Sunday, September 30, 2007

Traveling Today

Hey guys. I've been out of town and had a funeral I had to fly back for. The funeral was for a wonderful, Christian man who truly lived a life of service and understood the essence of the Christian faith. I will miss him.

Well, I'm traveling today to the Harding lectures. I'll see a great friend that I have there, a long time friend named Keith. I know that several of you have sent me some emails and have made some great comments--I will get back to those as soon as I can.

Look for a post late Sunday night or Monday. Please pray for our safe travel!


Thursday, September 27, 2007

The "slippery slope"--Saudi Arabia fears what allowing women to drive cars would lead to

Today the New York Times wrote an article about Saudi Arabia, which is debating whether or not to allow women to drive cars. Currently, it is illegal for a woman to drive a car in Saudi Arabia.

It really is amazing that this is illegal there. After all, what could women driving have to do with morality or religion? In fact, this is exactly what some are stating. They are petitioning the government to allow women to drive, saying that there is no religious basis for this prohibition.

Ah, but some say there is a religious reason. The article states this: "Clerics and religious conservatives maintain that allowing women to drive would open Saudi society to untold corruption. Women alone in cars, they say, would be more open to abuse, would become wayward, and would get into big trouble if stopped by police or involved in an accident. The net result would be an erosion of social mores."

Wow--this really shows the problem with the slippery slope argument. It is based on fear, and leads one to ridiculous conclusions. Apparently, if women are allowed to drive, this will lead to the destruction of society, the end of the world as we know it.

We often pick on the Pharisees because of their blindness. And yet, I believe that most of them had good intentions. They wanted to take no chances on violating the law, so they "built a hedge" around it, forbidding things that were not forbidden. The end result, however, was a terrible burden upon the people and again, ridiculous conclusions, like one could help an animal on the Sabbath not a person.

The fears of the Islamic clerics in Saudi Arabia, however, shows that it is the nature of "religion" and "religious groups" to become ever more restrictive over time. It is only through Christ and dependency upon him that fear can be cast out.

What does the slippery slope lead to? It leads to women who cannot drive and who are forbidden to show more than their eyes through slits.

What "slippery slope" arguments have you heard?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Presidential candidates cannot come up with a favorite Bible verse

Tonight I caught some of the debate of the Democratic presidential candidates. The next to last question was, what if your favorite Bible verse?

I found this interesting, first of all, in that it was assumed that they knew the Bible and followed it--a big assumption in today's pluralistic society. In two or three more presidential election cycles, I doubt such an assumption will be made.

But what was even more interesting were the responses. Most could not come up with a single verse. Two--Barak Obama and Bill Richardson-- said "The Sermon on the Mount," which is not a verse but a discourse and large section of Scripture. Then after mentioning this as their favorite "verse," they showed that they did not know the contents of The Sermon on the Mount.

Another candidate, Hillary Clinton, cited the "Golden Rule." The Golden Rule in most religions is do not do to others what you do not want done to you, but I think that Hilary stated the positive Christian version of "do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
Joe Biden mentioned "the Pharisees"--a seeming reference to hypocrisy or superiority? Other responses included "the Good Samaritan" and a quote from St. Francis.

It was striking that so few candidates could quote a complete Bible verse. Not trying to make this a Democratic or Republican thing (not sure Republicans would do much better). Just an interesting obvservation.

Songs, worship, and the end of our lives

Today I went and visited a long time Christian who is in hospice care and is nearing her end in life. She talked about some of her favorite memories, such as the time her husband came back to the church and various times she served the Lord.

The rest of the time, though, we spent listening to and singing old hymns. Someone had sent a CD of these hymns with me to give to her, and when these songs started playing, it really spoke to her. We both sang "Burdens Are Lifted at Calvary" and many other old songs together. Clearly, these were comforting to her, and was quite an experience for me as well.

It struck me once again how each generation has songs that they know and love. Older generations love songs like "I Come to the Garden Alone," Boomers love songs like "As the Deer," and younger generations love songs like "Lord, Reign in Me." We really should try to teach one another to love and appreciate the lyrics, melodies, and styles that speak to each generation, rather than insisting upon our own way all the time. Those who are most prepared to sacrifice--the supposedly mature--should sacrifice the most, while not leaving any group totally behind. Songs are our heart language, which is why they are so important to us. I know I was glad I was able to sing "Burdens Are Lifted at Calvary" today.

What songs speak to you?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

How to start a Starbucks discussion group/booktalk

I have added some tips on how to start a Starbucks discussion group/booktalk to my website.
We have a Starbucks outreach on Monday nights at 7:30 PM. We have been able to pray with workers there, give them books to read on the Christian faith, and find little ways to bless their lives. We have also picked up people from the shop who haved joined our group.

The Christians in the group have had some co-workers visit with us, and many of our young adults who had "dropped out of the church" have become regular participants.

Of course, the regular, "older" members of the group have a great time, enjoying the fellowship and mental stimulus. When you do mission, you get fellowship and community, but when you primarily concentrate on fellowship and community, you rarely get to mission.

Why do you think it is so much easier for many non-Christians to go to a coffeeshop rather than a church building?

Finding the Missional Path (and starting a movement in your church)

Barry Winders has a new book out entitled, Finding the Missional Path.

I have not read the book yet, but it looks interesting. Barry found my blog and let me know about his book.

This "word-of-mouth" type of advertising with people who are interested in the "product", also called viral advertising, is usually the most effective. It is much more effective than stand alone mass market campaigns.

The same thing applies to starting movements in a church. The best way to get a large group to buy into a ministry or practice is to find some key people, and share with them the ministry, idea, or practice. They will then spread this with their circle of friends--who may have more credibility with them than we do. The "public" advertising (from the pulpit, announcements, etc.) then help augment this word of mouth advertising, and becomes infinitely more effective.

A case in point--Barry's book has now found itself on my blog, with a much more personal plug than amazon can provide.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Are CDs--and churches--headed for extinction?

A recent news article asked whether the in-car CD player was headed for extinction.

After all, CD sales are dropping as more and more people download their music.

Predictions of extinction are common, but often they are exaggerated. For instance, when VCRs came out, many predicted that "going to the movies" would end and theaters would go out of business. However, this did not happen. There was a social phenomenon that was missed by the prognosticators--that is, that people like to go out sometimes. They also like to stay in. There is a niche for both.

Probably, the CD will be phased out over time, but it may still have a niche for a long time.

Some people are predicting that traditional churches and megachurches will disappear and be replaced by more communal, smaller churches. Others are saying that in the future, there will not be any formal "churches," only loosely connected individuals who share a common faith. Certainly, younger generations are looking for a more communal expression of church, and this is the trend for the future; however, probably many forms of church will continue to exist for the forseeable future.

Where do you see churches heading in the future--larger, or smaller? Is one form better than another?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Dallas Cowboys vs. Chicago Bears

Well, this weekend the Texas Longhorns play Rice, which should be a big yawner. But the Dallas Cowboys play the Chicago Bears on Sunday, which should be a great game. The Bears' defense should be a big test for the powerful Cowboys offense. If they win, then look out Super Bowl.

Hope you guys have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Need a good laugh--check out this youtube video

If you need a good laugh today or stress buster, check out the following you tube video of a monk who cannot figure out a new technology called a "book." Some people just struggle to learn or adopt new things! Great for church application.

Why do we struggle so much with new things in the church?

Fred Thompson, presidential candidate, and the church of Christ

Recently, the Christian Chronicle highlighted Fred Thompson, the former senator from Tennessee and actor on Law and Order, who is running for president.

A Thompson spokesman was quoted as saying that Thompson was "baptized into the Church of Christ." Of course, this is a rather denominational view of the church, as if we were baptized into a denomination rather than into Christ and are added by God to the church. But one can hardly fault a campaign spokesman for not quite understanding theological fine points.

Thompson does not attend church, apparently, except for when he visits with his parents and a few others. Of course, most Americans probably do not realize that President Reagan rarely attended church either.

James Dobson had been quoted as saying that Thompson wasn't a Christian. He has since said that this was taken out of context. I do not know if Thompson has renounced his faith, or simply does not attend. Dobson, however, is still very much opposed to Thompson. Note the following private email from Dobson that was obtained from the AP:

"Isn't Thompson the candidate who is opposed to a Constitutional amendment to protect marriage, believes there should be 50 different definitions of marriage in the U.S., favors McCain-Feingold, won't talk at all about what he believes, and can't speak his way out of a paper bag on the campaign trail?" Dobson wrote.

Of course, all of us have to be at least a little bit interested in someone from our fellowship who is in this national spotlight. And since he was baptized into Christ, Thompson would appear to be a Christian, though a lapsed one at least in terms of worship attendance. However, I place little hope in transforming the world through the government. In fact, there is a great danger whenever the church becomes allied with the state. The temptation is too great to promote Christian belief by force--which is antithetical to the way of Christ--or to compromise and bow to the State.

What I find interesting about Dobson's quote is that he places a constitutional ban on gay marraiage and endorsement of McCain-Feingold in the same category. McCain-Feingold is a campaign finance bill that limits contributions to political campaigns. Now what in the world does this have to do with issues such as abortion? Here is a classic case of confusion of worldly values and kingdom ethics. Somehow we have gotten the idea that being a follower of Christ means not only opposition of abortion (a practice which I am definitely opposed to), but also a supporter of democracy, capitalism, and the American way. This conflation of values is a reminder of the dangers inherent to becoming too closely entangled with the State.

What do you think of Dobson's comments?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Jesus and the Kingdom of God

I am reading through Bryan Stone's work, Evangelism after Christendom.

Stone spends some time discussing the evangelism--proclamation of the good news--of Jesus. Jesus' primary message was about the "kingdom of God"--God's rule or reign over people and the world. It was a message about love, peace and joy. It was a message about social justice and how humanity is to treat one another. It was a message that God was to reign over every aspect of one's life.

Stone says that the evangelism of the apostles shifted from good news of the kingdom of God to the good news of Jesus himself and his salvific work. I actually think that Stone underestimates the prevalence of the message of the kingdom of God in apostolic evangelism, as Luke gives many references to this message.

However, it is clear that the early church did move away from the message of the kingdom of God in subsequent centuries.

Note the Apostles' Creed:
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he
descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. AMEN.

There is a huge jump in the creed from Christ' birth to suffering under Pontius Pilate. In fact, all of Jesus' life and ministry is passed over. Furthermore, there are no references to ethical living in the creed. The "doctrine" of the creed concentrates on the ontological nature of God, upon Christ's salvific work, and upon judgment and the afterlife.

Creeds were meant to deal with problems and to guard against heresies. However, quickly the emphasis found in the creed became the sum total of the Christian faith (sound familiar?), and the message of the kingdom of God and ethical living was forgotten.

Stone makes an excellent point that the proclamation of Jesus was not intended to be contrary to the kingdom of God. Rather, the proclamation of Jesus is proclamation of the kingdom of God, for Jesus shows us what it means to live under God's kingdom rule or reign.

Growing up, what did you know about the kingdom (reign or rule) of God? Were you aware that Jesus preached this message, and what did you understand it to mean?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Confessing the sins of Christians can open doors

Whenever young adults read Blue Like Jazz, a popular book on spirituality with this age group, invariably their favorite part is "the confession booth." Author Donal Miller tells of going onto the campus of Reid College, a very liberal university in the northwest, and setting up a confession booth. However, as those on campus come into the booth--expecting to chastise those who would presume to take the confessions of others--they hear Miller and other Christians confess the sins of Christians--judgmentalism, hypocrisy, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquistion, hatred, and the like.

This confession is totally disarming. When we confess our wrongs, it takes away people's fight. It is only when we pretend we have no problems or are defensive that the fight persists. If we want to reach non-Christians, confession will open many doors.

Some wonder whether it is legitimate or even possible for us to apologize on the behalf of others. Note, however, the following prayer of Nehemiah.

Nehemiah 1:5b-6

“O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house, have committed against you."

Here, Nehemiah confesses not only his own sin, but that of his father's house and all of Israel. Furthermore, what parent has not apologized on behalf of his child? If apologizing for all the wrong that Christians have done helps us reach the lost, why would we resist this?

What do you think about confessing the sins that Christians have committed to non-Christians?


Friday, September 14, 2007

Lord's Supper is coming back in vogue

Ben Witherington, whose blog I have linked on my blog,, has a new book on the Lord's Supper entitled Making a Meal of It--Rethinking the Theology of the Lord's Supper.

In his blog he comments on this book: "In this study I argue that the Lord's Supper was originally part of a large meal, not a separate ritual or ceremony, and as such brought into play all the ancient understandings about hospitality, the welcoming of people to the table, and the like."

Postmodern generations are drawn to ancient rituals, and many new emerging churches are partaking of the LS on a weekly basis. The LS--which had been "out" in seeker services--is now back in vogue.

Today, gathering around a table is almost entirely metaphorical. Despite the physical challenges that exist, however, in most of our assemblies (pew arrangements), the characteristics of the table need to be brought out at these times:

  • Equality that comes from the act of eating together

  • Sharing by all, as happens at any meal, including love, laughter, light and serious conversations (remember, the LS was celebrated on resurrection day, and is not a funeral meal)

  • Doing things for the common good (characteristic of Greco-Roman meals)

  • Hospitality, as strangers are welcomed

The early church, which largely met in homes, even had a full meal as part of the Lord's Supper.

I have not yet read Witherington's book, but I plan to. Here are two recommendations that I have on the Lord's Supper.

From Symposium to Eucharist: The Banquet in the Early Christian World by Dennis E. Smith. This is a fascinating read which is essential to understanding ancient meals and what is happening in 1 Cor 11.

Come to the Table: Revisioning the Lord's Supper by John Mark Hicks.

How do you think we could better promote these table characteristics in our assemblies?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

We need friends

Yesterday, one of my close friends took off early to spend some time with me. We went to Starbucks and spend some good time talking about some personal and ministry issues. He had had an unproductive day at work and thought, "Well at least I can spend some time with my friend James." Spending time with a good friend, while sipping coffee and listening to music in the background, is a great way to get through life.

We need friends like this. I am blessed to have some close friends that I could go to for anything. In order to have these kinds of friends, however, we must first invest time in others. Call them. Ask how they are doing. Remember their hobbies, interests, and passions. And let them know that we care about them.

Is this time spent worth it? I can say for me, it certainly is.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Is democracy the hope for the world?

Is democracy the hope for the world?

Some of the leaders and pundits of our nation certainly think so. They believe that if a democracy could just be established in Iraq, then this would create an oasis of freedom that would spread across the Arabic world, ending terrorism.

Now, of course, talk of a democratic Iraq is quiet, and the political goal is merely a stable Iraq.

I am not here to comment on the war today. However, I do want to point out the blind faith that some have in democracy. In fact, some think that this is God's ordained form of government. Such thinking, however, has little biblical basis. The church was given birth in the Roman Empire. Israel had a king. And before this, the government that God had ordained was a theocracy.

In his book Glocalization: How Followers of Jesus Engage a Flat World, p. 90, Bob Roberts says this: "Fareed Zakaria was prophetic in his book The Future of Freedom, saying it was unwise for the West to promote Western democracy. He pointed out that it takes time and some of it has even become cultural. He predicted groups would be elected, and what could we then say? Thus, for example, Hamas was democratically elected because the people lost confidence in the Fatah government and used Western means to institutionalize their views! The church, through relating to people, has the opportunity of helping situations improve or--if we're not wise and careful-getting caught in the crossfire."

I do enjoy living in a democracy. But democracy is not the hope for the world, and we should not mistake it with the church's mission. Only Christ is the hope for the world and the solution to terrorism.
Here is a link to Robert's book on Glocalization:

Monday, September 10, 2007

Information vs. Transformation

I wasn't feeling well over the weekend, and I have a massive headache right now, so I'll make today's post short. I didn't even watch the Dallas Cowboys' home opener last night. I have it recorded on DVR, so I can watch it later. In the meantime I am avoiding finding out the score. In an information age, with 24 hour cable and the Internet, this is pretty hard to do.

We live in a world where information is cheap and readily available. No longer are ministers or churches the guardians of information. People today need spiritual guides, not dispensers of information. They need modeling of the Christian faith and help in transformation.

Back to bed.

Friday, September 07, 2007

How religion draws us away from God

Alan Hirsch, missional leader and author of The Forgotten Ways, has an excellent post in which he cites Paul Minear, author of Eyes of Faith.

Hirsch explains how we seek to escape the overarching lordship of Christ in all of our lives, including religion. Hirsch comments on this, quoting Minear:

"We try to escape God by attempting to '...preserve mementoes of God’s former visits in ritual and law, to idolize these, to substitute legal observance and cultic sacrifice for ‘knowledge of God…The religious person is also inclined to speak of God in the third person, albeit with apparent reverence, and thus to remove himself from the magnetic field of divine compulsions. Man can forget God in the very act of speaking of him.' Religion is one of the biggest cop-outs known to the human. It objectifies God and thus seeks to control him."

It is much easier to follow a rule than to love one's enemies or pursue justice, mercy, and the greater matters of the law. It makes one feel secure, righteous, even while pursuing an unrighteous life. The evidence of this is overwhelming, particularly in the way that people may deal with doctrinal disagreements. In following "religion" (human rules and conclusions), many resort to mean-spiritedness, entrapment, destruction of unity, gossip, and more to destroy their "opponents" (fellow Christians), with behavior that shows they believe the ends justify the means.

This is a danger that we all face in "religion." We should always check ourselves and make sure that pursuing justice and mercy are our primary acts of "religion," not any minor point of doctrine or personal preference.

Do you think that "religion" can draw us away from God?

Here is a link to Minear's book. Thanks, Alan, for the reference.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Bringing About Missional Transformation in Your Church

I sometimes get questions about how to bring about missional transformation in an established church. The best work on this by far is Becoming a Missional Leader by Alan J. Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk. Here is an excerpt of a missional change process from their work (p. 105).

Missional Change Model

Stage 1: Creating Awareness--Through intensive communication events, both one-on-one and in groups, leaders take people through dialogue and discussion about the need for missional transformation of the church; a 4-6 month process

Stage 2: Creating Understanding--The dialgoue and discussion serve to bring thinking and feeling modes of understanding together into a coherent pattern of understanding; a 3-5 month process

Stage 3: Evaluation--What is currently happening in the congregation is evaluated in light of awareness and understanding; a 3-5 month process

Stage 4: Creating Experiments--People begin to identify actions that they believe will move them toward becoming a missional church. The critical word is action. People will experiment through action

Stage 5: Commit--People commit to getting others involved in the process of moving through awareness to understanding, to evaluation, to experimentation, and finally to commitment.

A key on this change model, however, is beginning from the ground up. Most real change begins at the grassroots level, and then bubbles up to the top. Seeking to get top down change initially is both difficult--there is often resistance--and if accomplished, rather superficial. A better path is to start at the edges of the organization and let others see the success of the missional experiments.

The authors state: "Given that only 10-15 percent of any group has low resistance to change and are ready to adopt innovation, an attempt to innovate missional culture in a congregation that tries to begin with universal agreement (usually around some unknown and ill-defined concept) is headed for failure from the start. The key to initiating missional change is to begin with that first 10-15 percent of innovators. Leaders should direct change efforts for the first eighteen months at getting about 10 percent of their churches or system members through the stages of the Missional Change model and into the commitment stage. It's difficult and rare to reduce this time frame."

So if you want to start a missional movement in your church, begin by living a missional lifestyle. Then invite others into this lifestyle. Then start putting together some "ministries"--probably unofficial--that are missional. Then let others see the success, teach them further, and move towards greater adoption.
What questions do you have about this change process?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Recommended Blog-Ben Witherington

My friend John alerted me to a good blog, Ben Witherington is an interesting author, with strong opinions that are sure to generate discussion. The following quote from his post on Biblical Illiteracy in the West is alone worth the visit:

"The church has ceased almost altogether to be what it was at its inception-- an evangelistic movement, that also did some nurture and training of converts. Instead we are nurture institutions that might have a missions committee. Talk about placing the emphasis on the wrong syllable as the culture becomes increasing less Biblical."

I've added Ben's blog to my list of blogs below. Check it out!

Christ is the only hope for "family values"

A recent news article highlighted Sen. John McCain's campaign stop at a New Hampshire high school. The article said that McCain was booed when he said that he would work to fight against discrimination against gays, but supported traditional marriage.

We really live in a different world than the one that I grew up in. I can remember someone at my high school who was in the music program writing on an anonymous note, saying that he was considering suicide because he was gay.

We certainly should not want anyone to commit suicide because of any sin. All sin can be forgiven, and God wants all to come to him. Today, however, we live in a world where homosexuality is accepted as a normal lifestyle, and where upholding traditional marriage is booed.

The solution to this is not laws. No law can change any heart. And the support for homosexuality is so strong amongst young people that it will only be a matter of time before this lifestyle is accepted--and not even questioned--by the majority of Americans. I hate to see this, but it is coming.

Only Christ can change hearts. If we are really serious about "family values," we will put our time and energy into reaching the lost, rather than Supreme Court justices. This includes loving those who are engaged in a homosexual lifestyle, spending time with them, serving them, and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with them. Paul said about homosexuals, adulters, and many others, "Such were some of you. But you have been washed . . . " This is something which no law can do.

See the article reference at:;_ylt=AooXcVpfcvDVe3eG4s243BME1vAI