April 26, 2006

Ok in Ohio

Just a note to say we made it to Ohio. After 5 days of packing and moving stuff and 11 hours on the highway we are here. We watched the fuel gauge and our bank account do their impression of a time machine clock going back in time.

April 24, 2006

I Wonder...

I wonder if Chuck Colson would have the same stern stance if the man on trial were Buddhist or Hindu or a religion other than Christianity. I would hope so, but I don't think so.

Should Evangelicals Support Bush's Foreign Policy if He Can't Guarantee Religious Freedom? - Christianity Today Magazine: "In his BreakPoint commentary, Chuck Colson said, 'I have supported the Bush administration's foreign policy because I came to believe that the best way to stop Islamo-fascism was by promoting democracy. But if we can't guarantee fundamental religious freedoms in the countries where we establish democratic reforms, then the whole credibility of our foreign policy is thrown into serious question.'"

We are to love our neighbor not because of their religious practice, but because God commands us to do so based on His creating human beings with His ruach (breath). We were created in the image of God. Loving our neighbor means protecting them whether they practice our religion or not. It means we care for them and their needs, and we protect them when necessary.

The Big Day

Today is my and my wife's last day of work. Tonight, I pick up the truck and pack all our belongings in order to leave tomorrow for Ohio.

This is certainly an adventure. I feel like Abraham who was called to "go to the land I will show you." We were called and began searching for a direction to go. God has lead us, and we are still following even with all the unknowns. At least we have an apartment.

April 22, 2006

DaVinci Code

Here is a good thought concerning the DaVinci Code from Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed.

Jesus Creed » Former Students: "Here’s what I’m suggesting we begin to discuss along with this movie: Why is it that so many, in spite of repeatedly hearing about the historical implausibilities and the impossible scenario Dan Brown created for history, want to believe the inherent story of this book?"

Good Coffee is NECESSARY!

Poisonings at Church Are Termed Retaliation - New York Times: "The man who committed one of Maine's most notorious crimes, poisoning parishioners at a church with arsenic three years ago, was trying to retaliate against his fellow church members because he believed they had once put chemicals in his coffee, the man's lawyer said yesterday."

Any church that serves coffee has to take coffee seriously. Here is a coffee primer for those who may need a little extra help. (This is a pretty good article anyway.)

Thanks to Randy for the heads up on the NYT article.

Homeless

I am officially homeless! And, I have never been more excited...and scared. We wrote a contract on my house in less than two weeks and will have closed and moved within 6 weeks from beginning to end. I hope, though, that I never have to sell another house (though I know I probably will).

Things have gone rather smoothly, but it is still hectic trying to get the house ready, keep it clean for showings, sweating the inspection, and wrestling over the last details.

Now, it is off to Ohio. This is more than just moving to work in a new church. I am leaving my current denomination which means I will have to surrender my ordination credentials. This is harder than I thought, because they were the focus of all my work for about 8 years.

I have been thinking, though, about the role of ordination in the ministry. While in seminary I argued with a fellow classmate that when times are tough in ministry the pastor can look not only to his/her call, but also to their ordination. I still believe that. The church is a community. When we narrow our "calling" down to just that moment when we "feel" the presence of God leading us into ministry, we short-change the church.

Ordination is the Church's confirmation of God's leading in my life. It signifies that they too see evidence for my decision to pursue full-time ministry. I am not saying that a pastor cannot lead or preach without ordination, but I do believe that ordination is a very important part. We are both a community and an individual in presence of God.

Ministry is certainly not confined to those with ordination credentials. In fact, the "professional" minister is given to the church in order to "equip the saints for works of ministry." That means that the community is responsible for the actual ministry and the "professional" ministry is responsible to train and equip to pray and teach.

I was talking with a friend about the church's understanding of paying a pastor. Often they think of it like they would an employee. But I don't think the Pastor is the church's employee. I believe the church gives the pastor financial support for the work of the ministry. Unfortunately, most churchs think they pay the pastor a salary (and most pastors don't make that distinction with their church boards and people). The distinction is significant. As an employee, the board tells the pastor what to do and how to spend their time. They are expected to do certain things (preaching, visitation, spend 8 hrs in an office, etc). As a compensation, the Pastor is to do what benefits and furthers the mission of the kingdom. The activities may look very similar, but the purpose and philosophy behind it is very different.

As for now, though, I will be ministering without my credentials.

April 21, 2006

And if I'm lieing...

Lawyer Dies While Arguing Case in N.C.

Preparing for an Adventure

I am getting ready to make the biggest leap of faith I have ever made. Okay, maybe not, but it certainly feels like it. My wife and I are resigning our jobs, selling our home, and returning to our home town to work with a church in preparation for planting a new church. We haven't finalized our new jobs and we are moving from a four-bedroom home into a two-bedroom apartment. This is not going to be easy, but it certainly has the potential to be very rewarding.

I plan to blog as often as I can, but with the move and changes, it will be spotty over the next week.

April 17, 2006

Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts

Here is an interesting article: churchrelevance.com » Are you a Starbucks Church or a Dunkin’ Donuts Church?

I think this goes back to understanding who you are as a church. Once you understand who you are as a church, then you can discover who you are best equipped to reach. Then you must pursue them with an excellence of ministry.

There are many who want to be a Starbuck's Church, but are stuck trying to change a Dunkin' Donuts Church. I have found that changing the culture of a church is difficult, if not impossible. It is like trying to change your spouse, someone is just going to get mad and end up in counseling. It takes a very special person to work in an existing church and lead them effectively into effectiveness.

Thanks to Todd at MMI for the heads up on this article.

Check out this article from Brand Autopsy.

Discipleship Quote

Brian McLaren, in an article he wrote for Leadership magazine: “In my evangelistic conversations and in my visits to a variety of churches, I am becoming more and more sure that, both for our current church attenders and for the unchurched we wish to reach, one question is increasingly paramount: ‘Can your church help me experience God and experience personal transformation?’ By this question, they're telling us they don't just want to learn about. They want transformation. They want to learn Christ.”

First Chance For Awhile

This is my first chance to blog in a few days. Things have been very hectic.

It is nice to be back in Ohio for a few days, and next week it will be more permanent. We came in this week to look around for housing and to talk to the Pastor at the church where we hope to be working. (Things are still not completely settled.) It looks like their plan is to have us move out into a church plant two or three years down the road. They want to develop their "sending church" philosophy in the midst.

They have sent several church planters out in the past, but want to improve the process.

This whole process is nerve-wracking. Leaving a home, jobs, and familiarity for the unknown. I keep thinking about Abraham who was called "to the land I will show you." I feel called, but God is not very good in revealing the details.

April 13, 2006

Pioneer Evangelist Killed

Prior to reading this article I had never heard of the Rt. Rev. William Waqo, but it is always a sad day when one of our Christian brothers passes away unexpectedly. His words, quoted below, remind us that this man died in the process of bringing the Kingdom of God to the world.

Church Mission Society (CMS) Website - News - Pioneer evangelist killed - 13 April 2006: "“Christianity is a missionary faith. We are mandated to share the Good News both within and without. The Church must do its work as an agent for the transformation of society.”"

The Not-So Comforting Reality

This does NOT make me feel safer about our country: NPR : Hey Mom, Look What I Found!

Secular Findings Don’t Diminish Faith

Rabbi Gellman is amazingly gracious. I find his willingness to accept the practice of other religions and to fully understand their beliefs a wonderful example of what it means to "love your neighbor as yourself."

He is able to accept the good in other religions without sacrificing his belief in his own.

I certainly find this quote to be far more intelligent and inspiring than any Christian Scholar or preacher who has yet written an article or blog post.

Gellman: Secular Findings Don’t Diminish Faith
"It is important, however, to distinguish the details of Jesus’ life and the belief in Jesus' mission. Facts may alter this or that historical verdict on the role of Judas or the life of Jesus, but no historical facts can deflect or damage the belief in Jesus as the Christ, which remains the central claim and enduring promise of Christianity. There is one exception to the invulnerability of Christianity to historical refutation, and that is the resurrection of Jesus. If it could be shown through irrefutable historical and textual evidence that Jesus' followers stole his body from the cave and cooked up the story of his resurrection, then the spiritual project of Christianity would indeed suffer a mortal blow. However, this is highly unlikely, and even if it were possible to prove this, it would still not diminish, for example, the vision of Paul on the road to Damascus nor the heroic martyrdom of Christians for their faith nor generations of Christian saints and scholars who have taught a vision of salvation that sustains and sanctifies one out of every three people on earth. Christianity is primarily built on sacred history and, save the one event of the resurrection, that history is immune to the vicissitudes of history as determined by National Geographic Society, Random House and Columbia Picture."

Unifying

What an amazing sentiment to Billy Graham. Blessed are the peacemakers...

George Bush Honors Billy Graham - Newsweek Politics - MSNBC.com: "From pressing Ike to enter the 1952 presidential campaign to golfing with Kennedy to helping save George W. from a life of drift and drink, Graham has managed, with only a few missteps, to be more unifying than divisive as a Christian evangelist in the public square, which is no small feat in a country founded on religious freedom and wary of sectarian religious allusions."

April 12, 2006

A Life of Holiness

I come from a denomination bent on bringing holiness to the world. Unfortunately, I think they have confused the message of holiness with their particular method for how that holiness becomes part of a believer's life. So what happens is that when a person rejects their brand of holiness, they often reject the idea of holiness altogether.

I am a firm believer in the message of holiness. I believe that as God's followers He desires to make us into a holy people.

What do I think holiness is?

Holiness is simply Christlikeness.

This is connected to the Christian idea of sanctification. Sanctification is all that God does to bring us into living a Christlike life.

Jesus is our ultimate example. We are to model our lives after Jesus, and we are able to do this through the power of the Holy Spirit. We are told that the Fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These fruits should be part of our lives in an ever increasing measure.

Living the sanctified life (not to bring up the imagery of some denominational definitions) is a dangerous lifestyle. We are asked to change, develop, grow, and expand our boundaries of ministry (again, not in the harmful way of some understandings of the Prayer of Jabez). The sanctified life is one of radical, active love for God and neighbor. It means that we love justice, seek mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

Some doctrinal statements say that sanctification is a "definite second work of grace," or they say that it must be accompanied by the peson speaking in tongues. Or some say that it is completely process.

Sanctification is both process and event. By event I mean there are times when God in the Holy Spirit intersects our lives and we are dramatically changed. By process I mean these events can happen multiple times AND that God uses our worship, service, interaction in community, and spiritual disciplines to shape us into holy people. God is not a quick-fix god. He does not always change us in an instant. He can and does, but often, it seems, the transformation is in the long, slow, commitment to growth and closeness.

Relevance?

This Church of the Nazarene in California hosted a night that emulated the Oscar award show. This is quite interesting: Chico Enterprise Record - Oroville Headlines

April 11, 2006

Speak for itself

A few days ago I blogged an article from Chuck Coleson. Here is a quote from a response to that article. I will let it speak for itself. If you want to read the entire post, you can follow the link.

Life On Wings - A Tribute to Dr Ern Baxter:

"My intention isn't to judge anyone's motives, least of all Chuck Colson's. But my suspicion is that many who express their disdain for contemporary Christian worship do so less out of theological conviction or from an objection to its alleged aesthetical shortcomings and more from a discomfort with the way in which such songs call for and facilitate personal engagement with God. I love traditional hymns. But many of them, for lack of a better way of putting it, enable the soul to 'keep God at arm's length.' One can sing 'about' God with theological precision and yet never engage the heart (see Mt. 15:8-9). There is a particular style of Christian music that never requires a person to honestly open their heart to God's presence and encounter him in a truly vulnerable and honest way. Singing descriptively is all well and good, even essential, but it isn't the same as singing 'to' God in personal confession. In the latter we express our desire for him, our yearning for him, our thirst and longing and love and delight and joy in all that he is for us in Jesus. The fact is, the primary appeal of contemporary Christian worship is that its lyrics and melody have the capacity not merely to stimulate the mind but awaken the spirit and stir the affections and intensify the expression of our hunger for God and our satisfaction in him alone.

Permit me to cite something I said in Chapter Ten of my book Convergence. Jonathan Edwards, in his treatise on Religious Affections, argued that the singing of praises to God seem 'to be appointed wholly to excite and express religious affections. No other reason can be assigned,' said Edwards, 'why we should express ourselves to God in verse, rather than in prose, and do it with music, but only, that such is our nature and frame, that these things have a tendency to move our affections' (Religious Affections, Yale:115). Some actually orchestrate worship in such a way that the affections of the heart are reined in and, in some cases, even suppressed. People often fear the external manifestation of internal zeal and love and desire and joy. Though they sing, they do so in a way that the end in view is the mere articulation of words and declaration of truths. But if that were what God intended, why did he not ordain that we recite, in prose, biblical truths about him? Why sing? It can't be simply for the aesthetic value of music or because of the pleasure it brings, for that would be to turn worship manward, as if we are now the focus rather than God. We sing because God has created not only our minds but also our hearts and souls, indeed our bodies as well, in such a way that music elicits and intensifies holy affections for God and facilitates their lively and vigorous _expression. The same may be said of how God operates on our souls in the preaching of his Word. Books and commentaries and the like provide us with 'good doctrinal or speculative understanding of the things of the Word of God, yet they have not an equal tendency to impress them on men's hearts and affections' (115).

So, with a view to affecting sinners and not merely informing them, God has appointed that his Word be applied in a particularly lively way through preaching. Therefore, concludes Edwards, when we think of how public worship should be constructed and what methods should be employed in the praise of God and the edification of his people, 'such means are to be desired, as have much of a tendency to move the affections. Such books, and such a way of preaching the Word, and administration of ordinances, and such a way of worshiping God in prayer, and singing praises, is much to be desired, as has a tendency deeply to affect the hearts of those who attend these means' (121). When people object that certain styles of public worship seem especially chosen for their capacity to awaken and intensify and express the affections of the heart, they should be told that such is precisely the God-ordained purpose of worship. What they fear, namely, the heightening and deepening of the heart's desire and love for God, and the expansion and increase of the soul's delight and joy in God, what they typically call 'emotionalism' or even 'manipulation', is the very goal of worship itself. For God is most glorified in his people when their hearts are most satisfied (i.e., when they are most 'affected' with joy) in him (John Piper)."

Morality

I find this quote interesting: The Moral Animal By Stephen Metcalf: "I often wish I could be a good Kantian, motivated only by the moral law, the same way I sometimes wish I could be a believing Christian, motivated only by agape."

In the article, Stephen Metcalf discusses David Brook's longing for a more "chivalrous" age. Unfortunately, those days of chivalry, as we all know, were upheld by a system of oppression and abuse of minorities and women. It is not music in many ethnic group's ears to hear the phrase, "Let's go back to the good 'ole days." The "good 'ole days" were not so good for them.

I think the longing in the quote is for a morality that is good, but does not have all the trappings of a systemic evil attached. But I am not sure we can get away from systemic evil. I think the desire is for true agape love without all the religious war and in-fighting. And, I can't say I blame him.

Revival

Here is an interesting article: A Revival of Prayer - Christianity Today Magazine.

I find it interesting that when people start talking about a revival of holiness they come back to the writings of John Wesley. I don't think he is the only one to ever discuss holiness, but I think he has a lot to say.

We should not be confused about what John Wesley actually said and what the denominations that claim him as their patron saint say he said. I think there is a great need for holiness in the Church. I think the Holiness Manifesto was a good start (though I am not sure it will impact the working theology of the participating denominations). The denominations that currently call themselves "holiness" may be unable to lead the Church into a revival of holiness because they carry too much baggage from the holiness movement.

Dallas Willard's The Divine Conspiracy is one of the best modern works on holiness I have seen. We are to glorify and honor God the Father and live obediently to His commands. Jesus is our Savior and example of what the followers life should look like. The Holy Spirit cleanses, leads, and empowers the follower to actually live a holy life.

Legalism has no place in true holiness. It is not about the rules, it is about loving God and others. For too long holiness has been hijacked by the morality police, and the holiness church has become nothing more than a modern-day Pharisee. Jesus spent his time with the tax collectors and sinners, not the "holy" people.

We certainly need a revival of holiness, but we need one that leads to righteousness and justice. The holiness movement has often focused on the personal and individual, but the Bible is more concerned with the communal. We are part of a community. We are called to bring justice to our world. God will call us to purify ourselves, but that should lead us to better serve and love the lost, the least, the lonely, and the lesbian. We are called to love, not to judge.

When I was in college there was one of these mini-revivals on my college campus. I remember people falling on their face in repentance, confessing sin, and calling for the transformation of lives. I also remember that once the experience was over, most people went back to life as usual. Revivals are good if they start a fire that burn slow, but often "revivals" are more like a flashbulb. They light up quick and bright, but they burn out quickly.

John Wesley's genius was not that he was a revivalist, but that he had a system in place to support believers. He didn't focus on the experience of Revival as a meeting where people were overly emotional. He did call for confession of sin and repentance. The Wesley revival was a long-term venture. It lasted because John Wesley created a small-group system to support believers and send them out in meaningful ministry. George Whitefield, who possibly spoke to more people than John Wesley, failed to have as broad and as lasting an influence because he did not have a system in place to support the believers.

April 10, 2006

Second Church Visit

I went for my second church visit since finishing my ministry at the church I planted. This time I went to a church plant that was a little more established.

Here are somethings I noticed:
1. The worship was quality and passionate.
2. They did drama. It was a bit choppy, but had some humor.
3. They were finished in a little over an hour.
4. The message was a point-by-point explanation of why the resurrection is true.
5. It was very laid back, casual, and had great coffee.
6. They had a great take-home for first-timers. It included a CD of music similar to what they do in the service.

Things I didn't like:
1. The message was okay. It was good, but it felt like it came right out of a Lee Strobel book.
2. The children's ministry had very little security. They didn't check out the parents ID very well.
3. They are getting overcrowded. The pastor mentioned that in the next year they will be doing a fundraising campaign for building a new auditorium.
4. Parking was crowded and there was very little help.

All in all I liked the church. The music rocked! It was loud enough to consume you without blowing out your eardrums.

I noticed that a few people were singing, but not many. I don't know if this is typical. I noticed it last week too. People seem to enjoy and want high quality music, but they don't really want to sing. Or, as one woman in my church said, I want to be able to sing without anyone being able to hear me.

April 9, 2006

Science and Religion

Science and Religion, Still Worlds Apart - New York Times: "These [scientific] investigations often have the appeal of a good detective story, but it is never quite clear what to make of the results. Should believers be encouraged when a miracle is corroborated, lending credence to a holy text, or disappointed that what seemed to be a case of divine intervention might have been the outcome of natural forces? A miracle, as the Scottish philosopher David Hume put it, is 'a violation of the laws of nature.' Finding that something is scientifically impossible would only make it more miraculous that it occurred."

The balance between science and faith is interesting. I think this article asks a good question. Does scientific experimentation prove anything, really? Does lack of evidence disprove anything? Even at the end of it all we are still left to decide based upon faith.

I have, for awhile, wondered about the power of prayer in relationship to the closeness of the person being prayed for. The NYT articles says, "One of the coauthors of the study, Dean Marek, a chaplain at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., noted that the study involved people praying for patients they did not know. Personal prayers and those from loved ones, he ventured, may prove more powerful."

I think powerful prayers start with a connection to the person being prayed for. I had a post concerning this awhile back, On Prayer and Passion.

April 7, 2006

Spiritual Tourism

It seems we are losing some of the world's most treasured destinations. The article below says that the Snow of Kilimanjaro will be melted away within 15 years due to global warming and deforestation.

Travel: The World’s Most Endangered Destinations - Newsweek: International Editions - MSNBC.com: "The number-one threat to tourist treasures, paradoxically, is tourism itself. The challenge is how to keep the world's most esteemed monuments from being loved to death."

I find that quote interesting on more than just a tourist level. We could almost say the same is true in the church. The number-one threat to the Christianity is the religion itself. We use religion to highlight the deep meaning and significance of somethine, and then that religion becomes a dead liturgy. We find that people move from loving Jesus to loving talking about Jesus.

In his new book The Secret Message of Jesus, Brian McLaren says, "What if many have sincerely valued some aspect of Jesus' message while missing or even suppressing other, more important dimensions? What if many have carried on a religion that faithfully celebrates Jesus in ritual and art, teaches about Jesus in sermons and books, sings about Jesus in songs and hymns, and theorizes about Jesus in seminaries and classrooms...but somewhere along the way missed th rich and radical treasures hidden in the essential message of Jesus?"

In one part of the book he states that people have shown Jesus great reverence, but have failed to hear His true message.

I think it is possible to love the idea of Jesus without ever having to accept or follow His message. And so we remain a spiritual tourist.

Forgiveness

Having seen Hotel Rwanda, I can only partially imagine the horror of the genocide. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed while the rest of the world stood back and watched.

Here is an article about remarks made by the current president: Rwandan leader to critics: 'You kept quiet' during genocide

I assume it to be nearly impossible to forgive under such circumstances.

Here is a quote:

"In Kigali, a survivor who had come to bury remains of her two brothers said she saw no chance for peace between the Hutu and Tutsi survivors because some 54,000 culprits have been pardoned and released from prison.

"How do you expect me to swallow that bitter pill of reconciliation when I see people who killed these two brothers of mine walking freely on the streets of Kigali?" Claire Uwineza told Reuters."

I can't imagine having to reconcile Jesus' statements to love our enemies and do good to those who hurt you after experiencing such atrocities.

Corrie Ten Boom once wrote:

"It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, a former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there – the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie's pain-blanched face.

He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein.” He said. “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!” His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.

Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him. I tried to smile, I struggles to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I prayed, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.

As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me. And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world's healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself."

I imagine that Corrie ten Boom can understand this woman's need. Forgiveness is not so much for the offender, as much as it is for the person offended. I have witnessed first-hand the power of bitterness and not forgiving someone. It eats a person alive, and they soon become an empty shell.

The Bible also tells us that in order to receive forgiveness we must forgive others. This is not because God won't forgive us, but because when we refuse to forgive, we shut ourselves off to receiving forgiveness.

The Gospel of Judas 2

In regards to the Gospel of Judas, I like how Scot McKnight counsels people to approach it:

Jesus Creed » The Gospel of Judas 1: "Now, I’d like to make a suggestion: apologetically speaking, we can only do two things — compare these texts to the canonical Gospels and say “they are really different” (no one denies this). And in saying that some will be done because “really different” means “really wrong.” If you’re honest, this proves nothing: we might be dead wrong in believing those canonical Gospels as the ones that tell the truth. So, second, what do we do? I suggest this: the only substantial argument against the alternative Gospels is a confidence that God’s Spirit directed the Church (inspired the texts and preserved the texts and led the Church to recognize the texts) to the canonical Gospels.

But, along with this we can say this: the text is late, the orthodox Christians said The Gospel of Judas was nonsense, and the theology (which is clearly gnostic) is not 1st Century Jewish/Galilean. No one can dispute any of these three points."

April 6, 2006

Lost Gospel

Wow! I am sure glad they found this. Now my faith is complete!

Okay, sarcasm aside. How many more of these "additional" gospels are we going to have to suffer through? Yes, there are other competing stories. Yes, they present a picture that is different. No, the Early Church did not "hide" them, they simply rejected their validity. Yes, they probably burned or destroyed copies they had available to them, but that doesn't mean they hid them as a "cover-up" of the truth.

Here it is at Newsweek or CNN.com - Text might be hidden 'gospel of Judas' - Apr 6, 2006: "Unlike the four gospels in the Bible, this text indicates that Judas betrayed Jesus at Jesus' request."

Lessons Along the Way

Dr. Ray Pritchard shares some lessons learned from over 30 years of ministry: Dr. Ray Pritchard - Read Sermons & Articles - Keep Believing Ministries - Keepbelieving.com

This is a great article. I wish I had read it 10 years ago, though it probably would not have helped. I am just hard headed.

Further Reflection

I was thinking more about my first visit to the church plant. I realize that some of the things I disliked were personal things. In my post yesterday, I attempted to focus on things that were more general and not my own personal biases.

So today, I am focusing on my personal biases:

1. Don't talk between the songs. I find most speaking distracting and trite. There is nothing said that is going to encourage me to worship. Just let the music flow and use the words of the song to allow the praise to flow. Speaking makes it sound like a performance, and the words are often not thought out so they ramble. Let the style, the words, and tempo of the music speak its own language.

2. Choose songs wisely. There are many good songs that can be used in a worship service, but there are many that are not. Just because it sounds good or the worship leader likes the song or it is sung by a popular worship leader, does not mean the congregation can sing it. Choose songs that are simple to sing (not simplistic). I like the song I Will Not Be Silent, but to sing that as a congregation was tough. If it were sung with no expectation of the congregation singing that would have been different.

3. Sing with passion. It is not good enough to be able to sing well! You have to have passion. This could have been helped if they had turned up the volume on the lead worshippers mic. There is something to have a good "mix," but the lead worshipper's voice needs to dominate and not blend behind the music. The worship leader kept his eyes closed and his face pointed to the ceiling most of the time, and the back-up singer never looked at the congregation (just something very interesting on the ceiling in the back of the room).

4. The introduction (and speaking) should not sound canned. When the pastor finally welcomed everyone, after the singing, his statement was very canned. I hate things that sound like a marketing pitch, and his description of the church (straight out of the mission statement) in the welcoming was canned.

5. When we entered, we did not receive a bulletin. We noticed, about 10 minutes into the service that everyone else had a bulletin. It felt odd realizing you didn't have a bulletin and everyone else did. For a while, I thought they just didn't do them; which would have been cool. I still don't know where we were supposed to get one, but someone did bring us one during the greeting time.

So, after the last couple of posts it might sound like I didn't like the place. I thought it was fine, but I also told my wife that I probably would not go back if I were looking for a church (even as a Christian). It really isn't about the problems, those I can overlook. For me, the problem comes in that there is really nothing different about this church. If I have to choose between a church plant that might or might not make it and an established church that are both offering the exact same things, I will probably choose the established church. This was a difficult realization for me as a committed church planter.

So I have to ask: What will be the distinctive about the church I plant? What will be the difference? Why should people choose the church I plant over the other churches in the area?

Here are some things I liked (because it almost sounds like I disliked the place):

1. There was someone there to welcome the children. This is very important to me. I don't want to be left wondering what I am supposed to do.

2. The people at the door were very friendly and directed us to the coffee and the child-care area.

3. I liked the layout. It was well arranged.

4. The band sounded professional. They played well together, and looked to each other for changes in direction.

5. The message was practical. It got a little rushed at the end, but it was practical. (I think he bought it from Rick Warren, though.)

6. It was young. I like a young crowd. There is an energy about a place with a younger crowd.

These are just my thoughts, and I am visiting two places this weekend. The second church is just around the corner from the one I visited this past Sunday.

April 5, 2006

Running on Faith

In 2004 (I think) I heard Randy Bohlender speak at the Servant Evangelism Conference in Dayton, Ohio. I was excited by what he shared, and captured by the story of his trip to the Playa and Burning Man. I felt like I want to go out right then and rent something and head for the desert. (I would have been alone anyway).

A few years ago, he and his family stepped out in faith to live as intercession missionaries with the International House of Prayer. I was sifting through his blog today, and found this: stuff i think: The Wheel Bearing and the $10,000 Shirt.: "We live a life of faith...in all areas. It is no easier or more comfortable than it was three years ago, but it is more precious to me than it has ever been."

My family and I are stepping out in faith into the unknown. Our house is under contract and will hopefully be sold before the end of the month. When that happens, we are without a home and without jobs. We will be moving 700 miles, and POSSIBLY working for a church. But we feel this is where God is leading.

In his blog post, Randy talks about his friends (and him) getting a check just before they needed it. In the first few years of church planting, everytime we got a little bit of money or a check, my wife and I would ask, "What is going to happen now, God?" We knew something was going to happen. Unfortunately, I did not handle that time correctly. I let it jade me and harm my faith for a while.

God does not work on my timing or in my way. God told Abraham, "Go to the place I will show you." Abraham did it, and though he never saw the fulfillment of the promise, he believed God. I am being called in a similar way, "Go to where I will show you." I must learn this lesson of faith, because I don't want to make the same mistake again.

The Apocolypse is Near!

Apple Allows Windows on Its Machines

Enough said!

Soothing Ourselves to Death

Here is an article from Charles Colson from Christianity Today: Soothing Ourselves to Death

I find myself saying, "YES!" and simultaneously "NO!"

I admit that I am not a person who enjoys repititious music. I absolutely enjoy contemporary music, but I don't want them to get old with repitition.

I find the call for Christians to think a very noble call. I think there are too many Christians who do not think for themselves. (The irony is that they let people like Dobson and Colson tell them what to think.) We have isolated ourselves from culture so much that we no longer need to think about actively engaging it. I find myself more fearful of the radicals who listen to Dobson and Colson than I do the "emerging" church people who are addressing social issues (It is interesting how he is able to lump them all in the same camp).

Are books and "in-depth teaching and moral discussion" really the only way to convey knowledge? How far has intellectual debate gotten us so far?

Colson talks as if intellectual discussion is the only way to progress. What about the lack of artistry? Why are musicians, painters, and other artists not welcome to express their faith?

I also am not sure how to take the statement, "the gospel above all else is revealed-propositional truth--truth that speaks to all of life." I agree that is speaks to all of life. If by propositional he means that it asks people to believe or reject it, then I agree. But if he means some modernistic, point-by-point systematic theology, I am not sure I can.

The Gospel asks us to choose to follow Jesus. But it doesn't give us all the details or a step-by-step plan for doing so.

I think what he is ranting against is the same things the emerging church is ranting against. I think many in the emerging church are against amusing themselves. They see the Modern church, though, as the main perpetrator of that mindset.

Again, there might be an ax to grind on Mr. Colson's part.

You're Kidding...Right?

CNN.com - Study claims ice, not water, kept Jesus afloat

I have heard everything, now. A floating piece of ice is the explanation for Jesus' ability to walk on water. And what about the waves and the wind? Was Jesus just hangin' ten on a ice board?

Sometimes, you just have to laugh.

April 4, 2006

God and America’s Founders

Here is an interesting article about the faith of America's Founding Fathers: God and America’s Founders: Religion’s Role

We are not, nor have we ever been a Christian nation. We have been founded on religious principle, but even our Founding Fathers were ambiguous about their faith.

I read a biography of Benjamin Franklin a few years ago. In it he said that the council refused prayer because they could not afford to pay a chaplain. He was also quite free with the ladies.

Religion and politics should never be combined. We have seen some dangerous things in the church because of politics. Only god is able to save us, and He gave us Jesus Christ not politics.

The Holiness Manifesto

Here is an article from Christianity Today: The Holiness Manifesto

You can also visit their Holiness and Unity website.

This is intriguing to me because I come from a holiness denomination background. Most of the issues addressed in this document are issues I have had with the holiness movement for a long time.

It is truly historic to have so many people from the different branches of the holiness movement meet to discuss. Never before have these "holiness" denomination been able to develop a common statement.

Unfortunately, I think this is too little too late. And, I think the denominations are so entrenched they may never be able to remove themselves from the problems of the past.

I am a believer in the holiness movement as stated in this manifesto. I have always believed that God desires a holy people set apart for Him. I believe that holiness is being re-formed into the image of God's Son--Christlikeness. I think God works through the power of the Holy Spirit to bring this about in a follower's life. Legalism has disrupted the true essence of holiness in some of these denominations. I

also find it interesting the assumptions that are still being made. The most appalling is the seeming assumption that only these denominations preach holiness and that the other denominations need these "holiness" denominations to lead the way. I believe there are many "non-holiness" churches that have done a much better job of preaching holiness than many of these denominations.

I don't agree with the statement in the interview with Kevin Mannoia about methodology. The assumption seems to be that methodology does not matter. However, no one will ever hear the message if they cannot overcome poor methodology. I don't think is should be an either/or; it should be a both/and. We should be concerned about the message we preach AND about the method we use to extend that message. No one is going to stick around long enough to hear the message is the methodology is bad.

I think it is good the finally hear some strong, Wesleyan voices. I, for one, desire to be unified with my brothers and sisters no matter what denomination or theologian they align themselves with. But I do like to hear a Wesleyan voice once in a while.

April 3, 2006

First Church Visit

After resigning from my church plant two weeks ago, this weekend was the first opportunity I had to check out other churches in the area. Because I love church plants, I decided to check out a church plant in a town nearby.

Here are some things I noticed:

1. It was very well funded. They had a lot of nice equipment.
2. The pastoral staff all wore those trendy, pastel shirts; untucked of course.
3. It had good, quality music.
4. They served donuts, coffee, and juice at a welcome area.
5. There was no offering taken. They simply had boxes on tables around the meeting area for putting money into.
6. They had a baby dedication, and almost half of the congregation was family.
7. I could tell they had multiple people helping to plan and do the service and ministries.

Here are some things that needed work:

1. They haven't mastered what to do when everyone is still gathered around the donuts. It floundered a bit as they were beginning worship.

2. Besides the greeters at the door and at the children's registration table, no one welcomed us. We sat in the worship area for about 10 minutes before the service, people walked around us, but no one said hello or shook our hand until the official welcome time during the service.

3. The signage was bad. There were no directional signs from the road, nor were than any signs from the parking lot telling us which of the doors we were to enter. We were able to follow a car to the back of the school, and then follow the lady to the door.

4. They described themselves as having creative services, but the services were just like a million other churches with a point-driven sermon and contemporary music.

5. The children's area was very active, but my daughter could not tell me what they learned. She said they told a story about God. She can typically tell me about the things she did, but the things she remembered were not even close to being spiritually related or if they were she had no idea what the application was.

All in all I like the church, but felt it wasn't all that creative or different from what one might find anywhere else. They were serving some people in the community, and they are in a growing area. It is interesting to look back and think of how "unprofessional" the church plant I did must have looked. We had no where near the money or the people-support this church has.

It has given me insight into somethings I will need to differently, and something I think I did alright with.