Thursday, July 31, 2008

Reaching Out to Hispanics--What is the song "La Bamba" about?

The following is an article by Chuck Monan, who is the preaching minister at the Pleasant Valley Church of Christ in Little Rock, Arkansas. ( Chuck is a friend of mine and was a fellow minister with me (or I with him) at the Wilshire Church of Christ in Oklahoma City, OK. Chuck is great writer, and his thoughts about reaching out to Hispanics are insightful.

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, "Come, let's make bricks and bake them thoroughly." They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth." But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The LORD said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other." So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel — because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.~ Genesis 11:1-9

Few people on Earth have accepted the status quo of confused language with more of a sense of resignation than Americans. As the joke goes, “What do you call a person who speaks two languages? Bilingual. What do you call a person who speaks one language? American.”
Our linguistic liabilities have left us lacking in learning about other cultures. The implications for evangelism of remaining ignorant of those around us should be obvious.
Today in the United States, there are 37 million Latinos. At 13 percent of the U.S. population, they have become America’s largest minority. Of these 37 million Latinos, two-thirds have Mexico as their country of ancestry. And as this rising tide of Mexican immigration continues to impact America, most of us know very little about our Spanish-speaking hermanos and hermanas.

Enter Gustavo Arellano. Born in Anaheim, California to a tomato canner and an illegal immigrant, he is a staff writer for the OC Weekly. When his editor encouraged him to write a column as a one-time joke called “¡Ask a Mexican!” he couldn’t have imagined the interest it would generate. The massive response led to the column being a staple in the Weekly. Today it is carried by more than twenty papers, and has a weekly circulation of more than one million.
The questions Arellano fields are pretty wide-ranging, such as:

  • Why do Mexicans have sixteen names?

  • Why do Mexicans play soccer and not a real sport like football?

  • Why are so many Mexicans Catholic?

  • Why do so many Mexicans display the Virgin of Guadalupe everywhere?

  • What is it about the word illegal that Mexicans don’t understand?

  • Why do Mexicans like Morrissey so much?

  • What is the song La Bamba about?

Arellano answers these and countless other questions with insight, irreverence, intermittent indecorum and insouciance. Along the way, he confronts the bogeymen of racism, xenophobia and ignorance prompted by this significant demographic shift. Add all of it up and the reader ends up with a significantly improved understanding of Mexican-Americans.

Is this important? Well, ask yourself this question: How are we going to share the gospel with people who might as well be Martians to us, so little do we know about them? PV supports three missionaries to the Spanish-speaking world in Tom Hook, Jorge Pineda and Andrew Sherrill. We are thankful for their ministries.

But what about the rest of us? Do we have any responsibilities in reaching out to a community of people coming to us, who already number 37 million? The apostle Paul said, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22) This is a mission opportunity right at our front door.

To the work, my fellow gabachos.


High Pointe recently launched a Hispanic church plant, Iglesia de Cristo, in Plano. This is the first of several Hispanic church plants through Genesis Alliance, a joint venture with High Pointe and the Highland Oaks Church of Christ to plant Hispanic churches in the US. Several other partnering churches are now joining this work. With 37 million people, the possibilities are endless. if you know of any churches that you think might be interested, please let us know.

Do you know the answers to any of the questions Chuck cites in his article? If so, please tell us!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Is God an American?

I read today a thought provoking article entitled, Does the American flag belong in Church? by Becky Akers. See For many, God and the US go hand in hand. Remember the old joke about the reason why there is a hole in Texas Stadium--so that God can watch the games, since the Cowboys are "God's team"? Similarly, many view America as God's specially chosen nation, akin to the status of Israel under the old covenant. The rest of the world surely thinks as well about this as do non-Cowboys fan think about the roof joke.
I love my country. Contrary to what those who hate us say, the US does more good around the world--by far--than any other nation on earth. Our humanitarian aid to other countries dwarves other countries.
But is God an American? Does he love us more than Mexico? Or France? Or Iraq? Or England?
We have lived in a country that was largely "Christian." In fact, the government often supported and upheld Christian values. This is largely changing, for better or for worse. Much of the history of Christianity, however, has had the church at odds with the government. In fact, the most damage to the Christian cause has been when the church/professing Christians used the state to further its ends through force--political or military--such as with the Crusades.
Read Revelation and there you will see the government at war with the church. Can you imagine the early church during the time of Nero singing, God bless the Roman Empire, and cloaking themselves in a Roman flag? It does seem impossible to imagine.
I do not want to hide the fact that I am an American. Neither do I ever want to give anyone--myself included--the idea that God favors Americans more than any other people. Remember, Jesus said to "Go, make disciples of all nations." As much as I cherish our country, America is but one of hundreds of nations on earth. God is not an American. He is the ruler of the universe, of every people. And the image that is found in Revelation is that of every people, from every tribe on earth, speaking every language on earth (not English only), before this almighty God.
Perhaps we should sing, God bless America, and Russia, and China, and Iraq, and Morocco, and Cuba, and England. And God has shown himself to bless those nations who follow him, and to humble those who do not.
What do you think of Becky Akers' article? Have you ever thought that God loves America and Americans more than other countries/peoples?

You will not believe this coincidence!

Okay, this is too wild. Jim and Donna are a couple at High Pointe. Last week, I just went through Jim and Donna's Strengths and Spiritual gifts. They are a wonderful couple who just went on a mission trip to St. Petersburg, Russia, with Let's Start Talking.

Jim and Donna used to live in Las Vegas, where Jim also served as an elder. Back in 1997, Becki and I took a choir tour that went through Las Vegas. Guess what? Becki and I stayed in Jim and Donna's house, and they gave us a tour of Las Vegas! Here is a picture that Jim sent us today of Becki and I and another choir couple from that trip. Look how young we look!

Is this amazing or what?!!

What do you think about coincidences? Are most of them merely cooincidences, or is God usually at work? What do you think?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Truth found in New Age Literature: Peace is the End of the Ego

I have been busy "producing" the last four months, seeking to start new ministries. So alas, my reading level is down. One book that i am working through right now, however, is Eckhart Tolle's book A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose. Tolle is Oprah Winfrey's New Age spiritual guide. His work is classic New Age. We are all a part of the divine. Knowledge of a greater awareness, the awareness that we are part of this divine and that this world is but an illusion, is the pathway to salvation. He also contains many Buddhist themes of suffering as the pathway to enlightenment. Much of this is just recycled gnosticism.

But just as Paul found truth in the Athenians' pagan poets on Mars Hill, so we seek to find truth in popular culture wherever possible.

"The ego says: Maybe at some point in the future, i can be at peace--if this, that, or the other happens, so I obtain this or become that. Or it says: I can never be at peace because of something that happened in the past. Listen to people's stories and they could all be entitle: 'Why I Cannot Be at Peace Now.' . . . Peace, after all, is the end of the ego."

Tolle, despite much untruth, has stumbled onto something here. We are often unhappy because we are self-seeking. Because we concentrate upon what we want and do not get. We do often say, i'll be at peace when . . .

Paul said, "12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (Phil. 4:12-13).

Paul crucified the self and placed his centeredness in Christ. This is the great "secret" to peace. Not wanting anything but Christ. When he is our center, then peace is always found.

This is the role of missionaries (all of us today). To find truth wherever it is, and to show others Christ. Clearly, there is a lack of peace in people's lives, and the gospel has a message for this unrest.

Others themes that can be used to point towards biblical truth in Tolle's largely untruthful book:
  • Suffering can bring about life change and greater awareness of larger truths.
  • We can control our thoughts and not be enslaved by negative self-talk.
  • The ego is the root of a lot of problems, including greed, selfishnes, and tearing down of others.
  • Truth is more than mere thought.
  • Self-denial is a good thing.

Have you read Tolle's book or others like it? How can we best use and sort our truth from untruth?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Local Church Planting Highlight - Charles and Julie Kiser, Dallas

The DFW area is an exciting area for church planting. One local plant to be praying for is led by Charles and Julie Kiser. Charles and his team are planting a church in the heart of Dallas, working with both young, upward professionals as well as the inner city poor. Charles went to Harding University and was trained in church planting through Mission Alive (, which also partners with Genesis Alliance, a Hispanic church planting partnership between High Pointe and the Highland Oaks Church of Christ.

You can follow the Kisers' story at I have added this link to a new section on my blog, New Church Plants.

I met Charles in a graduate class at Harding University Graduate School of Religion. He also interned at the Pleasant Valley Church of Christ ( in Little Rock, AR, where my friend Chuck Monan preaches. Charles is a top student and has a great heart. I recently contacted him to let him know that others in the area care for him and are praying for the success of this plant.

Charles’ team is in a “pre-launch” stage. They are developing relationships with non-Christians by having neighborhood parties, joining social clubs, and seeking to integrate into the community. Let’s be praying for Charles & Julie!

For some statistics on church planting, see

How much do you know about church planting?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

We're moved in--now, to the media room!

We had a great crew come over on Monday and help us move in (I'll post the picture soon). Thank you to those involved! We spent yesterday unpacking. Then the electricity went out across several neighborhoods for 3 hours. We had scheduled a Bible study, but our garage door was open when the electricity went out, so we had to reschedule.

Becki went to the kitchen and girls' bedrooms in unpacking. I went for the sound equipment. One of our friends came by and said, How did I know that you would be holding some speaker wire when I came by? She said this because her husband does the same thing when they move. It is a guy thing. And with women, it is a kitchen thing. The sound in the media room is pretty rockin'! Can't wait to have the guys over to play pool and watch a very loud action movie.

We met some of our neighbors. They were very friendly, with lots of kids. And nt only will the house be great for having people over, it is very centrally located. With high gas prices and a spread out church, this will be great.

We had James and Darlene and Al drop by to see us the last two days. They both live very close by. We are planning on starting a neighborhood, geographic small group soon. It is so much easier to invite a neighbor across the street to a barbeque than it is to invite them 30 minutes away to another house.

We have much to do and catch up with. We had planned on going to Colorado next week to see Becki's mother, but we will have to do that a few weeks later. We are so glad to be in our new home!

Have you ever been part of a neighborhood or geographic small group?

Monday, July 21, 2008

We're moving in today to a great house with a great deal!

Today is the day! We closed on our new house here in McKinney around noon today. We got a great deal on a great house--an open floor plan, lots of space and design for entertaining, and only about $65 a square foot. We can thank the Milstead team (with Keller Williams) and our agent Barb Chermack for finding us this deal. We also had a lot of "sweat equity" in our house in Liberty. Finishing out that 1000 square feet in our basement in style really paid off. And I learned how to do a lot of different things, from framing to electrical work to wiring. I'm still pretty clueless about plumbing, however. It's a good thing we know some people who do this well.

We are excited to finally be in a place. Four months is a long time without a home of our own. A huge thanks to John and Sharon for letting us stay in their home this whole time. We closed the day they returned. And the street number is 3201--the same street number as the church. Interesting!

For those who are helping us to move in tonight, thank you! We've asked people to arrive tonight around 6:30-7:00ish.

We are looking forward to many times of having the church, our friends, and our neighbors over. See you here soon!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Well, as you can see, it was quite a bit cooler up in Liberty. Gina and Emily spent the day today building a snowman. Just kidding! This is but one of a thousand pictures that we have of us at our old house there.

We spent the week packing up and loading up. We hired three professional packers for 3 hours (which turned into 4), and they did a fabulous job. Every spare inch of the truck was filled. At the end, we had a few pieces left over. We gave away some things, sold a couple of things, and took some "stuff" over to a garage sale. We both thought that it would be a good thing for us to comb through what we had and make sure that we had as much of a "travel light" mentality that we could. Have some nice pieces but not accumulate a ton of "stuff."

We were blessed to have Peter, Kevin, Matt, Roger, Judy, Briz, Tim H., and Tom help us with the move. We spent last night with Matt and Jen, and our girls (they have three) all got to play together. Gina and Emily saw many of their friends as mom and dad packed. I was disappointed that the Starbucks group wasn't meeting on Tuesday (John had to work late and had to cancel). But I was able to have dinner with Kevin and Faith on Tuesday, followed by dessert with Mike and Terri, lunch with Roger, Judy, and Dennis on Wednesday, dinner with John and Lori on Wednesday, and dessert with the after church crowd on Wednesday. Hey, you have to eat, and we used this time as much as we could. The rest of the time was spent packing.

We signed our final closing papers on Thursday, but kept possession until Friday at 5:00 PM. I spent the last two hours labeling, diagramming, and explaining the audio-visual-interent-equipment for the new owner. Without this, she would have little chance to be able to figure the system out. But if she calls a Best Buy Geek squad or home theater expert out, they can use what I have written up to help her.

We left a welcome basket, card, and information about the church in Liberty, inviting her to attend. We are going to ask some of our friends in the church there to follow up with this, giving her a personal invite. You never know when something like this might reach someone.

There are things that cannot be found much in Texas, like snow, and the friends that we have in Liberty. But we are blessed now to have great friendships that we are developing in McKinney. As Becki and I talked on the way home, we thought about all of the wonderful and interesting people that we now know in McKinney that we would never have known if we had stayed in Liberty all of our lives. Our lives are richer and fuller for expanding our circle of friends and loved ones.

We are now in Edmond, OK, spending the night in the house of another family friend of ours. We'll leave in the morning and head back to McKinney. On Monday, we'll be moving into our new home in McKinney. A chapter in our life has closed, and a new one is continuing to open and grow.

How many different places have you lived in your adult life? Did you like moving or not?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

New Lineage Homes--The highest quality of homes and people

We are in Liberty, busy packing up and finishing things up for the home transfer. But I wanted to take a moment to tell you about a person and a company.

Becki and I built our home in Liberty, and we loved the end result. So we looked at builders in McKinney. We looked at Drees, Darling, D.R. Horton, Highland--but the one that we liked the best was New Lineage Custom Homes. They have a finish out and style that is incredible.

We worked with a salesman there named Michael Rubin. Michael is both a great salesman and a person of faith. We have had many conversations about his personal walk with God, life transformation, and the church plant of which he is an active member.

For various reasons, we were unable to go forward with the New Lineage home build. We could not find a house with a six month lease in McKinney, interest rates have changed, our house here sold for less than we had planned. But Michael treated us with honesty and graciousness throughout. He is having an impact throughout the company with his Christian values. In fact, everyone there, from the Principals to the engineers to the salesman, were wonderful to us. They have on their website that they value Quality, Craftsmanship, and Family--and I believe them.

In a world filled with dishonesty and corruption, I am always glad to find people and companies that do things the right way. Check them out at Their McKinney location is in Sorrellwood Park, just south of Virginia on Hardin. Despite a slow market, they are selling many homes. I do not know all of God's working's, but I do know that he tends to bless those who are seeking to do right.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Sunday Reflections-The Good Samaritan from a New Perspective

Well, we are about two hours away from Liberty. I'm on my laptop using my broadband card. I've driven up until now, but Becki just started driving.

A bit of reflection on Sunday. On Sunday, we looked at the story of the good Samaritan. What is often missed in this story is the main point. Jesus tells this story in response to a religious leader who wanted to limit the definition of who his neighbor. At the end of the story, Jesus asks, who do you think was a neighbor to the man who was beaten up? The man who was beaten up thought that the person who had mercy on him--the Samaritan--was his neighbor. Normally, any Jew would have rejected a Samaritan as his neighbor. But in this desperate condition, bleeding on the side of the road, the man who was robbed would have realized that even a Samariatn was his neighbor. He would not have rejected his help.

This story challenges us not so much to be a good neighbor, but to realize that all people, regardless of their ethnicity, religion, faith, or moral condition are our neighbors whom we should love. This main point is often missed.

We had a man collapse on Wednesday in front of the church. One of our men, Garth, went with him to the hospital and sat with him. This man, Floyd, has a medical condition, financial challenges, and more. Garth took him to worship with us, and Garth was able to tell this man's story. The church responded to this man's need in many ways on Sunday. They have such wonderful hearts. However, in light of the story of the Good Samaritan, the story is not so much about those who helped, but in the one who was hurt. It may be that Floyd, facing challenges in his life, realized that we are his neighbors. Indeed, he said on Sunday that he wanted to make High Pointe his church home. And by letting us serve him, we are being richly blessed.

How is it that we may seek to reject as our neighbor?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A productive and exhausting week

I should be asleep right, because I am tired and we are traveling tomorrow. But often when I am most tired, I cannot sleep. So I'll think back on the week.

This past week I had two pre-martial counseling sessions, a counseling session, an evangelistic Bible study, six Strengths and Spiritual gifts assessments, a special speaking engagement at Waterview (congregation in the area), and an ad to produce. And preaching and teaching! And a lot of house-related stuff.

Well, I was going to share some more, but I am feeling sleepiness suddenly descend on me. Hoff to bed. Talk with you soon!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

We're going back to Liberty

On Monday we will be heading back to Liberty. No, not permanently. But to pack up and close on our house. We hope to see as many of our friends there as possible.

Because our house still had not sold and we still had most of our things up there, in many ways we still had things open up there. This week I have been thinking about packing up our house, pulling out, and handing over the keys of our house to someone else. The house where we shared so many memories with our family, with our neighbors, and with our dear church friends. I think of the many life groups that we hosted. Of Sean and Bridget, our neighbors, and the many times we got together with them and their kids. Of John and Lori coming over and watching a movie or ball game. Of our many Christmas parties with our band members, Steve, Roger, John, and Robert. Of the basement that I finished out exactly as I dreamed, high tech and all. Of Kim and David coming over and helping us paint the basement. Of Gina and Emily running around the house. Of the last day when Judy and Dennis came to tell me good-bye at the kitchen table. Of Becki and I moving in the first time into our newly built home, and the joy we shared with each other there for 5+ years.

In a lot of ways, I was happy to try to rent the house out, to hold onto the house that we shared so many memories in and that we labored on. But we are selling it, closing on Friday. In many ways, this will be difficult and another emotional goodbye.

To our friends in Liberty, we are looking forward to seeing you! We will arrive Monday evening--maybe for the "Summer of Serving," and we will definitely be at the Wednesday evening service. On Thursday we are packing up the moving truck. We would welcome any help during the day or that evening. We will close on Friday, and pull out later that day.

For any of our friends who would like to see us, email us at and we'll give you our cell numbers. We'll also keep in contact with Judy at the church office. We love you guys! Looking forward to seeing you.

James and Becki

Thursday, July 10, 2008

How Tolerant is Jesus?

Last night I spoke at the Waterview Church of Christ for their summer series. I attended Waterview when I was very young, and our family still has many friends there. The church was very kind and welcoming to me last night.

I was given an interesting topic to speak on--How Tolerant is Jesus? It is a topic worthy of discussion and particularly relevant in a fast changing world.

And so I ask you, how tolerant is Jesus?

Monday, July 07, 2008

Companies offer unlimited flex and vacation time with accountability--what about churches?

A recnnt Business Week article highlighted a growing trend in businesses against fixed amounts of vacation time and scheduling. Bluewolf, an IT consulting firm, allows employees to take as much vacation time as needed, and allows employees to work whatever hours desired--so long as they meet certain performance expectatations.


Churches need to take note of these trends. The idea that leaders dictate all of the prescribed, "official" times to meet and all of the offficial ministries is rather archaic. Churches instead ought to offer multiple schedules and encourage members to start ministries on their own. However, loving, mutual accountability is necessary in this.

For instance, members could be expected to do three things each week--worship, Bible study, and outreach. However, these could be accomplished in many different ways--in a small group, in a discipleship triad, in a Wed night assembly, in a Monday Night for the Master, in a neighborhood get together, etc.

What do you think of Bluewolf's policy? Would this approach work in churches? Why or why not?

Top Ten Ways to Use Your Home with Fellow Christians

On Sunday, I gave a top ten list of ways that we could use our homes to show hospitality to fellow Christians. Garth asked me to post this list. So here it is!

10. Let others use your vacation home (Acts 10:5).
9. Start a discipleship group in your home (Mt. 13:36f).
8. Invite those who are grieving over (Jn. 19:26-27).
7. Help start a church with your home as a base (Lk. 10:3f).
6. Host a small group (Rom. 16:3-5).
5. Host a youth devo (Col. 4:15).
4. Invite the preacher over (Acts 16:15).
3. Welcome released inmates (Acts 16:40).
2. Throw a "Matthew" party, mixing Christians and non-Christians (Mt. 19:10).
1. Welcome visitors, both in our church "house/building" and by inviting into our homes (3 Jn. 9).

What prevents us from becoming more hospitable? How can we change this?

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Could the Spirit of God be leading us to divorce recovery ministry?

Missional theology says that the Spirit has already been sent into the world. Therefore, our role is discover where the Spirit is at work and how we can partner with what God is already doing.

This theology is why a minister or church planter cannot simply go into a new area/work with a complete set of plans. Plans are good, and there are many things that need to happen in most churches in order to make the church outward focused and effective in reaching the lost. However, ministers and church planters need to listen as well and be looking for new opportunities that the Spirit is opening.

This is why it takes some time for new outreaches to begin at High Pointe. One of the things I have been trying to do is to see what types of ministries to the hurting and broken God has already laid on the hearts of the people here.

People have come to me about the need for a divorce recovery ministry here. And after mentioning this in last week's sermon, some additional people have responded, stating a need for this. This can meet not only the needs of our own people, but also can reach many in the community.

I am excited to find where the Spirit seems to already be at work that we can get behind and that will support our mission. Rather, God's mission to the world.

Do you think that divorce recovery ministries are needed in the church and community? What resources are you aware of? What do those who have experienced divorce most need?

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A word on marriage--struggles are normal

I am in the midst of doing pre-marital counseling for a young couple. This and the recent marriage discussion on this blog reminded me of the need to let people know that struggles in marriage are normal. Hollywood overly romanticizes love. It is all about the mountain top experience--emotional peaks. It is about finding a person who fits you perfectly.

Love in Hollywood is not about sacrifice, hard work, or service, nor it is a commitment. Biblical love, on the other hand, is all of these things. Real love is a commitment to another person, and it requires dedication and hard work.

I would estimate that on any given Sunday, half of the marriages are really struggling. That may sound terrible. But the good news is, most of these marriages stay together.

I often talk with young couples who think that because they are fighting, they married the wrong person. That if it were real love, they would not have any issues. Happily ever after every single day.

Look, marriage is a shaping process. And it takes years to beat selfishness out of us. It takes years to get used to understanding how another person thinks.

But the good news is, at some point you begin to better understand one another. You begin to really love your spouse in a new way. You begin to want what is best for them and make them happy more than you.

Becki is still waiting for me to get to that point! :) Seriously, though. The message to young couples is this--don't fall apart when you have real life struggles in your marriage. This is normal, and it is part of the shaping process that God has for us. As someone once told me, there is probably no better way to shape a person Spiritually than to have him or her be married to someone else.

Do you think Hollywood accurately portrays marriage? Did struggles in your marriage come as a surprise to you? How did you handle these?

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Starbucks is closing stores--is the end of the world coming?!

Starbucks just announced that it was closing 600 stores, cutting 12,000 employees. Is the end of the world coming? Is this the seventh sign of the apocalypse?

No, but it is a sign that the economy is slowing. As people endure some financial strain from this slowing economy, there will be many opportunities for the church to help people.

You can check ou this story at One interesting thing to note--Starbucks, despite closing 600 stores, will still be opening 200 new stores. So some stores clearly are not "profitable," and these resources can be used to help start more "profitable" stores.

What if we "shut down" or diverted resources from non-profitable (those not reaching any converts) churches to new "profitable" churches (those churches creating converts). Would this be a good or bad thing?