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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Where's the Beef?

I'm sure that it would have been a fantastic meal. It's just too bad they didn't want us to be there.

While driving back from Indiana on Saturday, Stephanie and I decided to be spontaneous. Ordinarily when we make that particular drive, we don't try to have too much fun; after all, we've made the trek so many times, once we get on the road, we just want it to be over. This time, though, it was different. We had left a little earlier and on a whim, decided to stop by Indiana's 'best steakhouse': the Beef House.

I've been to the Beef House a couple times before, for wedding type meals, but I'd never just sat down with a menu and ordered a meal there. And that's too bad - as a committed red meat eater, anything named simply, 'the Beef House' should be right up my alley. So, we decided that this time we'd take the plunge and try it out. We entered the open front doors and something strange happened: nothing. We noticed people eating in the banquet room, and we could see clearly that people were cooking in the kitchen, but there was no hostess or anyone else to show us where to go. We waited a few minutes until Stephanie finally tracked down an employee. At that point, we were flippantly told that they don't open for another '15 minutes or so,' and with that, the employee turned and walked away.

Now, I'm not telling you this to besmirch the good name of the Beef House. Perhaps we just got there too soon, though one would think a restaurant would be open at noon on a Saturday (note: their website says they open at 1:00 PM on Saturdays. This fact, however, simply makes the unlocked doors and '15 minute' comment all the more puzzling). And maybe there's some strange Beef House policy that we don't know about that says patrons can't be seated fifteen minutes before they're served food. No matter what, though, we were given the distinct impression that despite our desire to enjoy a delicious meal at the restaurant voted 'best' in Indiana, we weren't wanted. So, we left, and chances are solid we won't try that again.

All of this made me wonder how often Christians act just like the Beef House. The truth is this: the Beef House very well may be the greatest place to eat in the world, but that fact is irrelevant if they don't want customers to eat there. And as Christians, we believe that we have the single most important piece of information the world has ever known. But what good does that do if we're not willing to share it in a way that people can understand?

In one of the first Christian churches, there was a major problem: the people were selfishly believing their congregation existed as their own personal playground, regardless of how others saw them. To these people, the apostle Paul wrote that they should take into consideration not only the wishes and needs of other people, but more specifically, think about how they're perceived by those who don't know Christ. In other words, their worship was good, but if it didn't communicate the truth that God wants all people in His kingdom, it did more damage than good.

For you and me, we need to make sure that our lives tell other people, Christian or not, that the gospel is for them as much as it is for us. We need to be willing and able to share our faith in a loving way, available even when it's not convenient. And we need to actively serve whatever congregation we're part of (I hear there's a good one in Ashland, Missouri, by the way) so that we're comfortable inviting non-Christians to a place where they can hear God's truth. The fact is that living a life for Christ is truly a fantastic life, one that should be shared with a community with others.

And it would be too bad if we acted like we didn't want others to be there. 
3:43 pm 

Monday, November 29, 2010

A New Fan for Number 7


What makes this so hard is that I'm absolutely, 100% biased. I've never been able to look at a situation like this objectively, and I'm not sure that I'll ever be able to. I suppose it's a result of my upbringing, as I grew up with three dogs. And Nose Marie, Cocoa Butter and Brindle weren't just 'pets'; they were part of the family. Sure, they had to poop outside and they shed something terrible in the summer, but still - they were Snyders. Maybe that's why the first thing I made sure to do when I graduated college and moved to Missouri for good was to adopt Griffey, the sweetest lab-fox hound mix ever born, and it's definitely why I felt like our family became complete the day Stephanie brought home Chara, a stray puppy whose heart is the only big part of her.

All in all, I can safely say that I love dogs as much or more than anyone else you've met. And that's why the following sentence is really difficult to type:

Michael Vick is no worse a person or sinner than I am.

If you haven't been paying attention to the 2010 NFL season, you may be unaware that Vick has become a new player this year, moving on from the darkness of his dog-fighting past to lead the Philadelphia Eagles to national prominence once again. And predictably, the better Vick has played, the more columnists and sports writers are writing their 'It's Time to Forgive Vick' pieces. So, I understand that this is by no means a unique take on the subject.

But I don't think it's as simple as simply saying  that since Vick has played well (and, more to the point, become a decent citizen in the process) we should forgive him. Instead, I think that Vick's plight is a powerful lesson in how we evaluate ourselves and judge other people. ESPN's Bill Simmons gave several reasons why he was willing to root for Vick a couple months ago, and among the normal reasoning came this fantastic tidbit. While attempting to objectively look at what Vick's crimes, he wrote,

Ever watch what happens when a deer gets shot by a hunter and it doesn't die right away? Ever watch a group of turkeys get slaughtered for Thanksgiving? Ever watch how a mink coat gets made? Ever research what happens to greyhounds once they stop racing? Hell, I plowed through a veal chop at dinner a few weeks ago. It was delicious. Does that mean I condone the creepy veal industry? Implicitly, yeah, I guess it does... More of us are hypocrites about this stuff than we realize.

Whether you agree with every one of Simmons' examples, his point is fantastic: nearly all of us do things to mistreat animals, whether we mean to or not. You may not own a dog fighting kennel, but unless you're a perfect shot in the woods or you don't buy meat from major suppliers (or the fast food industry), you and I are by no means blameless.

The point is much larger than just the treatment of animals (which, for the record, has been a 'spiritual' issue ever since God told the first people that they were in charge of taking care of His creation); each one of us is in need of grace. It doesn't matter if you commit 'big' sins or 'little' sins; according to God's standard, there are no 'big' and 'little' sins. As James, Jesus' brother, put it,

Yes, indeed it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law. For the person who keeps all the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God's laws. - James 2:8-11

In other words, when it gets right down to it, we ALL have done something to rebel against God's will for our lives, and for that reason, it's a darn good thing the gospel - that through Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, every person can be forgiven and saved - exists. But for you and me, it also means that when we look into the eyes of the 'worst' people we know, we're looking into the eyes of people who are just like you and me: sinners in need of grace who are loved by God. Objectively speaking, even if someone has done something that offends every one of your moral sensibilities, that person is absolutely as important to God as you are.

And it's with that thought in mind that I have an announcement: in order to try to see people as God does, I'm going to root for Michael Vick and the Eagles this season. Unless they're playing Drew Brees and the Saints, the Eagles are my team. It's not much, but hopefully my active rooting for a person whose past behavior I so despise will teach me to love and forgive everyone else in my life. I know I'm biased, and it's time for a change. I'm not rooting for Michael Vick, the dog killer; I'm rooting for Michael Vick, the person just like me that God loves despite his sins.

After all, when it comes right down to it, Michael Vick and I have an awful lot in common. And for that, I am thankful.   

11:18 am 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Injustice of Grace


I hate College Football.

Okay, so maybe 'hate' is a strong word. And to be perfectly honest, it's not the game itself that has earned my disdain over the years. I just really dislike sports whose results are decided by people who aren't actively involved in them. That's why I can never take the Olympics seriously - every couple years, millions across the world watch world class athletes in figure skating or gymnastics pour their hearts and souls into competition, only to have their fates decided by a senior citizen wearing a cheap suit filling out a scorecard. It's a farce.

And 'farce' is a good word for what's gone on in college football ever since the Bowl Championship Series began more than a decade ago. In case you're not familiar with the BCS, the series is a group of postseason games that, theoretically, the best teams in the nation get to play in, with one of them determining the National Champion of College Football. There's only one problem with the system: it's determined by someone who isn't playing the game! The entrants are decided by a ranking system that includes human voters (who, as cited here, are somewhere between 'incompetent' and 'insane') and several different computer formulas that truly, no one understands. Out of these compiled lists come rankings that tell us, loyal sport watchers, who does and does not deserve to play for the championship.

Of course, they COULD just do what every other collegiate sport, including football in other divisions do, and that's have a playoff. But as documented here, that wouldn't line the pockets of the powers that be. In other words, for the sake of the bank accounts of a handful of greedy men, all of sports watching America is robbed of a legitimate championship year after year. It's unfair, unjust, and corrupt.

And I guess in that way, it's a lot like life...

... and Christianity.

One of the biggest myths that people believe about God and Jesus is that they are somehow fair in their dealings with mankind. That couldn't be further from the truth! As all of recorded human history has shown us, human beings are evil. We start wars and oppress people groups; we care nothing for the well being of others as long as we're selfishly taken care of; we fail to live up to standards - any and all standards - time and time again. The truth is that if life were fair, God would see people for what we are: miserable, wretched creatures.

But that's not the way Jesus lived, and it's not the way God sees us. Instead, the God of the bible is a loving, gracious God, full of kindness and mercy. And his greatest act of kindness is accepting people like you and me, just as we are. As the Apostle Paul described it in his letter to the church at Ephesus in the first century,

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. - Ephesians 2:8-10

Eternal life is God's most amazing gift, and it's in no way, shape, or form fair. It is actually an injustice of the highest order. It's not fair that I should live forever in the presence of a loving God after all the rotten things I've done, but that's exactly what God wants - He wants life to be unfair. And for that, I will be eternally grateful.

So the next time you're griping about the BCS unfairly robbing Boise State and TCU of a chance to play for the National Championship (not to mention their robbing of you and me of an amazing playoff that could really determine which is the best team in the country), remember: life isn't fair.

And sometimes, that's a very, very good thing.
12:14 pm 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Being a Crankopotamus

Despite my inherent and previously discussed aversion to coffee, the past few weeks, I've found myself trying to like it. It seems like the thing to do, now that my wife is drinking it and now that I've sworn off Red Bull (long story). And while I've never liked coffee, I've always liked caffeine, and coffee is a much healthier (and stronger) source of my drug of choice. So all in all, I've been on a mission to acclimate my body to coffee.

That led me to Starbucks this morning....

... where, I regretfully inform you, in the words of my sister when referring to her children when they cry, I acted like a crankopotamus.

Here's what happened: I stepped up to the counter and ordered my normal Cafe Mocha (note: adding milk and chocolate to ANYTHING makes it better. Seriously.) when I was informed that the shop was out of the medium sized lids. I told the girl behind the counter that she could just make my order a large. At that point, she told me that they were also out of the large sized lids. Irritated, I asked how that could be, and I learned that Starbucks lids are only carried at Sam's Club, which wouldn't be open for another forty five minutes.

To this, I made some quasi-sarcastic comment about how 'stupid Starbucks needs different lids' and angrily handed my debit card to the now completely frustrated Starbucks employee. I had meant it as a criticism of the company itself, but obviously, by the look on the girl's face, she took me for being just another in a long line of angry customers this morning. And the truth is, I don't blame her - I was a jerk and didn't take her feelings into consideration. I quickly realized what a turd I was being and tried to vigorously thank her for my debit card receipt, but the damage was already done (and besides, how enthusiastic can you really be about a debit card receipt?); I had made her already bad day worse.

And as much as I'd like to take back my cranky, thoughtless comments, I can't. That's the thing about our words - once they leave our lips, they're out there, and there's nothing we can do about it. That's why it's so important that we watch what we say so closely, and why one of the earliest preachers in the church wrote,

Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect, and could also control ourselves in every other way. - James 3:2

The truth is that each one of us says a million things every day. And we have an opportunity to either bless people or tear people down with the words that we say. This morning at Starbucks, because of my thoughtlessness and crankiness, I chose the latter, and all the wishing in the world can't change that decision. All I can do is trust in a gracious God who gives me another chance to use what I say to help, instead of hinder, the other people I encounter.

You have the same opportunity and choice, today and every day. And while we'll never be perfect, we can certainly make the most of the opportunities God gives us. So please, don't be like me.

Don't be a crankopotamus.

10:51 am 

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