Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Uncomfortable Jesus

The premise behind Philip Yancey's The Jesus I Never Knew is that the Jesus we know is so familiar he's become routine. We know the stories. We know how it all ends. Nothing surprises us or makes us uncomfortable.

Michael Spencer approaches the third chapter of Mere Churchianity the same way. Imagine being a disciple of Jesus and having your world rocked with his unconventional take on the Jewish religion. Been praying all your life? Jesus will teach you how to really pray. Judgemental of that Samaritan woman? Jesus will go to her and strike up a conversation. It's no wonder some of Jesus' disciples responded to him saying, "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?" and later turned away and left him (John 6:60-66).

I admit I'm young and naive and maybe too idealistic for my own good. Regrettably, I've taken the destruction I've seen in my fellowship of churches and combined that with the media stereotype of the Evangelical Megachurch to paint a broad brush over all of American Christianity (TM). But I look at the Christian blogosphere and twitterverse and I see brothers and sisters doing it; making things happen in the name of Jesus to God's glory. And I realize I'm wrong. I need to "tear up my notes" as Michael puts it.

I'm wrong about my church, too. Last week I may have been overly harsh sharing a single anecdote in a sea of experiences. Not to say the criticism isn't fair, but there's more to the story. You see, there are some things my church gets right. Recognizing Jesus' teachings as uncomfortable is one of them. Growing up religious, when I opened up the Bible with brothers who cared about teaching me what it really says, not just what I've always heard, it blew my mind. It resonated in my heart because I knew this is what I was missing in my relationship with God. Jesus was uncomfortable and that made following him challenging and exciting.

Yesterday I wrote about the Transformational Loop. Each of the seven properties listed are uncomfortable.
  • Missionary mentality, where you see your community as a mission field and serve it that way? Uncomfortable!
  • Vibrant Leadership where it's not a cult of personality but of inspiring example? Uncomfortable!
  • Relational Intensity where you genuinely care about your brothers and sisters' spiritual and physical well-being and "make every effort" to deliberately be involved in one another's lives? Uncomfortable!
  • Prayerful dependence where going to God in prayer is natural and asking for help via prayer is common? Uncomfortable!
  • Worship that continues beyond Sunday mornings (Romans 12)? Raising your hands in praise? Uncomfortable!
  • Community that is intentionally built around the purpose and mission of the Church? Uncomfortable!
  • Mission, seeking and saving the lost, being a central part of your life, the focus of your conversations and relationships? Uncomfortable!
Of course, that's just one of many similar books. You could add tithing, serving inside and outside your church's walls, forgiving (ooh, that's a toughie), fasting, eschewing the world, calling out sin, confessing sin, and I could go on and on.

Squirming in your chair yet? Well there's nothing comfortable about being a disciple of Jesus. And you know what, I wouldn't have it any other way.

(I also encourage you to visit Bend the Page, Faith Fiction and Friends, and A Simple Country Girl for more discussion of this challenging book)

Monday, August 30, 2010

What is your Church's Strength?

I'm reading Transformational Church by Ed Stetzer and Thom Rainer as a compliment to my reading of Michael Spencer's Mere Churchianity. Chapter two introduces the "Transformational Loop" of properties present in Transformational Churches. It is a loop because each area feeds into another and no one property can stand alone in a strong, transformational church. The areas are Discern, Embrace, and Engage and the properties present are a Missionary Mentality, Vibrant Leadership, Relational Intensity, Prayerful Dependence, Worship, Community, and Mission.

Reading through the description of each of these, it quickly became clear where my fellowship is strong and where it falls short. The recommendation for a stagnant church to become a transformational church is to identify your strengths and use them to build the other properties. For example, if your strength is worship, use that to build community, and so on.

I've been wrestling for some time with why things don't seem to be clicking in my fellowship. We have our strengths and weaknesses just like any other congregation. And I don't expect us to be perfect. But I just get the feeling that a piece is (or pieces are) missing. This loop helps me to identify what we need to build on and grow in.

My fellowship's strengths are mission and community. We have a strong evangelistic focus, taking on the mission of Jesus to "seek and save the lost." We build community through small groups for accountability, personal growth, and to facilitate evangelistic activities. These communities forge life-long relationships.

However these strengths ebb and flow. We take our strengths for granted and grow complacent. I believe this is because our strengths do not have deep roots and this loop bares that out. We are strong in mission, but lack a missionary mentality. We are strong in community but lack relational intensity. So our strengths are what we do, not who we are.

I am also convicted personally because I lack in prayerful dependence. I'm not a prayer warrior, though I need to grow in my prayer life. But I look around and I don't see many prayer warriors around me either. I admired an Elder we had who would pray "without ceasing." Ask him a question and he would pause, consider it, and then pray about it. Without fail, every question. But I don't see that as my church's culture.

I also admire one of my best friends who is strong in worship. He lives it, studies it, and teaches it but being worshipful has only rubbed off on a few. And our Sunday services are better for it!

So the pieces are there to build, despite my negativity. I'm sure if I looked around I could find individuals who are strong in one or more of these properties. The trick however is spreading those strengths through the congregation until it becomes part of its culture.

Given that background, what would you say are your church's strengths?

What are your strengths and do they feed into your church's?

Would you describe your church as "transformational"?

For your own assessment, check out the Transformational Church Diagnostic Tool (hopefully up and running soon)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Weekend Reading, 28 August

Wasn't online much this week, so I'll leave it to others to sum up the best of this week:

Jason Stasyzen has his Friday Hit List over at Connecting to Impact.

Glynn Young lists his Saturday Good Reads over at Faith, Fiction, Friends.

It's not up yet, but look tomorrow for Kevin Martineau's Link Love Sunday over at Shooting the Breeze.

There was also a blog carnival last week too. Bridget Chumbley's One Word at a Time Carnival on Children is filled with gifted writers and inspired perspectives.

Pleasantly disturbed carnie, Duane Scott was in a car accident, so please keep him in your prayers.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Flashback Friday: Five Talent Player

***Originally posted February 17, 2010. Reposted in response to Glen Coffee's decision to forgo an NFL career to pursue ministry, a decision similar to Grant Desme's below.***

Growing up religious, I always found it curious a "plus" baseball player is called a "five-tool" player given the parable of the talents found in Matthew 25. It was the one with five talents that was given five more for putting his talents to use, pleasing his master. Of course we get the common usage for our talents from this parable even though a "talent" is a unit of currency.

Grant Desme is a five-tool, plus prospect for the Oakland A's. Or at least, he was before he decided to give up the game to enter the priesthood. In his defense he said, "But I had to get down to the bottom of things, to what was good in my life, what I wanted to do with my life. Baseball is a good thing, but that felt selfish of me when I felt that God was calling me more. ... I love the game, but I’m going to aspire to higher things."

He didn't catch much criticism even if his decision wasn't understood by all. One who not only understands, but also relates is former Olympic speed skater Kirstin Holum. After competing in 1998, she hung up her skates and joined a convent. While you may picture a nun's habit, you may not be able to picture a former Olympian in the inner city reaching out to gang-bangers.

While I admire the hands-on calling of a Religious Order, I don't think you need to put on vestments to participate in ministry. Like the parable cited above, God gives us talents to be put to use for His glory. I think turning your back on a natural talent like athleticism is akin to burying your talents. (Recognizing that not all skills are talents, and we are all given as many or as few as our faith allows)

On the opposite end of the spectrum is last year's National League Rookie of the Year, Chris Coghlan. "Everybody has different callings. Everybody has different blessings and different talents. For me, I believe my calling is to continue playing baseball. It's a platform to reach out to other people." Sounds very Tim Tebow. (Sorry, couldn't resist) But he's right. God gives us not only the talents, but the opportunities. One of my best friends always says, "there's no such thing as luck in the Kingdom of God." The traditional adage is that "luck is when preparation and opportunity meet." The two are perfectly compatible. We should approach our jobs, our relationships, our families with the faith that each are platforms through which we should live and share our faith. The opportunity that meets our preparation.

Even Paul, who was far from being considered athletic, approached his ministry in this way.

"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.

Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
" (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

This scripture is often applied to spiritual discipline and can be abused to justify a list of to-dos. But a better way of looking at it is from the perspective of the Christian athlete. Train (invest your talents) so that you may win (gain five more). We may not all be plus, but we can all be five-talent players.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Jesus-colored Glasses

This post joins the discussion being carried on at Bend the Page on Michael Spencer's book, Mere Churchianity. The second chapter, titled the Jesus Disconnect, discusses how the Evangelical church has lost sight of Jesus among all the programs, seeker-sensitive trappings, and relevant topics. Glynn Young offers a perspective of "the worship wars" while Nancy Rosback reflects on how she personally loses sight of Jesus.

I want to approach this from yet another perspective, that of ministering to those thrown under the fast-moving, sold-out, evangelical bus. A quote I especially like from this chapter reads, "Evangelical Christians... believe their ship is listing to one side because it gives them a more interesting look at the iceberg." This is the Jesus-colored glasses I refer to. Michael continues, "Evangelicals believe that people who distance themselves from the church are not disenchanted but 'under conviction of the Holy Spirit.' Christians are convinced that the generally low opinion people have of them... is because people can't deal with the uncomfortable truth about Jesus."

Ministering to addicts, I have learned that not everyone struggles because they aren't committed enough, don't pray enough, or don't have deep enough convictions. Real people face real demons in their past, their character, and their habits that cannot be overcome just by showing up every Sunday with a smile on their face. We too easily forget that Jesus came for the sick, not the well. "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick." (Matthew 9:12)

Sadly, we are quick to abandon the slow-moving for the sake of moving the church "forward" full-steam. Sold-out was our buzzword, but was code for legalism. You didn't have time to deal with your marriage, your addiction, or your purity. If you weren't 100% committed to the "purpose" then you weren't really a disciple of Jesus. This is a battle I continue to fight when our calendar gets filled with evangelistic activities with no room to insert any solid food (Hebrews 5:11-14). As a small-group leader, when I recently questioned the schedule I was challenged to choose between the addiction ministry I help lead and my small group. Well that was a no-brainer (and thank God it didn't have to come to that).

We say we are being Christ-like by "seeking and saving the lost" (Luke 19:10). We justify sacrificing our own health, spiritual and physical, because we "take up our cross daily" (Luke 9:23). And instead of "not putting out the Spirit's fire" (1 Thessalonians 5:19) we instead get burned out. And the bus keeps rolling on while we are left behind.

Now I don't want to be a Debbie Downer. It's not always like this, and it's not everybody who feels this way. But this attitude is contagious. We believe the hype. We are more inspired by a rah-rah pep-rally sermon than the life of Jesus. We are human. And the most important point I've taken from this book so far is that so are my brothers and sisters in Christ. The church is not a machine, but a living, breathing, body of believers. Real people with real struggles.

Saturday Afternoon Evangelism

Last week, Brigham Young University, the flagship school of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, announced plans to go independent in football. With the BCS shell game that has gone on this summer, this isn't necessarily earth-shattering news. There is a tangible financial benefit in being able to negotiate your own TV deal and schedule your own opponents to maximize viewership. And all evidence this summer has shown us that television revenue is more important that winning or losing.

But this isn't about that. Based on comments made by BYU's administration and coaches, eyes on the game don't translate into dollars but into potential souls to be saved. Dan Wetzel at Yahoo sports seems to be the only one in the national media to take that angle on this story.

At the same time last week, Glen Coffee decided that the best way to reach souls is to NOT play football as he gave up his NFL career. Tim Tebow, college sensation and evangelical poster-boy, thinks differently. And of course I could list many more on both sides of the argument across different sports.

Idividuals aside, you could also look at this as fulfilling the stated mission of a church-affiliated university. Yet Notre Dame, Gonzaga, Baylor, or TCU don't approach their mission the same way (and I could fill this entire space with a 'did you know?' list of religiously affiliated schools).

So my question this week is this,

Is football, or any other competitive event, an effective means if spreading the Gospel?

(and please refrain from debating the theology of the Mormon religion)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Weekend Reading, 21 August

Phew, I opened this window a couple of hours ago and just now getting to this. Normally I suggest pouring a cup of coffee, sitting back, and reading what I read last week. By now, that pot of coffee is probably empty (at least mine is). But I still encourage you to sit, enjoy, and reflect on blogs that hit home for me this week.

If you read my blog much, you know one of my passions is the current condition of the Church in America. It's easy to criticize and make blanket statements. A point I stress when it comes to the interplay between Christians and politics is that not every evangelical, fundamentalist, social-gospel, and so-forth, church is the same. The lesson holds true when it comes to the health, spiritual growth, and appropriate focus of the same diversity of churches. But as a comment in the above link noted, the discussion needs to take place. Right now, I'm approaching this from two angles reading both Mere Churchianity and Transformational Church, because I think both points of view are valid. You'll see that reflected in these links. Having said that, on with the show...
But "as for me and my household..." The best thing we can do as disciples of Jesus is to surrender our lives fully to him, regardless of what's happening in our churches, our leadership, or even our homes.
  • Jezamama writes an awesome post on what it takes to surrender all and be stripped bare.
  • Similarly, Michael Perkins writes out what he's giving up for God.
  • Jim Foreman takes a lesson from David that we need to choose the hard things to see what lesson God has in store for us.
  • A real-world example of all the above is found in Glen Coffee who just walked away from a promising NFL career to follow wherever God is going to lead him.
It's that time of year when our children head back to school. This is a time of transition and transformation and of rites of passage.
  • Billy Coffey writes about the lessons learned while doing back-to-school shopping.
  • Ron Edmondson shares what he wrote to his son as he saw him off to college.
  • Jay Cookingham shares about the passage of his son into manhood and the lessons to be learned from the older brothers who have gone on ahead of him.
The end of summer is also a bit of a letdown. Sometimes we need to take a deep breath and find ourselves again while continuing to push on.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Flashback Friday: Trailblazer

***Originally posted April 7, 2010. Reposted this week as I've "joined" an online book club to discuss the book Mere Churchianity by Michael Spencer over at the blog Bend the Page. Discussion has spread over to Faith, Fiction, and Friends and Poems and Prayers. Even if you don't join in the discussion, I strongly encourage you to pick up the book.***

What inspires you? I don't mean encourages, or edifies, I mean honest to goodness "God breathed," (2 Timothy 3:16) in-spirit moving of the Holy Spirit in you. Maybe it's a psalm, hymn, or spiritual song (Ephesians 5:19), maybe it's a favorite verse in the Bible, maybe it's a friend, a book, or a movie. Maybe it's the stories of those who came before, who blazed God fearing, Jesus-led trails.

Monday, April 5th, Michael Spencer, aka the Internet Monk, passed away after a long battle with cancer. A little more than a year ago, Father Richard John Neuhaus, author at the blog First Things passed away. I can honestly say that without the inspiration from these two men of God, I would not be blogging today. I was shocked to read that the imonk started blogging 10 years ago. These two saw the opportunities of the Internet to spread the Gospel and shaped the online Christian landscape. From Father Neuhaus, I was inspired as he tackled issues of interest to me. From Michael, he introduced a new way to reach the masses without preaching down to them using this new-fangled interweb thingy. I regret not following them as closely once I set out on my own blog.

The early Christian blogosphere, including Get Religion and Blogs4God soon grew to include the Thinklings and Boar's Head Tavern, Stuff Christians Like, Purgatorio, and JesusNeedsNewPR. Most recently, Peter Pollock's and Bridget Chumbley's Blog Carnival has been a network of diverse Christian blogs that all aspire to encourage applying the Word of God through the Internet. Yesterday's [April 6] topic, Gentleness, drew 39 posts. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of Christian blogs. I will never have time to find them all, but I am grateful for the inspiration the ones I do read bring to me.

Back to imonk for a moment. Another blogger commented a few years ago that America is due for another Great Awakening and that it would likely come through the power of the Internet. I couldn't agree more and I believe the legacy that Michael Spencer leaves behind started the ball rolling that direction. I pray his legacy continues throughout the Christian blogosphere and through the hearts and souls of readers everywhere. Michael was too young. He didn't live to see the next Great Awakening. But he lived to see it begun.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Man Without Fear

I'm jumping into the fray. I am fearlessly adding my post to the Pleasantly Disturbed Thursdays carnival at Duane Scott's blog. Pray for me...

It was just announced that the comic book Daredevil will end in November. I'm a comic book nerd (more excited to see Scott Pilgrim than the Expendables believe it or not) and Daredevil has always been my favorite character. He's my homie.

It was a Daredevil comic that I remember being the first I ever read (that, or some random issue of Superman, but I remember vividly the issue of Daredevil). I have a nearly continuous run of issues that spans twenty years. The last issue will be #512; I have roughly 350 of those. With a small family, tight budget, and a local comic shop (LCS) that I loathe, I've fallen back on my reading. I'm ashamed to admit that I've only purchased one issue over the past year.

As a kid I daydreamed about being Daredevil. He was a blind, Catholic red-head who always did what was right. That sounded a lot like me. Plus he fought ninjas and mobsters! As I grew older and I took notice of the more mature themes, I could relate even more. Yes, he always did what was right, but not always the right way. He had a bad tempter, was vengeful, and lustful. Hmm, still sounded a lot like me. I admired him because the fight he waged against his sinful nature to do the right thing was a central part of his character. Some writers sadly miss this point (see the movie as the most glaring example), but I kept on reading. Did I mention that he fought ninjas?

So what's disturbing about this post? Maybe it's the fact that I own more than a thousand comic books and live in my mom's basement. (I'll let you guess which one of those two statements are true).

Actually, what's disturbing is the recent news that a child psychologist considers super heroes bad role models. Say what? I was reading The Punisher as a pre-teen and loved his unrestrained vengeance against crime as he racked up a body count in the hundreds. I also loved the movie Total Recall, which at the time was considered the most violent (mainstream) movie ever. This was also towards the end of the Cold War with movies like Red Dawn fresh in my memory. I would daydream during school about being either a super hero, a professional wrestler (now that's disturbing!), or what my friends and I would do if our school was overrun by a bunch of commie terrorists. "Wolverines!"

I'd like to think I turned out all right. Sure, the line blurs for me sometimes between fantasy and reality, but I suspect that's true for just about everyone. Yet despite the violence and misogyny present in comic books, I took away their most valuable lesson: we are all screwed up in some way, so we must decide if we should use our powers to be a good guy or a bad guy. We are all anti-heroes. And sometimes we get to fight ninjas.

(for a great summary of Daredevil's on again/off again religion, check out this article.)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Summer Love

You’ve no doubt had one- the summer love. Maybe your intentions were pure, that “after the boys of summer have gone” that love would last longer than a single season. Chances are however, that your summer love was short lived. “Summer lovin’ happens so fast.”

Summer love aches, yet lingers in our memories. Whatever the summer activity may have been- swimming, boating, camping, laying on the beach, we all look back with sentimentality. It’s easy to forget the heartache when you can remember the sunshine. It’s easy to remember the night under the stars and forget the hangover. We can reflect fondly on the fishing trip. Whether or not we caught anything has long since been forgotten.

Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O LORD.” (Ps 25:7)

Why do we always remember the ‘best of times’ and forget the ‘worst of times’?

What is it about summer that sticks in our memory?

While our memories deceive us, we are tricked into thinking about what might have been. It’s an easy trap to keep us from being grateful for what is. The memory of spending time on my friend’s boat only reminds me that I don’t have one of my own. The summer love has long since gone. “I try not to think about what might have been, ‘cause that was then, and we have taken different roads.”

These things I remember
as I pour out my soul;
how I used to… “(Ps 42:4)

Do you ever long for the “good old days”? Why?

But what is it about those memories that hang on forever in our minds? The timing must be perfect. Not all summer loves are remembered with fondness. There’s something about a particular time, a particular place that hits during a transformation period in our lives. The journeys from childhood to adolescence and from adolescence to adulthood are special moments. Personally, the soundtrack of my life consists mainly of songs from those periods. Maybe we are most impressionable at those times, making us more vulnerable to the summer love.

I think the love story we have with our Creator is similar. Though “he is not far from each one of us” there are times and places where our hearts are more sensitive and receptive to Him.

“…he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:26-27)

How old were you when you reached out and found a relationship with God?

What transformational period was going on in your life at the time (college, marriage, etc)?

There is no greater love story than that between God and his people. So much so that marriage is used as an illustration (some would say a sacrament) of the relationship between God and his people and Jesus and his Church. In fact, the Bible begins with a marriage (Genesis 2) and ends with a marriage (Revelation 19-21). (thanks to John and Staci Eldredge’s Love and War for pointing that out!) But unlike the summer love, God’s love endures forever.

Oh Lord, where is your former great love,
which in your faithfulness you swore to David?” (Psalm 89:49)

The word of the LORD came to me…
‘I remember the devotion of your youth,
how as a bride you loved me
and followed me through the desert,
through a land not sown.’ “ (Jeremiah 2:1-2)

Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.“ (Deuteronomy 7:9)

Are you still madly in love with God? Were you ever?

Summer love is fleeting. So are our lives. “Show me, O LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life.” (Psalm 39:4) So if you find yourself this season longing for a love that will last, look to God, for “God is love” (1 John 4:16) Seek Him and you will find Him.

I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me.” (Proverbs 8:17)

Today continues this summer's 'virtual small group' (VSG in the tags). I hope you come back as I take this season to reflect on the wonders of God's creation, share vacation stories, etc, with the prayer that we come out of this season closer to God than how we came into it.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

When Church Signs Lie

Normally, I've been reserving Tuesdays for my "virtual small group". I haven't been able to work out a post yet, so try again tomorrow. In the meantime, I strongly encourage you to stop over at the blog Bend the Page for a discussion on Michael Spencer's book Mere Churchianity. Also check out the discussion at Faith, Fiction and Friends and Poems and Prayers.

My comment from the blog if you wish to discuss it here:

I think the trap of the church sign is that we, as individuals, are supposed to be the evidence of Christ's presence. We gather as a community of believers in a "church" to worship together, to fellowship, to study, and support one another (all the "one anothers" in the NT). What I struggle with, and is evidenced by the lying church signs, is that the church too often is the end, not the means. The end should be a Christ-like life, not filled pews.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Are you investing your talents?

Yesterday I taught my last 3rd/4th grade Kid's Kingdom (Sunday School) class. At least for a little while. Based on the curriculum, I've been teaching this class for four years and I know I was teaching for a while before we changed up our schedule. So I figure I've been at this for roughly five years with intermittent "rotations" before that. I'm ready for a break, though I am sad to give this up for a while.

This is just a season, like many others before, where either I don't feel my needs being met or I don't feel my spiritual gifts are being put to their best use. This time, it's both. Between this class and my travel schedule due to work, I've been sorely missing out on fellowship and worship. I also don't feel like my lessons are being received by the latest crop of kids like they have in the past.

Of course I'm not hanging it up for good, and I'm not going to go hide in a corner on Sundays and not be involved. One of my strongest convictions is based on Ephesians 4:1-16,

"But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it... It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." (Eph 4:7,11-13, emphasis added)

I strongly believe that the Body of Christ can only grow as "each part does its work" (v 16). I have the talent to bring lessons from the Bible to life in practical, applicable ways. I exercise this talent through this class, in my small group, and on this blog. I don't say this to boast; I'm just one part of the body and this is what my part does. But as I step away from my kids' class, I need to continue to apply this talent, or at least become more invested in the other ways I'm presently involved. I'm leaning toward the latter as I want to venture into some new territory with my small group and focus more on my writing. I felt as though I was being spread too thin, so my prayer is this move will make me more effective in these other areas.

But this decision, and my looking ahead, brings these questions to mind:

What are the talents God has given you?

How are you applying those talents to build the Body of Christ?

For reference, I think it is worth checking out the lesson Your Divine Design from Living on the Edge. That lesson has really helped me to focus my talents where I believe God has led me.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Weekend Reading, 14 August

Sometimes the look back on the week is a highlight of the many articles and blogs I read that hit me just right. Other times, there are themes that run between different posts, and it's the theme that merits mention. This week (and stretching into last) is the latter.

First common topic, pastoring:

Meanwhile, living our faith in the public square is worth greater discussion.

Many thanks to my Twitter community, without whom I wouldn't have found many of these posts. Hope you enjoy and that they challenge your faith and your status quo.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Flashback Friday: Walking in Another's Shoes

***Originally posted on August 24, 2009. Posted in the wake of the Court overturning California's Proposition 8. It's been a while since I kicked this hornet's nest...***

One of my goals with this blog is to be even-handed in my analysis and commentary, though I do have obvious religious and political beliefs. That doesn't mean I'm not open to taking a different point of view. Walking in another's shoes, so to speak, and these two articles do just that. They both highlight how one’s worldview impacts their decisions. By reading these articles, I gained a great deal of respect for both men because they are consistent in applying their worldview, something I seldom see in the present culture-war.

The first is about Ted Olson, a conservative lawyer who is fighting to overturn Proposition 8 in California. His defense of gay-marriage is based on his conservative principles to keep the government out of our personal lives. You can’t argue that he’s not consistent with his conservative view of government, in contrast to a conservative view of social moors taken by many politicians and activists. Now, I’m not about to change my opinion on gay-marriage. However, given the background in this article I will concede the point of “fundamental right” though I still worry about the “slippery slope” and disapprove the means by which homosexuals are trying to gain this right. (Specifically, not responding to Prop 8 with a proposition of their own and instead throwing a legal hissy fit)

The second article is about the “abortion evangelist” (gotta love the sensationalist headlines) LeRoy Carhart. I don’t approve of his practice, but I understand his motivation for providing it. I also admire that he does stick to his guns. In one example, "Carhart asked her what she would do if she had to carry the baby to term. 'She didn't say she was going to kill herself,' he says. 'She said she would put it up [for adoption].' He turned her away.." I do regret that he feels the way he does about his own safety. I hope he realizes that not everyone who is opposed to abortion wants him dead. But given the slant of the article, I don’t expect that perspective to be conveyed. What is also important to glean from this article is how tragic abortion really is and that criminalizing it only marginalizes those who “need” (I hesitate using that word, but I think it’s appropriate here) the service. The real war against abortion needs to be against this need (“abortion should be available, but rare”). Think simple supply-demand economics. Legal restrictions to abortion reduce the supply which only increases the cost (emotional and physical in addition to financial) to women. Instead, the demand needs to be brought down. And no, I believe showing pictures of fetuses to women entering a clinic is too late to have any measurable effect. Instead the preciousness of life (via Scripture) needs to be emphasized alongside the value of reserving sex for marriage. There is a moral case for family planning.

In both of these cases, it can be seen how their careers are guided by their respective worldviews. But neither worldview is Biblical. Get Religion points out that the profile of Ted Olson only mentions that Olson is "not a regular churchgoer", and Newsweek fails to mention any religious affiliation of Carhart. Yet, while we may not agree with them, we should take the lesson that our lives should be guided by some particular worldview. As Christians, our worldview should be built on being Christ-like and “what would Jesus do?” I also think it is important to be open-minded and respectful of others’ worldviews. I linked these two articles above despite my being against both cases. It is always important to see the other side of an argument. That may sound wishy-washy, but I’m not saying “we can both be right” or “truth is relative”. Instead I’m saying that I disagree with, but respect your opinion, just as you are free to disagree with mine.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Be Careful How You Talk About Your Bride

One of my convictions when it comes to marriage is to never speak negatively about your spouse in public. This conviction came about from observation- almost every Sunday I will hear someone bad-talking their husband or wife. It's one thing to be open for the sake of getting help, but it's a whole other to just gossip and gripe.

We treat Christ's bride the same, sadly. And I am guilty of this myself. I just read this fro the first chapter of Transformational Church bt Thom Rainer and Ed Setzer and I need to camp out on it for a while:
Right now it is en vogue to look down on the church. If you take a look at certain sections of the blog and book worlds, or just peruse the Christian Twittersphere, you can find all kinds of people taking all kinds of shots at the Bride of Christ. And they're doing it for all kinds of reasons. Many are disillusioned with the church of their upbringing. Some are discouraged by decline or scandals. A younger generation is frustrated with the church's apparent apathy about social justice causes. Some are upset that the church won't get more modernized; some are upset because the church has lost it's ancient ways. There are criticisms abounding of emerging churches, seeker churches, missional churches, traditional churches, Boomer churches, multi-site churches, old churches, new churhes, and the list goes on. Sometimes it seems there are as many complaints as ther are Christians, and some of these complaints are well meaning.

But... If you can't do, teach. And if you can't do or teach, become a critic.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Who's fighting by your side?

Saturday, my family attended the wedding of a young couple in my church. The groom was the first person I met here when I moved out. At the time he was a young teen with a serving heart, seeing an unfamiliar face looking around not sure if he was at the right place. He took me under his wing and made sure to introduce me to those who would later become some of my "closest" friends. He didn't know it at the time, but he left a life-long impression on me. Now, eight years later he enters into marriage, a new kind of relationship, a new kind of battle.

Coincidentally, Sunday was the going away party for the Best Man at my wedding. I was also his Best Man. After I moved out here, I stayed with him while looking for a place to live. We led our Singles Ministry together. We stayed up late most nights. We studied together. We led people to Christ together. But I wasn't at his party. Instead I was on a plane, on yet another business trip. He will be moving overseas, on to his next adventure. I'm not sure if I'm ever going to see him again in this life.

That, sadly, is typical. I'm not close to many people. Not as many as I should. While I'd lay down my life for just about anyone, I'm not sure many would for me simply for the fact that I've let few others in. My best friend and I started to grow apart after we were married, further apart after he divorced, and even further apart when my children were born. I found out he was moving second-hand, though he did tell me it was coming. Honestly, these words are hard to put on the page. I'm on the verge of tears just sitting here.

But this wasn't (entirely) meant to be a confessional. Recently, Jay Cookingham has posted a series based on the documentary Band of Brothers. In his first post, he measured his life by adding up the years he has been friends with his BoB. He counted them up to 313 years. Sure, he's got a few more years on me. And I could make the excuse of only living where I am for eight years. But even with those excuses, I couldn't even name 13 of my closest friends. This point was also made in the sermon a week ago. But that challenge was simpler. I couldn't name three. Like I said, this isn't meant to be a confessional. Instead I am convicted. I am intentionally going after friendships I take for granted- recognizing that by standing side-by-side in the fight is what bonds brotherhood, not simply being part of some arbitrary group.

Friday night we were over at a friends house for their daughter's birthday party. While there a brother confronted me about hanging out. Something we've been talking about doing for far too long. We had a good conversation that night. It won't be the last. In fact, I'm picking up my phone right now.

My question of the week this week has three parts:

Who is your closest friend and how long have you been friends?

Do you have at least three close friends that you can turn to when your back is against the wall?

Can you name 13 in your Band of Brothers (or Sisters)/Mighty Men/or whatever you wish to call it?

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Weekend Reading, 7 August

Wow, what I week! I didn't think I spent that much time online and thought this would be a short shout-out, but this list kept getting longer and longer. So, grab a large cup of coffee and read what I read this week:


Friday, August 06, 2010

Flashback Friday: It Is Well With My Soul

***This has been a rough week, or a rough several weeks, for many in and around my circle on the blogosphere and Twitter. Prayers continue to go out for Mike at Mike In Progress and Kevin at Shooting the Breeze. Peter Pollock put up a post on the song It Is Well With My Soul and it reminded me of this earlier post of mine from 5/23/08 when Steven Curtis Chapman's daughter was accidentally killed playing in her driveway. A reminder we could all use.***

It was reported yesterday that the youngest daughter of Steven Curtis Chapman was killed in an accident at their home. My thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family. It is tempting to take Satan's approach to Job that it's easy to glorify God when everything is going well. But one's faith is truly tested when the inexplicable happens. Steven Curtis Chapman has certainly glorified God through his music, but also through his family and the adoption non-profit he founded. For tragedy to strike his family directly like this must be gut-wrenching as he is likely wrestling with the question of "why?"

To relate to this songwriter, I turn to another- Horatio Spafford. If the name isn't familiar, he's the writer of It is Well With My Soul, one of my favorite hymns. This is the story "behind the music" (courtesy of Wikipedia):
This hymn was writ­ten af­ter several trau­matic events in Spaf­ford’s life. The first was the death of his only son in 1871, shortly followed by the great Chi­ca­go Fire which ru­ined him fi­nan­cial­ly (he had been a successful lawyer). Then in 1873, he had planned to travel to Europe with his family on the S.S. Ville Du Havre, but sent the family ahead while he was delayed on business. While cross­ing the At­lan­tic, the ship sank rapidly after a collision with an­o­ther ship, and all four of Spaf­ford's daugh­ters died. His wife Anna sur­vived and sent him the now fa­mous tel­e­gram, "Saved alone." Shortly afterwards, as Spaf­ford traveled to meet his grieving wife, he was inspired to write these words as his ship passed near where his daugh­ters had died...

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!.

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010


In conversations and in the comments from yesterday's blog, just about everyone would grab pictures if their home was threatened with fire. Why is that so? Are our memories that bad?

I know my memory neglects the little things while honing in on major events or milestones. So pictures remind us of the moment the picture was taken, inconsequential or momentous. They capture the instant of a smile, of a word, of joy expressed however briefly.

"...do this in remembrance of me." (Luke 22:19)

How many photo albums do you have?

How often do you pull them out?

What's your favorite picture?

Jesus told his disciples to remember the Last Supper in the above passage. At the time, it was just another Passover dinner. Another time hanging out with Jesus. They didn't know what was about to come, but Jesus did. Jesus also knew that his disciples, when looking back, would likely remember the major events (the trial, the carrying of the cross, the crucifixion, and of course the resurrection) but would struggle to remember the individual conversations from that last night.

"Then they remembered his words." (Luke 24:8)

What one major event will you always remember, as long as you live?

Do you remember the dinner the night before that event?

When we take vacations in the summer, one of the goals of course is to get a break and have some fun. But it is more about the memories. As kids we have no idea the stress our parents feel as they pack the bags and load the car. As adults we forget the simple joy of our children getting to go someplace new.

I remember as a kid taking a road trip from my home in central Wyoming down to Phoenix to visit family. I remember playing games on the road, fighting with my sister over who got to sleep on the seat and who had to sleep on the floorboard (this was before car seats and seat belt laws), and collecting every menu, matchbook, and postcard we could find along our route to scrapbook our journey. Of course, the scrapbook has long since been lost and specific details of the trip vague, but I remember having fun.

My favorite summer memories were the road trips I'd take with my grandma to visit her brother and his family. He was my favorite uncle who I loved for taking me fishing, spending the whole day on the water talking about everything and nothing. I treasured the time alone with my grandma over the hundreds of miles on the road. I relished the scenery. We had our traditional stops along the way- a specific restaurant for a hot roast beef sandwich, a certain diner for a milkshake. As I grew older, she even let me drive part of the way. Even after my uncle passed away, we continued the trip.

As I write, a million memories flood my mind. I remember other vacations, visiting my mom's side of the family in Georgia. I remember trips to the beach, the hot sun, and the inevitable sunburns. As I wax nostalgic, tears well up in my eyes and my heart chokes up. And I admit that I couldn't find a single picture from these trips if I tried.

"Be happy, young man, while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see." (Ecclesiastes 11:9)

What is your favorite vacation memory from childhood?

As an adult, vacations take on a different meaning. Sure, we want to get away from the job, from the responsibilities of our home, from the daily grind in general. But with children, I want to create special memories for them. I want them to look back at their childhood as fondly as I do mine. And I want those special moments to be shared together as a family, united in joy.

My son is at an age where he loves to tell me about everything. He especially loves to ask, "do you remember...?" Everything is big to him. Everything keeps him in awe. His little sister is catching on, wanting to join in those conversations even though her memories aren't as long. They both remember the trips, the rides at Disneyland, the camping, the beach as if they were everyday occurrences. They talk about them as if they were yesterday (in fact my son hasn't yet learned to discern time, so everything that happened before today was "yesterday"). I pray we get to continue to build those memories as they grow older and our lives grow increasingly hectic.

"Remember your Creator
in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come
and the years approach when you will say,
'I find no pleasure in them'- " (Ecclesiastes 12:1)

What is your favorite vacation memory as an adult?

It's amazing how memories were kept before the invention of photography. Imagine living without the hundreds of pictures stored on your hardrive. Memories were kept by telling stories and writing journals, being passed on through the generations. The Bible is a collection of such memories, passed along the same way. There are no pictures of Jesus, yet his disciples were commanded to remember him. "Remember" shows up 233 times in the Bible. It is as important today as it was then to remember God's Covenant, to remember Jesus' sacrifice, to remember "the sins of our youth". If a fire were to destroy everything we own, all we are left with are our memories.

What will you remember?

Today continues this summer's 'virtual small group' (VSG in the tags). I hope you come back as I take this season to reflect on the wonders of God's creation, share vacation stories, etc, with the prayer that we come out of this season closer to God than how we came into it.

Monday, August 02, 2010

What would you take with you?

Last week a blazing fire came perilously close to my community, momentarily displacing many of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Though I was still a few miles away, the reality of losing it all hit home. Upon receiving the notice of evacuation, this is what one of my friends posted on Facebook:

For some reason,the desire for a bigger,nicer home was always a desire deep within my heart..after the events of the last two days, reading Matthew 6:19-20 has burned that desire into an ash heap, especially upon the realization that the most important things we took with us were each other, visual memories with our family and friends (pics), and some "important" papers (wouldn't have cared if those burned actually).

One of my friends from campus ministry always used to say about things, "well, it's all going to burn anyway" in response to everything from losing a CD to giving more on Sundays. Yes, it will all burn someday. So what's important?

If a fire was bearing down on your home, and you had little time to choose, what would you take with you?

(And thankfully, only four homes were lost. Praise God too that no one was hurt.)