Wednesday, May 28, 2008

My encounter with a stranger--was God speaking to me?

On Tuesday, right before I left work, a man came in needing help with gas. He had a job, but needed needed some help. With gas at nearly $4 per gallon, I'm sure that those who need help with this will only increase.

So we went out to the gas station and I pumped gas for him. As we talked, he asked me how long I had been at the church. I told him a couple of months. Then he said that he felt that the Lord was giving him a prophetic word, and said, "Transitions are hard. But stay with it. You are going to bring a focus at this church that they have never seen before. Don't give up."

On Sunday I had spoken about how if we pray for God to bring people into our lives whom we can show hospitality, that he would respond, and this interaction would bring us blessing. Coincidence? or Godincidence?

Do you think that God speaks to people in this way today? Do you think that strangers can be angels?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Leaders equip and train other leaders

I am increasingly convinced that the larger the church, the greater the need for ministers to be "equippers." For instance, I could spend a tremendous amount of time starting one small group and doing this really well. Or I could equip multiple small group leaders. Which would have a greater impact?

I like the following quote on leadership from Bill Easum, author of Leadership On the Other Side. When he speaks of the "OtherSide," he is speaking of the quantum changes that are needed to be made in order to meet today's ministry challenges.

"Leaders know that unleashing the DNA occurs when they equip individuals to discover and use their own giftedness to enhance the DNA . . . Leaders equip individuals to replicate the church's DNA through the use of their gifts. Their role is to create an environment in which people are encouraged to soar by discovering and living out their spiritual gifts. God gives each person special gifts to be used on behalf of the Body of Christ. Indivdiuals discover their destiny when they are equipped to use their gifts on behalf of the Body of Christ. Disciples are grown, not on preconceived organizational needs, but on the God-given giftedness of the individual.

However, in today's fast paced world, it is not enough for leaders to do one-on-one evangelism. Multiplication is required on the OtherSide. Exponential growth, like on the day of Pentecost, is the goal. Leaders equip other leaders to grow disciples. They in turn are equipped to grow disciples."


What do we learn about equipping from Jesus' training of the Twelve?

Friday, May 23, 2008

The lost art of hospitality--welcoming the stranger

On Sunday I'll begin a new sermon series on hospitality. Whereas today we think of hospitality primarily in terms of inviting our friends over for dinner or throwing welcome parties, the original roots of hospitality go to welcoming strangers, the poor, and those who are vulnerable due to their status as aliens. I have been highly influenced in this by the the book Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition by Christine D. Pohl.
Hospitality of all kinds is almost a lost art in American society. People rarely have people of any kind into their homes. Going out to eat with friends is good. But it pales in comparison to the level of intimacy and familiarity that is gained by bringing a person into our homes, with our children running around us. It is much easier to pay others to provide food for friends than it is to take the time to devote to entertaining people in our homes.
But again, I have slipped back into thinking of hospitality as primarily directed towards friends and people of equal socio-economic status. Ancient hospitality was directed towards the stranger, the alien, and the poor. In some mysterious way, the Bible says that through these interactions we encounter God.
Why do you think that hospitality is a lost art in today's society? To whom should we extend our hospitality?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Shepherds can help members discover their Spiritual gifts

Last night I had a great Strengths and Spiritual gifts session with one of our shepherds here and his wife. It was a great time as I got to learn more about them. Of course, as long time Christians and church leaders, much of this time was an affirmation of ways in which they are already serving. And yet, as with most all of these sessions, even for long time members, it seems that this time helped give a language to describe the ways that God had created them and the promptings of the Spirit which they felt in their lives. We found applications for using their gifts in their marriage, their jobs, and in the church. All of us can benefit from having someone lead us through something like this. In most marriage seminars I do not learn a lot of new things, but ask my wife if we still need to go!

I am excited that they are going to work as assessors, helping others go through the Strengths and Spiritual gifts assessments. These tools can help not only in outreach and ministry, but also in marriages and families. Ephesians 4:11 says that God gave some to be pastors/shepherds to equip God's people for service. I'm grateful that one of the shepherds here is taking up this ministry. My good shepherd and friend John in Liberty also was an assessor. It is an important role.

Do you think that there is a lack of equipping in the church? Why or why not?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Some Good Missional Reading

Here is a link to the current reading list of Alan Hirsch, one of the leaders of the missional movement. Trust me, whatever Alan is reading, you will want to read if you are interested in the missional movement.

I'll be speaking at the upcoming Quest lectures at OC (see, and I'll bring a reading list then for those who are interested.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The low birthrate of Europe and Japan reflects a low value on life--could the US be next?

Below is an except from a fascinating briefing on life, birth rates, and euthenasia in Europe and Japan that one of my friends sent to me today. I'll make some comments after the article below.


Europe and Japan are dying because their populations are aging and shrinking. These trends can be reversed if the young people start breeding. However, the birth rates in these areas are so low it will take two generations to turn things around. No economic model exists that permits 50 years to turn things around. Some countries are beginning to offer incentives for people to have bigger families.

For example, Italy is offering tax breaks for having children. However, it's a lifestyle issue versus a tiny amount of money. Europeans aren't willing to give up their comfortable lifestyles in order to have more children. In general, everyone in Europe just wants it to last a while longer. Europeans have a real talent for living. They don't want to work very hard. The average European worker gets 400 more hours of vacation time per year than Americans. They don't want to work and they don't want to make any of the changes needed to revive their economies.

The summer after 9/11, France lost 15,000 people in a heat wave. In August, the country basically shuts down when everyone goes on vacation. That year, a severe heat wave struck and 15,000 elderly people living in nursing homes and hospitals died. Their children didn't even leave the beaches to come back and take care of the bodies. Institutions had to scramble to find enough refrigeration units to hold the bodies until people came to claim them. This loss of life was five times bigger than 9/11 in America, yet it didn't trigger any change in French society.

When birth rates are so low, it creates a tremendous tax burden on the young. Under those circumstances, keeping mom and dad alive is not an attractive option. That ' s why euthanasia is becoming so popular in most European countries. The only country that doesn' t permit (and even encourage) euthanasia is Germany , because of all the baggage from World War II. The European economy is beginning to fracture. Countries like Italy are starting to talk about pulling out of the European Union because it is killing them.

When things get bad economically in Europe , they tend to get very nasty politically. The canary in the mine is anti-Semitism. When it goes up, it means trouble is coming. Current levels of anti-Semitism are higher than ever. Germany won't launch another war, but Europe will likely get shabbier, more dangerous and less pleasant to live in. Japan has a birth rate of 1.3 and has no intention of bringing in immigrants. By 2020, one out of every five Japanese will be 70 years old. Property values in Japan have dropped every year for the past 14 years. The country is simply shutting down.


As I read this, I could not help but think how selfish all of this is and how it reflects misplaced values. Not having children so that you can live a more indulgent life at the beach. Not wanting to let in immigrants because they might contaminate the culture. Not going back to bury your father and mother because it would cut short your vacation. Why is this happening there? Because Europe and Japan, for all of their rich history and beauty, are godless nations. Church attend in Europe is almost non-existent.

Is the US so far behind? We are a nation of much smaller families than past generations. Part of this is birth control, but much of it is economic. Are we trading the joy of children for bigger homes and nicer cars? Have we placed things over humans? And if the crushing financial burden of retiring boomers and parents starts costing families their life fortunes, will calls for euthenasia be far behind?

I am not criticizing anyone in particular on this. I came from family of four children, and we only have two. We may or may not have more, a decision which is partly up to God. We have to balance Becki's stress level and my overachieving work schedule in this decision and waht God allows, but we have tried not to make economics a deciding factor in this. If we do not have more children, I hope that it will be for other reasons, not simply so that we have less cost and more income. But without valuing relationships (and our valuing of God is tied to this), why would a nation not place things above children?

Obviously, no matter what, we will not have nine children as people did in the past. With commutes, school schedules, etc., life really is different than Little House on the Prairie, where everyone was together on the farm. Time is as much of a factor as money. But it is a disturbing trend that birth rates in civilized countries are diminishing. And with the US driven by materialism, dropping in church attendance, and an aging population, could we soon reflect the values (or lack thereof) of Europe and China?

What do you think of the birth trends and attitudes towards life in Europe and Japan? Do you think the US will follow in their paths?

David Archuleta and Lessons from American Idol

Last night I came home after a meeting and watched the results of this week's American Idol. As expected, Syesha, the lone remaining woman in the contest, was voted off. While I was not much impressed with her in the first few weeks, she had really peaked in the last few weeks. This week, however, she only did good, not outstanding, and could not come close to competing with the two superstars in the show, David Cook and David Archuleta.

In the show, the producers showed scenes of each contestant in their home town. David Cook is from Kansas City, MO (actually Blue Springs, which is right by KC) where I lived for six years, and so that was interesting. This must be all over the news back there. While he had a great reception, David Archuleta was mobbed by thousands of teenage girls. It was like scenes from the Beatles coming off airplanes.

Archuleta has a crystal clear voice and a big teen fan base. But I think that most people like him because, well, he smiles a lot and seems to love life. One of Steven Covey's pieces of advice on winning people over is smiling.

I love life, and I love to laugh. Part of my "wooing" of Becki was making her laugh. But sometimes I can get in "work mode," and forget to smile.

As Christians, we have a lot to smile about. God has blessed us richly.

Do you like people who smile? Why do we like these kind of people?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Can we get addicted to our own adrenaline?

Can we get addicted to our own adrenaline? The answer, according to Dr. Archibald Hart, is yes. Dr. Hart gives the following as symptoms of being addicted to our own adrenaline:
  • You would rather engage in your activity than sleep.

  • When you stop your activity, you feel restless.

  • You only feel excited or encourgaged when you engage in your activity; at other times you feel "low."

  • Your activity helps you forget your problems.

  • Whenever you feel depressed, you turn to your activity to make you feel better.

  • You fantasize a lot about your activity when you are away from it.

One of the things that Dr. Hart suggests is slowing down our behaviors, which can slow down our metablism and reduce our need for adrenaline (which is released during high stress situations). He suggests:

  • Speak more slowly and deliberately.

  • Pause regularly between phrases.

  • Learn to be a better listener.

  • Walk more slowly.

  • Don't do more than one thing at a time.

  • Eat more slowly and savor your food.

  • Drive more slowly.

  • Do nothing for thirty minutes every day.
Here is the link to Dr. Hart's book on Adrenaline and Stress.

Doing nothing just about kills me. But this weekend, I did feel a need to get some more rest. I took a two hour nap on Sunday, and felt like I could have used some more. I've never had an addictive personality, but could it be because I already have an addiction--adrenaline. I think that Paul was also a person who was a high achiever and driven to try to accomplish great things for God. I don't think that in this sense he was normal. But even he spent three years in Arabia without any recorded activity (Gal. 1). I wonder what he did there in the desert? Did he feel non-productive?

Do you think that our society is too fast-paced? Do you struggle with being productive or being too productive?

Friday, May 09, 2008

Real change starts with little movements

There is a great temptation in churches to try to bring about change from the top down. The thinking is, the leadership decided this, go out and tell people, and they will do it. However, while some might go for such marching orders, most will not. Human nature kicks in and many will naturally resist.

How then, do you bring about change in a congregation? Change happens primarily from a gound up, grassroots movement. While it is great to have all or most of those in leadership "on board," there merely needs to be enough support from the top to not kill change movements.

Missional leaders can start change movements in the following way:
1. Start to raise awareness of the missional concept through preaching, teaching, and most especially, through individual conversations.
2. Begin to work with a small group of individuals who really "get the concept." This group of individuals who are Innovators and first adopters may constitute 10% of the congregation.
3. Start some missional outreaches with the Innovators. Sell these as being "experiments" if there is resistance from others.
4. Begin to expand the circle of missional adopters to key leaders who have the influence with others who are less innovative. (Often the innovators are at the fringe of the official power circle.) These Influence Brokers will be able to spread the concept through their relational channels.

After these steps are taken, people will generally be able to see the success of the experimental missional outreaches and will hear the support of the Influence Brokers. This will lead to full scale adoption by most of the leadership and congregation. However, there is a danger now that the movement--which was once fluid and dynamic--will become institutionalized, as the leadership seeks to "get this under control." If this happens, then the entire process must start all over.

What causes such resistance to new ideas and positive change in a church? How have you seen this overcome?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Our kids are a lot like us

Today I picked Gina up from school and took her home. As we drove home, she read one of her books the whole time. Then when I got home, Becki told me that Gina asked her earlier in the day, "Mom, if an intruder broke in, would it be okay to lie about where we were?"

Once again I thought, This child is a lot like me. I was reading and pondering the meaning of the universe and philosophical questionsat a young age, much like her. I started reading the Lord of the Rings at about age seven, the same age as Gina.

One of the reasons that we love our kids so much, I think, is that we see ourselves in them. A bit self-centered? Perhaps. But it also may be God's way of trying to get us to love something other than ourselves, in "baby steps."

What do our children teach us about God and about ourselves?

Monday, May 05, 2008

Sunday Reflections

On Sunday we had our send-off for two mission efforts--a Let's Start Talking going to St. Petersburg, and a Hispanic church plant for Collin County. In addition to highlighting these efforts, I was able to use the occasion to talk about sending and its relation to worship.

In the past, worship was seen as where evangelism took place. The whole concept of being sent and going where people are was lost. Rather than seeing worship as primarily being the place to directly convert people, we should see worship as being the a time in which we are commissioned to go out during the week and share Christ with others. (The assembly does play an important part in a person's conversion, but in a more indirect way.) The great commission was given in the context of worship of Jesus. Isaiah was sent when he encountered God on his throne.

At lunch, we went out with a great young couple that has recently been married. We had a good time, and Becki and I were able to share some of our young couple experiences. I was also able to invite them to study together, and they readily agreed. One grew up in our fellowship, and another grew up Catholic. It will be good to go through the Story of Redemption together with them. See

Then we went to the Hispanic Church Plant's opening worship service. It was a good turn out. The speaking was translated into English, and the songs were all in Spanish. Carlos, the church planter, had different people who had been reached prior to the worship launch of the church stand and be acknowledged. One was a man that he had met at Starbucks. Another was a neighbor. Another had been baptized, I believe. I was so glad to hear these stories.

That evening we went out to Dave and Jan's house for small group. They live in Prosper, and are seeking to begin 3-4 groups out there. The group had unanimously decided to study Spiritual gifts, a subject which I am passionate about and on which I had recently spoken. Those there all signed up to start their Strengths and Spiritual gifts assessments, which I am excited about. There is a lot of potential for these groups out there. I was encouraged to hear Dave clearly lay out a vision for serving their neighbors through these groups and inviting them into the group. Eventually there needs to be a church in Prosper, and these groups could form a good nucleus for this.

Well, it was a long full day, and I'm just now getting to writing about it. But a very good and productive day.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Ben Stein's Movie Expelled Has Some Intelligence

Last night I took off after church and after tucking in our kids and went and saw Ben Stein's movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. This film is a documentary that seeks to:

1) Show that intelligent design (ID), the theory that life shows evidence of being designed rather than randomly evolving from a single organism, is being excluded from the academic debate;

2) Show a link between evolution and atheism; and

3) Show a link between amorality (not having morals) and evolution.

As to the first, it is certainly taboo to question the established scientific worldview that all of life evolved spontaneously from a single organism without a creator. I am sure that this academic oppression occurs, though I do not know if the people who were cited were good examples of this or not. It is the nature of those who question paradigms to be shunned, ostracized, and even persecuted. Note Galileo. Until there is an alternative theory, people will stay with a worldview even if it doesn't really work until there is another theory to replace it. And usually it takes the old generation who believed in the previous theory dying off for the new theory to become accepted. There is a great book on the nature of scientific revolutions by Thomas Kuhn. Fascinating stuff for those interested in science and worldviews. (You'll have to google it--I'm writing quickly).

As to the second, certainly many who have accepted full scale Darwinian evolution have become atheists. But there are many theistic evolutions, people who believe that God used evolution to bring about the species and guided it along the way. (By the way, all scientistis, Christian or otherwise, believe in small scale evolution, that change happens within a species. Viruses, bacteria, animals, etc. all evolve). So this is a bit of a one-sided portaryal.

As to the third, not all atheists are amoral. But the "natural" implications of atheistic evolution can certainly lead to the believe that there is no right or wrong. The film well brings out the link between Hitler, Eugenics (breeding a superior human race and killing those who are unfit), abortion, euthenasia, and atheistic evolution.

While critics can rightly cry that certain viewpoints were not equally represented in the film, the climax of the movie was quite profound. Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion (a book I am reading) and a proponent of atheistic evolution is caught making some amazing admissions.

Dawkins admits that he doesn't know where life came from.

Dawkins admits that he doesn't know how the universe began.

Dawkins says that there is some evidence for intelligent design, but that this design was performed by aliens.

As to the first two, I have always said that no matter what a person believes about evolution, that is not really the question. The question is, where did the universe come from? Evolution assumes a world, a sea, lighting, and amino acids floating around. And a sun, and a moon, and a galaxy, etc. These were created in a big bang. Okay. I think God could have used that too. But the athetists must ask, where did the big bang come from? This is a question for which they have no answer. Evolution might describe a process for how humans came into being--which people can accept or reject--but it does not explain how the world and the universe came into being. In short, it answers very little, and would do so even if it were absolutely correct.

As to Dawkins' last point, I find it hard to believe that he let himself be taped saying this. Panspermia? You've got to be kidding. So life here shows sign of intelligent design. But aliens from another plant came and planted the seeds of life here and left. But these aliens (or designers as he says) must have evolved without a designer. Something that didn't happen here, according to this theory, but happened somewhere out in space.

I'll have more to say about this later. I will just say that anyone who believes in aliens planting on earth rather than God somehow, in some way, creating us, has more faith than I do.

Have you seen the movie? What do you think of panspermia?