Thursday, March 26, 2015

A Willing Nobody

  June will be 20 years for me in the ministry, with the vast bulk of that being in public ministry.  I was going through some  photos and  was amazed at what God has allowed an absolute nobody like me to be a part of.  That is not false modesty, that is an accurate assessment.  Over and over again, my only  qualification for the task has been my willingness to do it.
  Obviously not every event was  photographed, and  perhaps less obviously, some events were  photographed, but I  don't have the pictures.  We 've preached at night, and during the day. We've preached in the heat and preached in the rain. We've preached to the eager and to the hostile.  We've preached on both coasts, several points in between and on three continents.  All in all we have tried, and  mostly failed, to give the Lamb of God the glory that is due His name while pointing  sinners to Calvary.  My name is Michael S. Alford, and I am a worthless worm redeemed by matchless grace.  This is what my ministry looks like.

The Ryan North Challenge Day 7

And yes, I did burn up two whole days with self-referential explanations. Sue me!

Thanks to Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics for being such a  good sport with his ...ahem...copyrighted material.  Everybody should go to his website and buy something.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Ryan North Challenge: Day 3

Yes, I now see my typo..thanks . Oh wait, now I see both typos.....three...four...oh boy....
  Day 2
  Day 1

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The House of God

  I really am an odd bird, I  guess. I sit in church and I listen to what is said, and I think about it.  I try not to over-analyze or nit-pick or criticize; I try to simply listen and think.  Because I do this, I wind up occasionally questioning what is said.  I try to make allowances for  the fact that I am  listening to man with all the accompanying frailties and that remarks made off the cuff may not be  bulletproof, but when I see the same sort of thing being said over and over, I  usually identify it as a trend and a trend, once spotted, needs to be examined since the Bible says "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good". 
  The trend I noticed a few years ago in certain circles is the use of the term 'house of God' to designate a building where church services would be conducted.  People would open services by saying things like "It's good to be in the house of the Lord this morning."or "Welcome to God's house." Having designated the building as a special place the 'house of God' proponents would sometimes delve into the particulars of Old Testament temple worship as a guideline for how to  conduct oneself inside this  special place.  Special clothes must be worn in this special place. Certain behaviors are not acceptable in this special place. This sentiment seemed so prominent in certain circles that, although  my initial response was skepticism, I considered that there might be something to it.  I decided to look at the use of the term, particularly  in the New Testament.
  One of the first things you notice if you run the references on this sort of thing is that the  term 'house' is used two different ways in the Bible. One of the ways, obviously is a physical structure  constructed to be indwelt.  You see this in Exodus 1:27 where God gave the Hebrew midwives "houses".  Starting in Exodus, the term is used   literally hundreds of times to refer to a structure, whether it be tabernacle or temple, where God's presence dwelt and where God's people went to meet with him.  When people refer to their church building as the 'house of God' this is generally their intent.
  The other way the way the word "house" is used is to refer to a family of people.  Actually the first use of the  word is in Genesis 7:1 when Noah is told "Come thou and all thy house into the ark...".   Noah obviously didn't pick up the  structure they  had been dwelling in and  haul it into the ark; he took his family. This is borne out by God's use of the term in Hebrews 11:7. God  continues to sprinkle this usage throughout the  Old Testament, with terms like "the house of Jacob", and "the house of Israel". 
  Having established that there are two meanings of the word, we can now take that and apply it to the  usages in scripture to see if there is any validity to the idea of a special building where special things take place. In Matthew 12, and Luke 6 as well as Mark 2, an Old Testament event is cited where David entered into  a structure, namely the tabernacle. There are a couple of  citations where the word is used to denote  a structure (like Acts 10:22 and Matthew 10:25) .   But after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the term seems to be used almost exclusively to designate a family.
  For example, in Acts 2  Acts 7, and Hebrews 8  there are references to the "house of Israel " and the "house of Judah".  Since the individuals named Israel and  Judah had been dead for quite some time now, that obviously has to be a reference to their families or descendants. God has a "house" , according to Hebrews 10:21, and 1 Timothy 3:15 defines that "house" as "the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth". From this, some will conclude that God is speaking of the structure in which they assemble, and they take the  admonitions in 1 Timothy as a guideline for behavior while they are in that particular building.  The problem is, that verse 15  is not a stand alone verse; if you read the rest of 1 Timothy 3, and even  jumping back to  1 Timothy 1 and 2, the context is family relations within the  family of God.  1 Timothy 3 is not about how you treat a building, it's about how you treat your brothers and sister in Christ, and since they are your brothers and sisters in Christ  all the time, you  should treat them  right all the time.
  If 1 Timothy 3 is about behavior inside a building, then presumably you are at liberty  to act  however you want outside of that building.  But the overall tone of scripture doesn't allow for such a double-minded life. The Bible says " Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. ", with no qualifying statement. How you are in the parking lot or the front pew or the choir loft of the church building is  pretty much how you ought to be all the time, and if you aren't, then perhaps you should repent of your hypocrisy.
  Simply put, God is too big to  properly indwell a physical  structure of  wood or stone.  In fact, he even  says   so in Acts 7:49 when he says "Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool : what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest"  After the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Bible is clear; God  indwells people who have accepted his Son, not buildings.  Those people individually and corporately  are the  family of God or "the house of God".
  When the  New Testament does refer to a structure as God's dwelling place, you find verses like "For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved , we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." referring to our bodies, which   dovetails with "What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?"  When the Bible commands you to "grieve not the holy Spirit of God," the context is how you act ( specifically how you talk, but that's a whole different topic) in your day to day life. There is nothing in the  New Testament that allows for a double standard of behavior based on  where your at.  The music you listen to, the conversation you  enjoy, the way you conduct yourself ought to be the same whether you are assembled with other believers or not "That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; ".
   My perpetual smart-aleckness  does not do me much credit, I must admit. Once I was talking to a man and he made a reference to their church building as 'God's building'. I asked him what was it before they put a building up. Was it 'God's undeveloped lot'? I asked him about  the churches in Africa that assemble under a tree, are they meeting under 'God's tree'? And what happens to God if you cut down his tree? Is God now homeless?  I walked into a church building once with my hat on, and less than 3 feet in the door somebody yelled at me to "take  that hat off in God's house" and I said "That's weird, I wore this hat on top of God's house all the way across the parking lot".
  If God's house is a building where people assemble ,then when the judgement in 1 Peter 4:17 starts happening, your best bet is to meet outside until it's over.  When God  quits  chastening the building, then it will probably be OK to go back in, assuming it's still standing.  See how silly we can be?
  In my estimation, the idea that God's house in New Testament  times is a building with special rules and special requirements does  two things, both of which are harmful. It puts believers under an unscriptural yoke with extra-biblical rules and regulations.  It also  perpetuates a  subtle hypocrisy.  It's too easy to argue with your wife all the way to church and then put on your happy faces because we after all, we're at  'God's house' now.  I heard a preacher say once that his  wife wore pants, but never at 'Gods house'.  The problem is, is she's saved, his wife is at God's house all the time, because she is God's house!   
  By taking an unscriptural definition of a term, we  have imposed this strange duplicity on our lives and we've done it to our own detriment.  Now, lest I be accused of going too far in the other direction, if people have given and sacrificed in order to be able to financially set aside and maintain a place where they can assemble, that  sacrifice ought to be respected for what it is.  So don't tear the place up just because you can. Don't spit on the floor, don't color in the songbooks. That's not only stupid, it's rude. But be mindful that it would be better to tear the sheet rock off the walls of the building, that to actually harm "God's building" ( 1 Cor 3:9). I've known men that would  never enter the church building without a tie on, but would  gleefully  damage the  real "house of God".

Thursday, March 12, 2015

(Almost) Every Book I Read Last Year Part 1

  Last year I  began tracking my reading using, after I found out David Malki was doing it.  A lot things David Malki does (  growing beards,   making t-shirts, etc)  have turned out to be  a pretty good idea over the years, so I thought I'd give it a whirl. Looking back at it, it's oddly revealing. I re-read a lot of the same books over and over again, apparently. I continue to brazenly steal ideas from Malki by presenting to you, quick reviews of every book that I read in 2014 that was in the goodreads database. There are probably around 6 or 7 more obscure titles that aren't listed.  Here goes:

A Heresy Reconsidered: The Post-Trib, Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church by Jeremy Nascimento
  Out of all the books I read in 2014 (including the ones I wrote), this is the one that probably has the most personal emotional involvement. Jeremy is a friend of mine and we disagree  passionately about the  subject of this book, and I disagree doctrinally with his stand on it. It's still probably the best book written on the subject.  This book ignited a bit of a firestorm in certain circles, and that fire continues to burn, apparently.
  What I learned the most from this book wasn't what Jeremy believes; I already knew that. What I learned is how petty other people can be, including me, in our disagreements.

Fragments of Faith by Gerald Sutek
  If you want to learn about living by faith, this is absolutely the book to read. I re-read it every so often, and in this case,  re-read it  so that it could be adapted for Kindle. I actually  strong-armed the author into  giving me a stack of paper copies, and  I  disperse them to people I think need them.   Long story short, Dr. Sutek and Terrel Bear had a rather unique ministry for several years; they traveled around the United States teaching public ministry.  They traveled to  all 50 states and  appeared in over a thousand churches. They did it all without asking for money or going into debt. This book is full of story after story of God's providence. It's an amazing book. 

A Biblical Course in Witnessing by James Knox
  Excellent book, probably less than  60 pages, and yet it still tells you everything you need to know to get started.  I would give you a more detailed review, but I loaned it to a guy who  first told me  he didn't like it and then  neglected to return it.

The Ministry by Gerald Sutek
  This book was originally written as an essay for one of  Dr. Sutek's degrees. In it, he  destroys  any pre-conceived notions you might have about what the ministry is, and what the ministry isn't. No matter what you think you know about this topic, I promise you that  you will learn something new.  It is  also available  on Kindle.

MORE Fragments of Faith by  Gerald Sutek
  Obviously the  sequel, it  ties up a lot of the loose ends from the previous narrative and also details how the SWAT Team for Christ traveled all over the world, once again without asking for money or going into debt.  Excellent , excellent book.

A History of the Baptists by John T. Christian
 This book arrived in my hands because a friend of mine was getting rid of a bunch of his grandfather's books.  It's  fairly decent church history, along the same lines as Trail of Blood.  The  book covers the history, not just of people who have called themselves 'Baptists', but rather of  people who have opposed the idea of infant baptism, regardless of their name.    This crowd includes Waldensian, Anabaptists and  handful of similar groups.  I personally don't hold to the idea that there has always been an unbroken line of doctrinally  correct  Christians out there, but it is interesting information.

Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington
  This book is way more important than most people  realize. At the time of it's writing, there was a large intellectual battle going on within the black community, with the nature of that battle being the direction they would go and what they would do with their freedom. Washington represented one end of the spectrum of thought and W.E. DuBois the other.. Washington's  position was that education and entrepreneurship would guarantee them equality and prosperity as a people.  Washington warned against government entitlement programs, citing them as  just another form of slavery.   Guess whose ideas won out?  I fell in love with this book years ago and re-read it every now and then.

The Long Dark Tea-time of the Soul by Douglas Adams
  This is another on of my re-reads, having spied it on the shelf and  being a tad weary from  the previous books on this list.  I  love Douglas Adam's writing, and always have. This is the second book in the Dirk Gently series and very bizarre, and very good at the same time.

Jungle Doctor on the Hop by Paul White
  Yes, yes yes, I KNOW it's a kid book, but  frankly, my house is full of both kids and kid books.  This is a sort of pre-teen  Christian fiction series about  a missionary  doctor who lives in the jungles of Africa and  has to battle  diseases and superstition while trying to reach the  savages with the gospel. Interesting stuff if you're a kid.  Plus it   whet my palette for the next book of 2014.

The Man-Eaters of Tsavo by John Henry Paterson
  If you've ever seen the movie Ghost in the Darkness with  Val Kilmer, this is  the  book written by the protagonist, Col Patterson.  The incident involving the  two lions  takes up a surprisingly  small  part of the book, with most of the book being occupied with other exciting tales of  safaris on the Dark Continent. The sheer quantity of animals killed by Colonel Patterson is almost too much to be believed. It's hard to  fathom that there are any animals left in Africa, sine he and his  crew hunted everything larger than a wristwatch.  Very exciting book.

Queed: A  Novel by Henry Sydnor Harrison
  This book was  discovered in a stack of old books that someone had given to me. I  had purposed in my heart to read all of them ( a goal still left unaccomplished) and I started with this one.  I don't read much fiction, but was surprisingly engaged by this book. The books takes it's title from the main character, a socially inept professor named Queed who moved into a boarding house  to work on his  great life's work; a textbook on human behavior. He writes this despite being completely clueless about real human beings.  Over the  next several months, he has to put  more and more of his writing on hold to deal with  the real human beings in the boarding  house. It's a source of frustration to him, and by interacting with people, he  becomes a mostly functional  human being himself.
  I know it doesn't  exactly sound like a page-turner, but the author is an expert on character development and its very difficult not to get swept along in Queed's personal journey.

Dumbing Us Down:  The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto
   We are homeschoolers, so  this book was very much  'preaching to the choior' Most of the issues brought forth in this book we already knew, but the reason we already knew them is because Gatto has been putting this info out for years.
  The public school system isn't a failure; it is doing exactly what it was intended to do.  It was intended by it's founders to produce  unthinking little drones for  big industry and big government.
  What I've never understood about Gatto is how he  stayed in the system for so long.  He  wasn't exactly hiding his views, I mean he wrote a book after all, and  when he won his Teacher of the Year award, he blasted the system in his acceptance speech. But he still showed up for work every day, and in this book he refers to  subtle things he was doing within the system as 'throwing sand in the gears'.  If I really believed the overall system was as malicious as he does, I would have a hard time  going to work every day.
  If you want a real education,  check out the  review section on Amazon. This is one of those books that everybody either loves or hates.

King James, His Bible and It's Translators by Laurence Vance
  I manged to  secure this book at a homeschool yard sale for a whole dollar, and I enjoyed it so much I wrote Mr Vance to tell him.   Vance and I aren't  really 'friends' but we do correspond from time to time on matters of mutual interest.
  The  book is short, very readable and covers some things  glossed over  even among the KJV Only crowd (of which I am part). Vance has a great grasp of the subject matter, and Ive enjoyed his writing for years.

Batman: The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb
  This is going to sound a little strange, but I bought this the day  my oldest son was born as a way to stave off boredom in the hospital. I read it at the time,and apparently didn't finish it, so I  finally knocked it out.  There is a killer loose in Gotham, and he is killing  criminals on  important dates on the calendar. This story takes place early on in Batman's career, before Harvey Dent  became Two-Face. it was originally 13 issues, going from one Halloween to the next. Good stuff. The mystery, at least for me, is never completely   cleared up, and the ambiguity of  the ending has been the source of more than one conversation between me and my two oldest sons.

Well there you have it. Roughly the first 14 books I read  last year, which takes me into  May-ish, if my dates are  right.  Part 2 will eventually be written. Maybe.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

How to Be a Not-So-Best-Selling Author

"Today I made peace with the possibility that my cause of death might not be listed as 'kung fu'."-Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics

  I , among other things, write books. Let's just get that out of the way.  I  wrote a book about the 2012 election and it sold fairly well.  I wrote a commentary on Genesis, and it sold more than a few copies.  I did  a Kindle Comic reboot of an old webcomic of mine , and it...well, let's just say I've given hundreds of them away.  I've got  2 or 3 books in outline form, waiting to have flesh put on their bones.  I also , obviously, write here as the  occasion arises.
  By now we've all heard the stories about the housewife who finally  self-published the book that she'd been pecking away at for years and now she's a gazillionaire.   I  am unashamed to admit that the thought of  being self-sufficient based off of the fruit of my brain is more than just a little appealing. I'm sure some of you that read this  blog have done the same thing I've done;  skulked around all those 'how to make a fortune writing books' blogs in an attempt to figure out what the magic formula is to make it  big.
  I've  heard the old saying "Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life".  Sounds great, doesn't it?  The problem has always been that nobody is willing to pay me to do the things I love, so I  wind up doing the things  I have to for money, and the things I love doing for free. 
  I've heard the  writing adage "write what you know" but the few things I do know seem to be of little interest to anyone but myself.  I  know that I could  write about things I don't care anything about, but I'm pretty sure my disinterest would find it's way into the writing.
  I look at all this and  I look at what sells and I look at what's popular in our culture and I am amazed at how some people manage to parlay stupidity and emptiness into  a prosperous career. There are people who are rich and famous for being rich and famous. I wasn't aware until recently that  being a woman with a large backside was considered a skill set. 
  So here I am, writing about the things that are interesting to me and  neglecting the things that aren't.  If because of this, I never make it 'big' whatever that means, I have decided I'm ok with it. Now, if somebody  backs a dump truck full of cash up to my house, I'm not going to  argue with them, but dear reader, as much as I value you, I refuse to pander to you in order to build an audience.  I hope you understand.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is.

 Numbers say a lot, especially when it comes to money.  How you spend, and where you spend is as clear definition of   who and what you are as anything else I can think of, especially when it comes to discretionary income.  If I were looking for some sort of snapshot of  what the heartbeat of the American people is, I would look at how they spend their money.
  For example, every January we have a Super Bowl ( always on a Sunday), and it is such a significant event that some churches cancel services over it. Over 43 million people host Super Bowl parties in their homes, and by the time  they buy team merchandise, food, drinks, red solo cups, etc, the national price tag  winds up around 14.31  billion dollars. This is  more than the Gross Domestic Product of most of the countries of the world. Having spent this money they will then look forward to the Super Bowl Ads. A 30-second advertisement during this year's game costs  $4.5 million or $150,000 per second.
  Once the Super Bowl is over, Americans will spend almost $2 billion of whatever money they have left on Valentines Day, and follow it up the next month with over 4 billion  on St. Patricks Day.  Easter  will  scoop up about $16 billion dollars , with Halloween costumes for pets consuming $30 million.  During the course of the year, they'll spend $550 million on pretzels, and wash it down with $96 billion in beer while reading $10 billion  worth of romance novels and putting 11 billion dollars into wedding and engagement rings. 
   Americans will gamble away 34 billion  big ones, while drinking 11 billion dollars worth of coffee.  They'll smell great the whole time though, because they'll spend $4.2 billion on perfume. Tattoos will get 2.3 billion  smackaroos, while tattoo removal will consume $66 million.  Americans annually will spend $1.4 billion on teeth whiteners ( to counteract all that coffee) while chewing on $16 billion dollars worth of  chocolate to go along with  $800 million worth of Girl Scout cookies. Eleven billion dollars worth of bottled water will be guzzled, while  soft drinks  will slurp up another $65 billion.
  For the  athletically inclined, there are $500 million worth of golf balls to be  bought (as well as $25.4 billion spent on professional sports in general) , while the couch potatoes will spend $17 billion  on video games.  With such poor stewardship of money going on, it's hardly surprising that Americans spend 18 billion dollars on credit card late fees and $500 million on Twinkies.  It's fair to say , if our spending habits are any indicators, Americans are possibly the most pleasure-centered and  entertainment obsessed people that have ever walked the face of the earth.
  By way of contrast, let me present you with some numbers that are mostly anecdotal, but I think prove the point.  The average independent Baptist missionary will stay on deputation for 3 years.  He will appear in about 150 churches and though the numbers vary wildly from missionary to missionary and from church to church, will receive from supporting churches  about 25 dollars a month.  To  raise this support he will stay in  prophet chambers, Sunday school rooms, RV parks, members homes, and  over 30 different hotels. He will log thousands of miles and spend  around $10,000 doing this.  He will then take his  average $3000 a month income, move his entire family to a foreign land, and watch as American churches slowly lose interest.  The word used by missionaries to describe the slowing down of funds  is 'attrition'. Oddly enough, that's a warfare term by which you slowly bleed your enemy of manpower by slow, gradual destruction.  The missionary is expected to return stateside after 3 or 4 years and do this process all over again.
 This 'Christian nation' spends more on fast food than on the gospel. We spend more on toilet paper than on missionaries. We grind good men to a powder making them jump through our  own little flaming hoops to get our 25 bucks a month. We will then leave the  church house and go  plunk down 4 dollars for a mocha cappuccino.  I don't expect the unregenerate man to understand or have any sympathy, but we as  Christians will have to give an account for how we spent our money, and it absolutely shows where our heart is.I guess my  question is  a simple one.  What in the world is wrong with us?