Tag Archives: God

The Ark Encounter:  An Encounter of Faith?

Recently, my wife and I, along with another couple, set out on a thirty-five-day camping trip.  We spent weeks planning the trip carefully orchestrating every stop around a theme of music and nature.  The music trail would take us to Mountain View, Arkansas; Hurricane Mills, Tennessee; Nashville, Tennessee; Muscle Shoals, Alabama; Tupelo, Mississippi; and Meridian, Mississippi.  Blending those stops with time to enjoy nature at Mammoth Cave, Tennessee; Cumberland Falls, Kentucky; Smoky Mountains, Tennessee; Desoto State Park, Alabama; and Dismal Canyon, Alabama seemed like a great trip, and when we added The Ark Encounter in Kentucky, we figured the trip was perfection.  Despite a couple of days of rain, the trip was everything we hoped it would be except for one stop – The Ark Encounter.

Our visit to the Ark left me (I will not speak for the others) not just a little dismayed but uneasy about my experience.  Granted, the Ark replica at 510 feet long, 85 feet wide, and 50 feet tall is a spectacular feat of modern engineering and construction.  To think Noah and his sons built such a vessel 4,000 years ago with crude tools, and unlike the modern replica, their boat could float is absolutely mind boggling.  Of course, there are those who say the original Ark was a fairy tale not to be believed, but I choose to believe based on my upbringing and faith.  However, some of what I found inside the Ark was puzzling and faith rattling.  It pushed my faith in the Biblical story of the Ark to its limits.

First, there is little doubt The Ark Encounter at $48 a head to enter, $10 to park, a gift shop around every corner, zip lines that range in price from $49 to $99 per person is a money-making endeavor.  Bills must be paid, and someone must make a profit, so money-making did not surprise me.  Besides, remarkable detail prevailed throughout the interior of the vessel.  There was nothing cheap about the modern-day Ark – the structure inside and out is beautiful.  How the animals were housed and cared for in the Ark was logically presented although the designers freely admit they took artistic license with the beautifully designed displays to explain how things may have worked on the Ark.  Considering no one alive was around during Noah’s time, taking artistic license to explain such as waste removal and ventilation makes perfect sense.  However, what made absolutely no sense was the kinds of animals displayed inhabiting the Ark.

As would be expected, there were crates, cages, and clay pots to hold insects, birds, small animals, and large animals.  But, did you know Tyrannosaur was on the Ark?  Yes, you read correctly!  According to the folks who developed The Ark Encounter, Tyrannosaurs and Sauropod dinosaurs as well as many other dinosaurs had tickets on The Ark!  The people behind the development of the modern-day Ark say there were as many as 80 kinds of dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark.  Now that I look back on my visit to The Ark Encounter, I realize I saw very few cages that held anything other than dinosaur-like creatures.

I am a Christian, but as I walked through the Ark, I began to feel uneasy.  If I had done more research before boarding the Ark, I would have known the present-day Ark is not simply a pilgrimage for Christians to marvel at the glory and miracle of God.  It is a tool to turn all credible science related to evolution upside down, and solely promote creationism.  Maybe my problem is I don’t see evolution as a threat to God’s power and love, but it is clear through their exhibits the creators of The Ark Encounter do.  They believe the world is only 6,000 years old, and that is okay if that is where their faith leads them but changing or misconstruing proven science to influence others to embrace their point of view is, for me, unsettling.

I hesitate to say I felt as though someone was trying to brainwash me, but that is exactly how I felt.  To be fair, some of the science presented seemed almost plausible, or was that the brainwashing?  What did not come across as plausible were such assertions as fossils did not exist before the flood 4,000 years ago, mountains and all contained within them were created by the flood 4,000 years ago, and the earth is only 6,000 years old.  I could have probably taken all that as well as the paintings of men during Noah’s time battling a triceratops with a grain of salt.  However, when I came face to face with a tyrannosaur and other dinosaurs populating cages in the Ark and a sign that stated 80 kinds of dinosaurs were on the Ark, not even my faith could save me from doubt.

I am sure there may have been some who left the Ark with a sense of renewal in their faith, but what about those who came seeking faith and a reason to believe?  Did dinosaurs and pseudo-science muddy the miracle of the Ark for them?  I hope not.  As a Christian, my faith helped me recover from my initial shock, but I can’t help but wonder the impact The Ark Encounter might have on those with less faith?  Will they leave the Ark believers in the miracle of God, or will they be turned off by what unfortunately comes across as a fairy tale authored by Edgar Rice Burroughs?

JL

©September 30, 2018

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Saturated and Burned Out

The congregation squirms uneasily, but not so much from the preacher’s words as a tired tailbone.  Including announcements, offering, prayers, music, and the ongoing blistering sermon, the Sunday morning service is approaching ninety minutes.  Brother David has made his point at least six times and has started on round seven.  Hungry stomachs are growling.  Exhausted brains are begging, “Please shoot me – enough is enough.”  It is time to stick a fork in the congregation, they are done!

Unless you have been chastised relentlessly by an ordained Southern fire thrower waxed in the glow of the Holy Spirit, you know nothing of long-winded preaching.  If your eyeballs have not bobbed and surfed the tides of the second Great Flood in hour two of a Southern sermon, you know little of praying for deliverance.   Unless you have the t-shirt, Saturated and Burned Out, you are not a survivor of a soul cleansing hell, fire, and brimstone tongue lashing.  I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church – I have the t-shirt!

Why does it take preachers so long, especially in the South, to say God loves you and if you can’t accept that, prepare for an eternity in a rotisserie oven?  Why does the preacher feel compelled to make his point multiple times when once maybe twice should be enough?  The answer is simple – once or twice is not enough!  Southern DNA makes massive doses of overkill a necessity.  No one – not the preacher or Jesus Christ can tell a blue-blood Southerner what to do and expect to get it done – at least not the first or second time.

Growing up in Mississippi, my family was in church every time the doors opened: Sunday School, Sunday morning service, Sunday evening worship, Monday evening Royal Ambassadors, Wednesday night Training Union, two weeks of summer Vacation Bible School, and two weeks of fall revival meetings.  My pastor, a devout man, preached long fiery sermons with a vengeance against the evil he saw in the world or he inferred from the scriptures.  Like his sermons, he was intense, unwavering in his crusade against Satan and his followers.  His prayers, he called them mini-sermons, were rhythmic sing-song dances of thanksgiving laced with healthy doses of pleas for mercy culminating with skin-curling warnings of fire and damnation for anyone not walking the walk of Jesus Christ.  In a church of maybe one-hundred members with regular attendance of sixty or seventy, people walked the walk, or at least, we did around Brother David.

Before cable and Internet, there was little to compete with church on Sunday.  People literally had nothing better to do than go to church.  So, it didn’t matter if Brother David raged from the pulpit for two hours or Deacon John’s prayer bounced here and there for twenty minutes before he asked for God’s mercy and healing and said “Amen.”  It was the best show in town – take it or leave it, and if you lived at home with mama and daddy, there was no choice but to take it.  The only negative was church ran long – really long – and lay waste to the best made plans for Sunday lunch.  As a boy, I often witnessed parking lot grumblings and short straw lotteries to decide who would tell Brother David to buy a watch, but to my knowledge, no one ever said a word to him.

Brother David did not need a watch.  He was determined to convert every soul in his congregation to Christianity, and to that end, a watch did little but get in his way.  He understood there are only two ways to convince a Southerner to do something: you convince him it is his idea, or you scare him into doing it.  Both take time – a lot of it!  A Southerner is inherently born with the notion that everything is his idea, so convincing him an idea outside his own is his idea is extremely difficult.  In his mind, he is the center of the universe, and the only worthwhile thoughts or ideas are his own, so why listen to anyone else?  Therefore, most preachers opt for scary motivation.  To bring their people to the Lord on their knees, they scare the living hell out of them.

In the South, preachers who dwell on death, graves, and things that go bump in the night usually have little trouble preaching to full houses.  Southern boys and girls are as brave as they come but talk about something dead they didn’t shoot while hunting, especially if that something is them, and they get creeped out.  A smart preacher uses this to his advantage.  To keep his flock coming to church regularly and dropping a few bucks in the offering plate periodically, he cultivates fearful uneasy souls.  The only drawback is such a process is time consuming, especially with laidback Southern temperaments.

For this reason, Brother David set the pews on fire.  He ignited a flame of urgency under his people fueled by hell, fire, and brimstone.  “The fires of hell are full of Christians who do not go to church and tithe regularly,” he scolded his congregation Sunday after Sunday.  He brewed a pot of fear seasoned with doom and gloom.  He pounded the podium and walked the pews warning of human barbecues while teasing his congregation with firefly bits of hope he promised would grow if they attended church regularly and tithed generously.  He scared the hell out of his flock, and he did not care how much time it took to do so.

Brother David has long departed this world, and his brand of hard-ball preaching has given way to holy roller spectacles and preaching almost exclusively the love of God rather than offend or upset anyone with the rage of a jealous God.  However, to this day, his practice of battering congregations into holy submission is alive and well in many churches across the South.  Many pastors still tend to be long winded with little concern for rumbling stomachs, but is it necessary?  Why can’t they say what they need to say, and be done with it?  Why must they repeat themselves at least seven times before they give up the ghost and take a seat?  The reason boils down to Southern DNA and the Rule of Seven.

There is a pinch of a boiled peanut shell in Southern DNA that makes good ole boys and girls a tad thickheaded, or maybe, decades of wearing tight fitting baseball caps twenty-four hours a day has resulted in hardening of the skull.  Whichever it might be, a preacher best repeat himself often if he wants to get a point through dense Southerner heads.  The more a Southerner hears something the better the chances it will sink in and the more likely he will believe it.  Researchers in Atlanta, Georgia have found there is a direct correlation between Southerners reacting positively and badgering.  They discovered if you tell a Southerner something once, he might not hear you; tell him twice and he might think you are talking to someone else; tell him three times and he will try to tune you out; tell him four times and he will think you are trying to cause trouble or mess with him; tell him five times and it agitates him; tell him six times and he becomes passively interested; but if you tell him seven times, the chances are good he will not only remember it but believe it as well.  This process known as the Pester into Slow Submission Technique or PISS Technique is a strategy used by Southern women for countless decades to manipulate their men, and with the assistance of WMU (Woman Missionary Union) groups, early Southern preachers learned to use this same badgering or nagging technique to get through to their congregations.

In the Twentieth Century, the marketing world adopted the PISS Technique and called it the Rule of Seven, which is nothing more than a modern makeover of the old Southern recipe.  The Rule of Seven states people, especially men, must hear something at least seven times before they remember it, accept it, or engage in it.  It works great; however, if the preacher is not careful, a disgruntled congregation is capable of mutiny, especially if the Methodists and Catholics are regularly beating them to Mary’s Cafe or KFC for Sunday fried chicken.

The real danger though occurs when desperate preachers, experiencing a decline in attendance and tithing, change the rule to the Rule of Seven X 3.  This well intentioned though controversial practice means sermons and prayers include three times the number of repetitive keywords and phrases than the standard Rule of Seven.   According to the medical community, such an overload can be unhealthy for church-goers.  Doctors specializing in Devout Hypertension Syndrome warn that such practice can result in compulsive absenteeism and static tithing as the result of Repetitive Sensory Overload (RSO).

There are people who will argue that within the fleeting time continuum of life none of this really matters, and maybe, they are right.  A Southern prayer may be as long as a television sitcom, and a Southern sermon as long-winded as a two-day hurricane, but what if they are?  Do Christians have more important things than church on Sunday?   A prayer or sermon in the hands of a well-trained articulate Southern stump jumper can be an artistic marvel of rhetoric steeped in the juice of bread and butter pickles and sweet tea; isn’t that worth a tired tailbone or a table with a window at Cracker Barrel?  But, I admit, at times I also grow weary and impatient.  Sometimes, I wish there was an off switch under the front lip of the pew to push to let the preacher know the time has arrived to shut up and go home.

Saturated and Burned Out!

JL

©Jack Linton, September 16, 2018

To Have a Great Day, Do these 10 Things

Everyone wakes up hoping to have a great day, but unfortunately, too many people do not have a clue how to make it happen.  The quality of their day is left to chance, luck, or placed in someone else’s hands.  Fortunately, having a great day, every day, is not difficult, especially, if you take responsibility for your happiness and DO the following:

  1. START your day by looking in the mirror. Take a deep breath, stick out your tongue at what you see, wink at who you see, wiggle your ears, laugh at what you see, but most of all, thank God you have eyes to see, a tongue to stick out, ears to wiggle, and a chance to breathe another day.  Do not despair about yourself – you are the best you have;
  2. DRESS like you are proud to be alive: wear deodorant, wear clean clothes, comb your hair, and brush your teeth before you leave your house;
  3. RELAX and take the day as it comes.  Do not try to conform the day to your desires.  Slow down!  There are no instant replays or do overs in life, so make the best of every moment, and do not take your one shot at living for granted;
  4. READ at least thirty minutes; seek to learn something new;
  5. COMMIT to three good turns – one for family, one for someone you don’t know, and one for yourself;
  6. DO at least one thing you don’t want to do;
  7. BE silly!  Do something completely off the wall and different for you.  Do not be afraid to be happy and enjoy life; you have earned it, and deserve it!  Laugh!  God did not put you on earth to be sad and create gloom.  He put you here because he believed you make the world a better place to live;
  8. TELL at least one person you love him/her;
  9. TREAT yourself! At the end of the day, if you have accomplished everything on this list, treat yourself to your favorite ice cream and toppings in front of the mirror, if you completed at least six items on the list, smile in the mirror and give yourself thumbs up, if you accomplished less than six, but gave it your best, stand in front of the mirror and pat yourself on the back.  Why stand in front of the mirror to treat yourself?  So, you get accustomed to what a happy person looks like!
  10. GIVE thanks! At the end of the day, thank God for his blessings, and before you sign-off, do not forget to tell God you are ready for tomorrow if he is willing and will walk with you.

For those willing to take responsibility for their happiness, post this list on your bathroom mirror and on the refrigerator.  Use the list daily!  Your happiness begins with you, so give yourself permission to be happy, and see what happens.  Put yesterday to bed, and before you worry about tomorrow, live the life out of today;

JL

©Jack Linton, October 19, 2017

The Toymaker: A Story of What Really Matters

The toymaker made people happy – little people and big people alike.  From sunup to sundown he worked in his shop building the most magnificent and beautiful toys.  He loved to hear the dancing laughter of children when the toys came to life in their hands, the chuckles and excited chatter of teens and young adults as they punched buttons and twisted knobs on the more sophisticated toys, and he especially loved the sweet sing-song laughter of the elderly when one of his toys sparked a picture of simpler more romanticized times in their lives.  Each toy was created with pride and love, and his hand painted work showed the skill and precision of a master.  No toy received more attention to detail or color or imagination than another – each one was a magical masterpiece.  He finished each by passing his skilled, though crooked fingers, across its surface and explored each crevice and joint to ensure it was as he visualized it should be.  In the final test, he pulled it close to his face and inhaled deeply.  The smell of paint mixed with the aroma of the molded material or hand carved wood whispered the color to him as well as its readiness to belong to someone young at heart.  To the blind toymaker, every toy mattered to someone, but most of all each and every toy mattered to him.

No one knew how long he had worked building toys; they only knew he had made them for a very long time.  However, he knew exactly how long he had been making toys, and more important, he knew time was catching up to him.  Over the years, he learned to work around the arthritis that curled his hands into painful claws, and he learned to deal with the loss of his sight, but there was no working around time.  He was old, and he needed to find someone, an apprentice, to pass his work to before he was called away.  So, early one morning, he closed his shop for an hour, something he rarely did, and posted fliers around town announcing interviews for an apprentice.  The only stipulation was the applicant must be young at heart and between the ages of thirteen and medium done, which meant not too old or overdone.

On the day of the interviews, the street in front of the toy shop overflowed with apprentice hopefuls from thirteen to ninety-two.  Having once been a youthful ninety-two, he was pleased to see, Herb Gomm and Phillip Heygate, in the crowd.  He knew them well.  Since the day their fathers brought them in the toy shop for the first time, they were two of his most loyal customers.  The spirit of play still showed brightly in their eyes.  In spite of their well-seasoned youth, he would have been proud to have either as an apprentice.

The interview consisted of one question, “Why do you want to be a toymaker?”  Herb Gomm said, “To make toys for my grand and great grandchildren,” which was an excellent answer, but a toymaker cannot show partiality, so he was sadly turned away.  Phillip Heygate said, “So I can say I accomplished at least one worthwhile thing before I die.”  That was also an admirable answer, but he was, nevertheless, sent on his way.  The toymaker told the toys watching the interviews from the shelves that Phillip was a tad too morbid to be a toymaker.

Unfortunately, interview after interview was always the same; some very good answers, but never the right one.  “Why do you want to be a toymaker?” the toymaker asked over and over and at times even pleaded.  The responses always strayed just a little off the mark – “To get rich,” Marlo Simpson said; “So I won’t have to buy toys,” said Bilbo Snider; “I need a job,” pleaded Melvin Moses – but though each of the hundred plus answers had some merit, none of them appealed to the toymaker enough for him to want to share his knowledge and shop with any of them.  The day grew long, tiresome, boring, and ultimately disheartening.

Finally, tired and disappointed, he called the last person to be interviewed into his shop.  He shook his hand, and though he could not see him, the size of the hand and smooth tight skin told him this candidate for the apprenticeship must be very young.  The person also had a slight whiff of wet puppy about him, which aroused the toymaker’s suspicions even more.  “Are you sure you are at least thirteen?” he asked. “You feel and smell awfully young.”

There was a long pause.  “I am twelve,” the candidate said softly and honestly.

The toymaker’s heart ached, and he slumped onto the bench at his work table.  A tear hung at the corner of his eye.  Was there no one worthy to be his apprentice he thought?  “Thank you,” he said, “but I am afraid the position is no longer open.

“Have you filled it?” the boy asked.

“No,” said the toymaker.

“Then it’s not fair,” the boy said.

“Why is it not fair?  It’s my interview!”

“I stood in line all day, to see you,” said the boy, “and now you say the position is closed, yet unfilled.  How can that be fair when I have yet to be interviewed?”

“What is your name young man?”

“Thomas,” said the boy. .

“Well, Thomas, you say you are twelve, so I must assume you can read.”

“Yes sir, I can.”

“Then I am confident, since you are here, you must have seen the fliers I posted around town.  The fliers clearly stated you must be at least thirteen for the position.”

“So, what,” the boy said, “what does age have to do with making toys?  I know as much about toys, probably more, than anybody you have interviewed.  Who knows more about toys than a kid?”

“I understand, but . . . .”

“Sorry, I wasted your time,” the boy interrupted.  He turned and reached for the carved dragon head door knob to let himself out.

“Why do you want to be a toymaker?” the toymaker asked.

The boy stopped and turned around.  “I love to hear people laugh,” he said.

The old toymaker’s heart warmed and the light of hope sparkled in his eyes.  He dropped to his knees and grabbed the boy.  There was nothing selfish in the boy’s answer.  His response was perfect; a credit to a true toymaker.  He squeezed Thomas with a hug that he normally reserved for his biggest most loveable stuffed animals.  He held his new apprentice close for a very long time!

 

Thomas proved to be a fast learner.  Within a few years, his creations rivaled the craftsmanship of his mentor.  The two of them created toys so eloquent and masterful that people regarded their work as treasured art.  Their toys became highly collectable and ownership became competitive.  Soon people started to debate which of the two toymakers was the greatest.  The codillywogs argued in favor of the steadfast old toymaker saying he mentored Thomas and therefore was the greatest.  The lidollywogs argued in favor of the contemporary genius and diversity displayed by Thomas in his creations.  As for the two toymakers, they simply did not care.  As long as people laughed and enjoyed their toys they were content.  They thought it shameful people could not leave well enough alone and be content as well.

However, the people were not content.  Arguments over craftsmanship soon turned to which toymaker’s work had the greatest impact on society and culture.  The two toymakers shrugged and asked why it mattered.  But, it mattered to a lot of people, and soon the codillywogs were up in arms that the old toymaker’s work was not given the credit they said it deserved.  The lidollywogs countered Thomas was more deserving of recognition since his work embraced the diversity of society compared to the simplistic traditional design of the old toymaker’s work.  Truthfully, the work of each toymaker was rich with merit, and their work mattered equally, but the people were convinced there could only be one that mattered.  Anything else was not good enough.  They lost touch with what truly mattered.

Angry voices of condemnation and protest on both sides of the issue filled the media and the streets.  The codillywogs yelled the old toymaker mattered, and the lidollywogs responded louder that Thomas mattered.  A few level headed people pointed out that both mattered, but they were quickly shouted down and ridiculed as unfeeling and insensitive.  All that mattered was what the codillywogs and the lidollywogs said mattered.  The toymaker mattered, Thomas mattered, but not both.  The people hardened their hearts as to what truly mattered.

One night, the codillywogs gathered on the south side of town for a peaceful demonstration in support of the old toymaker.  The lidollywogs responded by gathering on the north side of town for a peaceful demonstration of their own in support of Thomas.  As peaceful demonstrations often go the crowds grew restless, and the two factions converged in the middle of town where the toy shop stood.  Within minutes, angry words echoed in the street, and a rock crashed through the front window of the toy shop.  The codillywogs blamed the lidollywogs for disagreeing with them on what mattered, and the lidollywogs blamed the codillywogs for not knowing what mattered.  Both groups fought long into the night, each convinced they knew what mattered and the other did not.  The next morning, the toy shop lay in smoldering ruins, and the two toymakers were missing.

The authorities sifted through the ruins fearful of what they might find, but the old toymaker and Thomas were not in the ashes.  All they found were melted tools and two toys, one from the hands of each toymaker.  The two toys were fused together from the heat of the flames into a hideous charred, bubbly mess.  The grotesque figure was put on display in the town square as a reminder to all people of the night the toys died and the toymakers went missing.  The codillywogs and the lidollywogs hung their heads momentarily in shame, but neither had learned what mattered.

The nation, emotionally and spiritually shattered, mourned the tragic events.  The media flooded the airways with noncommittal investigative reports on who was right and who was wrong about what mattered.  The codillywogs and lidollywogs met under their spiritual umbrellas and through prayer justified their actions by what they coerced themselves to believe mattered.  Without the toymakers, there were no new toys, and as the old toys broke and disappeared, the laughter of the children stopped, but no one thought that mattered.  There were no new buttons and knobs to push and turn and entertain the teens, so they began to wander and search aimlessly and recklessly for what mattered.  With no toys to open windows to their pasts and offer them a sense of peace and belonging, the elderly retreated to their beds to die because that was all they had left that mattered.

 

Far away on a south sea island, three figures sat facing the sea with their toes buried in the sand.  “Do you think they will ever understand what matters?” Thomas asked.

“Not until they truly want to,” said the old toymaker. “What do you think?” he said turning to God.

A tear rolled down God’s cheek.  Without a word, he stood and motioned the two toymakers to follow him.  Together they walked along the edge of the surf packed sand, two sets of footprints trailing after them.  They walked to where the beach dropped into the sea, and there they turned left.  The old toymaker, Thomas, and God were never heard from again, and with them they took what really mattered – The Toys.

JL

©Jack Linton, July 11, 2016

Abandoned by God or Common Sense?

The 2016 campaign for the presidency has turned this nation into a swarming hive of publicity seekers, doomsday enthusiasts, and impetuous and reckless lunatics stirring the pot of chaos.  Seldom has a day gone by without somebody new jumping on the lunacy bandwagon so shamelessly driven by both political parties.  However, the madness goes beyond politics.  As a nation, thinking and emotions have become so compromised that it is clear many Americans have lost touch with reality.  Every day, the nation is confronted by people entangled in delusional aberrations.  They inject the reality of what they see and hear with what they want to see and hear, thereby creating a sense of warped personal authenticity.

America has lost touch with common sense!  People are quick to embrace hearsay, Facebook dribble, and biased news, especially if it supports what they “want to” believe – to heck with truth and reality.  Americans have developed a passion for morphing little things into big things or nothing into something.  They love to create mountains out of molehills.  As a result, they resemble Chicken Little running around crying the world is ending, and moaning and groaning that God has abandoned America.

If God has abandoned America, which is doubtful, it is because he is embarrassed at the lack of common sense currently on display.  People point to the lack of prayer in schools, lack of attention to the Bible, and sinful lifestyles as the reasons for America’s decline when the sad truth is this country’s problems lie in the hearts of the American people.  God has not abandoned America! The people, due to their reckless disregard for the American pursuit of liberty and happiness for all people as well as their neglect of the Biblical commandment to love their neighbor, have abandoned America.  As a nation, too many Americans no longer embrace diversity as a virtue in their politics, in their society, or in their personal lives, which means they have abandoned what made America great.  As a consequence of this indifference to liberty and happiness for all and love of neighbor, the nation stands helpless in the shadows of mountains built from molehills and righteousness built from convenience.

Common sense is the mountain Americans must reclaim before the nation can regain its sanity and move forward.  Until people begin to filter life, media, and hearsay through the lens of common sense, America will continue to resemble a quagmire of lunacy.  It is time we stop building molehills into mountains, stop pandering and giving credibility to stupidity, stop assuming we are more righteous than the other person, and return to practicing common sense and treating one another with respect.  That is the only way America will regain its sanity.  Once we have a grip on common sense and can again converse respectfully as adults without shouting down those who disagree with us, we will find America is still the greatest nation on earth, and throughout the insanity, God has never been more than a prayer away.

JL

©Jack Linton      May 22, 2016

Sweating to the Gospel

Have you noticed there are almost as many exercise joints as there are churches?  While church attendance declines, attendance at exercise gyms is booming!  Not only are these gyms/clubs opening on corners across the South once reserved for churches, these places are keeping their doors open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.  They now compete with churches for time that was once held sacred for Sunday morning and evening worship as well as Wednesday evening prayer meeting.  On any given Sunday or Wednesday you are likely to find as many people, if not more, sweating their buns off in the gym as you find sweating their sins off under a barrage of “hell fire and brimstone” from the pulpit.  The perfect sculpted body has become as important, if not more so, as the perfect spiritual body.  Why are people flocking to the gyms?  What is so enticing about the fitness craze?

Fitness centers are cutting into church attendance for two basic reasons:  static movement and a perplexing state of social angst know as FoMO.  First, Americans are always on the move, mentally and physically, and sitting for long durations in church is contradictory to their norm and activates their ADHD (Ass Dead Hellfire Disassociation).  It is difficult for people to idle down the juices after constantly being on the run between home, their job, the shopping center, eating out, and getting kids to dance and ball games all week.  When they do sit for long periods such as at work or occasionally at home, they are stimulated by a computer, smart phone, digital tablet, or television in front of them.  Even when sitting in front of the television, they are texting and checking Facebook for the latest cutesy photos and “knock your socks off controversy.”  Americans are always on the move and in search of new stimuli, but yet, churches expect them to sit quietly in thinly padded church pews with nothing to do other than sing a couple of hymns and listen to the preacher.  As dynamic as some preachers may be, most of them cannot entertain and stimulate people at the level they are accustomed.  Therefore, more and more people stay home to play with their “Flappy Bird” app, or they skip church to go to the gym where they can insert their ear buds and escape kids, spouses, work, church, and anything else that might remind them how miserably chaotic their life is.

The second reason attendance in church is declining is called FoMO or the fear of missing out.  This very real fear is a pervasive apprehension of missing out on something, especially if that something is the latest and greatest craze.  People today, especially young people, are consumed by this social dilemma; they want and need to be a part of the latest and the greatest whatever it may be!  The adage “build it and they will come” has never been truer in America.   If there is a new workout gym in town offering a great deal on membership, they have got to be a part of it, or they feel they are missing out.   At heart, Americans are joiners and a membership is a drawing card few of them can resist, especially if there is a fee required.  For many people, a membership fee adds a sense of value to their experience and makes it more exciting and desirable.  A fee also heightens their resolve to be present at every opportunity, which means they are more likely to be found sweating at the club than at church on Sunday evening.

Some might argue church is not for sale, and that it should not cost a person anything to join.  That is a beautiful faith worthy thought, but such thinking is archaic and out of touch.  For many Americans, “free” does not carry the same quality, value, and prestige as the same or similar item with a monetary cost; they are literally “turned off” to free as an inferior product or experience.  Therefore, if preachers and their congregations are really serious about increasing attendance in church, they might consider charging a fee based on level of faith.  Such a fee speaks to a level of prestige in the community that many churches have unfortunately lost.

Fitness center proprietors know how to bring people in the door, and churches need to take notice and learn from them.  For example, the movement issue in churches could be easily addressed by intermixing treadmills with the pews and setting up workout stations with free weights at the rear of the church sanctuary.  This would attract the fitness enthusiasts who can’t tear away from the gym long enough to attend church, the time strapped individuals who can’t seem to find time to work out, and the individuals who can’t sit still with nothing to do.  Some might say clacking weights and the hum of treadmills would create a distraction for the more traditional church members, but if a church congregation can get accustomed to rock and roll bands blasting Amazing Grace to the tune of the House of the Rising Sun and strobe lights bouncing off the ceiling, there would probably be very few people to object to banging weights and the drone of treadmills.

Nevertheless, the biggest lesson churches can learn from exercise centers is the importance of membership drives anchored to tangible membership benefits and incentives.  In today’s society, people expect to receive a T-shirt, a coffee mug, a drawing for a free vacation, etc. for any commitment they make, so to get people in the door, giveaways are a must!  People will sell their souls for a free baseball cap or T-shirt.  Unlike churches, exercise clubs understand this; they understand to pull people into your building you must sell them on the value of the experience by charging a fee.  It doesn’t have to be much, but to make membership attractive and give it clout, there has to be a fee!  As long as tithing is optional in church, attendance will not carry the same clout as attendance at the local exercise club that charges ten to twenty bucks a month for membership.  People, especially in the South, are wary of anything that is free, so to boost attendance, churches must require people to tithe and not simply give when they grow ashamed they haven’t put anything in the collection plate in the past six months!

Requiring people to tithe, especially if there is a tiered payment program for tithing, could reap huge benefits for people hungry churches.  Like membership programs in exercise gyms where the more you pay the greater the benefits, church membership benefits could be layered to reflect the more you tithe the closer you are to God, the more you tithe the greater your heavenly benefits, and the more you tithe the holier you can proclaim yourself in the community.   Offer people a bumper sticker reflecting their level of commitment to the church, and they will beat the doors down to sign up!  The American mindset is you get what you pay for, and free gets very little, so charging for church membership makes sense.  Increasing attendance in church is not rocket science; give people what they want and promote it as a value!  If moving to a tiered membership format and removing a few pews to make room for treadmills will fill the church and level the recruiting playing field, why not go for it?

The one negative is that a change might need to take place in church attire, and that might cause a stir with older folks.  However, over the past several years, fewer and fewer people are dressed in their Sunday best for church, so sweats and sports bras would likely barely be noticed in most churches.  A positive with workout attire is that such clothing could actually be utilized to help promote attendance.  “Prayers Answered Here” splashed across the fronts of hot pink sports bras, “Heaven Made” stitched across ample female bottoms, or “Pumping for Blessings” stretched across the swollen pecks of pumped up choir boys could be attendance inducing “eye candy” for both men and women of all ages.

Of course, exercise in church is really nothing new.  As far back as 1957 when Charlie Shedd authored Pray Your Weight Away the church has been slowly edging its way into the fitness arena.  Other books, Rita Hancock’s The Eden Diet and Gary Thomas’s Every Body Matters: Strengthening Your Body to Strengthen Your Soul, have also sought to tap in on the fitness craze.  Programs such as The Daniel Plan, Firm Believer, Bod4God, WholyFit, Body Temple Wellness, and Body Gospel are just a few of the fitness programs aimed at the faith-based community.

Between 65 and 71 percent of Americans or over 225,000,000 people are on Facebook daily and about 187,000,000 of those claim to be Christians.  However, based on USA census numbers only about 40% of those Christians actually attend church on Sunday, so, that means 112,000,000 Facebook Christians are not in church on any given Sunday.  It is easy to see something needs to be done to entice Christians back to the church house, and the nation’s infatuation with exercise is probably the best ticket.  Since 1957, the Christian community has understood this and has created books, magazines, and faith based fitness programs to address this niche.  Their only mistake is they have conducted their fitness ministry as a fringe program.  Fitness in America is no longer on the fringe; fitness is a mainstream force that churches would do well to pay attention to.  Therefore, it stands to reason that if churches tap into the world of fitness and make it a mainstream part of what they do Sunday and Wednesday, the odds are good they will boost both interest and attendance.

To survive, churches have always embraced those things in society that bring people in the door.  Churches have embraced scare tactics, revolution, generational music, youth indoctrination, and social media to draw numbers through their doors, so why wouldn’t the next logical step be to embrace fitness as a part of worship.   Visualize churchgoers seated between rolls of treadmills and exercise bikes while gospel rock explodes from a band of teenage and greying rockers wearing ragged jeans and flip-flops on the stage behind the pulpit.  Imagine the pastor dancing in the isles and calling for sinners to repent.  Rolling across the giant video screens to the left and right of the stage, imagine scrolling script urging people to join the church fitness club and become a member of Anti-fat Believers, Fluffy Angels, Disciples of Bulge, and Sweating to the Gospel.  Is that much different than what is already happening in many churches?  In today’s world, to boost church attendance, churches need to be willing to do whatever it takes to get people in the door, including sweating to the gospel.  Such a commitment will certainly increase church attendance as long as there are plenty of deodorant dispensers throughout the sanctuary.

JL

©Jack Linton, May 14, 2016

Are Syrian Refugees Our Second Chance?

People across America are scared, and rightfully so. We have always trusted our government to keep us safe from atrocities such as those brazenly embraced by Middle East radicals set on destroying the world as we know it. Unfortunately, due to our government’s limited involvement against the ISIS threat, America’s trust is wavering. American citizens, some of whom have never owned a hunting rifle much less a handgun, are arming themselves in record numbers, not because they are suddenly enamored with guns, but because they are scared for their safety and the safety of their families. They still trust in the ability of the men and women in the armed services to protect them; however, they no longer trust Congress or the President to unleash those men and women to do the job they were trained to do – protect American citizens!

A consequence of this fear is that we, a nation of refugees, are primed to turn our backs on the Syrian refugees fleeing for their lives; people searching for a haven for their families. Some call it “common sense” to shut out the Syrian refugees, and considering the senseless murders of 911 and the recent murders of defenseless innocent people in Paris, it is hard to argue against that point. Even so, in taking such a common sense stand, are we selling out what is morally right? Is such a stand what Americans do when confronted by an evil that goes against everything we value and believe, or is such a stand simply un-American? It is understandable that we must be cautious, and we must take steps to ensure the safety of American citizens, but is it morally right to turn people away who are trying to do the very thing “common sense” Americans are striving to do – protect themselves and their families?

Should the United States allow Syrian refugees to enter the country is a troubling paradox. Americans are a compassionate God fearing people who believe in God’s commandment to love our neighbors and care for our fellow man. However, our government’s inability to effectively handle the ISIS crisis has paralyzed our compassion and hardened our hearts out of fear of becoming their next victims. The terrorists have accomplished their goal of striking fear into the heart of America. As a result, we are poised to close our doors to Syrian refugees as we did in 1939 to Jewish refugees on board the SS St. Louis seeking sanctuary from the Nazi murderers.   In 1939, our fear sent nearly 1,000 men, women, and children back to Europe, where half of them died in the Jewish Holocaust that followed. Seventy-six years later, will our fear once again send the innocent back to death’s door, or will we trust in God, and accept the Syrian refugees as our second chance to do what is right?

JL

©Jack Linton, PhD. November 17, 2015