Friday, December 28, 2007

Does Spiritual gifts discovery help in evangelism? See results

I'm about to head to the doctor to see why I have this vertigo. Now that I have some cold symptoms, I suspect it is an inner ear infection.

The "poll results" are still coming in from the Spiritual gifts surveys. But I thought I would share a couple of early findings, specifically on the impact that Spiritual gifts discovery has upon evangelism.

Note the following statistics from the survey of those who have gone through the discovery process:
  • 78% said that as a result of this process, they have thought more about and/or better served people in the world/workplace/neighborhood

  • 50% said that this process has helped them share their faith or help non-Christians come to faith in some way

  • 61% believe that if most in the church would go through this process, the church could better fulfill its mission and reach the lost

These are amazingly high stats, especially considering that most people are motivated to take the assessments because of personal spiritual growth or to find their place in the church. I'll have more to say later on this, with much more extensive results.

Why do you think this process is seems to be so effective in helping people to reach out and share their faith?

Not feeling too well today

Hey guys. I'm not feeling too well today. I've had some kind of vertigo the past few days, and I have a killer headache and some cold symptoms. Not good timing--I've got a lot of work to get done. I'm not on my death bed, but I'll take all the prayer I can get! By the way, I may be a bit slow on emails for the next couple of days. Sorry about that--I'll get back with you soon.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

I'm touched tonight by the church here

Each day I'm still here I am reminded of how precious the people at Liberty are. Tonight was one of those days.

Dennis, our associate minister, had a great class on, of all things, the story of Dinah and the men of Shechem in Genesis 34. There were a lot of good insights that were brought out by various members of the class on this interesting narrative. We laughed a lot too, which always helps. I told Dennis that I would be preaching this story soon. I thought of a lot of application for evangelism on this. I won't spoil it for you. I was also reminded of how important it is to study in community, to hear the different perspectives of God's people on a text.

I sent out a questionnaire this week to most of the people who have gone through the Strengths and Spiritual gifts assessments. It asks questions about the process--whether or not it helped people serve, learn how God made them, help them in sharing their faith, and a whole lot of other questions. I have compiled some of the results already, and they are very interesting. I'll share them with you later.

I sent out these requests for this questionnaire to be filled out by people on close to midnight on Christmas Day. It is research that I need for one of my doctoral classes. It was a personal request, though we will use the results here to help with our discovery process. I had to ask for a quick response, because my paper is due at the end of December. And people responded. The responses just kept coming throughout the day.

I know it is a small thing, perhaps, and maybe I'm just emotional right now. But as I was sitting here tonight, inputting data, I was touched by the fact that people cared enough to take time out of their busy holiday and help me on this project. Liberty, I will really miss you. You are my friends and co-workers for life.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Our Christmas

Here is what we have been up to this Christmas.

On Saturday we went to Omaha, Nebraska, to see Becki's parternal grandmother and some of her father's relatives (the Dominas). I I come from a very different upbringing than these relatives, and relating to this group required a bit of "cross-cultural" skills. We do share a love for God. We spent about half the day there, and then we went on to Becki's maternal grandparents (the McCords), who live on a farm in Harlan, Iowa.

While I did not grow up on a farm, I am a bit closer culturally to this side of Becki's family. Many of the children and grandchildren, for instance, went to Christian colleges. I had some good conversations with one of Becki's uncles, Charlies who lives in Michigan, and one of her aunts, Becky, who lives in Garland, TX. We discussed the church, spiritual gifts, and God's working in our lives.

Unfortuantely, at the McCord house, Becki's neice, Abby, broke two bones in her leg while sledding down a hill. Poor thing!

We worshipped in Harlan, a church of about 50-60 that was bursting at the seams from the family visitors. Later that day we drove back to Liberty (a trip of about four hours).

Yesterday we had our Christmas. I got Becki a certificate to the "Serendipity Spa," for a day of pampering. I received some lounging clothes, which I'm very comfortable in and wearing right now. The kids received various books, musical toys and movies.

Becki's sister and her family and one of her brothers joined us in the evening yesterday. I went with Dave, my brother-in-law, to see Will Smith's movie I Am Legend. http://www.hollywood.com/movie/I_Am_Legend/378959 It was a lot different than I expected, almost a horror film. I wouldn't take your wife or girlfriend out to see this--it has some rather disturbing images. Still, it made an interesting point about God at the end. Most of Becki's family left early this morning. Her mother is still here, helping us around the house.

I am working on my evangelism and Spiritual gifts paper for one of my doctoral classes. It is due at the end of December. With all that has gone on--job interviews, getting ready to move, etc.--I still have a lot of work to do on this. So yes, I'm working on Christmas, but technically, we had our Christmas yesterday.

How was your Christmas?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Man learns his co-worker is his birth mom

The title of this blog says it all. I pretty amazing story. Here is the link.

http://news.aol.com/story/_a/man-learns-co-worker-is-his-birth-mom/20071220172509990001?ncid=NWS00010000000001

As I read this story, I wondered about a biblical application. Here is what came to mind.

There are so many people who feel that God is absent from their lives. Then they encounter a godly person who shares Christ with them. And when they look back, they discover that God has been with them all along. Every pre-Christian I have talked to has been able to look back in his or her and see where God put a Christian friend, co-worker, family member, or neighbor into his or her life. It is a great discovery, and one which is faith affirming and brings them joy.

What surprising things have you discovered about God in your life?

Recommended Church Media Blog

Hello. I wanted to highlight a church media blog that I came across and recommend.

http://www.noperfectpeople.com/ Helpful information, and the "favorite links" section will take you to the author's online store of worship slides, videos, and site designs. I'll be adding this link to my favorites section.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Up Late at Night

Well, I sent my last email tonight at 12:30 PM and went to bed. But I can't sleep, even though I am tired. So I'm blogging.

Today Becki's family came into town. They will leave for Iowa in the morning, and we'll follow them on Saturday. We opened a few gifts tonight. Gina had been dying to give us her gifts. She had made for us pictures, ornaments, and a clay figurine. She had also saved her money to buy a gift for her sister, Emily. Pretty precious.

I've been doing a lot of research on websites for the church and for my own sites. Here is a link to a designer who does some great work. http://www.mychurchwebsite.com/clients.html Scroll down to the various sites listed on this page and check out some of the church sites.

Here are some of the things we have to do:
  • I have a doctoral class to finish by the end of the year, with paper and project that I'm doing on evangelism and Spiritual gifts
  • I have another class scheduled in January on Theology of Preaching to prepare for
  • We are working to get our house on the market. It is a terrible time to sell, both seasonally and due to the current housing slump. We also have some things to finish on our house. So say some prayers for us!
  • I am working on handing off responsibilities. I have tried to prepare and train various people to do many of the jobs that I do, but some I need to recruit. Hopefully the emphasis upon outreach, discipleship studies, and Spiritual gifts has embedded itself in the congreation, but it will take others championing these causes to keep these ministries flourishing. I am happy that some have already told me that they are going to continue these things. Others have asked me how they are going to continue and I've said, "It is up to people like you."
  • I am preparing for our new work in McKinney. I am coordinating with elders and ministers in some budgeting and planning for the year. There are some things that I can anticipate now, while others cannot be known until I am "on the ground."

I think I might feel sleep coming on, so I'm signing off. Have a great Holidays!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

We need a kingdom vision, not just a church vision

In doing some research for a paper on evangelism and Spiritual gifts, I came across this great quote by Howard Synder:

"When Christians catch a vision of the Kingdom of God, their sight shifts to the poor, the orphan, the widow, the refugee, the wretched of the earth, to God's future—to the concerns of justice, mercy and truth. Church people think about how to get people into the church; Kingdom people think about how to get the church into the world. Church people worry that the world might change the church; Kingdom people work to see the church change the world."
The Kingdom of God is God's rule over his people and the world, which is broader than the church. In the Lord's Prayer, Jesus says to pray, "You kingdom come, your will be done." This is a case of Hebrew parallelism, in which these two lines mean the same thing. That is, God's kingdom is about his will being done (his rule), which includes love, justice, and righteousness. What we desire is for God's will to be done here on earth as it is in heaven, and the church partners with God in accomplishing his will. In other words, we are part of a mission that is larger than ourselves. Church is not the ultimate goal--God's kingdom rule is the ultimate goal.

When we understand this, we will stop having a bunker mentality, in which we withdraw from the world. Instead, we will realize that fundamental to our purpose is going out into the world and transforming it. Evidence of a church focus rather than a kingdom focus is a lack of evangelism, evangelism without service, lack of care about the community, or making non-evangelistic numbers the focus. When we care about the kingdom, and serve and share the good news with the lost, numbers will result. Lost people are not dumb--they can tell if we truly care about them and the world around them, or if we just want our attendance to go up.

See Snyder, Howard, A. Liberating the Church. Downers Grove, 111.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1983, 11.

Do you think most churches have a church focus or a kingdom focus?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Dear Liberty Church--We will miss you dearly

This morning at worship we announced to the Liberty congregation that we will be moving to McKinney, Texas, and taking a position at the High Pointe Church of Christ. Many, many tears were shed, both from us and from the congregation, as I attempted to put into words our incredible love and appreciation for this church. Before I even opened my mouth, I began to break down. The elders all rallied around me, standing there with me and praying for me and giving me their blessing.

Here is my letter to this church:

Dear Liberty family,

It has been a pleasure serving with you these nearly six years. During this time, the church here has experienced substantial growth in attendance, in baptisms, in contributions, and in new ministries. We have worked together, laughed together, and served alongside one another, and God has blessed this partnership. We have developed incredible, lifelong friendships. Our children have grown up at Liberty. We will cherish these relationships always.

We have decided to take a preaching/evangelist position at the High Pointe Church of Christ in McKinney, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. It is an 800-900 member congregation that wants to become missional and reach out to the community and is looking for leadership. They have a tremendous number of young families, and are looking for someone to connect with them. The area is expected to grow from 120,000 to 300,000 in the next 5+ years. And this is the church where my parents attend, which will allow our children to be closer to their grandparents. High Pointe approached us for this position, and when we visited them, we received an overwhelming reception. In short, this is a unique opportunity that we feel will allow us to be closer to family and have a great impact for the kingdom.

We will probably be leaving about mid-March, though this may be moved up if we conclude personal matters and it is agreeable to the church. In the meantime, we plan on spending cherished time with our friends here. We will also be concluding evangelistic Bible studies, doing follow-up with the Children's Ministry Outreach, and handing off ministry duties.

Thank you so much for all that you have done for me, for my family, for this church, and for the kingdom. The Liberty church is a wonderful church, and I am sure that God will send a great minister your way. We will pray for this, and we will pray that the great progress here will continue. This church has strong ministries and strong leaders, and should do well in the transition. We covet your prayers in beginning this challenging new work. We will stay in touch and forever be blessed by our partnership here together. God bless.
James and Becki

Saturday, December 15, 2007

EVERYTHING skit/video--Sure to move you emotionally

This video shows a skit about a teen whom Satan is trying to destroy. It is sure to make you cry--hold out to the end!

Thanks, Jen, for the video.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Email and text messaging--when not to do it

A recent news article highlighted a growing trend of breaking up with someone by email or text message. http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20071214/tc_nm/britain_text1_dc_1

This is a horrible thing to do. Email and text messaging is good for information, but not for emotional messages. Do not break up with a girlfriend/boyfriend, quit a job, or lash out in anger through these means. Save these dramas for face to face interaction, or a phone call if that is impossible. Email and texting is the easy way out, the cheap way out, in which we can lash out and not have to deal with the human response. By doing this, we disrespect the person whom we refuse to talk to face to face.

I fear that we are becoming a society that has forgotten how to communicate face to face. I'm told by parents that teens will sit in a room together and text one another. This is probably fun, but it should not replace human interaction.

Why do you think breaking up through email and texting is increasing in popularity?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Are young adults full adults?--see survey results

Today, USA Today gave some statistics on whether or not young adults (18-25) and their parents viewed them to be full adults.


According to the survey less than 20% of both "young adults" and their parents saw 18-25 year olds as adults.
Some studies show that the brain is not fully developed for most people until age 20. And yet, decades/centuries ago, a great number of people married at age 14-16. For the Jews, a boy was considered a man at age 12.
It is true that in American/Western society today, almost no one would view a 12 year old as a man or woman. And the "kid" status has been extended until age 25 now. We need to realize, however, that this is a cultural phenomenon, and a relatively recent one, not primarily a genetic setting.
We need to challenge our teens and young adults to take responsibility and serve God, work hard, and be committed and involved Christians. If people once could be married at age 14, then surely they could serve in great ways if challenged.
I would love to hear from those with teens and young adult children on this.
What do you think teens and 18-25 year olds could be challenged to do? When should they be viewed as an adult?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

What do miraculous stories have to do with us today?

Today I am looking at Acts 12 in preparation for Sunday's message. The biggest part of this chapter is the story of Peter's miraculous escape from prison. Herod had killed James the brother of John, and he had had Peter arrested. An angel appears and leads him out of prison right past the guards. The gates even open by themselves.

This is an interesting story. But what application does it have for us today?

Any thoughts?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Spiritual Practices and Resouces for Families

Dennis Meyers, our associate minister, has recommended a couple of books for family devotionals.

In Our Fathers Hands - Justin and Tyrel Hatfield - This book is designed for families with children.
Strength for the Journey - David Deffenbaugh and Bill McFarland

A note from Dennis: "The books are published by Little Acorn: their website has additional information about the books including downloadable PDF files with excerpts from both books. The website is http://www.littleacornkids.net/"

For Liberty members, if you want to order these books, let Dennis know by the end of the week.
I try to read Bible stories, sing songs, go over memory verses, and pray with my two girls every night except Sunday. Families need to be doing Spiritual things together, and studies show that families that have daily devotionals together stay very faithful. My suggestion--take at least 30 minutes a night watching TV, and spend it with your family on Spiritual things.
What Spiritual practices do you have in your family?

Addicted to achievements?

Probably one of the most defining Strengths www.strengthsfinder.com or characteristics I have is that of "Achiever." Achiever work long and hard hours in order to accomplish goals, and they tend to define progress and themselves in terms of accomplishments.

My achiever gene translates into a lot of areas of my life, resulting in:
--Three undergrad degrees, two masters (M.A. and M.Div.), and working on a D.Min.
--Several written works (Story of Redemption, New Community, Using Your Spiritual Gifts www.storyofredemption.com)
--Scheduling of missional Church Seminars http://www.storyofredemption.com/page6.html
--Setting up many evangelistic Bible studies and multiple outreachs to community
--Hours spent in sermon preparation
--Many books read each year
--Joining of civic organizations to meet people in the community
--Spending time with Christians to develop friendships and new leaders
--Time each night spent teaching our two girls about God, Christ, and the Bible, songs, how to pray

Most people look at all of this, and it makes them tired. In truth, I at times wear myself out. I have so many things that I want to do and accomplish, and I try to do them all at a high level. If we only had 48 hour days . . . :) The past couple of days, I have been very tired. But, like most Achievers, after resting up, I want to get working again. I already have a whole new list of goals . . .

It is easy for Achievers to get addicted to achievements. And I plead guilty. To you fellow achievers out there, let's be honest--our achiever nature is part of how God built us, and it won't go away. But we also need to take some vacation time here and there, and not let the Achiever part totally override other aspects of our lives. Reggie McNeal, my teacher at Fuller, said that we need to apply our Achiever strength to our families as well, and mark off "accomplishments" with them. Becki and I need to take more vacations together. I'm counting on all of you to remind me of this!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Racism in our country's and fellowship's past


Here is an article on race from a member of our fellowship back in 1941. http://www.mun.ca/rels/restmov/texts/race/haymes8.html It will probably sadden and anger you that blacks were treated so poorly at this time. Shaking hands with black preachers, sleeping in the same room as them, or marrying an African-American was viewed to be a "violation of Christianity."

These racists attitudes were pervasive across the United States, and sadly, across the vast majority of religious groups in the South at this time. Racism has no place whatsoever in Christianity, for all men and women, regardless of race, are created equal in the sight of God.

We need to understand the sins of the past so that we can understand the issues of the present and seek to continue to move towards a more positive future. Racism still exists. All of us surely fall prey to this one way or another, often in unconscious ways. If we want to know why there is still a racial divide in our country and in our fellowship, we need to understand our history. We have made much progress on racism as a country and as a fellowship. We need to continue to do so.

Clearly, there was a blindness on this issue that was so pervasive in our culture that it was not even seen by Christians. Here is a positive point on this issue. Some hold the view that if anyone is wrong on any point of doctrine, that they are lost. If this is the case, then the vast majority of Christians in this time--including so many of our grandparents and great-grandparents--would have to be lost. I thank God for his grace, that he forgives us when we are seeking him, even sometimes to things to which we are blind. I am sure that I am wrong on many things, and blind to many things. I have to believe that God forgives me.

How can we continue to overcome racism and prejudice in our nation and in the church?

Mitt Romney, Mormonism, and Christianity

I have for a long time been somewhat conflicted about Mitt Romney's run for president for several reasons. While I am very interested in politics, I do not believe that this is the way that we will impact the world for Christ. No amount of laws can change hearts. For instance, the problem in the US is not that gay marriage may become legal. It is that people do not know Christ and that they are engaged in this lifestyle. (And no, I am not trying to elevate this sin above others here, just referencing a high profile, political issue that people are well aware of.) Also, the US Constitution says that there should be no religious test for office. So I cannot just reject Mitt Romney's run for president out of hand.

I also like Mitt Romney personally. He is a good administrator--something which we really need right now. And, though he has recently changed his positions, he is a strong social conservative. I identify with his values. I have to admit, however, that I am reluctant to see Mormonism be given a higher profile, particularly when it is confused with Christianity.

Yesterday, Romney gave a speech about his Mormon faith because he has been slipping in polls to Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor who is overtly running as a "Christian leader" (this is flashed on the screen in his TV ads). And polls show that evangelicals are reluctant to vote for a Mormon. So he gave this speech, a la Kennedy's speech on Catholicisim, to let people know that he would not be controlled by Mormon leaders in Salt Lake City. He spoke of the religious plurality of the founders of the US Constitution. He spoke about the role of faith in the US. His rhetoric was soaring, inspiring, and I believe will help him politically.

One problem I have, however, with Romney's speech, is that he sought to paint the picture that Mormonism is Christianity, merely one of many branches. He said that he believed that Christ was the savior of the world and the Son of God.

On the surface, this would make Mormonism seem like Christianity. Most Mormons are good, moral people. They have great families, great values, and are good Americans. However, Mormonism--though it seeks to portray itself as such--is not Christianity. This is affirmed by both liberal and conservative Christians alike.

Mormons believe things totally at odds from Christianity:
  • They believe that God is a physical being with a physical body
  • They believe that God used to be a man on another planet
  • They believe that God the Father had a Father
  • They believe that there is a mother god
  • They believe that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are three totally separate beings, not one
  • They believe that Jesus is a created being, and that Satan and Jesus are Spirit brothers
  • They believe that human beings can become their own gods
  • They believe in the pre-existence of humanity, that we were spirit beings in heaven before being born
  • They baptize for the dead
  • They believe in eternal marriage
  • They believe in salvation by works
  • They believe there is no salvation without recognizing Joseph Smith as a prophet
  • They believe in "another gospel of Jesus Christ" that was given to Joseph Smith by an angel
  • They believe in ongoing revelation of modern day prophets who are on the par with Scripture

For more information on their beliefs, go to http://www.carm.org/lds/lds_doctrines.htm. Hopefully I do not have to point out how these beliefs are totally at odds with Scripture and the historical understanding of the Christian faith. In short, while Mormons are good people who do a lot of great things, Mormonism is not Christianity. I certainly try to take the good in all people, faiths, cultures, and religions, and use this to point towards larger truth. However, I fear that some of our young (and older) people today are so unaware of biblical teaching and so (rightly) desiring of unity, that they may believe that there is really no difference between Christianity and Mormonism. There most certainly is a huge difference.

For the political reaction to the speech, see the following links.

http://thehill.com/leading-the-news/romney-speech-earns-mostly-positive-reviews-2007-12-06.html



What do you know about Mormonism? How can we best reach Mormons?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Bowling and Friendship

After lunch today, my friend Matt and I went bowling with a couple of guys that we are getting to be friends with from Sertoma. Matt bowled 111, and I bowled a whopping 91! In the last frame, I had two strikes--the first I had had all game--and a 4 pin.

C.S. Lewis said that guys bond together side by side, rather than facing one another. In other words, guys bond by doing things together.

If you want to develop genuine friendships with both Christians and non-Christians, you have to spend time together and create memorable experiences by doing things together.

Hey, bowling isn't climbing Mt. Everest. But I'll remember my 91 and Matt's 111!

What types of things do you like to do with your friends?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Using Your Spiritual Gifts--A New Publication

Just wanted to give you a heads up on a work that I will soon be publishing entitled, Using Your Spiritual Gifts: Serving Like Jesus. This work is designed to help people discover their Spiritual gifts, with a biblical lesson on each gift. Also contained within the work is a Spiritual gifts inventory, as well as stories or testimonies of how people have used their gifts. I believe that this will be a unique and useful tool for individuals and churches.

More information to come!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Hard Core--Beware of This!

Here is a link to a YouTube Video with Michael Frost, who is speaking on the missional church. Frost is one of the co-authors of The Shaping of Things to Come, co-written along with Alan Hirsch, one of my teachers at Fuller. Frost is a great communicator. You won't want to miss this talk. A warning, however--Frost is hard core missional, and will radically challenge your understanding of what it means to be the church. Enjoy!

http://www.theforgottenways.org/blog/2007/11/27/frost-on-fire/#more-322

Holiday Christmas Party at our House, Sat., Dec. 9


Hello everyone! Just wanted to invite you out to our Holiday Christmas Party this weekend.


What: Holiday Christmas Party

When: Sat., Dec. 9, 6:30-9:30 PM

Where: Our House

Why: To have fun! To invite friends! To enjoy Christmas!


We'll have finger foods, and our band, "Assisted Living," will be playing some rockin' Christmas tunes. Hey, our basement is finished too, so this year will be that much better. It will be a great time had by all, and a great opportunity to invite your friends. Come out, and bring someone else along.

Friday, November 30, 2007

UnChristian--What a New Generation Thinks About Christianity

The Barna group released in October 2007 a new book by David Kinnaman entitled: UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity . . . And Why it Matters.
http://www.amazon.com/unChristian-Generation-Really-Christianity-Matters/dp/0801013003/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1196488137&sr=8-1

The title is rather provocative. At first glance at "UnChristian," you might think that it is a book that talks about the "UnChristian" world (non-Christians), and that our world is going further away from God. But in fact, the book shows how young adults believe that the church is moving away from Christ and his values.

The 18-29 year old age group that was surveyed gave these negative impressions about the church:
- antihomosexual
- judgmental
- hypocritical
- too involved in politics
- out of touch with reality
- old-fashioned
- insensitive to others
- boring
- not accepting of other faiths

We need to digest these findings, and seek to learn from them. Jesus certainly did not seem to be viewed as anti any person, judmental, hypocritical, too involved in politics, out of touch with reality, old-fashioned, insentivie to others, or boring. The fact is, we are at times probably guilty of these as charged. Obviously, we still must take stands against immorality, and Jesus himself said that he was the only way to the father. We need, however, to uphold these truths in a loving way that does not feed into stereotypes.

It struck me that most all of these negative perceptions can be changed if we will just serve people and the community. A church that is helping the community and changing lives is not irrelevant. Who really cares about being "old fashioned," if these things are being done? A church that loves and cares for those with AIDS will lessen charges of being judgmental. And the church that serves will well stand up against any other "faith."

Jesus said that he did not come to be served, but to serve. Maybe that is why people were so drawn to him. If we want to reach the world today, we must serve our community and those around us.

Which of these negative impressions do you think are most valid? Which do you think are the least valid?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Have your kids ever done this?

Tonight, Emily, our three year old, said to Gina, our six year old, "You've been mean to me all day."

Gina replied, "That hurt my feelings."

So Emily hit her.

I would not suggest this as a way to resolve conflict! :)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Our New Worship Projector Is Just In, and It is Incredible

Dennis, our associate minister, walked back to the office a few minutes and asked Judy and I, "Do you want to see it?" By see it, he meant see the new worship projector.

Judy and I walked in and saw the new projector, and we were blown away. We have suffered through a horribly poor projector for some time now. Our auditorium is flooded with ambient light, with the sun shining brightly through the glass that is behind the projector. It is difficult therefore to get a projector that is bright enough so that the image is not washed out. But this new projector does the trick.

For those of you who worship with us, you will be amazed on Sunday how good the images are. The colors are rich, the pictures are bright and crisp, and the slides for songs are very readable. Old and young alike are going to love this new projector.

In our image rich, postmodern society, having great, inspiring imagery is important. We have tried to really expand our outreach budgets in recent years, and rightly so. But this was an upgrade that was long overdue, and one that should help us connect better and worship more fully, being inspired. Trust me. You won't be disappointed on Sunday.

What kind of worship images inspire and touch you--creation? crosses and crowns? church community? abstract?

Twenty Baptisms this year, with several more in Bible studies

God has greatly blessed us as a church this year with many new converts. We have had 20 baptisms, with 13 of these coming from the community. These have included lower and middle class, white and African-American, people who have been law-abiding and those who have turned their lives around, people with health and those suffering from major illness. I am excited not only about reaching people in the community, but about reaching people of different backgrounds and ethnicities. God is at work!

Yesterday I told you about a young mother whom Becki had visited who was interested in studying. Last night, I went with Becki to meet her, and this visit went great. She invited us in, and was very open and friendly. We will begin studying with her next week, going through The Story of Redemption. http://www.storyofredemption.com/ I am thrilled! Seeing people come to know God and learn of his great love for them is one of the great joys of my life. Almost everyone who goes through this study, which tells the story of God's love for us, decides to follow Christ and is baptized.

We have several others who are in study right now as well, and others that we are seeking to set up. We will also invite those that we are helping in our Children's Outreach Ministry at Thanksgiving and Christmas to participate in a Bible study. There are 27 families that we are helping, with 101 children, so this represents a great opportunity.

Please be praying for these efforts! We want to show people that we care about them in every way--financially, emotionally, and spiritually. Will you do this for us? We believe in the power of prayer!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Just ask--many people are interested in God

One of the stories I didn't get a chance to tell yet involves my wife. We have had an older couple visiting with us for a couple of months who recently moved to this area. They had talked with a young, single mother who is one of their neighbors about coming and worshiping with us. So my wife, Becki, went to visit her with another woman from our church, a recent convert, Tracy.

Becki had only the name of the older couple as a point of connection with this young mother. But she is charming, and the mother was very friendly and receptive. It turns out that she has a nominal Catholic background, but isn't really sure what she believes. Tracy, the new convert, was able to talk about how she didn't really know what she believed either before studying with us. In fact, when she first came to worship with us, her child had pointed to me and asked, "Is that man God?" This young mother connected with this story.

Becki asked her if she would like to have a Bible study, and she said that she would. Amazing. Here is a visitor who talks with a neighbor who agrees to a Bible study from a first time visit. God is at work! People today are so starved spiritually, that they are much more interested in learning more about God. I hear from church planters that even things such as door knocking are becoming more effective again due to this hunger. Obviously, having some kind of relational connection is best. But this does not always have to be strong, as this story shows. Even just living in the same neighborhood may be enough of a commonality to make a connection with people and begin a study.

Please pray for Becki and I as we seek to follow up with this young mother, to study with her and to bless her life as much as we can. And don't forget to ask people that you know at work or in your neighborhood about God. They may be very interested, if we will only say something about our faith and engage them in conversation.

One great question to ask is, If you could ask God one question, what would it be?

A Spiritual Fitness Plan

Hope you guys had a great Thanksgiving. Ours went well--lots of good food, the kids played together well, and people enjoyed one another. Prior to getting together, my brother had told me how he had been working out 10 hours a day. I was impressed. He said that he watched almost no television, which allowed him this time to work out. And he is now in great shape.

This spurred me on to thinking about starting to work out again. I thought about it. Then the moment passed, and I felt a lot better. :) Seriously, I need to start this up again on a regular basis.

Most especially, though, we need Spiritual fitness. Here is a Spiritual fitness plan.

1. Exercise--Use your Spiritual gifts that God has given you. Paul says, "We have different gifts, according to the grace given us" (Rom. 12:6). If you feel spiritually flabby, it might be because you are not using your Spiritual gifts. These gifts are given to us as a grace--a free gift and a blessing to us, to the body of Christ, and to the world. Paul says that if you have a gift, you need to use it. I spend time with people, trying to help them discover and use their gifts for God. It is amazing some of the positive changes and joy this brings into people's lives. All of a sudden, God is all around them.

2. Eat a balanced diet--The Christian faith consists of fellowship, discipleship, evangelism, service, and worship. Many Christians only take in a diet of worship. Even the most perfect food group, if eaten to exclusion, will leave us weak and sick. Do you feel disconnected at church? Who are you eating with? Do you feel your life lacks meaning? Who are you trying to serve? Do you struggle with materialism and selfishness? How are you trying to share your faith with? These are questions that I must ask myself when I feel Spiritually weak.

3. Get a workout partner--I stink at working out alone. I have good intentions, but then work and life happen and exercise does not. Most people who consistently exercise have a workout partner. The same is true spiritually. If we try living the Christian faith and practicing Christian disciplines alone, we usually do a poor job. Find a couple of Christian friends to get together with on a weekly basis. Share what you have read in Scripture that week, who you have tried to bless, and who you are trying to share your faith with. Are you doing these on a weekly basis? If not, it may be because you have no one who encourages you or to whom you are (lovingly) accountable.

Try this Spiritual workout plan for three months, and see if you don't see some "results" in your Spiritual shape right away.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Off For Thanksgiving

Hey guys. We are off for Thanksgiving, and I'm taking a break on email right now. So if you sent me a message in the last couple of days, I just wanted to let you know that I probably haven't received it. We'll head back to Liberty on Saturday.

At our Thanksgiving, we eat ham, not turkey. I know, kind of non-traditional, but we just like a great ham better. I'll be watching some games during the holiday, as usual. Go Cowboys! Go Longhorns!

Have a great Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Liberty Church now helping 96 children during Holidays

Judy, who is part of the Children's Outreach ministry, has informed me that the number of children that we will be helping at Thanksgiving and Christmas with food and gifts has increased to 96 children. Many have been very appreciative. What a great opportunity to show God's love.

If anyone would like to make a financial contribution to this great work, you can go to our website at www.libertychurchofchrist.org. Scroll down to the bottom of the opening page to the "e-giving" icon. Or, here is the direct link: https://www.nfpsystems.com/contrib/contrib.asp?org=138.

Let us also pray that we have an opportunity to share the gospel with many of these families.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A-Rod and his millions

It is pretty easy to pick on public figures, and as a preacher, I try not to pick such low lying fruit very often. Most of these celebrities don't know God, so it should not be surprising when they act in ungodly or insane ways.

The A-rod story, however, has been hard to avoid. Alex Rodriquez signed a $250 million dollar contract with my Texas Rangers. He was traded a few years later to the New York Yankes because of disgruntlement. And worst of all, the Rangers subsided his contract. They paid the Yankees $7 million per year for a player that they no longer had. I cannot think of many things in the sports world more horrible than subsidizing the evil empire!

A-Rod had a clause in his contract that let him opt out after seven years. He chose to do this, which thankfully let the Rangers off the hook for the subsidy they owed the Yankees. I loved that part of it. But he opted out for--get this--more money. His agent, Scott Boras, who is rightfully villified, told the Yankees that they had to put up $350 MILLION DOLLARS!! just to get an opportunity to come to the negotiating table. Boras announced A-rod's opting out of his contract during the World Series, seeking to upstage the game. Definitely bad taste.

I am one that understands wanting to feel respected. And even if a guy is making milliions, if he is doing the same job but someone is making three times as much, well, all things being considered, you might start to wonder if you were really valued. I know it is hard to imagine feeling this way, since most of us will never come close to making anything near that of a professional baseball player. But for people in third world countries, they probably don't understand how anyone living in America could feel slighted. This is why salary with these guys is often more about feeling respected than it is money.

But A-rod was already the highest paid player in baseball--by far!--when he opted out. Despite having the respect that comes from being the highest paid player in the game, he still wanted more. And much, much more. All I can say at this point is, when you make the most of any one around by far, and you are demanding more, this is greed. Pure and simple.

It seems, however, that now A-rod is having a change of heart. He now wants to come back with the Yankees, who had written him off. Without the subsidy, and after his demands, they didn't want him. But now he is indicating that he is willing to take a pay cut. See the story.


It seems that A-Rod didn't like the fallout from his public negotiations. Maybe he does care whether or not people think he is a totally greedy dude. Or maybe the other teams took a look at him and said, we don't want this guy on our team, and he wasn't going to get his payday. I hope it was a change of heart.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Gift of Knowledge Testimonial

I had planned to post yesterday--a lot of great ministry things to share--but I ran out of time. Alas, Judy (our secretary) and I both bemoan the shortness of days. We have so much that we want to get done and do for the Lord. We both have that "Achiever" strength. I'll try to remember these things to post later today or later in the week.

Today I'm highlighting another gift, the gift of Knowledge. Here is the definition and two "testimonials" of how people have used this gift.

Knowledge— This gift equips one to discover and understand the Scriptures and biblical concepts that help people acknowledge God and follow his ways. An example of leading through knowledge would be having insight into some biblical truth (2 Tim. 2:7) and then sharing this insight with someone or living it out in one’s own life.

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Danny, married, father of two young children--"The gift of Knowledge is certainly one of the gifts I enjoy using most. Research is one of my passions, especially when it comes to something I'm truly interested in. Recently I have enjoyed some success in the application of knowledge garnered from the Bible in the pursuit of a healthier way of living.

I turned to a book entitled What The Bible Says About Healthy Living by Rex Russell, M.D. As the title suggested, it was packed with Scripture references that revealed what our Creator has to say about what foods we should put into our bodies. After researching these Scriptures I realized what I probably knew all along - that God knows what's best for our bodies. After all, he's the one who designed us. As Dr. Russell suggested in his book, I tried to apply three principles to help me when it comes time to decide what to eat. So what's the result of all my new found knowledge? Well, I've lost 15 pounds in about three weeks! I've also experienced a noticeable increase in energy."


Wilburta, Christian writer, married, mother of several grown children, elder’s wife--"As a writer one of my favorite activities is research, especially within the Bible. God’s fulfilled promises are extremely comforting to me. Being able to relate those to Christian friends who are in trouble or express doubts is a real blessing for them and for me.
Being able to sit down and teach someone who is basically biblically illiterate and watch them come to the realization that God planned the demonstration of his love for us from the very beginning is one of the greatest joys I’ve ever experienced.
I belong to numerous online discussion groups that cover many areas of interest. I often have opportunity to contribute quotes from Scripture and it amazes me how many people know of the godhead, but who have no clue who God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit truly are and what that means to them as an individual. Sharing my knowledge through my day-to-day relationships and through my writing is one of my primary goals as a Christian."

Do you have this gift or know someone who has this gift? Do these testimonials correspond with what you know of people with this gift?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Gift of Faith Testimonial

I wanted to introduce you to a wonderful person named James from our church. James lived a life in his youth that was far away from God. He came down with a disease during this time that is terminal. He lives at home, with his mother, who takes care of him and loves him dearly.

About eight months ago, we got to know James and his family. His mother is not only taking care of him, but also raising four grandchildren by herself. One of the grandkids played on a basketball team with the son of one of our elders. This is also a family that we helped with our "Children's Outreach Ministry," which provides school supplies, meals, clothing, and gifts at holiday times. (see previous post) Through these contacts, we were able to have Bible studies with the whole family. All six of them--the grandmother, the mother, and the four grandchildren, went through The Story of Redemption and were baptized into Christ. Praise God! I continue to meet and study with the whole family each week, which is a blessing. They are now reaching out to others, both their neighbors and also the boyfriend of one of the grandchildren.

I asked James to write about his gift of Faith to share with others. Listen to his wonderful story.


James, 30s, single, African-American, Suffering from illness--"I believe that my faith has caused me to live this long. Thirty-seven years is a short time; however, I feel as if I’ve lived long enough to say that my faith has brought me thus this far. I will be quick to say that my life hasn’t been without sin, but thanks be to Jesus Christ and his ever forgiving heart, I found joy in my new life and Christian friends and a church.


Once upon a time I was very sick and in the hospital and the doctor said that I had less than six months to live. That was a year ago. Thank you Jesus Christ. I am really blessed to have such a wonderful mother like I have (who helps me through these times). I thank God for her and her perpetual lovingness."
Can you better understand this gift of Faith through James' eyes?

Friday, November 09, 2007

Liberty Church Helping 83 children at Thanksgiving and Christmas

Our Childrens' Outreach Team tells me that we will be providing Thanksgiving meals and Christmas presents for 83 children this Holiday. Twenty-three of these families will be from the community, and seven will be from our congregation. Praise God!

Our children's outreach begins in the fall, as we provide backpacks and school supplies for 100-200 children. Then we follow-up with certain of these families, providing them with love and financial help during the Holidays, at Easter, and at VBS. The goal is to help people who are in need, to show people God's love, and to hopefully cause people to wonder why we would love and serve them so many times. This can lead to a sharing of our faith and Bible study.

Please be praying for this ministry!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

US House approves a ban barring discrimination against hiring homosexuals

The US House recently approved a bill that makes it illegal for employers to not hire or fire someone based upon their "sexual orientation." A clause exempts religious organizations from this bill. See the following story in the NY Times.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/07/washington/07cnd-employ.html?ex=1352178000&en=8fc363a21cf49790&ei=5089&partner=rssyahoo&emc=rss

Frankly, I'm not quite sure what to make of this bill. Certainly, it is a sign that times have changed. Gay rights activists have been seeking the passage of a law barring discrimination against the hiring of homosexuals since the 1970s. The fact that this bill now has a chance of passing both houses of Congress marks a significant turning point in our country on this issue. Clearly, homosexuality has become much more acceptable.

There are definite limits on what the law can and should do to enforce morality. If a majority of the people are not in support of a law, it is largely unenforcable. And I do not think that the way that the church changes the world is by forcing people to be moral. It simply cannot and will not change hearts, and likely will have little affect on behavior.

On the other hand, forcing someone to hire a person whom they believe is living an immoral lifestyle is quite a different thing. Certainly, it would seem that allowing people to include moral issues on some level in hiring would be reasonable.

But are not many non-Christians living some type of blatantly immoral life? We do not seem to mind hiring someone who gets drunk periodically or who lies habitually or who is greedy. Are we not in danger of singling out one sin? If not, then what makes this sin different?

I am still wrestling a bit with this issue, so I would welcome your thoughts.

The Gift of Encouragement Testimonial


One of our members, Kim, said that she enjoyed reading the testimoials about how people have used the gift of service, and she said that she could see herself doing these things. This is indeed how we learn about the Christian faith--by intersecting with, hearing about, being inspired by, and imitating the stories of others. For instance, we best learn about faith from learning the story of Abraham's faith.


Well, here is another group of testimonials on another gift, the gift of Encouragement. These are real, live people who are using their gifts for God. See if you can see yourself in the stories about this gift.


EncouragementThis gift equips one to "lift the spirits" of a person, positively affirm someone’s ability, or strongly urge someone to take some action for God. An example of someone leading through encouragement would be seeing potential in someone and calling on him or her to use this potential (Acts 11:23).



Roger D., Programming Project Manager, Shepherd, married, father of three--"I love to encourage people. It is something that I rarely tire of and feel so plugged in to God when I’m exercising this gift.
I have encouraged many young people who are serving God in various ways to keep up the good work by giving them a pat on the back and by helping them grow by kindly suggesting ways to improve. There was one young man a few years back who led a devotional talk at our house for the youth group. He was nervous about leading the devo, but he did a fabulous job. The lesson was well thought out and was very meaningful to the kids there that night. I encouraged the young man to keep putting forth that kind of preparation in to his lessons. I also encouraged him to be more of a leader in the youth group.
I have helped fellow employees overcome struggles they have had to deal with by listening to them and showing that I care about them. I have tried to encourage long-time Christians who have been struggling with their faith to not lose hope. We have so much to look forward to!"

Adrienne T., Communication Arts Educator, member, married, mother of one--"Taking inspiration from The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, I have come to the understanding that you give what you need. I need encouragement, so I give encouragement. As God has added blessings to my life, my avenues of outreach through encouragement have also grown.
The demands of my career can be tremendous at times. I have found that when I extend my gift of encouraging to my students and colleagues as they face the same perils through kind words, respect, and actions that it makes their jobs easier. Each week, I send out a positive postcard to a student. Some weeks are simple, ‘You are an excellent role model for your peers,’ or ‘I can always count on you to make good choices when it comes to time management.’ The positive feeling comes back to me when they return to class on Monday thanking me for the postcard they received."

Dianne M., married, mother of two grown children, minister’s wife--"When our sons were growing up I tried to instill in them an awareness to find the talents and gifts that God had given them. I made suggestions that they try different things in school according to what they thought their strengths and abilities were. At those times when they felt inadequate or were lacking confidence in their abilities, instead of focusing on the negative, I would reinforce all the positive attributes that they possessed. Even now as adults, I find that I am still commending them on their successes, trying to uplift them during various trials, and supporting them.
Another way in which a Christian sister and I have been encouraging others, is through our ‘cookie ministry.’ We try several times a month to visit the sick, the elderly, a new visitor, or someone who just needs some encouragement. During our time together we try to let people know how much they are appreciated and thought of. Perhaps it is a kind word, sitting by their bed, a hug, a service offered or just being someone who will listen and to reaffirm to them how valuable they are to us."

Did you find these helpful in understanding what the gift of Encouragement is?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Gift of Service Testimonial

Here is a definition of another Spiritual gift, the gift of Service. There are also two testimonials on how people have used this gift. One is from one of my wife's dear friends, Janet, gift, and another is from one of our members, Katie.

Service— This gift equips one to do practical jobs that others may deem to be tedious or beneath them, but that actually are very much needed to be done. This gift is to be distinguished from helping by its focus on tasks, not people. An example of leading through service is cleaning the church building, sharpening pencils for the pews, or folding bulletins (Jn. 13:3-5).

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Janet S., married, judge, mother of one--"I would rather work behind the scenes than in front. While I would not want to be in charge of Vacation Bible School, I enjoy assisting the kids in class and cutting out crafts. I like the library work nights at church where a group of us sit, visit , and work on updating the church library.

I had a friend last year who was in a coma. I went to the hospital and read to her several times a week. I was sure that she knew when someone was there and could hear us. I just wanted to do whatever I could for her. Reading to her was the only thing I could come up with. A year later, she has passed away but her husband still mentions what I did. It was a small act of service but obviously appreciated by the family.

I think that family, friends, and co-workers appreciate it when you help out by doing things for them. It may not be spectacular and I may not get an award for it, but I know my son appreciates clean clothes in his drawer each week. If my clerk is busy, she appreciates it when I take a file up front to the clerk's office for her. Hopefully, God's light can shine when we do these simple things."

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Katie D., Stay at Home Mom, Mother of two small children--With two small children at home, it can be difficult to put as much time in serving God as I would like. However, there are always tasks that can be done to glorify God. There are many ways to serve. Lately, I have enjoyed cooking meals once per month for some non-members that are having severe health problems. I also enjoy serving on the food committee and preparing food for church members in need.

Participating in projects for the Children's [Outreach] Ministry is also fulfilling. Organizing food boxes for Thanksgiving, distributing school supplies, and wrapping presents and delivering them have helped me fulfill my desire to serve God.

Do you have the gift of Service? How have you used this gift?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Spiritual Gifts Testimonials - The Gift of Wisdom

I am pretty excited right now about a project I have been working on. For the past two years or so, we have been promoting a Strengths and Spiritual gifts culture here at Liberty. We are encouraging people to discover these Strengths and Spiritual gifts, so that they can take ownership of them and serve God and his mission more fully. Our goal is also to help people to see that all of their lives are to be given up towards God.

For the past couple of months I have been going back and doing a more thorough biblical study and write-up of each Spiritual gift. And the last couple of weeks I began asking certain people who have a particular to share how they have used this gift so that others can see how to use this gift as well. This "testimonial" type of learning is powerful and effective, particularly in today's postmodern culture. There is nothing like this out there in the published world, so I am excited about creating a new, helpful tool for individuals and churches.
Below is a definition of one of the Spiritual gifts, the gift of Wisdom, and one member's testimony as to how she has used this gift.
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Wisdom— This gift equips one to know how to apply knowledge or learning to a particular situation. An example of leading through wisdom is correctly choosing the right course of action (1 Kings 3:16-29).
Brandy M., College Student--"There are many people in my life, Christians and non-Christians, that come to me for advice when facing a difficult decision or time in their lives. I had a friend who needed advice about an abusive relationship she was in. I helped her look for a job, and get things straightened out so she could get back on her feet for her and her daughter.
I've always been there to listen, and I try to give the best Christian advice to them that I can. I try to live my life in a way that people my age with whom I interact can see that I'm a Christian. That can be very hard in this day and age to be a 20-something and have negative pressures and influences around you that comes with this age group. Having someone to relate to can make a huge difference.

It wasn't long ago when I graduated from high school, and thought I knew everything. I was trying to find out who I was, and I made a lot of bad calls. I think now I'm in a good spot in my life, and I've repaired a lot of damage with the help of God. Even though some of those things weren't good, I am glad I went through them, if it means that I can help someone else through them and maybe even show them Christ."
How do you like the testimonial format?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Becki's tests came up negative

Becki had a CT scan and blood work done in relation to her blackout, and the results have come back negative. The good news is nothing serious was found. Of course, we still don't know the cause of this--hopefully it is something that will not be repeated.

Thank you to everyone for your prayers, calls, and emails. Your support means a lot to us!

James

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Please pray for my wife, Becki

Hello friends and family. Last night, Becki went to the kitchen to take some medicine, and then she woke up on the floor. She blacked out and fell down and hit her head. She had some strange symptoms after this, and we stayed up most of the night.

Unfortunately all of the doctors at our clinic, including our doctor, are booked today. We will be going in to an urgent care clinic today to get this checked out. We pray that this is nothing serious, and we ask for your prayers as well.

Thank you for your love and support.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

More Testimonials on the Missional Church Seminar

Below are a couple of additional testimonials from members at the Ankeny Church of Christ on the Missional Church seminar that I gave there (used by permission, with bold and italics added).

Testimonies
"Thanks for taking the time to come share your thoughts, experiences, and ideas with us. I feel that our hearts are truly ready for missional outreach, but we need to know where to start—needed focus. Your message seemed truly tailored to what are striving for.

Personally, I often buy into the misnomer that 'mission' is synonymous with 'foreign,' and that’s where the true mission field is. Not so! Lately, I have felt God tugging me towards our suburbs, no matter how hard I fight against it. I don’t want a cookie cutter lifestyle, full of complacency and material things. God’s church in Ankeny , as well as your seminar, is reminding me that people in the suburbs need saving too (truly, how many of us realize that? Suburbia seems so perfect!) I work in the public relations field for a Fortune 500 company, in a department filled with 'Barbies.' On the outside, life seems to be ideal for these young people, but on the inside they are struggling because they try to fill a spiritual void with professional accomplishment and polished exteriors. Your message reminded me again how lost and lonely people become when they don’t have a relationship with God, and I am seeing my colleagues in a new light.

I carpool to meetings with other board members from Des Moines churches, and we spent half the drive talking about what we could do as a joint church effort in our community. I brought along your powerpoint slides for them to look over, and they all commented that missional focus is exactly what we need in the DM area."

Sarah Bachman
Member at Ankeny Church of Christ
Communications Strategist at a Fortune 500 Company
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"I wanted to take the opportunity to thank you again for coming up and doing the seminar. We're excited about the ideas you presented. I did not hear one negative comment. We have several who are excited about implementing your evangelistic approach. We have been looking for ways reach the lost and your ideas make sense. We are in the process of setting up a small group now while the enthusiasm is there. We will keep you posted on how it goes. Your knowledge, your enthusiasm for the Lord's work, and your gifted way of presenting it, made it very worthwhile. It is very obvious that God is working through you. May he continue to bless your efforts.

I have set in on a lot of seminars-this is without a doubt the most effective one."

Bob Messer
Elder at the Ankeny Church of Christ


Monday, October 29, 2007

The Golden Compass--A blockbuster, atheistic film aimed at your children this December

What Hollywood giveth, it taketh away.

I have always been one to seek to find spiritual truth in popular culture, and to use this to direct people towards Christ. In recent years, there have been a host of spiritually themed movies that have come out, from the Passion of the Christ, to Narnia, to The Nativity Story. We have used all of these to help share the gospel. Even the Da Vinci Code proved to be a useful tool to affirm people's faith.

Coming out in December, however, is a movie called the Golden Compass, which is based upon a trilogy of children's stories. The author, Philip Pullman, is an avowed athiest, and he has written the stories in order to promote atheism. In the end of the series, the children, after many magical adventures, discover that there is no God. You can check out some material on this at: http://www.snopes.com/politics/religion/compass.asp.

Pullman has written has series because of his frustration at the low numbers of atheiests in the world. Despite the massive efforts of atheistic scientists and philosphers and the secularization of our culture, people still seem to want to believe in God. Very frustrating for an atheist.

So Pullman is attempting to reach children to bring about an atheist wave. Children, who naturally have a heart for God and believe in him so firmly and easily. I cannot think of many things more evil. Ironically, Pullman is going to the arts--books, movies, pictures--to accomplish this task. The arts have always been sort of a gateway to thoughts about God and the world beyond. In fact, exposure to the arts as a child increases the likelihood of greater spirituality in later years. Robert Wunthow, author of the book All in Sync: How Music and Art are Revitalizing American Religion, says that, "The childhood activities that so strongly predict adult spirituality are ones that bring the arts and religion together. Hymns and other religious music, memories of religious pictures or plaques in one's childhood home, and religious objects powerfully influence the likelihood that adults will be interested in spiritual growth." (p. 70)

Pullman is drawing on the Spiritual power of the arts in order to sell his atheistic views. The only way to get more people to abandon belief in God is to "inspire" them. Ironic, isn't it?

I am normally not for boycotting. It just gives the films, books, or whatever more exposure. But I can tell you that I will not be taking my 6 and 3 year old daughters to this film. As the above link shows, the film tones down the more atheistic elements, with the objective that kids will enjoy the films and want to read the books. Unsuspecting parents need to be made aware of this film's intent--promotion of atheism.

Have you heard of this film and book series?

Testimonial on the Missional Church Seminar in Ankeny, Iowa


On Friday and Saturday, I gave a missional church seminar in Ankeny, Iowa. Ankeny is a suburb of Des Moines.

I was so impressed with the church there. A great, committed core came to the seminar, and I could really tell that they "got it." They were excited about the ideas presented there, and there was definitely a "buzz" amongst the members as they began to dream of being God's church for the world. The elders and new youth minister there are great guys, very empowering and committed. And there was a great core of younger people as well. As I spoke about the struggles of young families and the characteristics of postmodern culture, one of the young fathers said, "You were speaking my language." I really love connecting with all generations, but particularly these younger ones that feel so abandoned and discarded.

Here is a message one of the attendees, used by permission, about the seminar.

James,

We can't thank you enough for coming to Ankeny to share your wisdom, knowledge and experience with us! I was personally challenged by what you said and will redouble my efforts to get the gospel out to those around me. I've taught a 5-week class on evangelism, preached once about it and co-hosted a LIFE Group focused on outreach, but I believe that your visit was more impactful that all those put together. There have been several discussions about things we can do to put an evangelistic focus up front and center and I'm very excited about it all.

Tim Steele, Ph.D.
Chair, Dept. of Microbiology and Immunology
Professor of Microbiology and Immunology
Des Moines University - Osteopathic Medical Center

Friday, October 26, 2007

Father-Daughter time

Last night I stayed up until 3:00 AM working because I had promised my daughter that I would spend time with her this morning. She was excited about this, and I didn't want to disappoint her.

I asked her what she wanted to do, and surprise, surprise, she wanted to go to Barnes and Noble and read books and drink hot chocolate. So we did this. We also purchased a new illustrated family Bible. All of the stories in the book are basically fthe ull bibical text, and--forgive me for a proud moment as a father--Gina not only can read this as a first grader, but wants to do so. Her reading ability and comprehension has really excelled in the last couple of months, and she can read this text now on her own with very few mistakes. I'm truly impressed.

Well, I'm off to Ankeny, Iowa, to give a missional church seminar. I'm looking forward to meeting and spending time with the good people there, dreaming of how to reach out to the world and be God's people.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Outreach and New Members Orientation--Lessons from Sertoma

I recently joined Sertoma, a local civic organization. Sertoma is a group like the Rotary club. It is a group that is made up of business people and community leaders who come together to do good things in the community. Sertoma originated in Kansas City, though it is now a national organization, and originally focused around helping the deaf. http://www.sertoma.org/ This is a focus it still keeps, though it does many other good deeds.

I joined Sertoma for two reasons. First, I wanted to develop some more relationships with non-Christians and with people in the community. And second, I wanted to spend more time with one of my friends, Matt. Matt and I have a lot in common, being the same age, with young children and an interest in sports, politics, and spiritual things. Matt is also a State Farm representative, he knows a lot of people in the community, and he has a gifting in evangelism. So I visited Sertoma a few times with Matt, and then I "joined."

You know what I discovered? Sociologically, there are a lot of things in common between organizations like Sertoma and the church.

1. People enter into Sertoma through relationships and personal invitations. I had never heard of Sertoma. But Matt mentioned the club to me, not really trying to sign me up, but just working it into his conversation. Since I was interested in joining some type of group, it piqued my interest. (See the parallels? We need people out talking about Jesus, their faith, and their church, and those who are searching will be interested.)

2. People keep coming to Sertoma because of the food and fellowship. Each Thursday, the Sertoma members eat a meal together before hearing a local leader speak and doing club business. These meals are very good, and in fact was one of the draws. You have to eat anyway, and members pre-pay for a quarter of the year. "Visitors" like I was at this time are allowed to come free for as long as they like. Take away the meal, and I almost guarantee the organization would fall apart. (See the parallels? Outreach needs to involve food and fellowship!)

3. Some Sertoma members are exceptional at getting new members. There is a member of the club named Bill who used to be the mayor of Liberty and now manages the local, family-owned theater. Bill might single-handedly be responsible for signing up more than half of the new members at Sertoma. In fact, one year, there was a contest between who could sign up the most members. Bill was pitted against all the other members of Sertoma--and he won! (See the parallels? There are some people who are extremely gifted in evangelism. They need to be equipped, encouraged, and released.)

4. Visitors at Sertoma need existing members to introduce them. I'm a very outgoing guy, but I depend a lot on Matt to help me remember who the members are and who they work for. It is just a lot easy to make connections with people when you have someone from the "inside" help facillitate this. I can imagine that more introverted people would be scared to death to go to a club like this without knowing a soul. (See the parallels? New people at church need members to take them around and introduce them into social circles.)

5. The "New Members" class at Sertoma helped me connect with some new people. Sertoma has an orientation for new members. There were four of us who were new to the club who sat down with two club officers and watched a video about Sertoma. There was one girl that I didn't really click with, but there were two younger guys there that I did. Guess what? After this orientation, we began to look for one another and sit with one another. Other than Matt, we had no other relational ties, and we were all looking for new relationships. (See the parallels? New Members classes are needed not just for doctrine, but for making new friendships. Without these friendships, people will soon drop out. This is why facilitating relationships in these classes through providing food and fellowship is needed.)
Pretty amazing parallels to church, would you not say? People are people, and they are driven by relationships.
What do you think of these thoughts from my Sertoma experience?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

"Harry Potter and the author who wouldn't shut up"

In case you had not heard, R.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, recently said that Dumbledore, the "good" old wizard in the series, is gay. There is being lauded by some in the homosexual community as being helpful to the homosexual cause. See http://www.lifesite.net/ldn/2007/oct/07102204.html.

I grew up as a big fan of fantasy, having read JRR Tolkien's words many, many times. Fantasy in which there is a clear distinction between good and evil can be helpful in shaping moral values. This is why fairy tales, with their clearly wicked stepmothers and clearly good fairies are actually good for kids to watch.

I have not read the Potter series--I really need to, because it is such a cultural phenomenon. There are those who see Christian values in the series, and others who warn strongly against pagan values and disturbing messages in the series. I do not know enough to properly comment on this right now. I do know some people who are close to me who are reading them, and I do not think that tuey have gone over to the dark side.

But Rowling's revelation that Dumbledore is gay is not good. It would be the equivalent of Christopher Tolkien coming out and saying that Tolkien said that Gandalf was gay. This would recolor the telling of the whole story, and in fact make the character's gayness the story. (Ironically, the actor who played Gandalf, Ian McKellen, is gay.)

Below is an interesting article entitle, "Harry Potter and the author who wouldn't shut up."

http://www.guidelive.com/sharedcontent/dws/ent/stories/DN-rowlingcolumn_1024gl.State.Edition1.2292bdc.html I agree with the article's author--it would be best for Rowling to just let the books be and not to make anymore assertions about non-published aspects of the characters. This is treating a character in a book as a real person--sort of like saying at the end of a movie, "I wonder if they ever get together . . . " Of course, they didn't--it is a movie, and unless there is a sequal, the characters do not do anything that is not in the film!

I am disappointed that Rowling has taken the best-selling children's series of all time and placed sexuality front and center on to it. I pray that this is not used to promote homosexuality with kids.
Have you read the Harry Potter series? What did you think of it?

Kids need to be warned about revealing too much on the Internet


Parents who read their teens' myspace or facebook accounts are often shocked at what they find. Kids today use the Internet to post all of their lives--the good, the bad, the ugly. In today's Life section of USA Today, there is an article on this. http://www.usatoday.com/tech/webguide/internetlife/2007-10-22-online-privacy_N.htm


The Internet is a great tool--obviously, I am using it so I believe this. But kids need to understand that employers will not look too kindly at pictures of them being drunk, posing nude, or using profanity. Years later, kids may very much regret what they have put out for public consumption.

We need to warn our kids about appropriateand non-appropriate levels of self-disclosure on the Internet.

Monday, October 22, 2007

How to motivate people for missional outreach

If selfishness is the universal human condition, how do we motivate individuals and churches to look beyond themselves and reach out to the world? It is a huge challenge, and if the statistics on conversion in churches in the US are anywhere close to being true, it is a challenge that is not being met.

How then, do we motivate people to do missional outreach? There are many things that I might say here, such as personal modeling, biblical teaching, creating structures for mission, devoting church resources for mission, and prayer. But the motivation I want to bring out today is self-interest.

I will point out that, whether we like it or not, Christians make many decisions about their faith on the basis of self-interest. We choose a place to worship because there are ministries for my kids, or others who are our age, or a preacher that we connect with. Rarely does a family ask, who needs us most? Where can we serve? Where can we best reach our neighbors for Christ?

People automatically think of themselves--I certainly do. And a bit of self-interest is probably okay. Christ said that we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. A healthy self-love is assumed by Christ. The problem arises when we place ourselves above others and above God.

So we need to help people see that doing missional outreach is of benefit not only to others, but to them as well. For instance, in our last life group meeting, we talked about some various things that we could do to serve someone in our community. I would say that our group is pretty typical--a few who are naturally inclined and gifted towards outreach, and most who are not. But this time we chose to bring gift baskets to the teachers and the school of one of our life group members, and because it was connected to one of our members' children, it received a positive response. Our members donated drinks and food, which overflowed into three baskets, and signed cards thanking the teachers for their service and letting them know that we had prayed for them.

And as we went and delivered these gift basets, one of the parents of the children said, "You know, it really is a blessing to serve." The teachers were very appreciative, they saw a church in action, and the name of Christ and his church was praised.

Those who are gifted in missional leadership and evangelism must "blaze the trail" for these outreaches, providing motivation and helping others not gifted in these areas to overcome their fears. If you are gifted in these areas, do not despair because others are not. Instead take these steps:


  1. Provide passion for outreach to the world.

  2. Give various ideas for outreach--most people are not naturally thinking about these things.

  3. Find ways to reach out that connect with people's lives and at times, their self-interest, such as their children.

  4. Be the person that leads the way into the school, the coffee shop, the neighborhood, or where ever the outreach takes place.

When led in this way, others respond. The administrative gifts kick in, and people start organizing around your (and now their) ideas. The service gifts kick in, and people start to see how they can serve. The prayer gifts are activated, as people now have something tangible to pray for (and prayer becomes more fervent and real as you pray before going into some new setting). Etc. And as they are led into these outreaches, they themselves are blessed and begin to see the value of these efforts. We have to help Christians see that when they serve others and reach out to the world, they receive all the blessings that they say they are looking for--purpose, meaning in life, friendships, and community.


Some Spiritual gifts experts say that only about 10% of a church have gifts in evangelism. Those gifted in outreach must lead in these efforts. They do not necessarily have to be the ones leading a small group (though this helps), but there needs to be 1-2 in every group, and the mission must be constantly help out by both them and the official leader. Otherwise, our natural inclination towards an inward focus will return.


What motivates you towards outreach?


Saturday, October 20, 2007

An Unusual Saturday Night

Tonight I spoke at the youth rally that we are hosting this weekend. It is always great to see a room full of teens praise God. We have four girls who are staying with us in our nearly finished basement. They loved the surround sound, large screen, and pool table. It is nice to be able to bless others in this way. The girls, who arrived on Friday night, did not know until this morning that I was the preacher, and they were quite surprised to find this out. I'm actually glad when I can blend in and be seen as a regular guy who can have fun.

I'm back up at the building right now, waiting for the teens to return. Because we have a guest speaker tomorrow, I do not have to spend any time tonight going over my sermon. So we rented the movie The Ultimate Gift. I had to leave before the ending, but let me tell you, it is a great movie for the whole family. I'll have to put up a review soon.

I pray that God is offered up heart-felt, authentic worship all around the world tomorrow!