"The World is headin' for hell"

Literary icon Norman Mailer died last week, setting off a slew of retrospectives by literary pundits and cultural observers. Ironically, although he rejected organized religion (to his credit, he also rejected atheism), Mailer's last book was On God: An Uncommon Conversation. Here he pretty much sets up his own religious system and, in effect, reinvents God into his own image.

Supposedly one of Mailer's last quotes was something to the effect that "evil has triumphed over good." That's not exactly right, but it's close. Essentially he was reflecting the mood that seems to be overtaking a growing number of mainstream artists. In this day and age when atheism is enjoying new popularity, people are more skeptical about humanity's chances to make a bad world better.

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Tags | Global

Money Money Money

The hits just keep on coming, folks. Frieda posted a news story from the Tulsa World reporting that Richard Roberts, son of sawdust trail evangelist Oral Roberts and the president of the university founded by and named for his father, has been given a vote of "no confidence" by the university's faculty. No reason was given, except to say the vote was not connected in any way to a series of lawsuits that have been filed against ORU by former faculty members. No, this seems more connected to some alleged misuse of university funds by Richard Roberts and his wife. Evidently the allegations had enough substance to warrant Mr. Roberts taking a leave of absence from his position.

Is the faculty at ORU unhappy with the way Mr. Roberts has been using university funds? Hard to say, but the allegations probably didn't help. It seems that in this new era of economic instability, people are getting increasingly intolerant of leaders who use organizational funds to enhance their lifestyle. Whether it's a CEO making $50 million a year, or a baseball player asking for a contract worth $300, or a ministry leader driving luxury cars on the ministry's dime, people are tired of other people living excessively.

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Will People Watch the Web?

The writers' strike could end up being a lot more damaging to the writers than the television studios. The problem is that the "studios" aren't one-trick ponies any more. In the old days (such as 1988 when the last writers' strike occurred) television studios made TV shows and that was about it. Now they are diversified into all kinds of entertainment. For example, Fox owns MySpace, various magazines and newspapers (think Wall Street Journal), as well as Fox TV. NBC is part of General Electric. CBS is a subsidiary of Viacom, which owns all kinds of media, including DreamWorks and and several video game products.

Two veteran TV producers and writers, Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, have already abandoned television and are focusing their creative efforts on the Internet. Their first series, called "quarterlife," is currently "airing" on MySpace and its own website, quarterlife.com. For web content, It's big budget (exact numbers aren't available), so the production values are up there. The question is whether people are going to watch the series with any regularity. If statistics are any indication, people will watch, especially younger adults. According to Advertising Age magazine, only 23% of younger adults "strongly agree" that they prefer to watch TV over online video. Nearly 30% of people 12-64 (which is pretty much everyone with a pulse and a computer) say that their computer is seriously cutting in to their TV time.

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Oh Baby!

I can't help it. I'm a new grandfather, and I just have to show you a picture of Jackson, my new grandson. He's less than 24 hours old in this photo, but already I can see signs of great intelligence and superior athletic ability. I know it's a little risky to be talking about grandchildren in the context of a site like this. For one thing, who wants to hear somebody brag about their grandkids. It can get nauseating. For another, telling you that I have grandkids (Jackson is actually my third) makes it virtually impossible for me to seem like a hip guy. So, I admit it. I'm old enough for grandchildren. But then again, so is my wife, and in my opinion, she's still got it going on. So at the risk of being unhip, I am letting you know. Being a grandpa is pretty nice.

Is This What It's All About?

Perhaps you've read about the investigation being conducted by the Senate Finance Committee into the alleged financial irregularities of some high-profile Christian ministries. If not, check out the two articles posted by some Conversant users (see User Submitted News). Hopefully you won't get as sick to your stomach as I am. Or perhaps you are so jaded that this kind of stuff doesn't surprise you.

Anyone who's followed the so-called prosperity gospel teachers knows that these ministry leaders have taken full advantage of two gigantic "loopholes" that allow them to collect and keep vast amounts of money. The first loophole is found in Scripture, and it's a doozy. The typical gospel huckster takes a few verses completely out of context and basically twists them to conclude that God wants every one of His followers to be filthy, stinking rich. But not until they give money to the particular ministry that's sharing this valuable information with them. So millions of dollars roll in, which leads us to the second loophole.

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Christianity Has an Image Problem

I just picked up a copy of "unChristian," a somewhat startling book by Dave Kinnaman. Dave is the president of The Barna Group, a research organization that specializes in providing resources "that facilitate spiritual transformation in people's lives." The information in his new book came out of a research project that revealed "the increasingly negative reputation of Christians, especially among young Americans." The results aren't good. According to Kinnaman, most people looking at Christianity from the outside think it no longer represents "what Jesus had in mind." For many people, the Christian faith "looks weary and threadbare."

While I don't think Christians should make it a goal to win popularity contests, we should be concerned if people perceive that we no longer represent the substance of our name. It's one thing for people to criticize Christianity for being out of touch with culture. That's not always a bad things. But when they conclude that we no longer follow Christ--whether that's true or not--that's a really bad thing.

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Where Has All the Water Gone?

Now that the fires in California are all but extinguished, there's a new weather topic to talk about: drought. We've actually been living with drought in the West for a couple of years now, but our situation is manageable when compared with the South. In Georgia, the lack of rain is so severe that the state is expected to run out of water by January. I didn't know a state could run out of water.

Of course, if I knew my history better, I would know that running out of water is not only possible, but actually happened in the fabled Dust Bowl in the 1930s. A prolonged drought in the Southern Plains forced 2.5 million people to abandon their homes and livelihood and seek greener pastures in the West. It was the largest migration in U.S. history and one of the reasons my home town of Fresno in the Central Valley of California has so many families with roots in places like Oklahoma and Texas (it also explains their Southwestern accents).

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Tags | Global

Crazy sports fans

I watched a Green Bay Packers football game last night with a bunch of very enthusiastic Packers fans. These faithful followers were from several different families, all with roots in Green Bay. Even though we were in a home, thousands of miles from the "frozen tundra" of Lambeau Field, every one of these faithful fans was wearing Packers jerseys (even the little kids), and they were yelling and screaming as if they were right there in the stands. It was a sea of green and gold, only with lots of noise.

I loved it, because there's nothing like getting into the spirit of a great football game, especially when the fans are good friends. And in the case of the Packers, there's always lots of drama. As I've come to learn, Packers fans are die hards. Through thick and thin. They've had their share of thick, but thin has also been part of the history. I've known these families for a while, so over the years I've noticed that even though they love their Packers with a passion, they get frustrated with their team from time to time. When a bad play is called, or someone on the team does something dumb and causes a penalty, they moan and yell at the players and/or coaches. They'll even hedge their bets sometimes, especially if the game isn't going their way. ("Well, this just isn't their year" is a good hedge.)

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Back into Praise Music

When it comes to praise music, I'm old school. I grew up on Maranatha! praise music (you can tell I know my stuff because I put an exclamation mark after Maranatha!--there, I did it again), but then lost interest during the whole Integrity/HillSong era, which featured some decent songs, but got a little soft for me. I like my praise music with a little more umph. Besides, my wife and I joined a Presbyterian church, and the only praise music they knew was the old stuff, mainly Maranatha! and Integrity songs.

That's the way it was until we got a new music director in our church, and he began introducing some of the newer praise music, in particular the songs of Chris Tomlin. I started perking up my ears on such songs as "Indescribable" and "How Great Is Our God." Then I found out that Tomlin was part of the Passion Conferences, and that impressed me. So I decided to purchase both of his worship CDs on iTunes, and that's all I've been listening to lately. The music is great, and the lyrics are very God-centered.

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Tags | Music

When Tragedy Strikes Home

Just as the fires in California were being extinguished, a horrible tragedy took place in North Carolina. Seven college students were killed when a fire raced through the beach house they were staying in over the weekend. The loss of life is about equal to the number of people killed in California as a direct result of the fires that burned more than half a million acres, but the North Carolina devastation is much more personal. There are faces to this freak accident. These were young friends in the prime of their lives.

As I read about the North Carolina fire, I thought about the families and the unspeakable grief they must be experiencing. Then I glanced at some of the comments posted next to the article, a feature in today's social media world. Most were warmly supportive, offering prayers and condolences. But there was one that stood out, and I couldn't help but read it. I wish I had not.

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Tags | Belief
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Stan's entire life has been wrapped in content: selling, writing and publishing books and resources that help ordinary people capture a glimpse of extraordinary things.