Midlife Musings

A blog by John W. Kennedy

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A Visit to Israel

By John W. Kennedy | March 18, 2010

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I understood little of Bible-times geography until I visited the Holy Land last week, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism. This trip put everything in perspective. I now know the exact location of Caesarea (pictured), Nazareth, the Sea of Galilee, Joppa, the Mount of Olives, Hezekiah’s Tunnel, the Jordan River, the Kidron Valley and a host of other biblical sites.

Amazingly, these locales are compact. Israel is a small country and much of it is desert. With the main mode of transportation being foot power, and the terrain of Israel featuring deep valleys and steep mountains, Jesus never strayed too far from home. The old city of Jerusalem is especially compact, with historical holy sites practically bumping into each other.

Some of my fondest memories of the trip included sailing in a replica first century boat on the Sea of Galilee, praying at the Western Wall in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City in Jerusalem, floating on the Dead Sea, experiencing the solemnity of the Yad Vashem Holocaust remembrance museum in Jerusalem, meditating under olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane, wondering at the simplicity of the Garden Tomb and eating the unbelievable breakfast buffet at the Dan Panorama Hotel in Tel Aviv.

The Promised Land has much to offer in the way of fabulous foods. The fertile land yields a plethora of affordable fresh fruits year-round, including dates, figs, bananas, mangoes and grapes. What a great place to live if you’re trying to eat healthy vegetables, fish and dairy products. And the restaurant entrees often feature lamb, which is an expensive delicacy where I live.

Chef Moshe Basson of the Eucalyptus Restaurant in Jerusalem fed us “biblical Israeli cuisine” that included hyssop, sage, thyme, basil, mallow, wild leeks, red lentils and dates. I saw few chubby Israelis, in large part because they tend to walk a lot, but also because there are few American fast-food restaurants.

Construction is booming in Jerusalem. I saw eight cranes from my hotel room window. Archaeological excavation is ongoing. In another decade there will be many other historical sites to see.

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The Porn Plague

By John W. Kennedy | April 30, 2009

A reader contacted me the other day, upset that she had discovered a DVD outlet in her town rented a plethora of pornographic movies. She complained to the store, the district manager and even the police, but to no avail. Lawmakers have so sanitized “adult” content these days that it’s an exception for a city not to allow it.

The woman said she was contemplating a public picket at the store. The problem is in our culture not many people consider such material harmful anymore. Go to the Cineplex, turn on the television, listen to the radio and soon you will see and hear lewd content. Porn has gone mainstream, and few are protesting.

I replied to the woman that I had a similar culture shock a decade ago when I visited the same video rental chain. While purporting to be a family-minded business, I discovered the store had a separate room with dozens of porn movies. I had written a letter to the national headquarters signaling my intention never to set foot in the store again. I didn’t receive a reply.

Apparently there haven’t been enough people like me to stay away, because the company hasn’t changed its policy. It still is in the business of checking out plenty of erotic material.

The woman who wrote to me is upset because she says porn nearly destroyed her marriage. That’s not an uncommon problem, even in Christian homes. And it’s bound to get worse. For porn not only is available now on DVDs, but also on cable TV, the Internet and even cell phones. How desensitized will today’s teenagers be a decade from now?

For our society to change we need more people such as the woman who contacted me wanting to take action. If Christians remain silent, our society will only deteriorate further.

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Going Back to Prison, Voluntarily

By John W. Kennedy | April 23, 2009

Steve “Gator” Gaede is an unlikely person to be ministering to inmates every Friday at Maricopa County, Ariz., Jail. Born with a severe facial deformity, he spent a haunted childhood undergoing numerous experimental operations and being taunted by other children because of his double cleft lip and palette. Understandably, he grew up angry and mean. He didn’t speak intelligibly until age 15. By that time he already had been sentenced to a juvenile center, his first stop on a road to being a seven-time felon.

gator.jpgThese days, Gaede, 52, goes to prisons and jails in the Phoenix area several times a week — as a staff pastor of Church on the Street, the Dream Center-sponsored ministry of Phoenix First Assembly of God. Gaede graduated from Church on the Street’s boot camp 15 years ago.

On a recent Friday, I saw him interact with inmates at the county jail. About three dozen prisoners filed into a narrow nondescript room designated as the chapel. Those incarcerated must wear black- and white-striped uniforms, pink socks and pink undershirts.

Gaede preached a little and sang a lot while playing guitar in the service. Wearing a black cowboy hat, blue jeans and cowboy boots, Gaede crooned rockabilly gospel songs such as “It’s Finally My Day,” “Don’t Give Up This Time” and “I Shall Not Be Defeated.” Inmates sing along from the “My Life Was a Shambles” songbook Gaede distributed. He composed 35 tunes in the book.

The inmates, mostly in their 20s, respond to Gaede, some even calling out requests for him to sing their favorite song from the collection. Clearly, the ever-smiling Gaede demonstrates that he has real compassion for these men who have messed up somehow. With cornball humor amid serious stories, Gaede effectively conveys how God’s grace transformed him after years of alcohol and drug addiction.

The service is a bright spot for many at the jail. As the men exited the room, another group of shackled inmates waited in the hallway to enter.

To read more about the ministry of Church on the Street, pick up Today’s Pentecostal Evangel at church next Sunday.

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Ministering in the Wake of Tragedy

By John W. Kennedy | April 21, 2009

naomi-mom-debbie.jpgNaomi Knoles is serving a 10-year prison term for murdering her baby. The September 2003 tragedy caught her parents John and Doris off guard. They had sensed that their backslidden daughter was stressed and tired, but they didn’t have a clue that she had slipped into a psychotic state, during which she would smother her eight-month-old daughter, Anna Marie.

John and Doris faced the overwhelming crisis by maintaining their faith. That’s not to say they didn’t have a lot of still-unanswered questions or that they didn’t shed a great many tears.

I had the opportunity to interview Naomi for 2½ hours where she is incarcerated at a women’s prison west of Phoenix. She has rededicated her life to the Lord and is on proper medication. When I visited, she seemed out of place. She is intelligent, articulate, sweet and zealous for the Lord. Naomi isn’t a danger to society; she never abused her child before snapping that one fateful day.

The Knoles have another child, Mark, who is art director at Phoenix First Assembly of God. That this family has emerged from unimaginable heartbreak to continue in ministry is a victory for God and them. When Naomi gets out of prison in another four years — or less — she wants to help other women escape the loneliness and isolation that plagued her.

You can read an in-depth account of Naomi in next Sunday’s issue of Today’s Pentecostal Evangel in our annual Key Bearers edition.

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Making Church in Our Own Image

By John W. Kennedy | April 14, 2009

In my half century of churchgoing I’ve seen plenty of laypeople try to intimidate pastors by insisting they avoid certain preaching topics, complaining about a particular style of worship music and upholding one unbiblical tradition or another just because the church has always done it that way.

I’ve seen an elder quit on the spot when the church board wouldn’t vote for an expansion the way he wanted; a majority of a board that threatened to quit if the pastor didn’t put a stop to charismatic choruses; and even two women who organized a telephone “quit tithing” campaign to like-minded members in an effort to oust the pastor.

What all these people forgot was that they didn’t own the church. Christ does. And while “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8), the expression of how His people relate to Him changes with the times.

On occasion, I have been guilty of trying to push a certain program or ministry style that the church really wasn’t ready for — at least the local congregation which I attended. In the end I’ve found it’s better to stop pestering the pastor, or go somewhere else where my offer of ministry is better appreciated.

I understand the debate over worship. I miss the full orchestra 1980s Hosanna! Integrity arrangements, which today have largely been replaced with guitar-driven worship. But hey, I can live with it. These 20-somethings are passionate about worship, even reintroducing some hymns that had fallen out of favor. I can always put on my CDs at home if I want music from my younger days.

Of course it’s natural to nostalgically pine for that which reminds us of a more familiar time, even if those songs or programs really aren’t particularly relevant anymore. A great treatise on the topic is Gordon MacDonald’s book, Who Stole My Church? What to Do When the Church You Love Tries to Enter the 21st Century.

my-church.jpg“A church is not meant to be a club for the convenience of insiders but a cooperative where people combine together to grow spiritually, to worship the triune God, and to prepare themselves for Christian living and service in the larger world,” MacDonald writes.

It also is wise to remember that Jesus didn’t come for the “righteous” regular attendees but rather the messed up people who really needed help (Matthew 9:13). When we try to remake the church into our own image, sometimes we forget about those Jesus wants us to reach. When all is said and done, church isn’t about making sure my favorite color of carpet is installed in the nursery or whether the guy in charge of the overhead flipped the lyrics quick enough to suit me. It’s about trying to behave enough like Christ so that those who don’t know Him are attracted to Him by what I say and do.

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Valueless reporting

By John W. Kennedy | April 7, 2009

I’ve been perturbed recently by a couple of media reports in which there is no attempt to provide a point of view that immoral behavior is wrong.

The first story involved the murder of 47-year-old ABC News broadcaster George Weber. Coverage in newspapers and on TV repeatedly described Weber as a gentle soul with no enemies. After the arrest of a suspect, details emerged that Weber had advertised on Craigslist for a male to engage in rough sex with him for $60. The one who replied to the ad, a 16-year-old boy, described how Weber gave him vodka and cocaine. Still, no judgment from reporters or those close to Weber, even though sexual activity with a 16-year-old boy is against the law. Weber’s family released a statement calling him “a truly caring person who loved and was loved by all he met.”

The other disturbing item I read was a “My Turn” column in Newsweek written by a Pakistani Muslim. In the column, Shariq Mahbub luridly describes how while a grad student he visited a Karachi cruising spot for gay men. He said he almost lost his life to an armed man claiming to be an undercover cop threatening to blackmail him.

In the aftermath, Mahbub came out of the closet to his parents, who now of course accept his lifestyle. He has settled in New York, where he doesn’t have to be ashamed about his homosexuality. He tells about how he wears a ring inscribed with his initials that he received from his Buddhist “partner.” The bio at the end describes Mahbub as “a spiritual teacher, energy healer and financial consultant” who is writing a book called A Spiritual Path for a New Age.

francis_schaeffer-1.jpgThese types of accounts are what Francis A. Schaeffer warned about in his book A Christian Manifesto nearly three decades ago. Schaeffer told how an outlook that is the complete opposite has gradually replaced the traditional, at least nominal, Christian worldview. The godless way of thinking that now permeates much of the media, public education, government departments and legal court rulings declares there is no right or wrong in matters that used to be considered immoral, such as abortion and homosexuality. With such valueless messages being reiterated day after day, it’s easy to see why biblical doctrines on truth and morality now are considered outmoded by much of society.

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Healing Questions

By John W. Kennedy | March 31, 2009

enloe.jpegI enjoyed Assemblies of God evangelist Tim Enloe’s preaching during Spiritual Emphasis Week at AG Headquarters this month. I particularly found his biblical insights about healing rewarding.

Enloe pointed out that healings in the Old Testament are fairly limited. But in the New Testament, Jesus, more often than not, is involved in fixing physical ailments with the people he encounters. The Old Testament is bereft of people being made well from deafness, blindness and lameness, but Jesus spends a great deal of time curing those with such afflictions.

The evangelist also pointed out that in the majority of cases, the recipients of healing didn’t have much faith they would be made better. Sometimes they had no belief in God whatsoever.

Rather than following the Bible — in which Jesus employed a variety of methods to heal — Enloe said televangelists these days have hijacked the doctrine of healing by proclaiming certain “techniques” must be followed. They try to convince the masses that if a formula doesn’t yield results, it must be because the sick person didn’t have enough faith.

Healing isn’t such an all-or-nothing proposition. Sometimes the godliest people suffer with lingering illnesses; sometimes God touches those who don’t even think he exists.

I remember my minister father relating an account of making a call on a man with a terminal illness in the 1950s in Pennsylvania. The man’s son attended the church where Pop preached and had asked him to visit the atheist father. Pop went to see the hospitalized man who, doctors believed, was hours from death. Pop recited a prayer for healing, not really convinced that the man would recover. The next day, the sick man was out of bed. He went on to live for many years, but as far as Pop knew, never even expressed gratitude to the Lord for the healing.

Such are the mysteries of God. And it shouldn’t shatter our faith that we don’t understand them.

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Papers Need Innovative Approach

By John W. Kennedy | March 24, 2009

With two big-city newspapers — The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and The Rocky Mountain News — already biting the dust this month, it looks like a rough season ahead for urban dailies. Papers in San Francisco, Detroit and Philadelphia also are on the brink of extinction. According to a report Monday, 120 newspapers have shut down in the past 14 months, and many more are likely to follow.

Also Monday, Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper chain, announced a second round of company-wide weeklong furloughs in an effort to stave off further layoffs.

extra.jpgThe dismal economy functions as the nail in the coffin for these newspapers, but the underlying cause is a failure to gauge changing consumer habits. When advertisers and readers began fleeing for the Internet, these media giants had no backup plan for revenue. For some, union workers unwilling to make wage and benefit concessions in order to keep publishing hastened the demise.

Midsize and smaller papers are struggling, but because of lower overhead are able to adjust more quickly. I have to admire recent changes our local newspaper, The Springfield News-Leader, has made in an effort to survive, and I don’t mean just layoffs. On Sundays, the paper shrunk the comics and combined them with the TV listings. On Mondays and Tuesdays, the paper prints two sections instead of the customary four. The opinion pages have been downsized, with practically the entire section given over to local voices rather than paid syndicated columnists.

While it may seem a bit odd to find the lifestyle pages tucked behind the sports, the paper is doing what it takes to remain viable. Some major papers, including USA Today and The Wall Street Journal, now carry advertisements on the front page.

Americans are experiencing a tremendous upheaval in the way information is delivered. Media outlets that are too slow to make what once seemed like radical adjustments won’t be around much longer.

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Better Technology?

By John W. Kennedy | March 17, 2009

I’m not the world’s most mechanical person. OK, I’m not mechanical at all. I can change a light bulb, and that’s about it.

But sometimes I wonder how the technology experts stay employed, what with all the faulty modern gadgets designed to make life more convenient that don’t seem to work right.

A prime example is the automatic icemaker in my side-by-side refrigerator. We bought a new name-brand rather expensive refrigerator. But a month after the purchase, the icemaker stopped working. We waited a couple of weeks and it suddenly started working again. But six months later, after the warranty expired, it quit working for good. The computer board in the unit had worn out. So we bought a new one for $60. Another six months down the road, it stopped working again. Now I get my frozen water the old-fashioned way — starting with plastic trays filled at the kitchen sink.

car-window.jpgIt’s not an isolated incident. In 2005, we bought a low-mileage, excellent condition five-year-old full-sized car. A month later the driver’s electric window wouldn’t go up. The car dealer mechanic explained that the motor had gone kaput. No warranty. That will be $500 please. Other repair shops quoted me a similar figure. A month after that, the same thing happened on the passenger side. Because it’s not really pleasant to drive around with rain or snow coming in the window, I paid to have it fixed. But the dealership gave me a break: only $400 this time. About a year later, the left rear window had the same malady. I’m not paying for any more window repairs. We stick ugly duct tape on the outside and inside of the window to keep it from falling down.

Oh, and my name-brand laptop computer — purchased two years ago —recently conked out. What’s up with that?

Another thing that bothers me (am I starting to sound like Andy Rooney?) is automatic car washes that miss the grime on the exact same parts of the lower part of my car, every time. If I shell out $8 for a “deluxe” wash, shouldn’t the automobile be sort of clean? For the past couple of years I’ve gone to a self-serve wash for half the price. I can do a better job than the machine.

In all these cases, perhaps God is trying to teach me a lesson or two about living without modern conveniences I thought so indispensable.

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Brave New Cyber World

By John W. Kennedy | March 10, 2009

As the economy continues on a downward spiral, the temptations to misuse the Internet will increase. Don’t get me wrong. The Web is a great place for the suddenly unemployed to network in an effort to find work.

But the Internet also is fraught with advice on how to pad a résumé, sneaky ways to cheat on your taxes and supposedly surefire schemes to triple the amount of money you invest. These days, online dangers go beyond the lure of pornography or the trap of sexual predators.

virtual-integrity.jpgIn his new book, Virtual Integrity: Faithfully Navigating the Brave New Web, computer security expert Daniel J. Lohrmann points out how technology has altered the way we relate.

“PCs, mobile computing, cell phones, BlackBerries and the millions of things we can do on the Internet have forever changed the scope and sophistication of the battles that we face in the twenty-first century,” Lohrmann writes. “New seductions are cleverly packaged as ‘innovative opportunities’ that are really appeals to engage in unproductive, harmful and even immoral activities online.”

As wages remain stagnant and unemployment rises, there will be even more attempts to cut corners when it comes to telling the truth about ourselves online. Many security and privacy problems really are moral and ethical issues at their root, according to Lohrmann, a Christian, husband and father of four.

Lohrmann suggests that lying, cheating and stealing are encouraged in a variety of cyber venues. Surfers conveniently rename immoral activities. “Plagiarism becomes copying text, stealing becomes downloading files,” he writes.

Citing statistics from psychologist Dr. Michael Conner, Virtual Integrity declares that half of those online lie about their age, weight, job, marital status or gender. Unsurprisingly, the Internet is a contributing factor in almost 50 percent of family problems.

lohrmann-daniel.jpgLohrmann, who is Michigan’s chief information security officer, has multiple horror stories of how computer users went wrong. He offers a sensible solution: follow Psalm 101:3, which states, “I will set before my eyes no vile thing.”

“Stated a few other ways,” Lohrmann writes, “I won’t cheapen myself or waste my time accessing material that I know is evil and can cause problems that would violate my integrity. I won’t intentionally surf the Internet to access content that I know is wrong.”

While we can do much anonymously online, let’s remember: God is always watching.

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