.

Luke 6:43-46, Matthew 7:21-27

Published in: on November 27, 2011 at 7:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Response to Westboro Baptist

Westboro Baptist is protesting again, this time at Steve Jobs’ funeral. A church tweet from Margie Phelps said :

Westboro will picket his funeral. He had a huge platform; gave God no glory & taught sin.

If not giving God glory and teaching sin are the criteria for a funeral protest, then Westboro can protest at my funeral someday. I fail doing these things as much as anyone and I’m glad Jesus rescues me from such things.

Another church member, Rachel Harckenburger, was quoted as saying:

Steve Jobs didn’t do squat. Man did not create technology. God created technology. He gave it to us [as] a gift and tool to preach to the world… But Steve Jobs taught people to pursue their own interest, he did not tell people to use technology to spread the word of God.

This from a member of a church that uses technology to spread venom. The end result of their action is I will be hated more, because somehow Westboro and I both share the label “Christian.”

I don’t know what Steve Jobs believed. I hope he asked Jesus to rescue him from all that is wrong, and so have the chance to meet Jobs someday in heaven when we’re all done with this world. He was one of the greatest innovators of all time and deserves respect.

Published in: on October 7, 2011 at 9:19 pm  Comments (1)  

A Different Rx for Sleep

For about a month I couldn’t sleep well. During that time, a bad dream would wake me up sometime between 2:00 and 4:00. There I would be, wide awake in bed, grumpy because I was awake ,and stressed because I knew what kind of day I faced in the morning. I finally drifted off about an hour before I was supposed to get up. I rolled out of bed, groggy from lack of sleep, and spent the entire morning just trying to feel human again. The afternoons didn’t go much better. Tired at the end of the day, I dropped into bed and fell asleep, only to repeat the cycle that night.

I was convinced my sleeping problems were due to some herbal remedies I was trying to treat hypothyroidism. I thought the problem was physical in nature. I kept a journal of what I took but discovered no correlation between what I took and my sleep patterns.

It was all emotional.

Time to return to an old remedy. I turned to Philippians 4:6-8 and did what it said. I’m not joking. It has two basic steps:

  1. Hand over all troubles to God–He gives peace.
  2. Think about noble things. Right things. Good things like that.

That’s it.

Sounds simple, hard to do. I realized that much of my life had changed in the previous months. I had substantial reasons for stressing out and needed help. I also discovered that I thought about problems and negative things far more than good and honorable and pure things.

Now, I couldn’t do one step without the other. If I hand over all my troubles over to God, but if I continue to think wrongly or about bad things, I’ve just taken those things back into my own hands again. That leads to anxiety and all sorts of problems. If I instead think positively, but don’t hand my troubles over to God–well, there’s not much hope then. Nothing has changed about my troubles, and what positive thoughts I do have will just put me out of touch with reality.

So during that month of A.M. insomnia, I said, “God, take it,” and trusted that he would. Then I went to work on thinking about something good.

In about four days I did sleep through the night. That felt so good! I slept the next night, and the next.

Philippians 4:6-8

Published in: on September 29, 2011 at 8:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

Junkyard Adventures

I don’t like working on cars, but going to the junk yard appeals to me. The place draws me with the promise of adventure. My oldest son Daniel and I went to one this morning where

Crawling in the trunk of a junk car

Crawling in the trunk of a junk car

vendors sell fruit, soft drinks, and hand tools outside the front doors. They speak Spanish natively but speak English when they see our white faces. They don’t blink when I mix Spanish in with my English in response. In among the cars, we saw black men as readily as white.

The cars themselves intrigue me. Hit, smashed, bashed, crashed, and worn out, they wait their final doom. They will be flattened, hauled away, melted down, and recycled. When we entered the front door, the clerk handed Daniel a print out of five or six Geo Prisms on death row. Daniel crawled through the window of the first we found to pop the hood because all the handles had been removed or were broken. The second car had the part the part he wanted. We took a socket wrench to three bolts holding it and out it came. That plastic part became Daniel’s prize.

We nearly pulled a door handle out of another car, but it needed a special tool. I didn’t want to abandon the effort, but had to.

The junkyard resonates with me because it reminds me so much of the world. This place is a gigantic junkyard. I want to to pull people from the wreckage and say, “God finds value in you.” I’m happy when one is rescued and reclaimed by God. When I can’t, because I am not equipped, I’m disappointed. I hope that someone else with the right tools will come along and do better.

“God our savior…wants everyone to be saved.” I Timothy 2:4 NLT

Published in: on September 24, 2011 at 9:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

Pushed and Pulled

I don’t like being pushed and pulled at the same time. But Jesus had the Spirit of God do that with him.

The Spirit came like a dove, floated down, and settled on Jesus. God the father spoke from heaven and told those listening how he pleased he was with Jesus. Few scenes in history match the delight and joy of the moment.

Then the Spirit went to work. Mark’s account said Jesus was “compelled” by the Spirit out into the desert, while Matthew and Luke said he was “led” by the Spirit. The Spirit, who already had settled on Jesus and filled him, now led him from the front and compelled him from behind. Why? Well, to be tested by the devil. I have a hard enough time when God sends me to certain human beings, but the Spirit had Jesus go out to the unpleasant environment of the desert to meet the most unpleasant of creatures.

Most Christians I know want God to lead them, and some want to be filled with the Spirit. Do they know what they are asking for? I want the joy of pleasing God, but I also know that I could be pushed and pulled to do some unpleasant things.

Mark 1:12 NLT, Matthew 4:1, Luke 4:1

Published in: on July 3, 2011 at 6:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

Why Passing the Plate Has Problems

On Easter Sunday, the church I attend passed the offering plate, like thousands of other churches in this country. Behind me, I heard someone huff. “They haven’t done that before.”

I turned halfway around. “They just started doing it again recently.”

“The church wants people to give a few more dollars, huh?”

Caught off guard, I shrugged. I had agreed with our former pastor to do away with passing the plate years ago, to avoid this very situation. Churches too often are viewed as being interested only in money.

I also dislike the practice because I believe many people feel a sense of obligation to put some token into the plate. I have sometimes thought that God would be more pleased by someone shutting  down the practice altogether. Back when sacrifices were still made, and people brought in the worst of their animals to give to God, he said, “Try offering them to your governor!…Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altars! I am not pleased with you,’ says the Lord Almighty, and I will accept no offering from your hands” (Malachi 1:8,10).

For years, our church put a box in the back of the room for our offerings. Those who knew what they were doing, and who gave willingly, could do so, and would do so. I have long thought it was a nice solution. But the church has been losing people for a long time. Money went out the door with them, and the place still has bills to pay. So people have been agitating to pass the offering plate again.

That’s not the right reason to bring the custom back. We shouldn’t pass the plate to make budget. If we’re going to do this again, people need to first understand what giving tithes and offerings means.

Yesterday I was growling about passing the plate to one of our deacons. He had a different perspective. He said when he was a kid, he looked forward to the time when he put his quarters in. He learned to give cheerfully.

During a break in music rehearsal, a friend and I debated the subject. Again. I finally understood that passing the plate for him is an act of worship to God. He struggled to understand how it could be anything but that.

I also give in worship, in gratitude to God for rescuing me and giving me life. I give in the understanding he provides for everything I need. I give to show that everything I have belongs to him, and I just manage a small bit of his funds. If everyone in the church gave out of that attitude, I don’t think I would have any problem in passing the plate.

Last Sunday, the music leader struck the right balance. We do not give reluctantly or out of compulsion. We give because God gave. We give to worship. If we can keep that perspective, we’ll be okay. One can hope.

Published in: on May 2, 2011 at 8:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

An Engine on Two Wheels

Last fall, a guy at church gave me a motorcycle, an old 1981 Yamaha XJ750 Seca. I didn’t even have a motorcycle license. The weekend course, required by Texan law, turned out to be the most grueling experience I have had in recent memory. It stressed me as much as watching my wife give birth. When I sat on a motorcycle for the first time, I discovered none of the controls were in the right place. For instance, the right foot controls the brake, not the gas. When my instructor motioned me to come, I kept trying to go with that right foot, but I only pressed on the brake.

People started talking to me about safety, warning me to be careful. With every comment, my anxiety grew worse. I had already broken my collarbone two years earlier riding my bike–you know, the real one, with pedals and no engine. A motorcycle weighs a quarter ton and goes a lot faster than I can pedal. Riding the motorized beast still is an act of courage for me.

But something unexpected happened along the way to riding my bike–you know, the scary one, with an engine–something that hasn’t happened in a long time. At the motorcycle shop, where I picked out a “high res” jacket that had “armor,” the women behind the counter asked what I rode. Then they listened to what I said. A total stranger like me became more than a customer.

Not long ago it happened again. I stopped at a light. As it changed for the cross traffic, another motorcycle slowed to a stop at my right. He wore no helmet. His face had the weathered look of someone who rode through as much trouble in life as he had on the road on two wheels. The bike he rode had an attitude, too. It flashed plenty of chrome.

The other rider waved at me.

The light turned and I rode off, but I felt better the rest of the day.

For twenty-three years, I have been the software professional. For the past decade, I have also been the missionary who works with other missionaries and sometimes speaks to people in churches on Sunday morning. These people are cleaned up–or appear to be cleaned up. Somehow the motorcycle gave me acceptance within a whole different group of people. People who aren’t the professionals, academics, or saints I have spent so much time with. These are the kind of people I grew up with, children of factory workers and farmers. These are people of the earth, people who work with their hands. I found acceptance again with the common people. The motorcycle gave me a ride home to my roots.

When I was a kid, a pastor first taught me about the biblical word “fellowship.” The Greek work for that was koinonia. It meant that people had a close relationship based on mutual interests and sharing.* The pastor claimed only Christians could know true koinonia. I wonder.

* See: A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition (BDAG), the first sense.

Published in: on March 5, 2011 at 10:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Texan

A Texan I met called me “Partner.” He pronounced it “Pod-nah.” My wife became “Debbie-Gal.”

Tex had five horses, one of which came trotting up to me when I walked through his field. He also had donkeys, chickens, and a rabbit or two that hopped around in the yard. I don’t think llamas are very Texan, but he also had those.

The donkeys brayed at any time of the day, and sometimes in the early morning hours, too. I asked Tex if he raised them for a profit. He started, as though he had never thought about it. He just like having them around.

Tex checked to make sure the turkeys and the chickens had roosted in the barn before he went to bed. One night he counted them, “eleven, twelve, thirteen…Which one is missing?”

The little bantam had not come back. He told me she had a habit of staying out. He retrieved a flashlight from the house. We checked under the tractor and we looked up in the trees. He finally found her on the ground, dead. He picked her up with his bare hand, his voice betraying pain as he checked the body of the bird.

I think God is something like Tex. He likes us mules and chickens. He keeps us around even though we’re noisy and have no apparent use, because he enjoys having us around. He searches for us when we stray, and he is pained when we die for no good reason.

Published in: on February 21, 2011 at 9:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

Snarl

The other day I took Isaac to TxDPS to get his learner’s permit to drive. I had Isaac fill out some forms while we waited in a line of a couple dozen people. When our turn came, I recognized the helpful clerk that helped me when I went to get my motorcycle’s license some months ago. She gave us a clipboard, and after I asked a couple times for a pen, she gave me the one I pointed to.

I filled out what I needed to on the verification of education and returned the pen. When Isaac finished a couple minutes later, and I returned the clipboard, a different woman sat at the desk. She said, “Sir, you forgot the pen.”

“I already returned it” I said over my shoulder as I walked away.

“Sir, you didn’t return the pen.”

I turned around. “I already returned it before.”

“Sir, you returned a clipboard without a pen.” She held it up for me to see. Her upper lip curled, as though she accused me of smacking a baby. I half expected her to growl. About twenty people in line watched me to see what I would do. All this over a stupid pen. It wasn’t worth a fight. I made a snap decision and turned to Isaac. “Give me your pen.” He handed it over without question. I handed it to the clerk. She disappeared behind the next person in line. The other people in line had blank expressions again.

I felt bad for Isaac. I had made him surrender his pen without thinking how valuable it might be. “I hope that pen wasn’t important to you.”

“It wasn’t.”

I had brought my computer to get some work done while Isaac took his test, but the whole situation sat like acid on my chest. Driving home, I told Isaac, “I still feel miffed. I don’t know why. It was just a stupid pen.”

But I wasn’t riled about the pen. I was upset about being misunderstood. No, it wasn’t that, either. It was more than that. I had been accused of lying in front of a room full of people. The clerk had shamed me, wrongly, over an insignificant object. I’ve lived and worked in a friendly environment for a long time, and I’m not used to mistreatment anymore. It made me angry.

Jesus said, “If someone slaps you on the cheek, offer the other cheek also. Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken from you, don’t try to get them back. (Luke 6:29-30 NLT)” Sometimes I don’t like what Jesus says.

Once I stopped feeling offended, and started thinking clearly, I realized that the clerks at the office deal with hundreds of people every day, and at least some those people are surly. Pens walk away all the time. That must get annoying. Especially if the boss refuses to replace them. Maybe the the clerk got caught in a job she doesn’t like but has to work for the money. Maybe her home life has turned sour. She could have a hundred reasons for being in a foul mood.

Or maybe she’s just an ugly person to work with. Doesn’t matter. Whether I understand Jesus or not, whether I feel like it or not, he said to return good for evil. (See also Romans 12:21.)

Published in: on February 14, 2011 at 11:20 pm  Comments (1)