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).

"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

"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:

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.


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. 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

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." 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.

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!

Friday, October 19, 2007

New books!

I just got in some new books--I am always excited when that happens! My new books include:
  1. Jim & Casper Go to Church. By Jim Henderson & Matt Casper. This is an interesting book in which a minister and an atheist attended twelve of America's best and least known churches. Should prove interesting.
  2. Communicating for a Change. By Andy Stanley and Lane Jones. I bought this book on preaching basically from the online reviews. Promises 7 things to do that will impact audiences. Sounds rather Boomerish (Boomers love book and titles with numbers), but may be helpful.
  3. Signs of Emergence: A Vision for Church that is Organic/Networked/Decentralized/Bottom-up/Communal/Flexible {Always Evolving}. By Kester Brewin. An organic, decentralized structure is necessary to reach all parts of society and to maximize mission. However, training of leaders and relational accountability are essential as well. I am interested to see what take this book has on these thoughts. Many of the Emergent Village titles have left me wanting more depth, but we'll see.
  4. Justice in the Burbs: Being the Hands of Jesus Wherever You Live. By Will & Lisa Samson. I recently wrote a paper entitled, Missional Engagement in Suburbia. There was a scarity of writing on this subject, I discovered. My D.Min. directer, Kurt Frederickson, told me about this book that was coming out when I wrote my paper. We typically think of serving the poor and doing social justice in the inner city. However, just last year the number of those in poverty in the suburbs exceeded the number in poverty in suburbs.
  5. Picturing the Gospel: Tapping the Power of the Bible's Imagery. By Neil Livingstone and Brian McLaren. In postmodern culture, spiritual imagery is very powerful and helps people understand biblical messages. In a war-torn, violent world, these images themselves are redemptive. Looking forward to thoughts on how to use spiritual images most effectively.
  6. Christian Preaching: A Trinitarian Theology of Proclamation. By Michael Pasquarello III. A book on preaching that begins by critiquing the seeker movement and pure pragmatism in churches and preachers. Hopefully it will also offer something positive, besides just a critique.

Do any of these sound interesting to you?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Children's letters to God

If you want to hear some funny and precious letters from children to God, check out Ben Witherington's blog.

It makes me wonder if we as adults are as honest in our prayers as children are in theirs. I think that we usually are not this honest. Somehow, we imagine that if we do not say what we really are thinking, God somehow will not notice. God knows our hearts, so we might as well tell him. He is the only one who can really bring about dramatic changes for good in our lives.

Did you like these letters?

Viagra,WW III, pedophiles--What is the world coming to?

Here are this morning's most popular articles on Reuters news wire.

  1. Voters unhappy with Bush and Congress
  2. Sex, Nazi, burrito and Viagra: Who Googles what?
  3. Putin gave Iran "special" atomic message: report
  4. Suspect says he killed, not ate, his girlfriend
  5. Bush: Threat of World War III if Iran goes nuclear
  6. Mystery underwear stymies Guantanamo investigators
  7. Hundreds respond to Interpol online appeal for pedophile
  8. China summons U.S. envoy over Dalai Lama award Video
  9. Putin calls for powerful Russia parliament
  10. Florist sued for $400,000 over wedding flowers

As I looked over this list, I thought, What a nice world we live in. Eating one's girl friend. Mysterious underwear. Pedophiles. Warnings of World War III. Lawyers everywhere (sorry, John!), suing for everything.

One thing is for sure: our world needs Christ. Instead of railing against all the problems in the world--a common tactic for church leaders--we need to instead pray for the world, serve the world, and share Christ with the world.

Jesus told his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field" (Lk. 10:2). Therefore, this is my prayer today: Dear God, please rise up a people who have a heart for the lost, and send them out to bless the world. Let us not be inward focused, or lazy, or stuck in routines, or bound by tradition, but let us use every means possible to reach the world for you. Amen.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Equipping Others--A wonderful personal testimony

All of us as ministers have certain people and experiences that "keep us going." For me, one of those people is Kim Smith. Kim and her daughter were baptized into Christ a couple of years, and about a year ago her husband was baptized as well. Kim has an amazing ability to talk about her faith in a way that is real, authentic, and heart-warming. In short, she has the gift of evangelism.

Over the past couple of years, I have encouraged Kim to use her gift of evangelism. I can remember being in a D.Min. class at Fuller about a year and a half ago, writing her a letter, telling her that she had a great gift for evangelism and encouraging her to be involved in outreach ministries.

Today I received the following email from Kim. This email--used by permission--shows better than I how she has the ability to put spiritual things into words. Here was her message to me:

"James, Thought you might enjoy reading todays "Insight For Living" and some of the additional suggestions Mr. Swindoll gives. I thought of you and all the times that you have encouraged me and others to share our own testimonies. I really appreciate the times when you remind me and encourage me to share my own experiences. I need to realize that even I can actually make a difference to someone and todays reading was a good reminder of how. Thank you James for all the times you have given me that encouragement to share. It is such a blessing for me when I am able glorify God by sharing how my life has changed by giving it to Christ!! I pray that God will give me opportunities to serve him in this way and that he will always give me the right words to speak."

Her is the article that Kim references by Chuck Swindoll.

Kim's email made my week. It is truly a joy to help others discover and use their gifts for God and to find meaning in this. Here are some lessons on equipping others from this:

1. People must be encouraged in using their gifts. Usually, this must happen many times. This is probably why the words for encouragement and exhortation are used over and over again in the NT.

2. Mass methods of equipping and involvement fall woefully short. Surveys and sign-up sheets and the like have their place. I've used them in the past, and I will continue to use them at times. But Jesus and Paul worked personally with people, and this is far more effective. I don't think that Kim would have sent me an email saying, "Remember that time you passed out that survey to three hundred people? Wow, that was great. Thanks for the encouragement." As our society becomes more and more impersonal with mass email and the like, the personal touch becomes even more powerful. If you want to help someone learn to serve, then take them out to lunch and share what you see in them. Write them a personal letter and then follow up after that letter. Tell them what you see in them and see what happens.

3. When people serve using their Spiritual gifts, it is incredibly meaningful to them. Do you hear the excitement in Kim's voice? It comes from using her gifts. She said, "It is such a blessing for me when I am able to glorify God by sharing how my life has changed by giving it to Christ!!" This why spending time with people in Strengths and Spiritual gifts discovery is so important. Getting people to participate in this discovery process requires personal attention too. Some will sign-up on their own, which is great, but most need to be encouraged in this as well. Until they use their gifts, they do not know what they are missing.

Kim, thanks for sharing these thoughts and allowing me to share them with others. Once again, you have used your gifts for God.

How have people encouraged you to serve and use your gifts?

Why did I get married? Lessons on "viruses"

Okay, so the title of this post caught your attention. Actually, though, I am not asking this question (why did I get married). Each day God confirms to me more and more that Becki and I are a great match. For those of you going through tough times in your marriage, know that this is normal, pray about it, tough it out, and get some additional friends (of the same sex) so that all of your life does not depend upon your marital relationship.

There is actually a movie that came out last weekend called, Why Did I Get Married? In the Mon., Oct. 15 issue of USA Today in the Life section, an article was ran on the surprising box office success of this movie. If you had not heard of it, neither had I.

The article, entitled, Why did they get buried? Tyler Perry, asks why this film, which opened so strongly (at $21.5 million), slipped under the radar.

Apparently, the secret to the films success goes to word of mouth advertising. Lionsgate more than doubled the number of word of mouth screenings and reached out to religious groups (it is a family and faith based film).

What application does this have for outreach? I am not against mass advertising. In fact, I am for it, if done well and with the goal of reaching the lost. But we now live in an ad saturated society. Mass advertising only really works when it supplements the word of mouth advertising. Too often we dismiss the power of this advertising. Publishers, however, are becoming increasingly aware of this. This is why authors go to Barnes and Noble and do little promotion sessions all around the country. They are trying to create a buzz from these small groups, which will then spread the word to their friends.

Oftentimes, these small group sessions seem almost depressing. Only a few people show up--sometimes none at all. But those that do come, if they have a positive experience, will spread the word. This is called "viral marketing." And then the mass marketing kicks in, and it becomes even more effective because people have seen the book and publisher on the local level.

The lesson for churches is, in order for the gospel to spread, we must have many different outreaches at the local level--in coffeeshops, neighborhoods, bookclubs, schools, etc. Then do mass advertising, which supplements these efforts. And God may bring about a great response.

One other thing to note from this article. The author said that the film tapped into the African-American market, a group which he said sees very few films in the theater. This was a group that had flown "under the radar" of polled movie goers. In other words, this advertising reached a new group. This has great application for churches as well, since we want to reach new groups of people.
What do you think of "viral marketing"?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Can I hate Tom Brady?

Chuck, this post is for you.

I remember seeing both Drew Henson and Tom Brady play quarterback for the University of Michigan.
Brady played pretty well as a senior, but Henson had this rocket arm that was tantilizing. Unfortunately, Henson tried to play baseball for the Yankees but didn't get much of anywhere. He then tried to play for various football teams, including the Cowboys, but never really got his shot. One wonders what might have happened if he had skipped baseball and gone into the NFL as the number one pick in the draft, as he had been predicted to be.

At this point, it doesn't really matter. Brady was picked in the sixth round by the Patriots--an afterthought almost. And yet, shockingly, he has now won three Super Bowls. Yes, he has played on some great teams, and I at first discounted his success. But I have to say that he is now a truly great quarterback. Last night he shredded the Cowboys, throwing for 5 touchdowns, and having another touchdown called back. He absolutely sliced the Cowboys defense up one side and another. The only quarterback better right now is Peyton Manning. Romo may get to Brady's level in a couple of seasons, but right now, as great as he has been to watch, he is not there.

The unexpected success of Brady, with his 3 Super Bowl rings, his good looks, his dating of superstars, reminds me of that Oh, God, You Devil movie with George Burns, where a struggling musician signs a pact with the devil to become a huge rock star.

As I watched Brady, I had the thought flash through my mind, "I hate Tom Brady." I of course mean this in the most loving, Christian way, like when Jesus said that to follow him is to hate one's family. That meant in comparison to our love for Jesus, all else looks like hate. And in comparison to my "love" for the Cowboys, my view of Tom Brady is hate :) Brady just seems too calm, too cool on the sideline, as if he knew that even when the Cowboys took a lead in the 3rd quarter of 24-21, that he had it all in hand. And he did.

Seriously, though, there are people that God seems to bless above us, and that can fill us with jealousy or envy. We may think, I'm smarter than him. I'm a better person than her. I've worked harder than him. Why is God blessing this jerk rather than me? Perhaps this is why one of the ten commandments is, do not covet what belongs to your neighbor--not his wife, his male servant, his female servant, his donkey, or "anything else that belongs to your neighbor" (Ex. 20:1-17). (I can testify today with absolute truthfulness that I have never coveted my neighbor's donkey.)

We must remember all the ways that God has blessed us, rather than the ways that he has not. Otherwise, we are like that spoiled kid in the toy store who throws a fit because his parents will not buy him one more toy--despite the fact that he has a closet full of toys at home. Let's remember that this week.

And no, I can't really hate Tom Brady. Good for him. Man, that is hard to say.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Michael Moore- The Awful Truth

Okay, I'm not a Michael Moore fan. But this clip does illustrate how politicians use religion and faith issues towards their own ends. Moore interviews politicians who talk about how we need to have the ten commandments posted in schools, but then do not even know the ten commandments. Obviously, if you do not know them, they cannot be all that important to you. Which leads to justifiable charges of hypocrisy.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Evangelism Linebacker

This is a funny video on why we don't evangelize, and the solution to it. What do you think?

What is evangelism?

What is evangelism?

Actually, the specific word "evangelism" is not used in the Bible. This does not mean that the concept is not present, of course, but simply not this specific word. The term "evangelist" is found in Acts 21:8 in reference to Philip, who was one of the Seven, in Eph. 4:11, in a list of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, and in 2 Tim. 4:5, in which Timothy is told to do the work of an evangelist. The etymology of the word evangelist shows that this word came from the euangellion, or the good news. Based upon etymology, an evangelist is a proclaimer of good news.

The word for good news, the euangellion, is found in 27 verses in the NT (sorry, too numerous to list). The phrase "proclaiming the good news" (NIV) is found in Mk. 1:14, Luke 8:1, Acts 5:42. The phrase "preach the good news" (NIV) is found in Mt. 4:23, 9:35, Lk. 3:18, Lk. 4:43, Acts 8:12, 14:7, 14:21, 17:18. In contrast to what people think about a typical "gospel preacher," this proclamation was primarily to nonbelievers, and was found in non-worship settings. This is not to say that the good news should not be preached to believers--it is a matter of first importance (1 Cor. 15), and believers need to be reminded of the truths of the gospel. But when we point towards passages on "proclaiming the good news," we are pointing towards settings out in the world.

Based on the etymology, some have equated evangelism as merely proclamation, and not something that includes conversion or "service" (non-verbal) evangelism. However, William Abraham, in The Logic of Abraham, says that in looking at evangelism it is important to note "what evangelism has actually meant in the early church and in history, not judged by the etymology of the word evangelism and its rather occasional use in Scripture, but by what evangelists have actually done in both proclaiming the gospel and establishing new converts in the kingdom of God." (p. 69)

In other words, the actual practice of "evangelism" has included proclamation, doing of good deeds, call to conversion and initiation into the Christian community. This was what Philip did and what other "evangelists" in the early church did. It is important to not cut out the verbal proclamation of the gospel. This is where the etymology is helpful. However, these other elements surrounding this verbal proclamation are vital as well.

Right now, I prefer to define evangelism in terms of the overall process of proclamation, doing of good deed towards outsiders, call to conversion, and initiation into the Christian community, while emphasizing those with the gift of evangelism or "evangelists" as having the verbal gift of sharing the good news (this does not exclude the other elements). Remember, these definitions are merely helpful tools, and are always somewhat arbitrary. Both what is biblical (when it can be determined) and what is helpful should be emphasized in making these decisions.

What comes to mind when you hear the word evangelism or evangelist? Are these positive or negative images?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Unbelievable!--Dallas Cowboys win an example of true grace

I have watched a lot of football games, but I do not think I have seen one like the game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Buffalo Bills tonight.

Tony Romo, the Cowboys' quarterback, threw 5 interceptions--two that were returned for touchdowns--and lost another fumble. The Bills also returned a kickoff for a touchdown. In short, they did everything possible that they could to win. And yet it came down to Dallas 16, Buffalo 24, with Dallas driving.

Dallas came down the field and scored a touchdown, which made the score Dallas 22, Buffalo 24. So they tried a two-point conversion, but it failed. It looked like the game was over--but no, there was 20 seconds left. So they had time to try an onside kick.

Onside kicks never work--but this one did. And the Cowboys had the ball back with 18 seconds remaining and over 60 yards to go and no time outs. They threw a pass down the middle of the field and it was caught. They were moving down field, spiked the ball--but wait, the referees were reviewing the play. The down field pass was ruled in complete.

Now they had 13 seconds and still over 60 yards to go. They threw two sideline patterns, and now, unbelievably, they had a chance to win the game with a 52 yard field goal try.

They snap the ball, it goes up--it is good! It is good! I am jumping up and down, yelling. But wait. Oh no. Buffalo had called a timeout right before the kick. So they have to kick it again.

The ball is snapped. The rookie kicker, Nick Folk, kicks the ball. It goes up. And it goes through! The Cowboys win! The Cowboys win! The Cowyboys win! For real this time.

I about had a heart attack watching this game. And I have to say, Dallas had no business winning this game. They were outplayed. Out energized. They gave up 6 turnovers. But they won the game.

That my friends, is grace. Grace is when you do not deserve good things, but God gives it to you anyway. Like forgiveness of sins. Like beautiful children. Like a loving spouse. Like a nice home. Like living in the wealthiest country in the world. Like eternal life. Pretty unbelievable, huh?

Repentance and the Lord's Supper--when not to take it

On Sunday, I preached from Acts 8 and the story of Simon Magus, the sorceror in Samaria who converted to Christianity. Simon truly believed and was baptized, but soon fell back into pagan thought, trying to purchase the ability to bestow the Holy Spirit on people. Philip told Simon to repent of this wickedness.

I used this story to talk about the need that all of us have to repent. I talked about:
  • what repentance means (to change one's mind, to turn around),
  • the need to produce fruit (visible change) in keeping with repentance,
  • the centrality of repentance in Jesus' preaching,
  • the need for nations and churches as well as individuals to repent; and that
  • God will give repentance to those who ask for it.

Perhaps the thing that hit home the most, however, was the linking of this sermon to the Lord's Supper. After preaching most of the sermon, we then had the Lord's Supper, saving the invitation until after the Supper. Before taking of it, I talked about the true meaning of 1 Cor. 11 and "examining one's self" and "recognizing the body of Christ." This command to examine ourselves is a command to examine our attitudes towards other Christians. And the body that we are to recognize is the church.

Here is the situation in 1 Cor. 11. The church in Corinth had some who were rich who would arrive early for the LS. They would eat, leaving nothing for the poor Christians who came later after getting off of work. The poor were left with nothing, while the rich were gorging themselves and getting drunk. This violated the greco-roman ettiquete for the banquets, in which everything was to be done for the "common good." It also violated Christian love--which is why Paul talks about this in 1 Cor. 13. Paul instructs the church to examine their attitudes towards other Christians, and to recognize all in the body. If they fail to do this, if they fail to treat one another with Christian love, then they risk eating and drinking condemnation upon themselves.

The Lord's Supper is a weekly check of our attitudes towards others--our spouses, our elders, our minister, our fellow Christians, our bosses, our parents. How many Christian couples go and "worship God," take the Lord's Supper, but inside continue to harbor feelings of animosity towards one another? How many Christians take the Lord's Supper, and then go and tear down another Christian with whom they are holding a grude and whom they refuse to forgive?

By linking repentance to actual behavior and the taking of the Lord's Supper, this seemed to have an impact. In this way, Paul's stern warning comes to life. What if every Sunday, we put aside our selfishness, animosity, and feelings of anger and resentment towards our fellow Christians, including our spouses? Would this not result in a loving, unified church with incredibly strong marriages?

I am glad the message was well received. I can rise to the occasion of being a prophet, but I am not naturally drawn towards it, being aware of my own short comings. Still, this is the role preachers are called to play at times. And it looks like the Lord used this message for good, despite its messenger.

Upcoming Missional Church Seminar in Ankeny, Iowa

In late October I will be giving a Missional Church (Outreach and Evangelism) Seminar for the Ankeny Church of Christ in Ankeny, Iowa, a suburb of Des Moines. The seminar will be Fri., Oct. 26, 7-9 PM, and Sat., Oct. 27, 9 AM-2 PM. For a description of the seminar and the sessions, see

Ankeny Church of Christ
224 SW 3rd
Ankeny, Iowa


Let's pray that the missional movement can spread into Iowa! My wife is from this state, and a recent report from the Christian Chronicle said that there were only about 3000 members of churches of Christ in this state. Unbelievable. The need for mission in Iowa is very great. I am encouraged, however, by the heart of this congregation and I'm sure others like it in this state. God is at work, even when we sometimes struggle to see his hand.


Friday, October 05, 2007

When a US President called our nation to repentance

Abraham Lincoln was probably our greatest president, according to many historians and many ordinary Americans. He led the US during a time of unprecedented division and bloodshed. He was not afraid to take unpopular stands, and he held to his convictions, which were often based upon the Bible.

During the Civil War, Lincoln wrote a speech that was just as important as the Gettysburg Address. It was a speech written for a national fast-day, a day which Lincoln designated and set apart for the nation. Here are the words of this speech on April 30, 1863.

“It is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God; to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.

“The awful calamity of civil war which now desolates the land may be but a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people.

Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity, too proud to pray to the God that made us.
“It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”

What do you think of Lincoln's speech? How do his words compare to political speeches today?

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Back Home

Well, we are back at home now. Good to be away, and good to be back. Becki and I really had a good time, with time to worship, listen to good teaching, be with friends, and be with one another.

My lawn needs to be mowed now. I have lessons to work on. Back to the old routine.

Some spiritual thoughts hopefully tomorrow. See you guys soon.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Harding Lectures Review

As you know, I've been at the Harding lectures this week. Just thought I would share with you some of the highlights.

Probably the best thing I went to was Randy Willingham's classes on communication in a congregation. I had never heard Randy, but I was really impressed. He stressed the importance of communicating with informal leaders in the congregation, as well as the formal leaders. There are certain people that the congregation goes to when they are looking for information about what is going on, for the person who knows the direction of the congregation, and for the person who knows how to take the congregation the direction it is wanting to go. Randy used some case studies to demonstrate that these people are often not in the formal leadership, and includes both men and women.

By keeping the formal and informal leaders informed, whatever message needs to be spread will happen very quickly--usually in 7-10 days.

A clear message from the presentation was also that many informal leaders are more influential than formal leaders. Too often leaders rely upon position to lead, or expect that because someone has a position, they are leaders. This is simply not true. Another thing to note about informal leaders--they usually have no accountability. This can be freeing for them, but it can also present problems. For instance, in his study one of the informal leaders that was most influential was an elder's wife. She can do great good in holding this informal role, or can do great damage. If she were a formal leader, then she could more easily to called to account.

This leads one to conclude that perhaps sometimes it is better to have someone who is "opposed" to the direction in a formal role than an informal one, because at least in a formal role there is more accountability. Often what happens in a local church is that those informal leaders who are opposed to something are allowed to be disruptive, stirring up dissension without being checked. Ideally of course, disruptive behavior will be dealt with by the congregation on a personal level.

Other highlights:

  • Don Vinzant shared some very personal struggles that he had, a "dark night of the soul," when he was on the mission field. This fit into the theme of the lectures, which was on the Psalms. I love Don--he is a true servant of the Lord and a good man.

  • Leadership Issues Confronting the Church--Randy Willingham, Charles Siburt, and Everett Huffard discussed this topic, bringing out some of the issues regarding elders and ministers. They advocated a non-hierarchical relationship, in which elders and ministers worked in true partnership and appreciated and respected one another's roles. This includes openness, participation in meetings and the like. This is indeed a biblical model and one that will help maximize the mission of the church.

  • Seeing friends. This is, of course, one of the draws of lectureships, and I have enjoyed seeing my good friend Keith Stanglin and his family. Keith has a Ph.D. in historical theology, and he teaches at Harding. Keith and I share interests in theology, music, Dallas-based sports teams, OC, similar humor, and more. It takes an effort to keep up with friends over long distances, but it is worth it. With email, cell phones, and old fashioned snail mail, there is every opportunity to stay in contact with friends. We need to do this, to have people to share joys with and to help deal with sorrows.
Well, I could mention more, but that will do for now. See you guys soon.


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Worship as Evangelism?

Below is a very interesting article on worship and evangelism from Sally Morgenthaler, which a friend of mine, Jim, alerted me to and sent to me.

Sally adjuncts at Fuller, where I am getting my D.Min. She wrote a book called Worship Evangelism a few years ago which really was quite responsible. In this book, she simply pointed out some ways that non-Christians could be helped in their faith through worship--something which is quite legitimate. Paul, in 1 Cor. 14 makes clear that non-Christians should fall down on their knees and proclaim "God is truly among you" when they enter into a Christian assembly. That is, they will sense God's presence in an assembly when the characteristics of God--orderliness, love, holiness, etc.--are properly displayed.

In order for non-Christian worshippers to sense God's presence, worship must be :1) understandable (in the language of non-believers); and 2) something that reflects the character and nature of God. It may be that Paul has some kind of "conversion" experience in mind when he speaks of the Corinthians falling on their knees. In his book Paul and the Thessalonians, Abraham J. Malherbe says that in conversion that was brought about from cults or philosophical sects in the 1st century, "conversion brought with it social as well as religious and intellectual disclocation, which in turn created confusion, bewilderment, dejection, and even despir in the converts." (p. 45). This kind of experience sounds similar to what Paul says should happen to these non-Christians in the assembly.

However, it is clear that this "conversion" is a by product of the assembly, and not the focus. The assembly does not focus upon the sinner, but upon God and the people's relationship to one another. "Conversion" happens by non-Christians encountering God through God's people exhibiting God's character.

The problem that has existed in evangelical and revivalist evangelism is that worship has been focused too much upon the sinner and bringing about a conversion in the assembly. This has somewhat hi-jacked worship and made it utilitarian and too human-focused. There are many reasons for this, but one reason is that churches have been in a purely attractional model for decades. In her article, Sally says that while her purpose for worship evangelism was good, she realizes that conversion the primary point of contact with non-Christians is outside of the assembly. To this, I wholly agree. Jesus said, "go" and make disciples.

This is not, of course, an excuse for boring, unplanned, non-heartfelt, or poor worship. Unbelievers should understand, appreciate, and fall down on their knees in response to our worship of God. But we should not give up worship and make most of our assemblies into giant altar calls. We must go out to people, serve them, invite them to worship with us and experience God, and then share with them the gospel. The worship experience should be profound and help them on their spiritual journey--and help them in conversion in a profound way--without its purpose being subverted or merely instrumental.