Friday, August 31, 2007

Children banned from playing "tag" on playground due to harrassment charges!

Probably as far back as civilization or families have existed, children have played "tag." I can remember playing this repeatedly at school, at home, at the grounds of the church building as a child. It is a fun, harmless game that costs nothing and expends a lot of energy--perfect for children.

Now, however, some schools are banning "tag" from the school playgrounds. See the news article on this:

Unbelievable. I love my children dearly, but we now live in an overprotective society. My daughter, Gina, will have to be in a car seat until she is 80 pounds--which for her, might be high school. Parents my age have sometimes never spent a night away from their children. All risk of injury, whether emotional or physical, is sought to be eliminated, no matter how remote or how expensive.

Could someone get hurt in tag, or "not want to play"? Sure. But the great benefit that is gained from playing far outweighs the cons.

The same mentality is found in the workplace, where sexual harrassment laws--good ideas to a degree--have gotten out of hand. If a guy asks a girl out twice, he is harrassing her. Good grief. If every guy gave up after getting one no, 75% of the marriages in America would not exist! These rules and laws are seeking to eliminate the natural differences between sexes, and the natural inclinations of children (to run and play!).

Unfortunately, Christian parents often take an overprotective attitude as well. Rather than watching television shows with their children and helping give them guidance about the messages being portrayed--something my parents did with me--they indiscriminately ban all sitcoms or movies. Then the child gets out on his or her own, mom and dad are not around, and they "freak out" because they have been over-sheltered all of their lives. Look, there is material I would never let me young children see, but let's not go overboard. If my daughter hears a curse word or two, I would rather her hear it first in my presence and help her deal with it, than on a playground.

This overprotectiveness is found in churches as well, where incredibly positive initiatives are resisted on the mere possibility that someone might do something doctrinally incorrect. Correction is not to be feared--it is part of a learning process. Paul could have shared the gospel only with Jews, and then he would not have had all the mess that we see in churches like Corinth. But because he did share faith with these people, many were reached who were not if he had stayed amongst a "safe people." And Paul thanked God for the church there, despite their problems.

I thank God for tag, despite the "risk" involved!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Are zero tolerance policies a good idea?

A recent article highlighted an auction of Michael Vick sports cards that had been chewed up by dogs, an item that went for $7500.

Another politician who had touted family values was caught up in a sex scandal this week, Senator Larry Craig. Republican Senators John McCain and others who called for Craig's immediate resignation were hailed this week in the press.

Because of actions from Michael Vick, Larry Craig, and other high-profile figures, many schools and companies are adopting zero tolerance policies. Any violation warrants an automatic firing. Certainly, the public is tired of hypocrisy, and these fearful policies may help curb behavior.

But again, we are back to enforcement through rules, rather than heart change. And do we really want a zero tolerance society? In a world in which all sin, I suppose that we are for it until we do something wrong and are on the other end of "justice."

Are you for or against zero tolerance policies? Why or why not?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Decentralization and empowerment are keys to growth

The book of Acts tells us that "those [Christiasns] who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went" (Acts 8:4). As the church faced persecution, it was forced to decentralize. And Luke, the author of Acts, cites this as a major source of growth in the church.

Acts 2:42-47 paints a nice cozy picture of the early church fellowshipping and studying together, pooling resources and the like. However, this was a temporary situation, as the Jews were gathered together in Jerusalem for Pentecost.

We should equip people to reach out and share their faith. However, too often we try to control this process. No one was standing over these early Christians as they shared their faith, and they did not have to get "approval" to do so.

The need for control and approving every decision by church leaders cripples churches' outreach, particularly as a church grows larger. One of the best things we have done with our life groups at Liberty is to hold out the goal of each group having a monthly outreach/service to the community, but giving them free reign in how this is done. If every group had to get approval for these things, they would never happen. And no one sitting in an office can possibly be informed enough to make these decisions for every group. Decentralization--which was evident in the early church--must happen if a church is to experience explosive growth.

One of our life groups that meets in Kearney decided to fill 5o back packs with school supplies. We were doing this in Liberty, but they wanted to provide for kids in their own schools. Because it was local and they were invested in their community, they did far more. And they came up with this idea on their own. That is exactly the kind of inititative that is needed to reach a whole community.

Train and equip leaders. Hold them accountable through relationships (not reports). But give them free reign to reach out to the world.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The basis of decision-making in churches needs to change

How are decisions made in most churches? To me, it seems that they are made on the following criteria:
1. Personal preference--people argue for what they personally want
2. Lowest common denomenon--anything that is upsetting to anyone is ruled out
3. Biblical basis

Biblical basis should, of course, be on the list. Unfortunately, it usually ranks third. There are many things that would be biblical that are ruled out because of personal preference or because somone might be upset (even though non unbiblical).

The basis of decision-making ought to be this:
1. Is it biblical?
2. Does it help fulfill the church's mission to seek and save the lost?
3. Rather than personal preference, preference ought to be given to others, particularly those who are youngest and weakest in the faith.

Paul said, "4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others (Phil. 2:4)".

The pastoral concern of not upsetting people is a legitimate one, and yet should not overrule the church's mission. Eph. 4:11 speaks of a five-fold gifting--apostolic/missional leader, prophetic leaders, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. The missional, "prophetic" (calling people back to God), and evangelistic voices must provide a counterbalance to pastoral concerns about upsetting people.

When people ask about changes, they need to be educated that changes are being made in order to reach lost people and to help those who are younger and weaker in the faith. Otherwise, selfishness will be promoted as people insist on having their own way, rather than reaching others.

What patterns in decision-making have you noticed that need to change?


Friday, August 24, 2007

Is God still at work today?

Is God still at work today--this is the question I'll be asking Sunday. The obvious answer ought to be yes, and yet many times we live our lives as if he were not at work. Worse, some actually believe that God wound up the world and no longer "intervenes."

To this I respond--why would I want to believe in this kind of God?

What makes you believe that God is at work in the world today?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

MTV/AP poll shows youth value family and God

MTV and the Associated Press recently did a poll of youth in the US and asked them about what made them happy. The results surprised a lot of people, because family, parents, and God ranked at the top of the lists. Note the following links to this news story, as well as some key quotes below.

"Nearly 1,300 young people aged 13 to 24 years old were interviewed in late April. When asked what one thing in life makes them the most happy, 20 percent said family, the top answer. Nearly three-quarters said their relationship with their parents also makes them happy, and most of the respondents listed their parents as their heroes."

"Two-thirds of respondents say religion and spirituality is important in their lives. And about a third go to church at least once a week. An overwhelming majority (87 percent) see marriage in their future, with 61 percent of those saying they are likely to stay married to the same person. Nearly 80 percent want to have children."

"The survey of the nation's young people found only 1% name money as the thing that gives them the most joy. Twenty percent name spending time with family, and 15% cited friends."

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

I'm praying for 30 baptisms this year

Let me tell you that I am excited about what God is doing this year in the Liberty church. We have had 17 baptisms so far this year, with 13 of these coming from the community. We have 5 more evangelistic studies going on right now, and other potential ones.

So I am being bold in my prayer life, and asking God to let us baptize 30 people this year. We have four more months. Here is my prayer:

"Lord, thank for all those that you have brought to us this year. You truly are at work! Before we open our mouths, you have already been touching people's hearts. You have also been moving the hearts of our members, to help us reach out to our circle of friends. And now, if I may be so bold, I ask that you help us to baptize 30 people this year. Lord, we know that you desire this, and we ask that you allow us to partner with you to accomplish your will. Use us! Help us to be bold, courageous, kind, loving, serving, so that we can reach many for you. In Jesus' name, the only hope of salvation, amen."

What were the characteristics of the early Christian witnesses?

As a movement, we have sought to continually go back to the early church for our example of how to be God's people. I am fascinated by the early church because of its phenomenal growth rate, even in the face of being illegal, surrounded by paganism, generally poor, having no Christian colleges or church buildings.

In his book Thirty Years that Changed the World: The Book of Acts for Today, Michael Green speaks of the characteristics of the early Christians, particularly in their proclamation of the Christian message. Here are his basic points.

1. They passionately believed their message, and went about their task with great seriousness.

2. They refused to compromise their message, despite living in a pagan culture.

3. They had a great flexibility in their methods of sharing the good news.

"The relative fixity of the kerygma [the gospel message] they preached is in striking contrast to the flexibility with which they went about it. They had no desire to keep talk about Jesus to the synagogue. They did it on the streets, in the court rooms, on board ship, in prison, in front of the high and mighty or the beggars by the kerbside . . . The western church at large has lost the certainty and New Testament content from its gospel: but it always does its 'preaching thing' in much the same way. It will be done in church, as a monolgue, for between fifteen and thiry minutes, by a clergyman. Our Christian forefathers would be amazed . . . that we have become so unimaginative and inflexible in its presentation."

4.They witnessed about an encounter with Christ, sharing their personal story.

5. They proclaimed Christ, first and foremost.

"We have seen that the person of Jesus dominated their sermons. It was him they proclaimed, with all the conviction, intelligence and passion of which they were capable."

6. They challenged men and women.

7. They spoke with conviction and confidence.

Which of these seven characteristics do you think the church is most missing in its proclamation? Which do you think we do best?

Monday, August 20, 2007

God is already at work on the hearts of non-Christians

Today one of our members called me and then came into the office to share a wonderful story. She has a friend who has recently experienced both family and financial crises. This member mentioned one little detail about God and her child, and all of the sudden found herself in a whole discussion about God with her friend. And when she told her that the church could help her by providing food, her friend was overwhelmed.

Stories like this are very confirming for me about God being at work in the world. Jesus said that he would send his Spirit into the world to convict people: "When he [the Spirit] comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment" (Jn. 16:8). So when we share our faith, we are not doing this alone. God has already been working on people's hearts. So we need to just say something about God or our faith! God will do the rest. And either they are interested or they are not. This takes the pressure off of us.

Just wanted to share this great story with you and give you hope and encouragement in reaching your friends for Christ.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Rules and conduct codes replacing morality in US

It is tough time to be a professional sports commissioner. Today's USA Today ran a story about Goddell, the new NFL commissioner, and the difficult player conduct cases that he has had to decide since taking over for comissioner, including "Pacman" Jones and Michael Vick. David Stern is dealing with the betting scandal from Tim Donaghy. And baseball commissioner Bud Selig recently had to deal with steroids scandals surrounding Jason Giambi, Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, and others.

In response, the sports leagues are putting in new get tough conduct policies. The same thing has happened in the business world, as companies set similar conduct policies and toughen accounting standards. Perhaps this will work to improve behavior, as people live in fear of losing their jobs.

But all of this is a poor substitute for moral values such as integrity, honesty, goodness, and hard work. As we become a nation that is less and less familiar with the Christian story, we increasingly lose our moral compass. There was little crime in the totalitarian regimes of Saddam or the USSR. But this was due to fear, not goodness of heart.

Rule and codes can never change hearts.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Why pray?

Sunday I'll be speaking on the power of prayer. Prayer is a practice which continues to be of great interest to Americans. Philip Yancey, author of Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference, says, "According to Gallup polls, more Americans will pray this week than will exercise, drive a car, have sex, or go to work."

Prayer always raises as many questions for me as it provides answers. I'll be talking about some of these questions on Sunday. One question for prayer is, why pray? Various answers are given by authors, theologians, Christians, and non-Christians (yes, non-Christians and even atheists pray). People pray:

  • Because they don't know what else to do.
  • To change God's mind.
  • To change themselves.
  • As self-help therapy.
  • Because it is commanded.
  • To get material things.
  • To develop a relationship with God.
  • Because it is a habit.
  • To receive guidance and help.
  • To get through personal crises.

Which of these do think are good reasons to pray? The best reason? The worst reason(s)? Why do you pray?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Jason Bourne--Today's Cool Anti-Hero

I recently saw the Bourne Ultimatum, and I thought it was quite good. I loved the first installement, thought the second was okay, and was glad to see the third installment come back to the level of the first.

I read a newspaper article recently that compared James Bond to Jason Bourne. On the one hand, they have some surface level commonalities--action genre, same initials, strong male roles. But the differences are striking.

Bond is squave, never nesses up his hair, is after women, is loyal to his country, and has rather witty, if unlikely, one-liners. Borune, on the other hand, is raw, bloody and wounded, has only one woman (who is dead), is working against his country's intelligence agency, and speaks rarely.

The Bond saga is rather dated in its worldview, even if I like this genre too. The Bourne saga, on the other hand, very much fits today's worldview, including:

  • Individualism (Bourne always works alone)

  • Distrust of institutions

  • Authenticity, which includes rawness and the "not so pretty"

Well, that may be too much analysis for you, but I like to analyze culture.

Which series do you like best--Bond or Bourne? Do you see other differences?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Participatory Worship

In the seeker movement, worship was very much performance centered, with a super star minister and highly proficient worship leaders. This also led to megachurches, which could offer the absolute best performances.

There are positives from this movement, such as doing things with excellence. We work extremely hard in our jobs, but then often just throw worship together. This should not be. And having godly, gifted people leading worship is a good thing.

However, worship in the NT--from what we can tell--seems to be both led--preachers like Timothy--as well as participatory (1 Cor 14), with many different people contributing. This can be done by asking questions, by testimonials, or by video. Not only is this biblical, but it is culturally appropriate. We have moved to an interactive world, from the Internet to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (which has audience participation). Young people in particular find it difficult to sit through a service without substantial interaction and direct participation.

In their work Emerging Churches: Creating Community in Postmodern Cultures, authors Eddie Gibbs and Ryan K. Bolger speak of this shift to more participatorial worship.
"By turning from consumers into producers, worshipers feel a sense of ownership, and in the process of being actively involved, they are more likely to be significantly affected by the worship experience. People are more engaged when they are part . . . rather than members of the audience . . . This alternative model has to be taught, experimented with, and demonstrated, but it is an understanding of church that arises directly out of the New Testament."

What ideas do you have about how to make worship more participatory?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Gay Issues

Below is a link to an article entitled, "Democratic candidates weigh in on gay issues."

Here is an excerpt . . . "Former Sen. John Edwards found himself discussing whether he is comfortable around gay people — he said he is. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson appeared to struggle with a question about why people become gay or lesbian. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton ended up defending the record of her husband, former President Clinton, on gay rights . . . "

"Clinton said she made a mistake in March when she steered around a question on whether homosexuality was immoral. She was asked about it after Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he considered homosexual acts immoral and similar to adultery. He later said he should have not expressed his personal views. Clinton later issued a statement saying she did not think being gay was immoral.";_ylt=AmFT5mhFgZD_81.U51rmd6gE1vAI

If I find any similar articles on Republican candidates' views on this issues, I'll post it. I do not think that we should seek to change the world through politics--Jesus is the only hope for the world, and "morality" without Christ will save no one. But this article does point towards the huge shift in understanding on this issue in the last 30-40 years.


Thursday, August 09, 2007

Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder

I saw a sign today at a local pub over by Kansas City hospital that says, "Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder." Clever, I thought. And true. Men have been known to find women attractive while in a drunken state that they otherwise would not have, and vice versa. It seems to me that this is a warning against drunkenness, in which people make poor decisions.

Another aside--one of the shift managers at Back Yard Burger here in Liberty was involved in a car accident last night. His "friends" left him bleeding on the side of the road, and they called his girlfriend to tell her that she needed to take care of him. Unbelievable. With friends like these, who needs enemies? I tried to go and see this fellow in the hospital. He wasn't in his room, but I left a note.

Whenever we do down the wrong path, it seems that the wrong choices keep piling up, from the friends we chose to the lifestyle we engage in. But God is at work in our lives as well, pursuing us with all of his heart. And that is a comforting thought.


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Is Jesus Worth It?

On Sunday, I'll be preaching a sermon entitled, "Is Jesus Worth It?" In this sermon, I will try to give some stories and reasons why following Christ is worth it.

And so I'll ask you--is Jesus worth:
  • Forgiving when you don't want to?
  • Getting strange looks when talking about your faith?
  • Giving money away rather than buying what your heart desires?
  • Getting up early to go to a discipleship group?
  • Turning off the TV and praying?
  • Not flipping off the guy who cut you off in traffic?

This is the question we answer everyday, though usually unconsciously. Our decisions show whether or not we believe Jesus is worth living the Christian life. In other words, choices equal actual belief, not what we say in Bible class or even to ourselves.

Do you have any stories to share about Jesus being worth the choices you have to make? I would love to hear them.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Faith Sharing and Personality Type

I continue to be fascinated by how differently God has made all of us. This factors into every aspect of our lives, including how we share our faith.

In his book Becoming a Contagious Christian, Bill Hybels and Mark Mittleberg give different

  • Peter's Confrontational Approach--This person, like Peter, tells it like it is. They have no problem being direct, calling people to a different lifestyle. Most today are turned off by confrontation, due to the stereotype of Christians being judgmental and mean-spirited. However, there are some people who will only respond in this way, so we should value those with this personality.

  • Paul's Intellectual Approach--Those with this personality/ability are able to answer difficult questions about faith, and have a good grasp of the faith. Usually a teacher type, who can do a more extensive Bible study with seekers.

  • The Blind Man's Testimonial/Storytelling Approach--This person is great at telling their own story of faith, how God or a church has worked in their lives. This personal testimony is very much valued today, and can gain a hearing where others approaches may not.

  • Matthew's Interpersonal Approach--This person is very good at relationships, is able to bring people together, and may be very hospitable or able to throw a good party. By bringing together non-Christians and Christians, this person helps others come to faith.

  • The Samaritan Woman's Invitational Approach--This person is able to invite others to come and hear or see or experience a speaker, event, small group, or worship service. Their invitations seems pretty natural, and they are not afraid to invite.

  • Dorcas' Service Approach--This person loves to do things for others--writing them cards, making things, buying things for others, serving them in some way. This service approach helps to break down stereotypes of Christians, letting others know that they are truly loved.

As you see, these approaches are very different, and each is valuable. My natural default in faith sharing is the intellectual and the interpersonal. I do a lot of service outreach not because it is natural, but because it is very helpful in reaching people today. I depend a lot on others who have invitational and interpersonal skills to reach others. They will often bring them into a church circle, and I will study with them. We need one another!

It may be that you have served someone for a long time, but struggle at inviting them or socializing with them. Hook up with a Christian who has an invitational or interpersonal approach, and let them use their skills to bring the person further along in the faith.

What approach(es) come most naturally to you?

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Spiritual Shaping

In Kyle Stobel's book (referenced below), he says that we are shaped by three things: Scripture, community, and the Spirit. Not a bad trio. Scripture keeps us grounded. Community helps us work truth out in relationships. And the Spirit gives us guidance, discernment, and works on our character.

I grew up without much knowledge or awareness of the Spirit. He simply wasn't talked about, or was relegated to a book or a "force." But I now try to become more aware of the Spirit's presence and guidace in my life. This is a subjective process, which is why it must be informed by Scripture and helped to be interpreted by close friends in the Christian community.

What do you think of Stobel's proposed model?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Toxic personality traits to avoid

In his book Social Intelligence, Karl Albrecht gives many "toxic" personality traits that we need to avoid. All of this is part of becoming more socially aware of how we are bothering, irritating, or driving away those around us.

Some of these things we do unconsciously. Others we actually consciously do. In most cases we do these things because we get something out of them--approval, attention, etc. But if it drives people away, is this really helping us?

For instance, as a learner and achiever I often like to talk about things I have discovered, and I enjoy accomplishing things and take pride in this. Some of this is natural and good. But I have found that too much of this makes one come across as a know-it-all who shows off or as someone who is intimidating. I have had to learn to downplay these things--like the number of degrees I have--oh, wait, forget I said that :)--unless I am around someone or in a situation where "credentials" are very important. Seriously, some of these things come so naturally--we just think like this--that it is what comes out. Like the analytical person who is always poking holes in everyone's arguments, and irritating everyone around him. Or the person who talks on and on, causing people to never want to ask them a question. Or the super sensitive person who is always waiting to be offended.

Well, here is the list. As you read this, I encourage you not to think of other people who have these traits (which is what I did!), but at yourself. If you know someone that you really trust who is kind as well, you could ask them what personality traits you have that irritate others, and then seek to correct these. Not a fun process, but it might cause us to have people like us better.

These are the toxic behaviors:

  • Withholding "strokes"
  • Throwing verbal barbs, "zingers"
  • Giving non-verbal put-downs
  • Patronizing or "parenting" a person
  • Seeking approval excessively
  • Flattering others insincerely
  • Losing one's temper easily
  • Playing "games" with people
  • Disagreeing rountinely
  • Speaking dogmatically, inflexibily
  • Bragging, scoring "status points"
  • Violating confidences
  • Breaking promises and agreements
  • Joking at inappropriate times
  • Monopolizing the conversation
  • Interrupting others frequently
  • Changing the subject capriciously
  • Complaining excessively
  • Giving someone the "hard sell"
  • Insisting on having one's way
  • Attacfking or criticizing others
  • Inducing guilt in others
  • Ridiculing others
  • Shooting down ideas
  • Giving unwanted advice

Not only can avoiding these things help others like being around us more, but it can help us in sharing our faith. This is part of being "wise" in how we speak with unbelievers, letting our conversation be seasoned with salt--not putting salt in someone's wounds.