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No Name Too Special  

When it comes to our kids, no name is apparently too special.  A recent article in the “The Week” confirms parents are no longer content naming their kids from a list of—quote--familiar names.  James, Kathy and Robert are out.   Aiden, Emma, and Gunner are in.  Christopher is more likely to go by “Topher.”   And even familiar names must now be spelled uniquely.

Those who track names as a profession tell us that an emerging trend is to give your child a LAST name for his or her first name.  Hence the rise of names like Wilson and Taylor.  There is also a spike in names that are gender neutral:  Jordan. Addison, Dakota…

In 1912, when the most popular names in America were John and Mary, parents of 80 percent of American babies chose from among the 200 most common names. Today less than half of girls and about 60 percent of boys are accorded a top-200 name.

So what's behind the push for all these new names?  Mostly, the experts tell us, a desire for our children to be unique.  Special.  

I find it interesting that as we move further away from a Christian consensus, we reach further and further for significance—specialness--even in the way we name our kids.

You might argue, “How can you prove that?”  Actually, I can't prove it.  And the truth is, probably a lot of the new names are simply the expression of a fresh breath of naming creativity. 

Yet I am still haunted by the reality that on the one hand, we have a Creative God saying, “In me, you are complete.  In me, you are special.”  On the other hand, we have a culture that says, “We reject God.  We'll find our sense of specialness wherever we can.”  I can't help but wonder if at least part of the craze for new names stems from an ancient hunger: the hunger of wondering if God really knows us individually.  And if He does...does He care?  

Pondering all the new names, I'm Jon—spelled without the “H.” And those are my thoughts.

Afraid of the Holy Spirit  

I’m thinking of someone I love.  Someone on one of the branches of our family tree.  Because this person sort of intimidates me, I am friendly in person, yet don’t go out of my way to fully engage in conversation or in other social settings.  We are polite, genial, and…not as comfortable with each other as I might wish.

I suspect this might be a reliable snapshot—or at least, analogy—of how many of us feel about the Holy Spirit.  We know the Holy Spirit, the third member of the Godhead.  But we’re sort of intimidated by Him.  We’re polite, but definitely not comfortable with the Holy Spirit’s invisible, supernatural qualities.  And so, rarely do we fully embrace or engage the Holy Spirit.  As I said, we’re just not as comfortable with each other as we wish.

Maybe, like me, you grew up in a conservative evangelical church that –wary of excesses in some circles—all but ignored the Holy Spirit.  Don’t get me wrong.  We’re entirely comfortable with the Holy Spirit convicting the world of sin, judgment and the world to come.  We’d just rather He not do what He does with too much supernatural flair.    Frankly, anything that hints at the miraculous that’s outside the covers of our Bibles—we figure is fodder for snopes.com.  We don’t trust it. 

But the truth is, the Holy Spirit will not be boxed in by our beliefs of narrowness.  And to largely dismiss the supernatural workings of the third member of the Trinity is to rob ourselves of a proper sense of the otherness of God. 

Our discomfort notwithstanding, the Holy Spirit sometimes does do miraculous things.  It’s time we embraced the Holy Spirit—and His supernatural workings.  Not for the sake of “the show” or the wonders themselves…but for the sake of acknowledging the otherness of God.

Why This Election Matters Only Some  

The election is coming!  The election is coming!  To hear some folks, the outcome of the upcoming election will determine whether the human race...and planet earth itself...will survive.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm concerned about the election, too.  I look forward to fulfilling my patriotic responsibility and casting a vote.  I'm researching the candidates, studying the issues.   But my concern about this election is much bigger than which candidate wins the White House, or which party controls congress.

My concern is that too many Christians view this election just like non-Christians: we put way too much hope in it.

To the extent that a government passes just laws and upholds biblical principles, its representatives are to be highly esteemed.   So it DOES matter who's in office.  But not in an ultimate sense.

Because there is no “correct” party.  No party that is not filled with crooked and corrupt characters who look good, smell good, sell good....but who are morally and spiritually bankrupt...even if they do have noble intentions.   Isaiah 64:6  “But we are all like an unclean rag.”

I've listened as our current President promised us hope and change...and seen America slide further down our moral mud slide.

And I've also observed what happens when Republicans control the White House and Congress: We continue down our moral mud slide.

So there IS no salvation for America in either party.  Sin resides in both.

The evidence notwithstanding, too many of us are too quick to put too much hope in government and political parties.  As Joe Stowell reminds us in his preaching, “We are a fallen race in a fallen place.”

America's ticket back to prosperity will not be found on any ballot other than than the votes you and I will cast with our daily lives in favor—or in disobedience against—God's written Word.

As for me, I want to join the short list of folks listed in Hebrews 11 longing for a better country—a heavenly one.

So until then, I intend to be a good citizen.  I'll pray and vote and do my best to image a loving God reaching out to a fallen world.  But I will NOT place my highest hopes on this---or any election.

When Evil is No Longer Evil  

Halloween. Like it or not, the season is here. Christians can disagree over whether it's okay to dress up or go trick or treating.  But I am not interested in that discussion at the moment.  My focus is much more fundamental.  I want to talk about evil itself.  The evil that is increasingly celebrated at Halloween.

The “Spirit” chain of Halloween stores has grown from 63 in 1999 to nearly a thousand this year!  In our neighborhoods, many homes now put more effort into decorating for Halloween than they do Christmas.

The other day I passed a car with a giant applique depicting a young woman with a bloodied axe.  Just what I want my four year old granddaughter to see.  And by the way—how would it somehow be “more acceptable” if she was fourteen?  Does the sight of a bloodied axe at fourteen become less evil?  I think not. 

Consider the exponential increase in Fright fests, gore stores and Haunted Houses.  I read online about a “Club AntiChrist” Halloween party. Among other things, it features a performance by Sexor...snake-hipped belly dancing from Hell.  Okay, so that's an extreme.

But horror isn't just for Halloween anymore.  Not just for movie theatres.  It's gone beyond Twilight and Freddy Kruger.  Now it's highly successful television fare.  Even favorites like the CSI series seem to cherish and embellish every possible moment of blood and gore.

As our culture has been desensitized, it takes more and more to truly shock us.  So the “slightly scary” of a generation ago, has been replaced by the ghoulish and ghastly.  

But to my point: how does any of this help a follower of Jesus follow Jesus?  You say, “Brother Jon, you're preaching to the choir.”  Not at all.  Christians are among the biggest consumers of this stuff!  (1:45)

Many listeners will disagree but I boldly make the statement anyway.  It is wrong for us to watch this stuff, to buy this stuff--in the theatres, on television, or at parties.  It's wrong. 

The culture’s comfort notwithstanding, our growing fascination with gory will NEVER bring glory to Jesus.  Ever.  Let's have nothing to do with the dark side. 

Our Slippery Slope  

When did America begin to self-destruct spiritually?  Do you ever wonder?  I have.   Ask ten people and you'll get ten answers.

Some say it began in the 60s with the Beatles and permissive parenting.  That lead to drugs, free sex and a general contempt for authority. 

Others say, “No, it began before that.  It was the 50s—think Elvis and his wild hip gyrations.” 

Some point to the roaring 20s, with speakeasies and crime sprees and dime novels with questionable characters.

But Harvard historian Dani Shapiro offers a disturbing piece of evidence that dates much earlier yet.  It was the year 1860 when a young American toymaker named Milton Bradley schemed upon an idea for a successful board game. 

Seems he retooled a popular British board game called the “Mansion of Happiness.”  Players in this game sought to free themselves from vices and—at the same time—accumulate virtues.  All of this in order to outrun their fellow players—pilgrims if you will—on the road to heaven.  Hence the use of the term, “mansion.”  If it smacks of influence from Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, there's no accident.  Consider the long shadow Bunyan cast.  Nearly 200 years after Pilgrims Progress was first published, it still influenced the entertainment of British culture.

But back to Milton Bradley.  He took the “Mansion of Happiness” concept and infused it with a focus on self-fulfillment through the acquisition of money. Historian Shapiro said Bradley--quote-- “chucked the piety.  In his version, originally called the Checkered Game of Life, players raced through life's stages seeking maximum material wealth. Quite obviously” says the writer, “our ideas about life's purposes had changed.”

Sad, isn't it?  Our slippery slope has been a long time in coming. The Game of Life.  The world says the objectives have changed. Jesus begs to differ.

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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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