Tuesday, June 29, 2010


It is a study in contrasts that I'm sure kept civil, structural, and architectural engineering students busy this last semester- the two major earthquakes that struck Haiti and Chile earlier this year. It's not hard to remember both of these tragic events, the utter devastation in Haiti and the tsunamis in Chile. Millions were donated for relief, headlines were made by those who gave up everything to serve. Add the fact that both of these occurred a month apart and many believed that this was it, that Christ's return was imminent.

But look past the emotional response. Look past the headlines that caught all of our attention. Look at the details. The Haiti earthquake was a magnitude 7 (for comparison, the famous Northridge earthquake was only 6.7) and the earthquake off the coast of Chile was 8.8. While those numbers look close, because of the way the scale is set the Chilean earthquake was nearly 500 times as powerful as Haiti's. There were an estimated 230,000 casualties from the Haitian earthquake compared to only 521 in Chile and elsewhere along the South American Pacific coast.
Yes, you read that right, roughly 200,000 more casualties for an earthquake almost 500 times less powerful. Let that sink in and you're bound to ask, "why?" Location is part of it- the Chilean quake was off the coast versus near Haiti's capital. But even with the resulting tsunamis, the death count would have been expected to be higher. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami claimed nearly the same number of lives as the earthquake in Haiti. (Though even there, location- how far off the coast- played an important role) But location doesn't tell the whole story.

Early reporting of the earthquake in Chile noted that because of frequent seismic activity, Chileans knew how to respond to the earthquake and much of the infrastructure was modernized to be earthquake-proofed. But earthquakes in Haiti are not rare, so the personal response should have been similar. The key difference then was infrastructure. Sadly it's no secret that Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. And that the earthquake epicenter was near a densely populated area, it becomes obvious why there was such a difference in casualties. When it comes right to it, buildings in Chile were simply built stronger.

"Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say? I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete." (Luke 6:46-49)

The Three Little Pigs teaches us that what we build with determines whether we can stand up to the big bad wolf. But Christ teaches us that it is more important what we build on. When thinking about strength, I could not help but reflect on Jesus. My strength is worthless if I'm not relying on His. He is my rock and my foundation. I'm comforted to know that so long as I build on Him as a foundation, I may be shaken but I will not fall. An infrastructure built on Christ is earthquake-proof.

This post is part of Bridget Chumbley's Blog Carnival. This week's topic is "strength". Head on over there to read other insightful posts from a diverse array of bloggers.

Monday, June 28, 2010

There's an App for that!

The last couple of weeks have asked the Christian blogger community about motivation and inspiration and about their reading habits. Call it market research if you will, but Duane Scott picked up on where this is going in last week's comments. Not to rush ahead, there's still a question I want to ask.

When you are away from the desktop and aren't immersed in the blogosphere, what do you use to take your ministry mobile?

I received an iPhone for my birthday/Christmas. I sat on the fence forever about getting one. I don't have coverage at work and AT&T coverage is spotty locally also. I don't have any playlist built up on iTunes so the advantage of a phone + iPod is lost on me. I'm also not really a gamer, so the thousands of game apps weren't a motivator for buying either. But I was still drawn to this gadget if for no other reason than I that I was consumed with the hype.

My wife understood that I would never get one for myself; I would always argue my way out of it. So I'm grateful she went ahead and got me one anyway. Right off the bat, I committed myself to not become an iZombie (though she frequently has to remind me to "engage" in casual conversation around the house), that this wasn't just a portable gaming device, and that I would use it primarily for ministry. Now I have to admit that my iMinistry (this is fun, you can put i in front of just about anything! iParanthetical) frequently takes a backseat to checking sport scores, especially during baseball season, but I think I'm still holding firm to this conviction.

Not only does the seemingly limitless possibilities of the iPhone capture my imagination, but I'm also intrigued by how ministries are using this new interactive tool. Church apps are springing up left and right. You can fill your memory with countless books and Bible studies . You can do fancy things with your contact list, emphasising members of your church, your small group or your prayer circle. You can even track your prayer list! So I frequently find myself browsing the App Store to see what is the latest ministry tool that I have to have.

An article in this spring's iPhone Life featured Kevin Purcell, a minister and contributor to Christian Computing Magazine. Titled "A Day in the Life of an iPastor", the article listed his favorite apps for ministry. In addition to the obvious Bible apps and GPS/maps, there are other ministry-specific apps he describes like iDevotional and GNT and BHS for BibleReader. (sorry, can't see a way to link to the iTunes store for these) To add to those, and to help Peter Pollock with his new iPhone 4G find an app other than Words With Friends, here are some of my favorites:

  • Holy Bible by LifeChurch.tv. This app not only has several translations of the Bible (and the only free NIV I've found), but you can also highlight any passage and see what other people have written about it. Often during church, I'll be checking out other people's devotionals/studies/commentaries for the passage being discussed from the pulpit. It's like getting two sermons in one.
  • Read It Later by Idea Shower. This app allows me to save webpages (ie blogs) to view when I don't have a connection. This is especially useful for me when I fly and also for at work where I don't have a connection. This is how I keep up on the many blogs I follow. One problem, however: since their last update, I cannot read Wordpress blogs! I only get an index of every post that shows on that blog's front page that I can access via links. But since I don't have a connection, that doesn't do me any good. Which leads me to...
  • An RSS Feed. This doesn't fit on this list, but I need one! Ideally with the same features as Read It Later so I can read without a connection.
  • Urban Ministry (now called Sermons on Christian Social Justice) by TechMission. This has an archive of sermons in audio, video, and podcast formats from a diverse range of ministers. This isn't too handy since downloading sermons requires WiFi access and I am often without any access at all. But I still like the format and the selection of topics.
  • Finally, TweetDeck by TweetDeck is what I use to access and manage my Twitter account. I'm not often at the computer, so having this on my iPhone allows me to keep in touch with everyone while on the run.

So, what apps do you have for your mobile ministry (doesn't have to be limited to iPhones, any mobile app applies)? What other apps do you recommend (besides Words With Friends)?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Weekend Reading, 27 June

A day late, but I needed to recover from my trip. I spent enough hours on a plane this week to read plenty. If I didn't comment on these, it was only because I couldn't access the internet at 30,000 ft. Here are some highlights:

Friday, June 25, 2010

Flashback Friday: Sanctuary

***Originally posted in September 2007. Updated because of the recent immigration law passed in Arizona which will likely be challenged by the Administration.***

Do you remember Elvira Arellano? She was an illegal immigrant who made headlines in fall of 2007 for claiming sanctuary in a Chicago church. This headline led me to study my Bible about the role of sanctuary cities and a word study on refuge. Then time flied and I never finished that study. At the time, the debate over illegal immigration died down, although as current (2010) headlines show the debate never went away. But that post then (2007) wasn't going to be about her, but about what role should our churches play in this debate?

Also in the fall of 2007, the city of Simi Valley sent a bill of $40,000.00 to a local church for the police required to keep order during a protest outside their doors. The protest wasn't organized by them, wasn't planned by them, and really wasn't even participated in by them. But the rationale was that since their actions, by allowing an illegal immigrant to seek refuge in their church, they incited the protest and that they should be the ones held responsible. Yeah, that made perfect sense.

If this would have held up, it would have set a dangerous precedent for the church. Would a church be held financially responsible if there's a protest on their stance against homosexuality? Or what if a synagogue is vandalized with anti-Semitic tagging, would you hold them responsible? At the time, most agreed that this was an infringement on that church's First Amendment right and a ploy to passive-aggressively stake their ground on the illegal immigration debate.

But that wasn't really the point of this either. Is this something we, the church, Christ's ambassadors, should be getting involved in? There's no legal standard for a church being a sanctuary for fugitives. Rather it's an unwritten rule, kind of like fighting on Holy Ground in Highlander. But what's the history behind it? Obviously our country began as a refuge for many seeking religious freedom. The motivation behind the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment was to keep the government from dictating a state religion so any faith could be practiced freely. Churches were central as sanctuaries pre-abolition just as they were involved during the Civil Rights Movement. So there's historical precedent. But is there Biblical precedent?

When settling in Israel, the refugees from Egypt were given instructions by God to set aside "sanctuary cities". These were cities where one could flee if accused of murder so that their case could be heard by the elders before they were killed in revenge. The fine print though, was that they had to be innocent. Romans instructs us that we should obey the law of the land because every authority on Earth is there but for the grace of God. So is it right for a church to be a sanctuary for someone breaking the law, even if we don't agree with that law?

Another refugee from authorities wrote many Psalms about God being his only refuge. David was being hunted down and though he lived in caves and some towns let him hide, he knew that his only refuge was God Almighty.

But we are also commanded not to "oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt." (Exodus 23:9) And let's not forget about the Good Samaritan, a foreigner. We also read in James, "Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?" (James 2:15-16)

So what should we do? Where's the line between giving to a "foreigner" in need and giving them employment? Where's the line between being sympathetic to illegal immigrants and offering your church as a sanctuary? First, we need to heed to existing laws. Second, we need to reach out to meet the needs of those who are here illegally. They're here for a reason, after all; Mexico is an absolute mess between its economy, political corruption, and rampant violence between rival drug lords. Finally third, we need to be careful not to skate on the thin ice of the hot political topic du jour. We need to let our lights shine, be the salt of the earth, and represent Christ in all we do. My question for all those "safe churches", are you doing everything you can to help the immigrant you're harboring to get on a path to citizenship? What are the circumstances of him or her facing deportation (immigration officers have their hands too full to want to deport someone 'just because')? Or are you just seeking headlines?

Yes, families are affected, and depending on where you live chances are there's someone in your congregation who is here illegally. But the church as an institution exists to meet the needs of its parishioners. In this case, that means helping them gain citizenship, legally. Sanctuary in the Bible requires innocence, and unfortunately none of us on either side of this debate are wholly innocent.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What message are you sending?

They say you can judge a lot from first impressions. They also say never to judge a book by it's cover. Kind of contradicts, no? A slogan on a shirt, a bumper sticker, or a personalized license plate can tell much about a person. We've all heard the story of the driver with a Jesus fish on his car cutting someone off in traffic while screaming some inaudible words.

Recently, I was behind a car at a stoplight with the license plate that read, "PHL 4:5". I wasn't behind her long enough to judge how accurately the plate described the driver. Although that's a pretty bold declaration to make if you have a shoddy driving record. Another I saw some time ago that I quite liked (at the same intersection, believe it or not) read, "HV F8TH".

This morning while slowly rolling down the 405, I saw another telling personalized plate. This one read, "DRK BEER". I hope this person wasn't drinking and driving, though it was 5 in the morning. My own plate is simply the numbers assigned to me. Personally, I'd rather my action speak to my character rather than advertise to another car passing by at 60 miles per hour.

I've never been much for slogans. I don't own anything with WWJD on it, and there's not a Jesus fish on my car. I try very hard to not allow myself to be defined by things. I want my life to scream that I am a disciple of Jesus.

So what message do we send with our image, our language, or our behavior?

"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." (Galatians 3:23)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Where are you going? Where have you been?

Last week I asked fellow Christian Bloggers why they blog. I was surprised by how relatable the response was. Granted, I don't have the reach to have best-selling authors or famous Pastors frequent this site, but it was still surprising to see that others are blogging simply because they have convictions they want to share.

Marshall Jones Jr brought up another point: "I think blogs by themselves are on the decline. There's so much info out there, that simply putting up more info isn't that amazing anymore." That was an initial fear when I started to blog- that I was just another voice in the din. There are countless Christian blogs out there. There are widgets/subscription services that rank Christian blogs like http://christianblog.colossians2.com/ which presently counts up to 330 sites. High Calling Blogs, which is the circle of bloggers I've found myself most closely associated with consists of 120 diverse bloggers. Other networks likely see similar numbers.

Sadly, there just aren't enough hours in the day to read everything. So my question this week is, how do you browse for blogs and how do you prioritize what you read? On the first, I've found my biggest source of traffic is SumbledUpon. I know others are very effective with Twitter or Facebook. I don't know if networks like HCB are helpful or not. I have noticed that no one really checks "blog rolls" on your sidebar, but I have been visited via links in other blogs' comments. When I first started blogging, I would find a site (sometimes by Googling a topic) and then follow their blog roll or comments down a seemingly infinite rabbit hole. I would get so far that I would forget where I began. And since I didn't see the value in bookmarking the hundreds of Christian blogs I was finding, I'd be lucky if I could find and return to a site that I actually liked.

So I'm curious:

How do you browse for blogs (blog rolls, comments, StubledUpon, etc)?
How do you prioritize what you read (most recent, most commented)?
What's one Christian blog that's off the beaten path that others might not know about?

"Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole [internet] would not have room for the [blogs] that would be written." (John 21:25)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Weekend Reading, 19 June

Some headlines and blogs you might've missed.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Flashback Friday: Marketing the Gospel

***Originally posted May, 2008. Relevant here as Skye Jethani's The Divine Commodity and Jon Acuff's Stuff Christians Like have moved towards the top of my reading list. Though I still haven't read the book in this blog, unfortunately.***

As you wage battle in the Culture War, how do you arm yourself? This is an interesting question in an age of mass publicity, open hostility to Christianity, and an ever-increasing slippage in the morality of our society.

I spend a lot of time posting about politics as if that is the only front in the Culture War. But that’s not the case. It just happens that we’re in the midst of the election cycle, and there’s an endless supply of news relative to a Christian Worldview. However, I think too many “Evangelical” Christians believe that the Culture War should be fought in the political arena—Constitutional Amendments barring same-sex marriage, candidates pandering to the religious to gain votes, and so on. But there’s another disturbing trend in Evangelical circles, and that is trying to make Christianity marketable.

There’s an interesting book review over on Slate on “Rapture Ready!” a book describing the awkward marriage between Christianity and pop-culture. Since that’s a topic of great interest to me, this book has moved towards the top of my reading list. The review is right to point out that much of what passes for Christian pop-culture are just watered down rip-offs of what’s already available to the mass consumer. But the growth of this industry is tied to our commercial materialistic culture. Much of what is offered in this genre is meant to market the Gospel. While that’s not necessarily bad, what message does it send when the Gospel is presented as an inferior product? And what happens when the worldly materialism that we so try to avoid is overcome by materialism driven by a niche industry? Remember, they need to make money too.

And then there’s the faith that some Christians put in their pop-culture rather than in God alone. This can be seen in the home-schooling movement, but also can be related to our role as consumers. A coworker recently stated that the guy who opened Chick-fil-A is “cool” because he’s a Christian. No other reason given. Maybe no other reason is necessary. But I recall classmates in college who would devoutly eat Domino’s Pizza over any other brand because some of the profits would go towards Pro Life causes. I also remember a friend growing up whose record collection was filled with Stryper, Amy Grant, and Michael W Smith. And sadly, these were the only evidences of their faith.

Don’t get me wrong, none of these things are necessarily wrong in and of themselves, but we need to be careful what we put our faith in. We should certainly protect ourselves from the sin so prevalent in our culture, but I don’t believe that means we should create our own culture separate from the rest of the world. After all, how can we be the salt of the earth, if we refuse to interact within the world? That’s a fine line, granted, but at the same time a line that’s drawn differently for each and every Christian. I look to what Paul wrote in Romans 14 as a great example of how we should live as Christians in a multi-cultural society. "Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters." (Rom 14:1) Paul, in fact, quoted contemporary works to relate to others in Acts 17:28, 1 Cor 15:33, and Tit 1:12.

I don’t know if I fit in the mold of who the Christian marketplace is gearing their product towards. I love Quentin Tarantino movies, but find myself uncomfortable with the language and glorified violence. I consider Animal House classic cinema, but I would only watch the version edited for cable. Others would avoid these movies all together and might even call me a heathen. I accept that and I’m not about to invite a group of brothers over to watch something if I’m not sure they won’t struggle because of it (I did that once, and don’t intend to ever repeat it).

On the flipside, I used to avoid Christian Rock because I couldn’t stand the inferior production, the cheesy lyrics, and the self-righteous pious image projected by that industry. I’d much rather listen to Metallica than Stryper. But then someone pointed out to me that people who watch pornography don’t watch it because of the production value, they watch it because of the content. And I began to listen with a more open mind. There’s still some artists and songs I can’t tolerate, but I often find myself listening to either the Christian pop/rock station on XM or Air1 and being encouraged by songs praising my Lord or singing words of encouragement in a difficult, sinful world. For me, it’s become about the content, not the production. It’s about edification, not marketability. Yet I don’t expect every Christian to share my tastes.

So am I a “Christian consumer”? I don’t have cable, but I’m not going to judge someone who does. I wrestle with placing my children in the public school system. I play poker, watch R-rated movies and listen to rock music. I don’t own anything that says “WWJD” or have a Jesus-fish on my car. I watch Veggie Tales with my kids, and am building up a pretty large playlist of Christian music on my portable XM player. I own about a half-dozen Bibles and read secular comic books. I don’t shop conscious of where profits might be going or go out of my way to give my patronage to Christian businesses. I have trouble relating to the Evangelical “culture” as described in the above book, yet I have deep and strong convictions about the Greatest Commandment and about repenting of the sin in my heart that shows itself not as much by my actions, but through my character.

And yet here I am, just another Christian posting in the blogosphere. Maybe I relate more than I thought? Maybe I am buying what they're selling.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Infinite Sadness

It was an afternoon like any other, killing time at my family's store by turning anything I could get my hands on into some kind of toy. Grandpa hadn't yet come back after his daily afternoon nap and Grandma asked if I wanted to go home with her to check on him. Go to Grandma's house? She didn't have to ask me twice. Walking up the steps, I unlocked the door helping my grandma with arms full of groceries. I opened the door and stepped aside to let her in. The groceries dropped and my grandma rushed me back down the steps. But I still saw. My grandfather lay lifeless on the kitchen floor.

I was babysat by friends of the family for what seemed like hours (we were watching a PBS documentary on bats; not exactly my idea of a good time) which gave me ample time to reflect on life, death, and the afterlife. At nine years old, it was somewhat comprehensible. I understood heaven, kinda understood hell, and didn't for the life of me understand purgatory (and still don't). I rationalized the eternal consequence of what just happened, but did not feel anything about what that meant for those of us still living in this life. Perplexed, with wheels always turning, I wondered what this life really meant.

I thought a lot about it, but didn't feel anything. At least not until a few days later, when after the funeral I found my sister engulfed in tears sitting at a typewriter at our grandparent's house. On the page were written all of her feelings; a last goodbye from his little princess. Then, and only then, was I able to understand sadness.

As the years passed, I suffered more loss. My favorite uncle passed away while I was in the eighth grade, countless friends of the family passed away over the years, and I lost my father right as my junior year in college began. Because of this, I thought I understood death and understood sadness.

When I became a disciple of Jesus four years after my father died, eternal life took on more significant a meaning than paintings of angels sitting on clouds in heaven. "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:55) So when I next faced death,I thought my faith was mature enough to handle it. Or so I thought, I still didn't know how to feel. My wife lost her foster mom, whom she loved dearly despite only living with her for two years. I didn't know what to say, I didn't know how to help, I was paralyzed by this unfamiliar feeling-sadness. Sure I was sad when my dad passed away, but I drowned that out. I had nowhere to run from these feelings. There was no bottle to crawl into. And so I cried. Right around the same time I watched Big Fish and could not stop crying. For hours. This new feeling opened up a wellspring that I has not yet run dry. I now cry at just about anything, most notoriously while watching Finding Nemo.

Now Glynn Young reminded me that "Jesus wept" (John 11:35), and that it's ok for men to cry. But that doesn't mean I have to like it. I don't like this feeling and so I avoid it as much as I can.

I was avoiding it a couple of weeks ago while my wife's grandmother suffered a stroke at 102 years of age. Following the stroke, she couldn't talk, which meant she couldn't eat. If she couldn't eat, that meant she was going to die. She had a living will which stated she didn't want any kind of support, including a feeding tube. So we prepared for the inevitable. She was sharp as a knife in her mind, but she couldn't communicate. We had to assume she was preparing for the inevitable as well. Watching her, still in her bed biding time, I was consumed with sadness. I wasn't sad about the inevitable loss of her life, she was 102 after all. But I could not help but to think about what must have been going through her mind. She knew she was about to die and couldn't do a thing about it. Again, that sadness paralyzed me.

Recently, my wife and I watched the Time Traveler's Wife. Again, I felt this "melancholy and infinite sadness" as I related to Eric Bana's character towards the end. (kinda spoiler alert if you haven't seen it) Because he could travel through time, he knew when he was going to die. How would he have felt? What was he thinking? I was just as torn watching The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. (another spoiler if you haven't seen it) Here, Brad Pitt's character had "aged" to infancy with a completely mature mind to comprehend what was happening. The waterworks started flowing as this baby gripped the love of his life's finger as he passed away.

I don't like death. As a Christian, I should embrace it, glory in Christ's resurrection. But I don't. I cannot get over the sadness that comes with it. I can't help but think about the inevitable end to our mortality and the loved ones left behind. To be honest, I don't want to die. In high school, an exercise in my psychology class asked each of us to list one thing we were afraid of. My answer was death. Twenty years later, I wouldn't change that answer.

Jesus presents quite the paradox. Facing the knowledge of his own death, he wept in the Garden. He struggled with it so much, he escaped to pray about it three times. Yet he surrendered to his Father's will and willingly marched towards the Cross. Just a short time before, the brother of a couple of his best friends died and there we read the shortest verse in the Bible, "Jesus wept." Why? He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, he knew the lifeless body before him was not going to remain that way. Was he moved by compassion towards his friends? Was he gripped with the knowledge of his own death? While he could discern what was in the hearts of his disciples and foresaw Judas' betrayal, could it be that he didn't know how his own story was going to play out? Surely he knew death held no power. He saw the glories of heaven first-hand and witnessed the countless number of lives who waited in "Abraham's bosom". Yet he still cried.

While I don't understand it, I'm going to take Jesus' example as permission to feel sadness with respect to death. Yes, I believe in the resurrection. Yes, I believe we should rejoice when a loved one gets to enter into God's heavenly Kingdom. But I will still feel sadness. I will still cry. So the next time you see me at a movie bawling my eyes out, don't be surprised.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Hand Up or Handout? (repost)

This week's Blog Carnival topic is "Compassion". Head over to Bridget Chumbley's for more thoughts, convictions, and experiences.

***Originally posted on October 26, 2009***

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." -James 1:27

I recently brought up my involvement in an addiction recovery ministry. I thank all of you for your encouraging comments. Truth is, I wouldn't be involved in that ministry if I didn't need it myself. Besides my character, I have learned much about the human condition and those things that drive us to our drugs of choice. I've also learned that in order to overcome our addictions and surrender our will to God, we need to "hit bottom". This means we've reached our lowest point and that realization motivates us to change. Recovery "raises" that bottom, so our motivation for sobriety moves from being afraid of the worst that could happen to desiring the best that God has in store for us. The temptation for many is to prevent a loved one from reaching their bottom. We don't want to see them suffer. We want to save them. But suffering is exactly what they need to find the desire for recovery.

This creates a paradox to the Christian. There is no sin so horrible that God can't forgive. "Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear" (Isaiah 59:1) And we are commanded to "forgive as the Lord forgave you." (Colossians 3:13b) Likewise we are commanded to "carry each other's burdens" because "in this way you will fulfill the Law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2)

It's easy to forgive an addict without enabling him. But where do you draw the line when carrying his burdens? On one hand, he needs to suffer the consequences of his decisions. But that does not mean we cannot help. Picking him up from the bar at 2:00 AM because he can't drive home is not carrying his burdens. But sponsoring him at a meeting is.

With addiction, that line is more clear than when dealing with other sins. What about a single teenage mother? Is offering to babysit while she searches for a job enabling, or sharing her burden? This is something my wife and I are currently battling. There are a couple of single moms that we've been reaching out to and opening our home to. When we bring them to church, the stares we get say, "why would you help her? It's her fault she's in the situation she's in." Are we preventing them from hitting their bottom? I'd like to think instead we're offering a safe environment in which they can work out their issues. Much like a recovery meeting.

Sadly, this perspective doesn't seem to be shared. To some, we are offering a handout instead of a hand up. I am moved to pray the lyrics to Brandon Heath's song, Give Me Your Eyes,

"All those people going somewhere,
Why have I never cared?

Give me your eyes for just one second
Give me your eyes so I can see
Everything that I keep missing
Give me your love for humanity
Give me your arms for the broken hearted
Ones that are far beyond my reach.
Give me your heart for the ones forgotten
Give me your eyes so I can see"

I can then follow up with Leeland and Brandon Heath's Follow You,

"Faith without works is dead
On the cross your blood was shed
So how could we not give it away so freely?"

I only pray others may see the world in the same way.

***Update: Since this was posted last October, one of these women found gainful employment that also provided much-needed daycare and another moved in with her family for help while she goes to school. Sadly, neither have since kept in touch. I'm now wrestling with how best to minister to a family where the wife is infected with HIV and the husband is working his fingers to the bone to provide. The faces change, but the battle remains the same. It is my conviction that being a Christian means more than spouting off Bible verses and having perfect attendance on Sundays. We need to share the compassion of Christ to everyone, whether or not it is comfortable or convenient.***

Blogging to the Choir?

I'm insecure about my blog traffic, I admit. Frequently I consider hanging it all up, logging off, and not returning. I can't keep up with Twitter traffic, nor can I take the time to read every other Christian blog I've found that I'm interested in. And I know that successfully doing both would increase interest and traffic on my blog.

I also question the value. Is there anyone really listening? I'm a sports junkie and I see this on message boards as well. Someone will pontificate on a point about fan behavior, or attendance, or a blown call a ref made. For the most part, everyone agrees. In those forums, you're essentially preaching to the choir. Christian blogging isn't much different. It's unlikely non-believers are reading my blog; though I suppose they could be, I know they don't comment. Followers and commenters are like-minded. I read their blogs, they read mine, and we both nod our heads in agreement. Don't get me wrong, I come away after reading about others' convictions with new convictions of my own. And that's the hope I have with this blog. But I wonder...

So what difference does this all make? Will I transform the church with my words? Will these thoughts lead anyone to Christ? Is this even the correct medium for this message? Of course there are others who have this nailed. They know how to increase traffic, know how to appropriately respond when traffic is down, and sincerely believe in the medium (and these were all just from Saturday!). But I'm not so easily convinced.

Then last week something strange happened. A blogger, with the power of the pen (or pixel), disrupted the plans for expansion of an NCAA Division-1 FBS (don't ask) conference, called a bluff on a state legislature, and likely single-handedly changed the landscape of college football. And he's not done. If you don't follow college football and the BCS, I'm talking about Chip Brown and the drama that ensued last week as the Big 12 effectively dissolved, the PAC 10 added Colorado, and the Mountain West took a week to announce they were adding Boise State. And like I said, by the time you read this, there will likely be more changes announced. Granted, Chip Brown is no ordinary blogger, he worked for the Dallas Morning News for 10 years, but there was a lot of power in his words as he turned the rumor mill.

I'm reminded that our words have power, even if they are electronic rather than spoken. An encouraging word still has the power to encourage a reader. And a convicting scripture will still convict.

"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." (Ephesians 4:29)

"As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,

so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it."
(Isaiah 55:10-11)

So my questions to you Christian bloggers out there:

Who is your audience and what is the goal of your blog? (be sure to link your blog too!)

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

What kind of Christian are you?

One of my buds approached me at church last week and greeted me by saying, " 'sup ninja?" And my wheels started turning. I don't think he meant anything by it, but that's a pretty good description- I'm ruthless, deadly, skilled in the Art of War. Or then again, maybe I'm not. But I think that's a pretty good description of me as a Christian. So what kind of Christian are you?

  • Ninja: You work best behind the scenes. Effective and efficient. May never get credit and is seldom seen, but we know after you've been there, that the job got done.

  • Pirate: You're always seeking the next adventure. Your focus is on the treasure stored for you... somewhere marked with an 'x'. And you smell.

  • Rambo: Strong and independent. Out of place in the world because you were bred for battle. Better not get in your way.

  • Homer Simpson: You're clumsy and not very bright. But somehow, some way, everything seems to work out for you.

  • Ned Flanders: To quote a comedian I once heard, "you have every book of the Bible memorized, but you can't remember to turn off your turn signal." Your religiosity turns people off, but you're genuine and sincere.

  • Jack Bauer: Need something done? We turn to you. You'll do whatever it takes, though your morality can best be described as "grey".

  • Lost: No, not with respect to salvation, but referencing the TV show. You have a constant tension between faith and reason, science and the supernatural. Everyone is trying to figure out what makes you tick.

  • Superman: Seemingly invincible, nothing seems to shake your faith. But there's one thing that's your kryptonite, and it can kill you.

  • Spider Man: You keep your sense of humor in every trying circumstance. Your faith is stronger that it looks. But you don't choose the best of friends.

  • Simon Cowell: You always have an opinion. But you speak the truth in love (ok, I'm reaching here).

  • Meredeth Grey: You narrate your life as there always seems to be drama around you. You are a faithful friend, if indecisive.

  • Rocky: You can take a punch. You're an underdog. No matter how many times you get knocked down, you always get back up.

  • Jesus: 'nuff said.

So, what kind of Christian are you?

If none of the above, make up your own!

Monday, June 07, 2010

R12: Hindsight

So after (what felt like) sprinting through the Living on the Edge book, I wanted to look back at what worked and what didn't. My motivation for structuring this "virtual small group" the way I did was twofold: one, I believe in the message and I wanted to get it out; and two, I wanted to see if this was an effective medium for delivering this message. In other words, I cared about this and I wanted to know if anyone else did either.

Bad news first. What didn't work:

  • Length: It wasn't my intention to rewrite the book, which I effectively did with each post. But I wanted to get more in-depth than just a review. Honestly, I would read a chapter, sit down at the keyboard, and whatever came out was what you saw. There was some early criticism of the length, but I wanted to be thourough enough that someone could participate without having the book and those who were compelled to pick it up, would have an additional perspective to deepen their convictions.
  • Pace: This goes with length. Posting daily thoughts on each chapter might have been more palatible if each post were shorter. I kept the pace I did because each chapter was short, and if I followed the standard one-chapter-a-week pace, it would've taken half a year to complete. Both length and pace were a drain on me and I'm sure they were on the reader as well.
  • The R12 videos: My original plan was to link the videos on Facebook and use that as a springboard for discussion there. Instead, I couldn't embed those videos and Facebook was defaulted as another link to this blog.
  • The LOTE Facebook page: After an initial positive response to the idea, I posted (mostly) regular discussion points on Living On the Edge's Facebook page. I didn't get a single reply once I got started, though I did gain a couple of followers that way.
  • Facebook and Twitter: My experience was that I only got a few "hits" from these social media sites. So I can't say either increased my traffic (which wasn't necessarily my goal, but was a metric of how interested others were in this topic).
  • MOTIVE ME: These were pulled straight from the book and I was hoping they would initiate discussion. They didn't and I am guilty myself of not following through on some of the actions that should have followed each chapter to deepen convictions. In other words, I wrote about it a lot, but I failed to put my own words into practice.
What worked:

  • Facebook and Twitter: While they didn't increase traffic, I had some good discussions on Facebook and I gained several followers on Twitter. What is encouraging was that many of my new followers on Twitter are involved in some form of addiction ministries, which tells me I hit a nerve there.
  • Su.pr: I used su.pr to link my posts up on Twitter which would then update my Facebook page. I used Network Blogs to also update my Facebook status so FB got hit twice. But while I didn't get many hits via Twitter or Facebook, I got a lot of traffic from StumbledUpon. I gained over 30 new followers and averaged over 40 hits (which is huge for me) on each post just from StumbledUpon.
  • Most commented: On Facebook, ironically a post that I failed to copy a link to this blog, I asked "Do you blame others for who you are? Do you blame God?" That struck a nerve with a few friends and there was a (by my standards) lengthy debate that followed on nature versus nurture.
  • Most retweeted: From Twitter, What does a Surrendered Life Look Like? And from StumbledUpon, both Are you Ready to See God Do the Impossible? and Will You Let Christ Heal You? (via the clever tweet: cursing the bird does not clean the windshield)
  • Most clicked: Are you Ready to See God Do the Impossible?

So, what's next? I need to back off the daily grind of posting, though I didn't intend to fall completely off the net last week. Expect to see 3-4 posts a week returning to my roots of posting commentary on current events mixed with some "deep thoughts" I gain along the way. I also attended a writer's conference a couple of weeks ago, and I need to take that side of my writing more seriously. Hopefully I'll have good news to share in the future with this venture. I'm also going to take this blog to the next level (step two in my three-year plan) so look for updates hopefully soon.

I'm likely not going to do a chapter-by-chapter study of another book. But I do plan on using books to spring off studies. While I need to catch up on other reading, I also have a backlog of books that I wouldn't have if not for this blog. I owe a review of John and Staci Eldredge's Love and War, thanks to Kevin Martineau I have the book Transforming Church in Rural America by Shannon O'Dell, and thanks to Peter Pollock (a long time ago) I have If God were Real by John Avant. The latter two scratch an itch that will turn into a study series down the road.

Thanks for participating in my study. Hope you stick around. Finally, for you, the reader, what worked for you and what didn't? Please give feedback so our next study will be even better!

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Baseball and Buffalo Wings

You know the feeling. You're restless and anxious. You may be fidgety, uncomfortable in your own skin. Maybe you blame it on cabin fever, "I just need to get out." Or maybe you blame it on the stress of your job, your family, your bills. Either way, you need to do something.

It's at this point we face a critical decision. Do we turn to God as our strength? Or do we turn to something else to fill this hole?

You see it in other people too. The overbearing Little League parent. The workaholic. The person that always seems to be on edge. The addict.

What we all have in common is the need to be filled. We think pleasure will fill us, but that never seems to satisfy. We think companionship will fill us, but people will always let us down. We think accomplishments will fill us, but those never last.

For me lately, I turn to my comfort food and an opportunity to check-out. Give me a dozen wings and a big screen and don't bother me for a couple of hours. I'll fill my stomach and I'll fill my mind, but that hole still remains.

That's because this hole isn't in my mind or my body, but is in my soul. This "God-shaped hole" can only be filled with a deep, meaningful, purposeful relationship with our Creator. Prayer, studying the Word, seeking out His will by serving others, doing what is right. These are the things that fill this hole. But we use that up. Like a gas tank on a long journey, we need to keep stopping to fill ourselves up.

It's a long journey, this life. Don't try to travel on an empty tank.

(This post is part of Bridget Chumbley's Blog Carnival. This week's topic is emptiness.)