Saturday, December 26, 2009

Carolers Bring Joy to Colonial Lodge Nursing Home!

Last Wednesday night, we did not have Bible classes at High Pointe. But the church still met. The church, of course, is present wherever two or three Christians are gathered in Christ's name.

A great group of singers from the High Pointe Church of Christ met at the Colonial Lodge, a nursing home in McKinney, to sing Christmas carols and bring a little Christmas joy to the residents and workers. It was a good mix of young and older Christians, with whole families singing together.

For some time, High Pointe has had singers meeting together on Wednesday night to sing and learn new songs. But Phil Prosser, who leads this group, and these singers have started going out about every other Wednesday to sing at nursing homes. This is a great example of taking a group that could be just inward focused, and making it outward focused.

You see, every group, Bible class, and ministry ought to adopt some type of outreach or service. We are really going to encourage this adoption this year at High Pointe. Doing acts of outreach and service can foster Spiritual formation, as well as helping the church in its mission. All of us, as individuals and groups, need something or someone outside of ourselves to serve. Without this, we become stagnant and stale. With it, we build up memorable experiences and bond as a group.

I am so appreciative of these singers! I have been engaged in evangelistic Bible studies on Wednesday nights, and I was off of work this week. But Gina (my 8 year old daughter) and I were able to join the group on this night. It was good for all of us to remember how blessed we are, and for all of the kids to "learn" about blessing others through this singing.

It was great to carol together. And the nursing home residents were very appreciative. One of the older ladies gave me a kiss on my cheek and said, "I haven't kissed a man in years!" This was a night to remember!

"27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world" (James 1:27).

What experiences have you had singing for others? With widows or the elderly? What do you think is the relationship between outreach and service and spiritual formation?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Daniel Ursey baptized into Christ! (Facebook contact)

Daniel was baptized into Christ on Sunday, 12/13/09. It was such a great day! I spoke on "The Community of the Christ Child," and how Christ draws together all people (wise men and shepherds). We had a graduation for Dyanmic Marriage, and then Daniel was baptized.

Daniel and I have been studying together, going through the Story of Redemption. Originally, Daniel came into contact with the church through a girlfriend that worships at High Pointe. Then he asked to friend me on Facebook, and he sent me a Facebook message asking about studying together. He said that he wanted to become a better person.

It is important for ministers and churches to stay current with culture, communication, and technology. When we speak someone's "language," it shows that we care about them. Facebook and texting are the language of new generations.

I am so glad that Daniel has put Christ on in baptism. He has come from a long way off, with almost no church background. It is great to see his tranformation. He is very excited about his new walk with Christ. Please pray for Daniel as he starts his new life in Christ.

Daniel will be transferring to Texas Tech in January. We will get him hooked up with a church in Lubbock. And we will try to reach out to his family that lives here in McKinney. I will miss him. Tonight he and and another new convert sat next to me at our "Celebration of Blessings." And someone else I'm studying with, Will, came tonight and told me that he plans on being baptized on Dec. 27. God is at work!

Does your minister or church use Facebook to help connect with people?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

5 New Baptisms from Genesis Alliance! - Church Planting Discussion

These two families below (5 people) were baptized into Christ by Sixto Rivera on Saturday night, 12/5/09. They heard Sixto on the World Radio Hispanic broadcast that Sixto speaks on each week. They contacted Sixto, and he studied with them. They live in McKinney, TX, and a new church may form around these families. Praise God! My family and I were blessed to witness these baptisms at the High Pointe Church of Christ building. (I was up at the building working, and Becki was facillitating the ladies' Christmas party.)

When should new converts start to reach out? When are they "ready"? The story of the "Woman at the Well" might be instructive. In John 4, the woman at the well had an encounter with Christ, and she went back and told her whole village about Jesus.

What was the result? John says, "39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, "He told me everything I ever did." 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers." (John 4:39-41)

So, so question is, what is needed to start a new church? What do the people need to know? Can new converts be the basis for a new church? What would else would they need? What biblical or historical evidence can you cite?

To make a contribution to Genesis Alliance, click here. Help us plant new latino churches!

Monday, December 07, 2009

Global Warming & the Nature of Science - Reflections on the recent scandal

To my readers--I'm sorry about the posting delay. This is an incredibly busy time! But Christmas is my favorite time of the year. I love the music, time with friends, and the focus upon Christ.

By now, you have all probably heard of the recent scandal involving global warming. Emails from the top scientists researching global warming were published, showing that data that contradicted theories of man made global warming were suppressed and other data was fixed. As this Fox news story on the scandal shows, many scientists who disagreed with the man made global warming consensus were shunned, snubbed and even threatened.

What is going on here? Isn't science supposed to be objective and follow the data wherever it leads?

Actually, while "science" claims objectivity, in reality, it is not objective. Postmodernism rightly tells us that everyone has a perspective, and that no one can fully stand outside of a situation and be 100% objective. This is true for scientists as well. Scientists, being human, are subject to the same things as other mere mortals--biases, politics, money, and power. Many have pointed out that global warming has become politically correct, and that researchers for global warming have received billions of dollars in grants. Proponents of climate change, such as Al Gore, have reportedly made a lot of money off of this subject.

Human nature would say that any of us is susceptible to craving power, influence, applause, and money. This may explain some of the evidence that has come out. But is manmade climate change a hoax? That is, do the scientists involved not believe what they are saying?

On this point, I think that it is likely that these scientists believe in manmade global warming. In fact, they believe in it so much, that they do not believe any data that is contradictory. Manmade global warming is a paradigm for how they interpret climate data.

In reality, science works within paradigms. In his profound book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn explores the history of science. He shows that science works within a paradigm, even in the face of contradictory data, if there is no good alternative theory that surfaces. Any new theory is attacked, until the evidence is so overwhelming that te new theory is accepted. Usually it takes the dying off of the old generation of scientists for the new theory to fully be accepted. The classic example of this is the view that scientists once had that the earth was the center of the universe. Contradictory evidence was ignored or explained away, until Galileo brought about a paradigm shift.

So just because "science" says something, that does not make it true. Some theories explain local phenomena, but not global or cosmic phenomena. For example, Newtonian physics (which works on a local scale) was blown away by Einstein's theory of relativity (which works on a cosmic scale). I say this not as an anti-science person--I have a biology degree and love the many discoveries of science. But the idea of pure objectivity of scientists is simply a fallacy.

I am not a global warming researcher, so I do not know if manmade global warming is really happening or not. All of the data needs to be examined. Even then--science would say--we should continue to be open to new data that may come in. As Christians, we have a responsibility to take care of the earth that God has given into our care. We should at least be open to examining the data, and not have a closed minds ourselves. So should all scientists.

Some reading -
There is a from the Huffington Post that views the idea that global warming is a hoax as dangerous--a response which Thomas Kuhn would have predicted. The New York Times published an explanation of and a defense of their coverage of the story. David Frum, in an writing to CNN, has an interesting article on the subject. The Wall Street Journal contrasts "believers" and "skeptics" in global warming. Finally, it will be interesting to see if this scandal has any effect upon the global warming talks in Copenhagen that President Obama is attending.

What do you think about this story, global warming, and the nature of science?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

One of my proudest moments as a father -- maybe ever!

My wife Becki called me at work earlier this week. She usually has something she is thinking about or something she wants my thoughts on. This time she shared with me what my eight year old daughter, Gina, wrote at school on leadership. This is what she said.

10-29-09 Gina Nored 3rd Grade

"If I could be a leader in any area, I would be a Christian leader. I would teach others about god, and try for them to believe in him. I would also tell bible stories, and read memory verses. If there was a bad time, I would try my best to fix it. Also I would make bible classes, and bible studies. I would be just like my dad."

When she read all of but the last sentence, talking about telling others about God, doing Bible studies and Bible classes, I was smiling. But when she said, "I would be just like my dad," I was blown away. I was not expecting these words, and they were powerful. I have to say that it was one of my proudest moments as a father.

It hit me how much our children look up to us. They imitate us--the good and the bad. I'm glad that Gina has had a heart instilled in her for God. If there is nothing else Becki and I can do, that will be a great thing.

Becki said that she read last week that at age 12, kids don't want to be around their parents (or at least they don't share it). She said that we only have 4 years left that Gina will want to be with us, to do things with us all the time. Wow. I need to cherish these years, and continue to try to be the best father I can be.

What are you teaching your children by your life, actions, time, and money?

Saturday, November 07, 2009

A wonderful smile!

Diabolic smile
Originally uploaded by Elishams

Here is a great picture I found on Flickr. Doesn't this smile warm your soul?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

What a Church, What a Day! - Serving Our Community

Today was a great day for High Pointe. Wednesday is the day that our food pantry and clothes closet are open. And today was also a day in which we were taking applications from families for the Angel Tree ministry.

The church was flooded with people who needed help. People with real hurts and struggles. One woman was named Alma. She was there with one of her daughters and grandkids. She has a neice who is gaining community service hours working in our clothes closet. Her sister's girls are struggling due to brokenness in her family. She was divorced, and admitted some mistakes there.

We prayed with Alma and her daughter. And tonight we will study together. She is planning on bringing much of her family, including her grandkids and her neice's kids. One of our children's ministry workers and our youth minister will be meeting these kids tonight and taking them to Bible classes. Alma is hoping that they will receive some good influences to help them in their struggles. She said that though she had gone through some tough times, she had not rejected God.

I also asked Alma if she had anyone in her family who needed to practice their English, as we have a FriendSpeak ministry. She said that the man that she was dating needed this, and that she would bring him tonight. So I called Jim and Donna, our FriendSpeak leaders. Donna will come and help with the study with Alma, and Jim will hopefully work with Alma's friend with FriendSpeak.

It was great to see all of our staff working on this ministry. Linda, our secretary, has a heart for this ministry which has flown over and touched the whole church, getting so many others involved. It was great to see the Bryans, one of our families, work together (the kids are home schooled) serving those who came in, as well as Laura's daughter, Robbyn, who speaks Spanish (very helpful!). Bryan, one of our ministers, came back from his trip excited about spending time with a church that had a large food pantry ministry that had partnered with many businesses in the community to meet these needs. We could do the same thing here.

There is so much good being done by this church, and God is being made known all across our community. Thank you for all of those who have a heart for those whom Jesus cared for!

Can you be praying for Alma and her family?

Monday, November 02, 2009

Spiritual Gifts Seminar at Enterprise Boulevard Church of Christ

Yesterday I flew out to Lake Charles, Louisiana, to give a Spiritual Gifts Seminar. (As a side note, American Eagle somehow lost my luggage on a direct flight. That is hard to do.) We had the first night of the seminar last night, and will conclude tonight.

Everyone has been very welcoming and has received me--and most importantly--the Spiritual gifts material--very well. One of the members, Jason Poynter, has been helping to start many good things at Enterprise Blvd., including life groups, a children's worship hour, and most recently, Spiritual gifts.

Jason had been searching on the Internet for Spiritual gifts material and the Church of Christ, and he came across my seminar on my website(s), Story of Redemption and the Missional Outreach Network. Then he went and attended a Dynamic Marriage training workshop that four of our elders attended. When he got back home, he put together my name and the church's name and talked with his minister, Paul Franks, about contacting me and using my book, Using Your Spiritual Gifts.

It turns out that Paul and I have a good mutual friend, John Dobbs, who is at the Forsythe Church of Christ in Monroe, Louisiana. And Paul was at one time next door neighbors with John Mark Hicks, who taught my Historical Theology class at Harding University Graduate School of Religion. It is a small world in the church!

Prior to coming, most of the church took the Spiritual Gifts Inventory that I developed, which gives people their top five Spiritual gifts. After the seminar, starting next Sunday, they will study through the gifts in a small group type of format. Out of these studies and discussions will come new ministries, people who find their place in current ministries, and great application in their daily lives.

It's great to see a church excited about serving, discovering, and using their Spiritual gifts! For information on the Spiritual Gifts Seminar, go to the Spiritual Gifts Seminar page on the Story of Redemption.

Have you discovered your Spiritual gifts? If so, what are they and how have you used them?

Does your church have a Spiritual gifts ministry?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Suburban Christianity Leads to Spiritual Death

I came across an article on today called, Why Does Hollywood Hate the Suburbs? The article points to movies like Revolutionary Road that paint the suburbs as places of "spiritual and mental death." They are also stigmatized "materialism, lack of imagination, and conformity."

I am largely a suburban kid. I went to high school in Edmond, OK, suburb of Oklahoma City. I ministered in Liberty, Missouri, suburb of Kansas City. And now I'm back in McKinney, suburb of North Dallas.

It is no coincidence that I have stayed in suburbia. I am comfortable there. It feels like home. I know the homes, the schools, the chain stores--Home Depot, Target, Chili's. And of course, there is always a mall close by.

Chain restaurants are like suburbia itself--safe, predictable, comforting, and rather unimagitative and boring. I remember Chuck Monan, my preaching buddy, taking me around to a lot of "holes in the wall" in OKC. It was some of the best food around. But I never would have gone to these places on my own. You see, that's what suburban folk do--they stick to the comfortable and the familiar.

So guess what suburban Christians are looking for? A safe, comfortable, predictable Christian experience. Are the playgrounds safe and fun for my kids? Do they sing the 20 most popular Christian songs that are on Christian radio? Are they going through Max Lucado's latest book? (We are going through Fearless right now.)

All of this is fine in one sense, but let to itself, it leads to spiritual malaise if not spiritual death. My friend and missional leader Alan Hirsch, author of The Shaping of Things to Come and The Forgotten Ways, says that there is something about middle class, suburban Christianity that is antithetical to following Jesus. A similiar point is made in the book, Death By Suburb. One of my favorite stories in this book is of parents working on their child's 6th grade science project while their son is off playing videos games. When the child get's his grade, the parents proudly say, "We got an A." The point it that the parents are finding their identity in their child's accomplishments, which is a type of narcissism.

Here are some of the problems with suburban Christianity:
  1. Materialistic Christianity -- This results not only in personal materialism, but it in picking a church because they have the shiniest building.

  2. Consumeristic Christianity - Members come to worship, assemblies, events, etc. to be fed, never to give. They go to the church that offers the most goods and services.

  3. Crossless Christianity - I know that a certain preacher in Houston in one of the biggest churches ever seen has inspired millions of people. I am grateful for this. But I have never heard a call to sacrifice from him. This message, of course, would be counter to suburbia, which never advertises, "Come live in the Woodlands. You will have to sacrifice for others and your kids may not be safe. But if you'll deny yourself, you'll love it here."

  4. Christless Christianity - There is a whole book on this subject which I am eager to read. But Christ just doesn't fit in suburbia very well. Can you see Jesus riding around in his SUV, dropping off kids at soccer practice or church? No, I'm afraid Jesus is far too radical and dangerous for today's suburban Christianity.

The evidence is in, however. Typical suburban Christianity does not produce disciples of Christ. It produces consumers who hop from church to church looking for the best deal for their tithe--or rather, their 2.5% giving. And if the children's or youth program or the preaching or the worship or the carpeting isn't cutting it, their try the store--I mean the church--down the street. Rarely does a family say, where can I be best used? Where does God need me the most?

Calls to go feed the homeless? Far too unpredictable. And messy. Calls to go on mission trips? Too dangerous. And disruptive to one's schedule. Calls to devote money and resources to reaching lost people? Hey, don't you know that I'm the customer? Meanwhile, members take this consumer mentality back to their marriages and their other personal relationships, and we wonder why Christians are divorcing and have few real friends, just like everyone else.

Becki and I are not immune to this malaise. We both would enjoy living in the hubub of the new urban living. We enjoy meeting people and having lots to do. It would be a great place to do ministry. The reason we have ruled it out right now? Our kids. It's not safe or predictable enough.

That is the problem with suburban Christianity. It prevents us from taking any chances or putting us into situations where we would have to grow and depend upon God and each other. And by our actions and inactions, we teach our children that this is what the Christian faith is all about. And our kids drop out in droves.

Have you experienced the spiritual death of suburban Christianity? What is the solution?

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Should Christians observe Ramadan?

Author Brian McLaren has joined with some of his Christian friends in observing Ramadan. McLaren says:

"Ramadan is the Muslim holy month of fasting for spiritual renewal and purification. It commemorates the month during which Muslims believe Mohammed received the Quran through divine revelation, and it calls Muslims to self-control, sacrificial generosity and solidarity with the poor, diligent reading of the Quran, and intensified prayer.

This year, I, along with a few Christian friends (and perhaps others currently unknown to us will want to join in) will be joining Muslim friends in the fast which begins August 21. We are not doing so in order to become Muslims: we are deeply committed Christians. But as Christians, we want to come close to our Muslim neighbors and to share this important part of life with them. Just as Jesus, a devout Jew, overcame religious prejudice and learned from a Syrophonecian woman and was inspired by her faith two thousand years ago (Matthew 15:21 ff, Mark 7:24 ff), we seek to learn from our Muslim sisters and brothers today."

Some have commended McLaren for reaching out to Muslims, while others, such as Mark Driscoll, have condemned him. So is this a good or bad thing?

The tension that any true missionary faces is the tension between a) being incarnational and translating the gospel into a language that people can understand; and b) syncretisim, or the mixing of religions and faith systems.

Frankly, those who are not on mission do not understand this tension at all. When you are sitting in the safety of a church building or Christian circle, it is easy to rail against any "translation" of the gospel as being a violation of Christian faith or practice.
So what about observing Ramadan?

Can one fast or pray (prayer always goes with fasting) with someone who has a different understanding of God? To this I would respond:

1. None of us has the exact same view of God, though of course there are some understandings (such as the Trinity, God's goodness, power, etc.) that would seem to be essential to a biblical understanding of God.

2. Yes, Muslims deny that Jesus and the Spirit are God. But so do Jews. And Paul continued to worship at Jewish synagogues after his conversion. He did so on mission, going to where people were both physically and spiritually.

3. Jesus taught the disciples to pray--and they did not have a good understanding of who he was. He took them where they were, and they came to a fuller understanding later.

4. God apparently adopted the Canaanite's name for God--El--and reshaped it, calling himself El Shaddai, among other forms of El.

5. Paul took the altar to the Unknown God in Acts 17 and said that this God that they worshipped unknowingly was the true God of heaven.

6. Cornelius' prayers went up before God as a sweet aroma, though he was a God-fearer and not a Jew or a Christian. Would it have been wrong for Peter to pray with him prior to his baptism? Would this cause the sweet aromas which existed with Cornelius to turn sour when a Christian prayed with him?

7. When I pray with my children, do they fully understand God? No, but the act of praying together helps shape their understanding of God.

If I were praying with a non-Christian (or fasting, though it is hard to fast "with someone," since fasting seeks to abstain!), I would want them to know where possible and appropriate that I pray in Jesus' name. I do want to share Christ with them! In fact, however, I pray with people prior to their baptism all the time in Bible studies. We probably think nothing of this because we have lived in a nation with a generally Christian worldview. We have never contemplated praying with someone who has a different worldview, so fasting or praying with a Muslim sounds jolting to us.
Obviously, our intent should always be to reach people for Christ, never to give up our faith. If the intent were to say that there was no difference between Christianity and Islam, this would be wrong. But when we show respect for people, this can open doors for dialogue and faith sharing. And who do you think will have more opportunities for faith sharing--the one who fasts or prays with a Muslim, or those who do not do so?
These are the initial thoughts that I have, but I am open to other ideas and discussion. If you can interact with the passages I have brought up and point towards other relevant passages, this would be great.
What are you thoughts?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Baptism Today from Clothes Closet Ministry

Many months ago a woman came in to our clothes closet who was desperate, fleeing a very bad situation. She needed professional clothes for interviews, and was able to get them through our clothes closet ministry. We helped her in some small ways as well at other times.

This woman has told me about a very kind older man named Pete deLackner who had helped her. She had talked with him about being baptized. And today, she called me to tell me that he was ready to do this. He was baptized into Christ at 2:00 PM today!

What a wonderful story of how others whom we have helped are reaching out to people. The gospel spreading from person to person--kind of sounds like the book of Acts, doesn't it? Praise God!

Isn't this a great story?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Why Jesus Must Be at the Center of Our Faith

Tomorrow I'm speaking on Jesus, the Center of Our Faith. It may seem strange to say that Christ is the center of Christianity. But this needs to be said, for far too often Christ has been forgotten in Christianity.

There can be no doubt that Jesus was at the center of the early Christian movement. Nothing else could generated the fiery zeal, compassion, love, and martyrdom of the first followers of Jesus. Nothing else could have caused a movement to begin with. Passion for "doctrine," worship issues, leadership structure--these would not have caused anyone to even get out of bed.

The time from Constantine through the Reformation was not merely a long time of apostasy, as I was sometimes taught. Many great things happened during this time. Christ became known around the world. Hospitals were started because Christians wanted to care for the sick and wounded. Governments, under the influence of or led by Christians, began to provide for the poor. The Bible was translated into the native language of many peoples, with missionaries sometimes spending decades learning a language and loving a people so that they might write the Bible into their own words.

But somewhere along the way, Christ was at times lost as the focus of the faith. When the cross was put on the shields of Constantine's troops, Christianity became intermingled with politics, force, and power--hardly Jesus' approach to the world. The Medieval world so much focused on the church and its representatives that Christ was surely secondary to the machinations of power. The Reformation and Renassiance focused upon the individual and the glorification of humanity and the arts and sciences. Many great discoveries were made, paintings painted, and sculptures sculpted in the name of Jesus. But it is easy to imagine that these devotions merely drew upon the cultural material that was available in that day. The colonization in the 17th-20th centuries was as much about spreading Western way of life as it was about sharing Christ.

When the European soldiers of WW I saw the bloody mess where Christian nations all came together to kill one another, most did not ever return to their faith. Surely this was not what Jesus was all about. This, coupled with medieval history, is why to this day, institutional Christianity is absolutely dead in Europe.

WW II, Vietnam, Watergate, televangelists, AIDS, poor media coverage, the moral majority, and a million other things, all happening on Christianity's watch, have led to a general distrust of Christians and Christianity.

9/11, just remembered yesterday, also did something. While for a brief amount of time it caused some people to remember God and affirm that there is good and evil in the world (President Bush called those who attacked the US "evildoers," invoking biblical language), it's more lasting impact was to create the New Atheism. This new, resurgent atheism points to 9/11 as evidence that all religion is inherently violent, oppressive, and a threat to humanity.

Our young people are growing up now in this new postmodern world. A world that has shed many of the sins of modernism--pride, arrogance, racism, secularism--that now faces the challenges of skepticism, relevatism, and distrust towards virtually all organizations--especially, perhaps, religious organziations.

If we want to reach people today, Christ must be at the center of who we are. Our young people know if we are passionate about Jesus and his way of life--helping the poor, loving the broken, depending upon the father--or if we just give Jesus lip service. They know if we are really more interested in politics, money, or lesser doctrinal issues that are constantly fought over.

Jesus ought to be at the center of our faith. This has always been the case! Today, however, we have no choice if we want to retain our children in the faith or reach those on the outside.

Do you think Christ is at the center of most churches that you have been a part of and most Christians that you know? What is the evidence for or against this?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Names of Jesus

Jesus has many names. Here are a few of them listed below.

God - Jesus is the almighty God who became human for us (John 20:28).

Immanuel - Immanuel means "God with us." In Jesus, God came to be with us as he became human, and he is still with us today (Mt. 1:23; 28:20)

Lord/Master - Jesus is Lord, master, the one to whom we owe our obedience--not Caesar or any other earthly power (John 1:1, 14).

Messiah/Christ - Messiah means anointed one. In biblical times, prophets, priests, and kings were anointed, showing their special role from God (John 4:25-26). Messiah is the Hebrew word for anointed one. Christ is the Greek word for anointed one.

Alpha and Omega - As the Alpha and the Omega, Jesus is eternal, a characteristic of God (Revelation 1:8; 22:13).

Savior - The word Jesus literally means "he who saves." As Savior, Jesus saves us from our sins (Mark 10:45, Titus 2:14).

Shepherd - As shepherd, Jesus knows his sheep--us--and lovingly and gently calls us, protects us, and binds us up when we are wounded (Jn. 10).

Light of the World - Jesus is the one who shows us how to live and who God is, bringing light to the world (John 8:12; 3:19-21).

Living Water - Jesus is the one through whom we are filled with the Spirit, welling up inside of us (John 4:10).

King of Kings and Lord of Lords - Jesus is ruler of the rulers, the greatest of all (Mt. 19:16)

Lamb of God - Jesus is the one who sacrifices himself for us, the humble lamb of God (Revelation 3:14).

Mediator - Jesus is the one who mediates between God and humanity--our "go-between" (1 Timothy 2:5).

Bread of Life - As the bread of life, Jesus is the one who feeds our souls and gives us salvation (John 6:35).

Way, Truth, and Life - Jesus is the only pathway to the Father, the only one who can really show us how to live (John 14:6)!

Which of these names stands out to you or do you find interesting?

Friday, September 04, 2009

Swine Flu Alert!

If you wake up looking like this, don't go into work! You may have the swine flu.

(Thanks to Linda Hardin, our secretary, for sending this.)

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Sharing Stories Builds Community

Community is a key factor in reaching people for Christ. Few people come to faith without first encountering some form of Christian community. So what is it that builds a sense of community?

The article (cited below) gives five elements that research from Howard Thorsheim and Bruce Roberts shows helps people feel a part of a community. The article writer applies this to creating a sense of community at family reunions. Here is what the article says were the five most important elements in creating a sense of community:

- Knowing names. "That was the most powerful predictor" of happiness and well-being within a community, Thorsheim said. And it's simple to promote at a reunion. "Name tags are important, with big, bold letters."

- A sense of belonging. Name tags can include additional information, such as the person's hometown, home state and parents' names, to help people make connections. Before the Solingers' family reunion, members were invited to contribute material for a family history; the book was a great conversation starter, Donna Solinger said.

- A sense of caring. Before the Solingers' reunion, every family member received a call seeking their input, Donna Solinger said. The reunion opened with a ceremony at which candles were lit to honor each family member who had died in the four years since the last reunion. "The candles and bonfire stayed lit all weekend," she said.

- Linking. A meaningful reunion requires "some way to make a connection with others," Howard Thorsheim said. Asking people to bring something to share, whether it's food, music or a story, helps facilitate that.

- Helping - both asking others to help and being asked to help. But when you're the one doing the asking, make sure it's a real job that contributes something to the event.

As we seek to reach people for Christ, let us remember these elements that go towards creating a sense of community. Potential converts need to know members of the church community by name, and they need to feel that they belong amongst the members. A sense of caring should go without saying. Linking, however, could easily be forgotten. Potential converts need to have opportunities to share with the community and to provide assistance, which helps bind them to the community. So we should send potential converts out on workdays and invite them to serve even before they are baptized.

The postmodern truism, "They must belong before they believe" is true for a reason.

How do you think that we can create a greater sense of community for people who whom we are seeking to share Christ with?

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

FriendSpeak Training Live!

(Note this was blogged live last Saturday, but delayed in actual posting)

I'm at the FriendSpeak training seminar at the High Pointe Church of Christ. FriendSpeak is the domestic version of Let's Start Talking, a way of sharing one's faith by helping people people practice their Englush. This is done in one on one conversations with readings from the gospel of Luke.

Ben Woodward, the national FriendSpeak director, is our presenter. Ben and I and our families spent a lot of time together from Let's Start Talking.

Ben is sharing some interesting statistics about language in the US.

- 53.3% of foreigners were born in Latin America
- 25% of foreigners were born in Asia
- After Spanish, Chinses is the 3rd most spoken language in the US
- In Texas, 30% speak a language other than English in their homes
Obviously, there are huge opportunities here to share the gospel through conversational English! Present today are Jim and Donna Hannah, Courtney Berry, Bill Goodwin, Dan Rodriquez, Jane Tallant, ima Jean Reynolds, Steve Goff, and Betay Viana. Several others have expressed interest but could not be present.

I am excited about the restarting of this ministry!

Friday, August 28, 2009

How globalization is affecting the spread of the gospel

I just finished reading GloboChrist: The Great Commission Takes a Postmodern Turn by Carl Raschke. It is a very interesting book that, among other things, explores the impact of globalization on the spread of the gospel.

Globalization has been received in various ways. Trade unions are against it, and anyone who has had his or her job outsourced probably is not a big fan. However, globalization has also helped lift millioins of people out of poverty in India, China, Africa, and other places around the world. It has also made most goods in the US and other Western countries much cheaper.

Whether one is a fan or not, however, globalization is here, and it is an unstoppable force. If companies do not globalize, not only do they miss out on market share, but they also will fail to be competitive and may go out of business.

One might think that globalization would have a positive affect on the spread of Christianity, as Western thoughts and Western technologies flow into non-Western countries and people groups. And it has had a positive effect--but not for the reasons that we might think.

Western culture is moving away from Christianity at a rapid pace. Europe has done so for some time, and the US--while founded with spiritual dimensions and retaining a spiritual vitality--has moved in this direction as well. Filling the void of Christianity has been secularism, consumerism (pursuit of material things), and hedonism (pursuit of decadent pleasure).

According to Raschke, the reaction of the "Global South" to globalization and the exporting of Western values has been a strong move towards religion, as these forces have been seen as a threat to their values and way of life. The two religions that these countries are turning to are radical Islam and devoted Christianity. While these religions are obviously very different in terms of theology, they share a common vitality and all-encompassing worldview that inspires their adherents.

This helps explain the phenomenal growth of the gospel in continents like Africa. In 1910, after colonialism with its enforced, non-indigenous expression of Christianity, there were only 108 million Christians. By the mid-1980s, however, Christianity had grown to be the majority religion in Africa, growing at the rate of 6 million new adherents per year. (p. 43) Radical Islam has grown significantly during this time as well, resulting in events like 9/11.

One of Raschke's most interesting--and scary--points is that anemic, consumeristic Christianity as is so typical in the West does not have the power to compete with the fire and passion of radical Islam. It is seen as the product of a corrupt, consumeristic West. Only the "real deal"--a passionate, Christ-centered Christianity offers a real alternative to the appeal of Islam. As globalization brings eastern religions and Islam backflowing to the US, they may have great appeal to Americans. Indeed, Wicca and Islam are currently the two fastest growing religions in the US. Churches that offer weak, add-on Christianity to a consumer lifestyle will suffer attrition to churches--and other faiths--that offer a more devoted, comprehensive worldview.

GloboChristianity is a fascinating read for anyone interested in globalization, Islam, and the spread of world-wide Christianity. i recommend it.

What do you think of Raschke's conclusions?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

What does the world think of us? Check out these headlines

I did a search today on on "church" to see what articles would come up with this in the title. Here are some of the article titles that I found and the categories that I have placed them in:

- Mormon Anti-Gay Machine Cranking Up Against IL Civil Unions
- Why Do American Christians Approve of Torture?
- New Proposed Arkansas Law: Take Your Gun to Church
- Soldiers in Afganistan Gives Bibles, Told to "Hunt People for Jesus"
- Disgraced Pastor Ted Haggard Facing New Sex Allegations
- Pastor Had Sex With Daughters to Teach Them How To Be Good Wives
- Two Catholic Priests Stole $8 Million From Church

- Hate on Display: The Westboro Baptist Church Protests the White House
- UK Flooding is God's Judgment on Society
- My Christian Daughter Says I'm Going to Hell

- 16 Victims of the Church of Scientology
- Catholic Church Excommunicated 9 Year Old Rape Victim
- Mormon New Zealand Man Beat Daughter Over Church Refusal
- Thousands Raped and Abused in Catholic Schools in Ireland

Out of Touch/Ignorant
- Why the Catholic Church Can't Ignore Science
- Reason is the Greatest Enemy Faith Has
- Faith Healing Parents Charged in Infant's Death

Not Helpful Spiritually
- Spirituality, not Religion, Makes Kids Happy
- Church Signs That Won't Make You Go To Church
- The Eight Most Bizarre Patron Saints
- 7 Year Old Steals Car to Skip Church, Car Chase Video

With all of this negative publicity, it is easy to see why the world is not big on "church." The implications of this are huge.

First, we must not assume that someone wants to "go to church." Non-Christians are likely to fear that they will be judged, hated, abused, bored, or subjeted to politics at church. This means that impersonal appeals and church marketing will continue to decrease in effectiveness in getting people through the church building doors.

Second, we must create safe, non-threatening and appealing entry points into church life. One of the workers that I know at a Starbucks here in McKinney named Brittany attends a house church in Princeton. Small groups and worship gatherings in homes, coffee shops, book stores, parks, and other non-churchy type of settings are places where we need to invite people to visit.

Third, we must do things which give the church a good name. Jesus told his disciples to do good deeds before people so that they may praise the Father in heaven (Mt. 6:14-16). This means we must do things which impact people and the community and are recognized even by non-Christians as being good. This includes feeding people, clothing people, providing school supplies to needy children, helping the abused and lonely.

As an example, you can read this story of how a family praised God because of how the Clothes Closet Ministry and the High Pointe Church of Christ helped the family after they had lost everything in a fire. I also met one of the school representatives who was up at our building today, coordinating with us on school supplies that the church provides. She talked about how this church helps them so much.

Basically, to change the way the world things of us we must act and be more and more like Jesus Christ. Not focused on ourselves. Not spending on ourselves. Not judging, but loving. Serving. Helping. Would not this type of church impact the world and our communities?

What do you think that we can do to change the world's opinion of us?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Pictures and Video of Our Coldplay concert

Here is a video (Viva la Vida) and some pictures of the Coldplay concert that we went to on 7-21-09. This was an anniversary gift to ourselves, and it was a great one. The concert rocked!

Becki and I at the Concert

We ran into Regina Irons, now married, and her new husband, at the concert! Regina was in the youth group when I served as a youth minister at Wilshire. She is now teaching music at an inner city school in OKC,

These bouncing yellow balls came out on one of the songs. It was fun!

Pictures of the crowd!

Ron and Diane O'Neal--came to the concert too! Ron is a shepherd at High Pointe.

A cool picture of him playing.

The band came out into the audience, not far from us!

Magic fingers at work!
Have you been to a Coldplay concert? Do you listen to them? What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Is Christianity a movement or an institution--lessons from the health care debate

There has been much talk about those who have shown up to "tea parties" and town halls to protest government spending and the current health care bills. Principally, the question has been, is this a genuine grass roots movement? Or are these merely events manufactured by political groups.

I'm sure that there are elements of both. But for my part, I see people who have never gone to political functions going to them. I don't condone rude behavior, such as shouting people down, but the people I have seen speaking on the news seem to be very genuine in their concern. I am interested in going to a tea part or town hall myself to get a feel for people's moods first hand.

Bussing in protesters, whether from political groups or unions, would not be a genuine movement. But providing information on where to go? This kind of "organization" does not mean that there is not a genuine movement going on.

So now let's turn to Christianity. Certainly, it began as a movement. There was no massive "institution" organizing them, no manufacturing of responses. The movement was a Jesus movement, a spreading of the message and way of life of Jesus and the kingdom of God. As people heard about this Jesus and responded to him, they passed this on by word of mouth and in the public square. Their primary public spokespeople were passionate believers, willing to die for their faith. As these Jesus followers engaged in mission together, they naturally bonded, coming together to encourage one another, break bread, and pray.

In other words, the church was the result of the movement, not the other way around. When we start with Jesus, we get a church. When we start with a church, we miss Jesus. The faith becomes all about structure, organization, following the rules, and top down management.

So what are we today--a movement or an institution? Certainly, the church has largely become institutional--inflexible, bureaucratic, and hierarchical. Consider the following:
- A movement flows wherever the message needs to go. An institution says that you must go through "government forms" and a lot of hoops to do anything.
- A movement is innovative. An institution is primarily concerned about preservation of established ways of doing things.
- A movement has natural leaders who surface as the message is being spread. An institution requires a person to run for office and have an official title, designated by the institution.

Not convinced? Try changing your assembly times each week in response to the needs of the message or community. In many churches, try doing something religious (hold a Bible study, outreach, or worship) without getting approval. Try ditching Wednesday night service for Saturday night neighborhood outreaches. What would be the response?

So you tell me--is the church a movement or an instituion?

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Why recruiting leaders in churches does not work

Most every church I've known has struggle in finding ministry leaders. There are undoubtedly reasons for this that are specific for individual churches, but I want to highlight a few reasons for these struggles that tend to be true in most churches.

Here are the mistakes that churches make in trying to recruit leaders:

1. Recruiting through impersonal means.
The bulletin is a lousy place to recruit. True, it may occassionally catch someone's eye and interest. But most of the time, it doesn't. Same goes for sign-up sheets, unless it is done in the worship assembly, in conjunction with a message on the subject, with time given for people to respond. Even then, one study has shown that personal recruiting is 5 times more effective than impersonal methods.

Reliance on impersonal methods is even less effective in big churches. Why? Everyone assumes that someone else will do the work or task. And in a large group, there is less relational pull. No one will know if you are a spiritual bum and never lift a finger to help. In smaller churches, it is harder to hide.

While I will at times put out invitations to serve in the bulletin and pass around sign-up sheets, I know that this usually at best raises awareness of the ministry. Primarily, the church bulletin is a place to celebrate ministries. A great picture or a powerful testimony of a ministry at work can do more to recruit new people than any generic announcement. (But personal recruiting is still best.)

2. Failing to consider a person's Strengths and Spiritual gifts when recruiting.
The fact is that when a person is given an opportunity to serve in the way that God has made them, rarely do their arms have to be twisted. Churches are horribly guilty of finding people to fit ministries, rather than letting ministry flow out of a person's giftedness and heart's passion.

True, some ministries need better organization and publicity. But much of the time, churches need to let ministries die if there is no one to fill the post. We are in the people business--and so is God--not the program business. A program is a life of its own that continues regards of the people involved. We need to let more things die in churches so that people can be freed to pursue the ministry God has put upon their hearts. At High Pointe, most all of our new ministry leaders have come from people going through a personal strengths and Spiritual gifts assessment.

3. Failing to reach out and make new disciples.

I am finishing up reading Organic Leadership by Neil Cole, a very interesting book. He says the following:

"When churches reach new people, the changed lives infuse the whole congregation with energy . . . . If your ministry is struggling without leaders, do not reevalutate your leadership development program. It is time to reevalulte your disciplemaking system. If you are doing next to nothing to reach lost and broken people, your leadership development system will yield very few resutls." (p. 138-39).

I am very pleased when I go back to Liberty (my previous church where I ministered for six years) and I find new converts serving on the minister search team, serving on outreach teams, and serving as ministry leaders in finance, transportation ministry, and more.

Recently at High Pointe, one of our new converts from Celebrate Recovery said that he wanted to help transport our clothes for our Clothes Closet ministry. (Read his story). And he volunteered to do this even before being baptized! New converts provide passion, energy, and new leadership in all kinds of different ministries. (Of courses, we should not forget that the primary goal is to send them back on mission and not become part of an internal church ministry machine.)

So, if you want to find new leaders, recruit personally, help people discover their strengths and spiritual gifts, and make new disciples of Christ!

What thoughts do you have about recruiting and developing new leaders?

Saturday, August 01, 2009

The Tangible Kingdom

This is a short video that graphically illustrates the contrast between going to church and being the church out in the community. It promotes the "Tangible Kingdom" the book by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay. See

The Tangible Kingdom came out in 2008, and it has quickly taken hold in missional and church planting circles. One of the reasons it is pretty powerful is because it tells the real life story of the authors, who church planted in Denver (and elsewhere). They tell their challenges and blessings of being in established churches, and then in church plants.

Some interesting points that they make include:

  • Telling Christians who want to join their community that they are on mission, and that in order to be a part of this group, they will need to commit to certain missional practices such blessing others, hospitality, etc.
  • Letting "Sojourners" (those who have not yet fully committed to Christ, but who are searching) participate in their community, including having leadership roles in certain parts of worship.
  • That starting a church with Christian is not really easier than starting it with non-Christians, since most Christians bring with them a consumer attitude that says, "Feed me," rather than seeking to feed and serve others.
  • That mission is an essential part of spiritual formation, and that spiritual formation is a process.

They also have four major missional practices:

  • Leaving - Replacing personal or Christian activities with time spent building relationships with people in the surrounding culture.
  • Listening - Listening is watching and sensitively responding to the unspoken and spoken needs of Sojourners in ways that demonstrate sincere interest.
  • Living Among - Participating in the natural activites of the culture around you, with whimsical holiness. This would include eating and drinking whatever was put in front of you (including moderate consumption of alcohol), a la 1 Cor. 10:23-31 and Jesus' example (who was accused of being a drunkard and a glutton).
  • Loving Without Strings - Pretty self-explanatory!

The Tangible Kingdom is an interesting, thought provoking book with real life application.

Have you read this book? What do you think of the video and above summary?

PIctures of my wrecked car

Just to commemmorate it, here are some pictures of my wrecked car. As most of you know, a car pulled out in front of us last week. It was Friday, July 24, 2009, at about 5:45 PM, and Becki and our girls were in the car. We were headed down Virginia street going east, about to go under HWY 75, when a teen and her boyfriend turned left in front of us. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt, though I've been dealing with some back and neck pain.

The car was totalled, as you would expect from these pictures. Unfortunately, it is unlikely we'll be able to get anything near what the car was worth. It was a 1996 Honda Accord in excellent condition, with relatively low miles, leather seats--and it was paid for. We will have to pay more to get anywhere close to this.

I was just thinking the other day how great it was to have two cars that were paid for. Looks like I need to eliminate these positive thoughts next time to avoid jinxing myself!

Any thoughts on where to get another similar type and condition of Honda? What tips do you have on getting a good settlement for the car with the insurance company?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Creation, Adam and Eve, and my 8 year old

Tonight, the girls and I just had Bible stories, not "songs, prayers, and Bible stories." We started late, and frankly, my back is killing me (from someone pulling out in front of our car last Friday, in case you had not heard).

The Bible story that we read was about Genesis 3, which looks at the "fall" of humanity. I could not get through this, however, without Gina, my eight year old, asking all kinds of questions about this story and creation.

She asked questions like, how did dinosaurs and people and the ice age all fit together? And, did the serpent really talk?

Even, Emily our five year old, wondered about the talking serpent. Gina reminded us all of Balaam and the talking donkey, and that it was possible. But she said maybe that was just a way of saying it . . .

I tried to explain that the creation account was not an exact chronology. While true, it was poetic in its explanation and did not give exact timelines. And lo and behold, Gina said, if a day to God is like a thousand years, maybe the days in Genesis are like that.

Wow. That girl is too sharp! She thinks like a theologian and a biblical scholar. Since this discussion was not over her head, as I thought it would be, I went on and pointed out that the creation "days" were not to be taken literally because the sun and the moon were not created until "day" four--and 24 hour days only exist from the rotation of the earth around the sun (Gina completed my sentence about the rotation of the earth around the sun being what made 24 hours). In a literal reading, the sun was not even created until "day" four, so no regular days prior to this were even possible.

Besides being amazed at how sharp my girls are, here is the thought that came to mind. If an eight year old can see the problems with an overly literal reading of Genesis, so can adults--particularly non-Christians.

So let's not try to convert people to a literal 7 days of creation, the age of the earth, or anything other than Christ. He is the one whom we ought to seek to convert people to!

What questions have your kids had about the creation account?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


This Sunday I am speaking on the subject of forgiveness. There are many, many texts on this, including the "Lord's Prayer" from Matthew 6:9f.

This, then, is how you should pray:
”‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.

14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Here are some additional passages on forgiveness:

25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins" (Mk. 11:25).
“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. 4 If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him" (Lk. 17:3-4).
34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk. 23:34).
10 If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake (2 cor. 2:10).
13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you (Col. 3:13).
What are your thoughts on forgiveness? What do these verses and others tell you? What makes forgiveness so difficult?

Do you dread checking your email?

Email started as a great idea. In a click of a button, you can send a message around the world. Keep up with friends, share ideas--what a great tool!

Now, however, email is out of control. I don't know about you, but I often dread checking my email. Email is a bad way to send or receive bad news. Many use it to hide from conflicts, be passive aggressive, or avoid personal interactions. Then there are the sheer number of forwards that we both have inflicted on us and inflict on others. And, the whole world is spamming us!

So, when I want to enjoy a day, I may delay checking my email for a few hours. Like last night, when Becki and I went to the Coldplay concert. But then I begin to dread what may await.

Of course there are many positive uses of email. I get wonderful notes of encouragement and support through email, and these brighten my life and my day. But sometimes, you wonder if your life might be better without all of this impersonal contact. If we all lived in the mountains and read French poetry to one another at high altitudes. Or we all lived on the beach without a plug-in.

Sigh. We live in an electronic world. We need to use it for good. But sometimes, I wonder if all of this technology is really good for us. What do you think?

What thoughts do you have about email? Do you ever dread checking your email?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Angel Summoner & BMX Bandit Video

It has been awhile, so I thought that I would bring back one of my favorite humorous YouTube videos. Feeling overshadowed? Not sure if you need the help of angels? Watch this hilarious video!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Using the Government to Enforce Morality

What is, and what should be, the role of government in regards to morality?

It seems that both the right and the left want to use the government to enforce different moral positions. The right wants the government to outlaw abortions and defend traditional marriage. The left wants the government to take care of the poor and offer healthcare to all. And of course, both sides want the government to enforce laws against murder, theft, and other universally recognized moral laws.

So, on what basis do we use the government and laws to enforce a particular moral position? If the government should outlaw abortions and defend traditional marriage, why not have the government take care of the poor and offer healthcare? Usually the answer that is given is that it does not work. Capitalism works. Socialism does not.

But this is a pragmatic argument, not a moral argument. Would we argue against laws that outlaw abortion based upon pragmatism? Even if these laws did not work all the time (say, women who who wanted an abortion went to Canada), they would undoubtedly work some of the time. The moral basis for these laws would be upheld, even if they were not 100% efficient.

And we at one time had laws against things such as adultery. Would we be for these laws now? How about laws against pride? Lying? Gossip? Where do we draw the line?

I do believe that some moral issues ought to be upheld by laws. But it seems that we do not have a consistent rational for why we use the law to uphold some moral issues and exclude others. I would be interested in someone providing a good rationale.

What moral issues do you want the government to enforce? Which do you not want them to involved in? Why?

Monday, July 06, 2009

Rev! - A Ministry Magazine Worth Looking At

I get a lot of ministry magazines just sent to me. I let them stay in my mailbox at work until Teresa, one of my trusty administrative assistants, forces me to go through them. Much of the time, they are quickly skimmed and go in the trash.

However, recently a magazine called "Rev!: Revving Up Ministry Together" caught my attention. The articles were current, insightful, and covered many different areas of ministry, including missional outreach, leadership, and spiritual formation.

Here are some of the articles in the july/august issue:
- Leading On Empty
- Twitter THIS!
- Who's Your Leper?
- Your Sons and Daughters Will Prophesy
- The Browning of Our Churches
- Rethinking and Re-engaging Missions
- The Top Five Church Growth Principles
- Growing Fruitful Ministries
- A Framework for Tracking Spiritual Formation

I have a hard copy of the magazine; however, here is the website link. Let me know what you think!

Do you read Rev!? What ministry magazines/sites do you like?