January 31, 2007

U2-charist

Some of you may not have seen the article about the Church of England holding a communion service that replaces the hymns with the music of U2.

I am a big fan of incorporating the secular media (movies, music, etc.) into a themed worship event. I like what churches like Granger Community (check out their video on the lower left of their website page) and NewSpring Church are doing to reach people. I am also (obviously) a big fan of contemporary worship and a casual atmosphere.

But...

I also believe that the medium really does affect the message.

Do you think using secular media (in general, I know there are bad examples) distorts the Gospel or does it enhance it by speaking the lost person's language?

I have more, but lets see if this generates some discussion...

Christian vs. Christ Follower

Here are some cool videos. Thanks to Steve for pointing the way.







January 30, 2007

The King of My Domain

I purchased my own domain name! This blog is now http://www.themergeblog.com

A Quote to Ponder

"Ask the grandparents in your church: how many of you would lay down your life for your grandchildren? Every grandparent will raise their hand. Then ask them: how many of you would lay down your musical preferences for your grandchildren?"
Len Sweet (via: Mark Batterson)

What do you think about the quote?

Just Weird


An 8 foot Boa Constrictor was found frozen in a the Great Miami River just south of here. Workers found the snake, fully extended, and frozen. It was jammed in with a bunch of debris from all the rain and melting snow we have had over the past month or so.

A Welcoming of Grace


I wanted to draw attention to this article about Ted Haggard's accuser visiting New Life church. (I have seen it several places. Todd at Monday Morning Insight's has it too.)

This whole thing has been a black eye for the church, but then something redeeming like this takes place. New Life Church's pastor thanked Mike Jones for helping them expose the hidden sin. They greeted him warmly, and treated him with respect. While the issue is still painful for them, they were able to extend grace to the man who many might feel caused the pain.

The church was also very gracious in their treatment of Haggard and his family.

In spite of all that has happened in this situation, God is still able to demonstrate the love and forgiveness He desires. This church has truly stepped up and demonstrated love for an "enemy," how to hold someone accountable for their actions, and offer grace even in the midst of their pain and betrayal.

January 29, 2007

Saints Gone Wild

This article got me thinking about the pedestal on which we often place our leaders. (I have had similar thoughts.)

I grew up in a denomination that prided itself on having "Fourth Generation" adherents. I heard one leader, whom I still respect, refer to someone as being suspect as a "churchman." I later discovered the person they were speaking of had a conversion experience that brought them into the church from an unchurched background, and they were a "First Generation" person. They didn't have the heritage to lead, I guess.

I knew where this put me. I am practically a first generation everything...college...master's degree...pastor...staying married...being a father to my child...the list could go on. Because I was "saved out of the world" I figured I would always be suspect. My lack of heritage would always leave some asking, "Is he really committed?"

We live in a world that expects our leaders to have ALWAYS lived some fantasy, squeaky clean life. See for example here or here. Yet, we know better when we look at our own lives. The message we send? There is no room for failure.

I just find it interesting that we often forget that those we respect are actually human!

January 27, 2007

Church is Making Waves...in the Sheets


Church by the Glades is making a lot waves with their new three part mini-series on sex. Read the article here. They are not the first to do this type of series. Granger Community Church in South Bend, Indiana did it a while back.

The pastor said: ''We have a society that seems to assume that Hugh Hefner or Larry Flynt invented sex, and that's the problem. It's part of God's design. And he wants you to have great sex.''

Reaction is diverse:

''That's not what church is supposed to represent,'' said David Lino, 19, of Davie. ``It's kind of shocking.''
''A church put that up?'' Larry Pasco, 52, a Cooper City firefighter, asked while looking up at the billboard Friday from outside a restaurant. ``Really?''

What do you think? Too risque? Or, does is it about time the church started talking about sex in a God honoring way?

January 26, 2007

8 Characteristics of Church Planters


Pastors.com has an article outlining the 8 characteristics of church planters. (Go here to read the whole article.)

Here are some excerpts:

1. "Catalytic innovator"
There are five characteristics:

Charismatic leader – "It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that effective NCD pastors freely describe themselves as ‘entrepreneurs.'"

Tenacious perseverer – "Like workers in every field, these developers go through times of ease and times of difficulty; despite the times, though, they persist in growing and building the church."

Risk-taker – "An effective NCD pastor takes risks with exceptional energy and when the stakes are exceptionally high."

Flexible adapter – "A skilled change agent who is agile and flexible with people and their agendas."

Self-starter – "They are not afraid to initiate a difficult plan of action or to take risks to see it through."

2. Vibrant faith in God
"Vibrant faith in God is a trait to be nurtured, one that is cultivated and nourished by making prayer and reflection on Scripture a disciplined priority in life."

3. Visionary/vision caster
"These developers dreamed big dreams and moved forward to fulfill them."

The most effective, he observed, were more likely to present their vision statements as "goals and objectives" rather than traditional statements with "ideals and hopes."

4. Empowering leadership
"This brand of leadership is not simply energetic leading; it is also the ‘ability to spot' and nurture other leaders."

"They lead to give their leadership away."

5. Passion for people
"These leaders love, they care, and they show it – and they identify relational skills as a key ingredient of leadership in the success of any new church."

6. Personal and relational health
"Most importantly, this trait underscores the importance of attending to and nurturing healthy families."

7. Passion for faith-sharing
"The most effective…pastors are likely, within any 90-day period, to have assisted a person making a first-time affirmation of faith."

8. Inspiring preaching or worship
"The goal of inspiring worship is an encounter that can be described as a celebration in which both the seeker and mature disciple ‘meet God' and understand Scripture."

Sometimes, when I read a list like this, I just pray, "God, why me?" I feel absolutely called to start a new church, but completely unqualified.

hattip: ChurchCommunicationsPro

January 24, 2007

A Title You Don't Hold For Long

Emma Faust Tillman is 114 years old, and is now the world's oldest known person.

Emma Tillman was born in 1892 to former slaves, and earned the distinction after the death of 115-year-old Emiliano Mercado del Toro from Puerto Rico.

Ego, Pride, and Self-Hatred

Usually when we call someone "egotistical" or "prideful" we mean they love themselves so much that they are the best thing in everyone's world. They talk about all they have to offer, all the things they are good at, and they can brag about themselves like none other.

Over the past few weeks, I heard a news story on the radio about a church that is Hugging Their City, and never once credited the idea back. I have heard of speakers using someone else's stuff without crediting the source. I have heard of publishing company's creating a program around someone else's ideas and not giving proper credit. Blogger's do this by stealing other people's content without credit or by simply writing without a little link-love to the original blog or story.

People want to be wanted. They want to be respected. They want people to appreciate them. I believe, however, that ego is not an example of a person who loves him/herself too much. I believe being prideful and egotistical is actually an example of self-hate. The egotistical/prideful person doesn't like who they really are, and they don't believe other people will either; so they hide it. But this behavior is not reserved solely for the egotistical/prideful person...I do it on a daily basis even though I wouldn't consider myself prideful or egotistical.

Why do we do this? Because we want to look smart, be respectable, or we fear a lack of influence. A church might not have as many people say, "That is a great idea you had!" if they didn't actually come up with the idea. People might not say, "That was a great point you made!" if it really wasn't your point. They might not say what a great piece you wrote or thing you said or...

This is also why we find it so hard to confide our faults, struggles, and sins with others. We have this misguided perception that everyone else is perfect and we are sooooooo flawed. We know that weakness is not loved and accepted it is ridiculed and gossiped. Trusting others is part of the issue, but we also don't love ourselves enough to be honest about who we really are.

Our inability to love ourselves means two things:

1. We cannot receive love the way we should. We don't believe people could actually love the "real me" so we hide things from them and constantly feel insecure that they might find out and not love us.

2. We think God is a liar. God says that you and I are valuable, that we are loved, and that, while we are not perfect, we are accepted.

I have realized my ego is actually standing in the way of my ability to receive God's (and other's) love. It is also maks my life miserable!

I want to be respected. I want to be thought of a intelligent, thoughtful, a "great man," whatever. So I put on a mask that hides the real me because I am afraid others won't like what they see; because I don't like what I see most of the time. I know myself. I know my failures. I know all the things that people don't see.

I was talking to a friend about what sustained my depression from a few years back. I told him that it was because I didn't feel I could reveal what I was actually going through to anyone else. They seemed to have everything together, and they seemed to respect me. If I told them what I was going through they wouldn't respect me anymore.

Donald Miller in His book Blue Like Jazz talks about the point where he realized he didn't love himself. He says that he noticed how badly he spoke to himself about himself, and realized, he wouldn't speak about his neighbor that way. So, with God's help, he stopped talking badly about himself, and began to love himself.

January 23, 2007

What is Love Anyway?

I have been reading Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller.

Today I read the chapter entitled Love: How to Really Love Other People. In the chapter Don talks about having lived with hippies in the woods, and having felt completely loved and accepted by them. He then gets on a bus to go to Colorado because he is contracted to work at a Christian summer camp. Once there, people begin talking about him behind his back, and then send word that he really needs to shower and shave so as not to be so offensive.

He knew that people smoking pot in the woods, while they may show great love for others, was not the way of Jesus. The spirituality was wrong, even destructive, but they had the love thing down pat. But he, like many of us, know that within the Christian faith, which I believe to Truth, love is usually given conditionally. It is on the condition that you say the right things, be theologically correct, vote for the right candidate, and take a shower, shave, and have the right hair cut.

The question becomes: How can we love unconditionally and not let go of what we believe to be the Truth as found in Scripture?

One thing that helped Donald Miller work through this dichotomy of loving without judging, of loving unconditionally, was the realization that we often speak of love/relationships in terms of a financial metaphor. We invest in a person. We value people. We have a give and take relationship. All of these are financial/money related metaphors.

If someone doesn't act the way we think they should, we withdraw from them. They KNOW that we disapprove of them. We cannot hide it.

We often feel the need to lead with our beliefs or to at least let the person know where we stand on certain issues. We begin our "responses" with "Yeah, but..." And we never really listen to others do we? Someone once said, "People confess the misdemeanors before they confess the felonies. They will talk to you until they sense you are uncomfortable. That is where your 'love' meets your religion."

For many "Tolerance" has become an evil word. Tolerance is simply allowing other people to think for themselves and live with those consequences. It is not my place to tell anyone how they should live; it is God's.

How do I do this as a preacher of God's Word? Very humbly; because I might not have it right. I attempt to explain and interpret the Word of God, but I am not the morality police. I am not called to make sure that everyone falls in line with how I interpret the Word of God. I am called to love people; all people.

Everyone I have every tried to guilt, legislate, or argue into living a better life has only caused alienation and ruined the relationship. Love is not like currency or wages that I withhold if someone doesn't do things the way I think they ought to. Love is unconditional, no matter what the person chooses to do.

I understand that it is hard to do when that person is your child and you see them destroying their lives. It is hard to do when you believe that people who do certain things are going to hell for doing them and you really do love them. It is hard when the person you love is making choices that are going to damage relationships and hurt others around them. But true love is patient, kind, bears all things...We are called to love our neighbors with this kind of love; even if we disagree with their stance.

Here are some practical ways that I choose to do in order to love others:

1. Listen to them. Truly listen without judging what they are telling you, or being shocked by what they tell you. You do not have to respond with what you believe to be the "right way" they should have handled a situation. Simply listen and demonstrate empathy and understanding of how they feel.

2. Let God bring the conviction. Making someone feel guilty is not the same as conviction. Only God can bring conviction, and guilt (not the same thing as feeling guilty) will follow. Your laws and beliefs may not be the ones they hold even after they are "saved."

3. Lead with love not your beliefs. Always ask, "What is the loving thing to do?" I know some people think that telling them the "Truth" is loving, but it is not often loving in the way and at the time they choose to do it. Truly care for people. The Bible calls it compassion.

4. Serve them sacrificially. If there is someone that you cannot stand, find a way to serve them in loving, practical ways.

5. Pray for them. Don't pray that God changes them; pray that God blesses them. Pray that God enables you to love them as He loves them.

Here are some related posts:
Tolerance
A Great Reminder
Curse of the Moderates
Tolerance (different post)

January 22, 2007

Responding to Criticism

"Ministry would be a lot easier if it weren't for people!"

Have you ever heard that remark before? In some ways, the statement is very true. Hurt people hurt people. That is just a fact of life. But God doesn't let us off the hook so easily. The Great Commandment requires other people to make it work. We are to love God, and we are to love our neighbor.

As with all fields that deal with people, the criticism will come. For every every 20 encouragements a pastor gets, it is the 1 biting criticism or remark that sticks. That is unfortunate, but it is true. The challenge is to respond in a loving way, but to refuse to allow the person to continue in a destructive behavior.

Monday Morning Insights has a series of articles that offer some insight into this issue:

When Can the Pastor Fight Back? Pt. 1

When Can the Pastor Fight Back? Pt. 2

January 20, 2007

Remembering Our Persecuted Brothers


Here is news article about another Pastor being killed:

The Tamil speaking Christian community in Sri Lanka’s northern city of Jaffna is shocked by the brutal murder of a Protestant Christian Tamil pastor in broad daylight on January 13th.

To be honest, I get a little annoyed when Christians in U.S. churches talk about the end time's "tribulation" as something that is yet to come. To say that a "tribulation" is coming is to completely ignore the fact that practically everyone else in the world who calls on the name of Jesus is being persecuted.

I also get upset when we speak of not being able to pray in school, someone talking to us harshly, or being mocked by the media as "persecution." That demeans and belittles those who are actually going through persecution.

Okay, enough of my rant. I am getting off my soap box.

A Good Resource for Christian Writers

The Religion Newswriters Association has released a free, online stylebook. It offers references for various religious associations and practical advice for punctuation and grammar as it applies to religion writing.

Prayer Team Now Forming

Prayer is an important part of what we do as Christians. To pray means to give up control of what we are praying for. When we pray, we are saying, "God I can't do this on my own. I need you to help bring about the outcome."

Often we expect God to do things as we pray for Him to do them. More often, God does His own thing. It is a good thing, though, because God seems to have a better handle on how things should go anyway.

An important part of planting a church is prayer. This is a very spiritual activity, and it is filled with a lot of spiritual warfare. I tend to shy away from talking about spiritual warfare in most cases because it has been so overused and abused. But there really is no other explanation for what goes on when someone decides to step out do something for God.

As most of you know, Lori and I left the Kansas City area in April to return to Dayton, Ohio (my home town) to plant a church. The most important work is going to be in the area of prayer. Sometime in the future, this is going to become a reality. I believe God moves in response to our prayers, and Northland area of Dayton is a tough area to reach. Nearly 65,000 people in the area are considered unchurched and unattached. There are a lot of churches, and yet few people actually attend a church and even fewer churches are reaching lost people.

During 2007, I am going to continue to focus on growing as a follower of Jesus and as a leader. The primary (and only thing) we are going to focus on in 2007 is starting small groups.

I am asking you to be part of the prayer team for the new church plant. As part of the prayer team, I am asking you to remember our church in prayer 3-5 times per week. Feel free to pray as God leads you. I have set up a website/blog simply for the purpose of sharing prayer requests, praises, and articles on prayer with you. If you are willing to sign-up, please subscribe to the e-mail newsletter (this simply delivers the post to your e-mail box when it is posted), and comment on this post to let me know you are joining. I will update the blog at least weekly with prayer requests, praises, and articles/thoughts on prayer. I will also be praying for you.

There are two ways to subscribe:
First, you can go to http://prayfordayton.blogspot.com (there is also a link from this page or click on the tab above title "Prayer Blog" and sign-up using the registration tool on the right hand side of the page.

Second, you can click on the following link
http://www.feedburner.com/fb/a/emailverifySubmit?feedId=650755

Thank you ahead of time for being part of this very important part of the church planting process.

January 19, 2007

Serving People Changes the World (and a Life)

Caleb Roe has a great post about how serving actually saved a life!

On Tuesday Caleb, Steve, Marcie, Jackie, and I picked up about 150 meals from a a local restaurant. We took them around the city giving them away. This restaurant has given us meals twice a day for the past three days. They are preparing for their grand opening, and their cooks are practicing. If for no other reason, you should eat there because they are willing to give their food to us to give it away to hurting people rather than throw it out! Oh, and the food is great too.

As Caleb and Steve point out, serving has the potential to change a life right in front of you. But on a more regular basis, serving changes you! The more I serve, the more I sense God's presence, see His work being done, and experience growth in His grace.

I have found the following to be true of serving:

1. Serving reminds us to move outward. God wants to grow us and change us, but He doesn't want us focused only on ourselves. When we seek after OUR salvation and try to figure out how WE are going to get into heaven we are asking some very selfish questions. But when we focus outward (love God and love neighbor) we actually find what we are looking for. So many churches (and Christians?) have failed because they have failed to look outward and serve others.

2. Serving expands the Kingdom of God. God's desire is to expand the reach of His Kingdom on earth. What does that mean? It means that God wants to bring meaning, purpose, hope, and healing to people. There are so many people who are broken and hurting, and God wants them to know that He loves them...we are the ones commissioned to tell them.

3. Serving raises the spiritual climate of the community. The first church I planted in Pleasant Hill was unique to that community...we serve without expectation of return. Our major outreach was called Party in the Park and drew in more than 600 people from the community (not bad for a church of 30). By the end of my time there, most of the other churches in town were offering something very similar to Party in the Park. Selfishly, I hated the competition, but after the conviction of my selfishness was revealed I realize it was an expansion of the Kingdom. I am not called to just build my church to expand the reach of God's Kingdom.

4. Serving changes the way people view God and His church. For the most part, the Church has a horrible reputation with those in our world. It is one thing for people to reject the message of Christ, but a completely different thing to reject the message because of the abuses and the air of superiority often portrayed by the church. For too long people have rejected the church not because of the message of Jesus, but because of the message we have sent by being hypocritical, stingy, unloving, and failing to be humble in our mistakes. By giving ourselves away, with no expectation of getting something in return, changes the way people view us.

5. Serving is a necessary spiritual discipline. When people think of growing spiritually, they often think of increasing their time of prayer, Scripture reading, and church attendance. Notice how ME centered all the traditional spiritual discipline are? A failure to serve others is really a failure to grow. I don't believe a person can grow spiritually without serving others and giving themselves away.

6. Serving increases your generosity. Serving is a practical expression of our love for neighbor. Serving also teaches us how to live open-handed. We learn that nothing is ours, but is given to us by our heavenly Father. And as we give away what we have received, we find there actually is more joy in giving than receiving (though I do like receiving and my birthday is coming up in a few months-just so you are prepared).

January 18, 2007

The 20 Mistakes of Eager Leaders

Brand Autopsy points to an article in Business Week about the 20 Common Mistakes of Eager Leaders. The bold and italic is from the article. The regular text is my response and thoughts

1. Winning Too Much. The need to win at all costs and in all situations—when it matters, when it doesn’t, and when it’s totally beside the point. I believe that some things are not worth the cost they exact in order to accomplish them. I will not build a church and lose my family. There are also times to back away. Despite what many Christians think, not everything is an issue of life and death.

2. Adding Too Much Value. The overwhelming desire to add our two cents to every discussion. I do not have to give my opinion on everything in every situation. This happens to be my blog so it happens quite regularly here, but I don't have to give it to everyone.

3. Passing Judgment. The need to rate others and impose our standards on them. Guilty. This is an occupational hazard in the ministry. I find myself evaluating and rating on a regular basis. I especially noticed it as I watched the premiere of this year's American Idol. I am way to good at passing judgment.

4. Making Destructive Comments. The needless sarcasms and cutting remarks that we think make us sound sharp and witty. I have to fight hard not to be critical and sarcastic. Usually I do it for humor, but the thing with sarcasm is that you can hide your real feeling in them.

5. Starting with “No,” “But,” or “However.” The overuse of these qualifiers, which secretly say to everyone, “I’m right. You’re wrong.” Guilty. I do not need to correct everyone I feel is wrong.

6. Telling the World How Smart We Are. The need to show people we’re smarter than they think we are. There is something about succumbing to the judgments of others. Many leaders, myself included, feel the need to "not look bad" in front of others. I call it "Peacocking."

7. Speaking When Angry. Using emotional volatility as a management tool. Definitely a minus. Take time to cool off. You never say what you mean and what you should when you are angry.

8. Negativity. The need to share our negative thoughts, even when we weren’t asked. True. Keep your negative evaluations to yourself unless you are asked.

9. Withholding Information. The refusal to share information in order to maintain an advantage over others. I sometimes feel like I will lose some "edge" if I give away information or present it in a way that doesn't give explanation.

10. Failing to Give Proper Recognition. The inability to praise and reward. Give credit to everyone who deserves it. Learn to appreciate the contribution of others.

11. Claiming Credit We Don’t Deserve. The most annoying way to overestimate our contribution to any success. This goes back to #10. If someone else did the work, give them the credit. It will be a plus in the long run.

12. Making Excuses. The need to reposition our annoying behavior as a permanent fixture so people excuse us for it. I also think this is a symptom of irresponsibility. They are unable to admit they can't do something or that they forgot or that they messed up. It is scary to admit that you are wrong. I have done this way too many times.

13. Clinging to the Past. The need to deflect blame away from ourselves and onto events and people from our past; a subset of blaming everyone else. Part of #12.

14. Playing Favorites. Failing to see that we are treating someone unfairly. In some ways I don't agree with this. People will naturally click with some people and not with others. I do, however, think we need to treat everyone with dignity and respect. We need to value other people.

15. Refusing to Express Regret. The inability to take responsibility for our actions, admit we’re wrong, or recognize how our actions affect others. See #12.

16. Not Listening. The most passive-aggressive form of disrespect for colleagues. I think this also goes back to really valuing the people around us. If we value and respect someone we will listen to them. If we value someone but find it hard to listen, we will become better listeners.

17. Failing to Express Gratitude. The most basic form of bad manners. This is very close to being able to recognize the contribution of others.

18. Punishing the Messenger. The misguided need to attack the innocent, who are usually only trying to protect us. Take the time to find out who or what is really at fault. Hold people accountable, but also be willing to give grace and "second chances."

19. Passing the Buck. The need to blame everyone but ourselves. Be a man (or woman) and take responsibility for what you have done. As a leader your mistakes often cost other people. Be willing to own up to them.

20. An Excessive Need to Be “Me.” Exalting our faults as virtues simply because they exemplify who we are. "Being Me" is no excuse for a failure to grow, a failure to recognize your weaknesses, or a failure to take action. Be yourself, but seek to be a better self.

January 16, 2007

10 Thoughts on the Nature of the Bible

A few days ago I posted about Mark Driscoll's decision to begin using the ESV for preaching and teaching. It caused an interesting amount of discussion, more than this blog has seen in a very long time.

Anyway, it prompts the thought about what is the Bible? Is it infallible? In what way is the Bible infallible? Is it God's word or merely an account of how God has interacted in the history of the world? Or, is it some combination of all these?

Here are some of my random thoughts:

1. The Bible is first and foremost a theological book. It contains both science and history, but it is neither a science nor a history book. I believe the biblical writers were writing from the perspective of their culture and were not "all knowing" in their understanding of science and history.

2. God inspires the human writer. This does not, however, remove the author's personality, writing style, editorial work or anything else from the process. It also doesn't remove the theological leanings of the writer. Each writer has a unique viewpoint which God uses to shed light on His teachings.

3. God uses various literary genre to get His message across in the Bible. I believe that He uses stories both real and parabolic to portray Truth. I think there are some stories in the Bible that are representative and not meant to be taken as literal. I think there are others that are literal. However, when I am preaching or teaching the historicity of the story is not the main point. The main point is the theological implications and the Truth that is revealed in what is being taught and studied. I want to know how I am supposed to live in light of the Scripture I have just read.

4. The Bible does not hold all Truth. That sounds bad, but let me explain. The Bible does not tell us everything we need to know to have a great marriage. It does not tell us everything we need to know to parent our children. It does, however, tell us how to have a relationship with God. It also teaches us how to do ethical reasoning and gives us eternal principles by which we can figure out the others. Once we have built a solid foundation of being in the Word of God we can determine the best ways to parent and have a good marriage. It is contains the Truth by which all eternal reality is measured.

5. The Bible gives us everything we need to live in a faith relationship with God. If you want to know how to have a relationship with God or what God expects then the Bible is your book.

6. The Bible is the word of God. God has revealed himself to us through the Bible. But God has also revealed himself to us through the Word, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the perfect representation of God (Hebrews). However, Jesus is revealed to us through the words of Scripture. The Bible is our rule of faith and life, and therefore we must be reading it in its entirety to fully understand God, Jesus, and the life He expects us to live.

7. The Bible is best interpreted through the lenses of Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. Here some additional thoughts on how to interpret the Bible.

8. When it comes to arguments of translations, missing gospels, etc, I believe God has given us what we are to use. The 66 books of the Bible are there, and we have to deal with them as God's word to us. If God is God, then the Bible we have is sufficient. Gaining insight into the original languages is immensely valuable and helpful. Listening to GOOD Bible teachers is necessary. But God can speak to us through whatever imperfect translation we have on hand and are able to use. If God is God, then I believe that He is able to get His message across no matter what; as long as we are truly listening.

9. Too many people are in danger of bibliolatry. They prefer to worship the words of God rather than the God who gave them the words. They would rather fight over what Jesus said than to actually do what he said. This in no way takes away from the fact that we should be reading God's Word on a regular basis. We need to both read and do what God says. Bible knowledge alone is not enough.

10. Too many people leave the biblical text too soon. What I mean by that is that they read it, don't quite get the meaning, and jump immediately into the secondary resources of commentaries, dictionaries, and devotionals or move on to life application. Too many preachers are better at preaching what the commentary taught them than what God taught them through His word in union with their study. Spend time wrestling with the biblical text. Read different translations. Savor the words for weeks if you have to, move on to other topics, but don't give up and simply take the meaning someone else has given it. My thoughts on commentaries came when one of my seminary professors said, "Commentaries are not the final word on the meaning of the biblical text. Commentaries are just someone else's thoughts on what the text means." It is an educated opinion and should be considered, but it is not the definitive interpretation. It is also as spiritually dangerous to leave the text too soon to make life application before listening to God completely and investing the proper amount of study into the text.

What do you think? What is the Bible to you? What are some underlying assumptions you bring with you to the text of the Bible? Do you believe it is all literally true?

January 15, 2007

You're Too Wordy


Rookie writer's often make two key mistakes. First, They are redundant. They tell you multiple times what they want to tell you. Because telling you multiple times and being redundant makes sure you get the point.

The second mistake is to be too wordy. Actually, this isn't a mistake; this is a lack of editing or the residual of the bad writing habits your high school and college teachers taught you. (One of the downfalls of "2,000" word essay in college is that you learn to meet that word count with a lot of "fluffy" writing and nothing of any real substance.)

As a writer you want to be descriptive, and you want to get the point across. Your first draft should just be a free flow of ideas and thoughts; just get IT on paper. In the rewrite and edit is where you clean up all that junk. Sentences that are too long get cut, misspelled words get corrected, and grammar gets straightened out.

When a sentence gets too long and we run the risk of losing our reader. Believe it or not you can more by saying less. Even our "good" sentences can be made more succinct and precise by cleaning up the language. As the old writing cliche goes, you have to "murder your darlings."

Every writer, especially on the first draft, is too wordy. It is natural. But the good writer cleans this up in edit. (You do it. Don't wait for an editor to do it for you.) A good rule of thumb is for your final edited version to be 10% SHORTER than your first. Sometimes it may be a whole new piece after you are done.

As I was writing a piece for submission, I caught myself going through this kind of editing process. I don't know why it seemed to leap out at me, but it did. Usually that stuff just happens and I don't step outside of process to think about the process itself.

By the time I was done with the first draft of this sentence it was 29 words long (21 words is the maximum sentence length for readability-sake). I got it down to 20 words. I am putting the progression here so you can see what I mean:

They are able to confidently trust God for the unforeseen future because they are looking back at all the times God had faithfully cared for them in the past.

They are able to trust God for the unforeseen future because they are looking back at all the times God had faithfully cared for them in the past.

They are able to trust God for the future because they are looking back at all the times God had faithfully cared for them in the past.

They are able to trust God for the future because they are looking back at the times God had faithfully cared for them in the past.

They are able to trust God for the future because they are looking back at the times God faithfully cared for them in the past.

They are able to trust God for the future because they are looking back at the times God cared for them in the past.

They can trust God for the future because they are looking back at the times God cared for them in the past.

They can trust God for the future because they are looking at how God cared for them in the past.

Sometimes we can reduce a sentence too far, but not very often. At the same time there some writers who are good at adding all the fluff. They seem to make it work. You do need to account for your own personal style, but having your "personal style" should not be an excuse for bad writing. Like Andy Stanley says, "Being yourself is no excuse for bad communication habits."

For the most part, precise, succinct language is always best; especially for web content writing. Bloggers are notorious for bad writing. They misspell words and use horrible grammar. I have failed many times in this because blogging lends itself to immediate publication. So our writing makes it to the world without our taking time to edit.

January 12, 2007

Feature Creep and Focusing the Church


"Feature Creep" is the name given to the problem of adding so much to the original product that its original intent is lost.

How often we fall into this trap as a church. We all know the church that doesn't have enough people to do anything effectively, and yet tries to provide a full Sunday School program, Vacation Bible School, worship, etc. Rather than subtract something, they keep adding because the "people" want more features.

The root causes are many: lack of vision, attempt to please everyone, adding without subtracting, etc.

As church planters "feature creep" should be considered one of the 7 deadly sins. You only have so much time and energy. This means that there are certain things you cannot do. You have to ask yourself, "What 3 to 5 things can we focus on as a church that will make the most impact?" I tend toward the 3, but some people are way more talented than I and can focus on 5.

The top two for a church plant should be the Sunday morning experience (which is 3-4 wrapped into one) and outreach. The Sunday morning experience has children's ministry, worship, preaching, hospitality, and follow-up all rolled into one. Outreach, well that is a given, or at least it should be a given. You cannot do everything well when you start out.

There are some church plants that are blessed with more than enough money and a ready made staff and can start off with a full menu of ministries and programs. But for the rest of us "normal" church planters, we can only focus on a few things. The problem is keeping ourselves from continually adding more and more without being able to fully support what we already have.

Cell Church


I found this article on the up and coming Cell/Home Church movement. It is in my hometown newspaper (and written by a guy I went to high school with). My friend Eric Hilliard is also in the initial stages of planting a church that will be a cluster of home church groups. (See Eric's thoughts here, here, and here; he also has an initial website up for the church here.)

I have not read Barna's book so I cannot comment appropriately on what Barna has to say. Eric and I were able to talk about this topic a little bit on this topic while attending a church planting conference together.

The Cell/Home Church movement does meet a need that an organized church cannot. It offers an opportunity for collaborative reflection on the Scripture, there is no political wrangling due to a lack of a hierarchical leadership structure, and there is little overhead (no building, programs, etc). Money given can go directly to a cause our outreach.

As I think about this form of church there are several questions that I have:

1. What about leadership? Should anyone be allowed to lead a church? Without some form of Bible training? As the group grows, how will new leaders be trained, empowered and sent out to build other groups?

2. What about outreach and evangelism? If a church is reaching out to the lost and, expanding the Kingdom of God, people will be saved and will start coming to the group. What plan is there to develop new leadership and to fight the "us-four-no-more" mindset that already influences so many churches?

3. What about accountability? As the leaders develop new groups, how will those groups be kept "on vision" with the intent of the church? How will "rogue" groups be handled? (It is tough enough to handle these in a church as it is.) There is a danger for an "I'll do it my way" without accountability. Not that the traditional church structure has this completely figured out, but how is orthodoxy maintained with so many "voices" having a say?

4. How do these groups relate to the church as a whole? As is the danger in all new forms of church, there is the tendency to look at all other forms of church as "non-biblical" and at the bare minimum as deficient in some ways. For example: Contemporary churches look at Liturgical churches (and vice versa) as deficient and possibly unfaithful to the Gospel because they are doing church in a certain way. When the truth is that each has its place in the Kingdom, can be expanding the Kingdom, and does speak the Gospel to certain people and personality types.

What do you think?

January 11, 2007

Switching Translations


Yesterday Mark Driscoll announced that Mars Hill will be switching from the NIV translation to the ESV translation. He offers a very thought-out theological reflection for his decision here (or download the pdf here). I applaud a pastor who spends this much time and theological introspection and prayer into such a decision. Mark Driscoll hasn't always said the right things, and I find myself at odds with him on many theological issues. But I do appreciate someone who doesn't simply make a decision of this magnitude whimsically.

I do find it interesting that his commitment that "Scripture is the very words of God" leads him to another translation rather than the original language text. I am sure Mark uses the original languages in his preparation, but if the truth of the Bible is found (exclusively?) in the actual words (which are very important, and I do not mean to take the actual words lightly) would it not lead to using the original language rather than another translation? From my understanding, all translations fail to embody the full meaning and nuance of the original text, and no translation is free from the theological influence of its translators.

I do not mean for this to be another attack on Mark Driscoll. I appreciate his thoughtfulness. I am only using his decision as a means to ask the questions Why do you choose the translation you do? What is your criteria for choosing a translation?

Here are some things I think about as I choose or recommend translations:

1. What can people read and understand? I really believe that the best Bible translation is the one that people will actually read. While this may be an overstatement for effect, I do think that a translation that is hard to read and difficult to understand is more of a hindrance than a help. I also believe that God is faithful to those who are seeking Him and will reveal himself through the Bible; even if it is not the best possible translation.

2. Do they have a community and a spiritual leader that offers them insight and understanding of the passages they read? No one was meant to interpret the Bible in isolation (no, not even the pastor). God has always worked within the context of community under the leadership of his chosen leader. Wrestling with the meaning of a text as a community helps people understand the meaning of a text despite all the flaws inherent in translations.

3. Do they have access to multiple translations? Because no translation can adequately replace the original languages, multiple translations help the reader gain additional perspective.

4. What are the theological leanings of the translators? While various translations are useful, some are better than others. Mark points to the ESV as the one he considers best. I have the top translations that I use as many of you do as well.

After graduating from seminary, I was convinced that the NASB was the best translation. I used it in my preaching and teaching. Over time, however, I realized that people didn't have that translation in their home and they didn't understand it. The more I used it, the more people grew distanced from the Bible. Unchurched people who came to our service felt even more distanced from the text than the Christians. Shortly after that I switched to the NIV because of its readability and accessibility.

What are some of your criteria for choosing a translation?
What are the primary translations you use when studying?
How do you go about determining what translation to use?

January 10, 2007

I Guess I Have to Insult Tony Morgan...

...to get him to read my blog. Check out Christ Elrod's post, and then read the comment. Tony has a great sense of humor.

Communication Errors


If you have ever opened your mouth and spoken, chances are you have been misunderstood or have miscommunicated. Tim Stevens has a great post about communication errors.

He lists 6 Common Communication Errors (go to his blog for the explanation):
  1. Say too little.
  2. Say too much.
  3. Talk to the wrong people.
  4. Lose sight of emotional impact.
  5. Forget to sequence.
  6. Rush the process.
In communication, I always seem to err on the side of simplicity (see here and here). Too often we complicate the message with all the latest frills. How many times has a sermon's message been ruined by those few extra minutes that push the person over the edge of their focus? How many times has your communication error come from your desire to say "one last thing"? How many designs have been ruined by adding one more element or too much text? "Less is always more" as the saying goes.

I also think this is a good post over at Bad Language.

January 9, 2007

Hats Off to the Florida Gators!

Wow! Where was the Buckeye team of the past year?

Neither a 51 day lay-off nor the Heisman festivities explain what happened last night. Florida came with a great defense and offense.

January 8, 2007

Some Web Tools and Resources


I am a tinkerer and like to visit unique sites. I also like unique web tools!

Here are a few I have discovered (from various other people) that I really like:

Pandora- a streaming music resource that gives you music based on a band or song title choice.

Musicovery- a streaming music resource that lets you choose music based on tempo and mood.

Joe's Goals- a goal tracking resource. (I can put a check in "Blog" column)

Zamzar- a free, online file conversion utility.

The Gimp- a photo editing program with similar functionality to photoshop (opensource).

Says-It- create fun signs and pictures.

Joomla- while I haven't used this yet, it is a great web software. (Thanks Eric!)

Thinkature
- an online collaboration tool.

Doodle- create polls and minimize scheduling conflicts.

Google- I love Google! I use Gmail, Docs and Spreadsheets, Calendar, Reader, Analytics, and Notebook.

I guess that is enough of the link dumping. I just thought I would share some of the things that have caught my interest over the past few months.

January 6, 2007

The Persecuted Church


China arrested three church leaders at house church in Northeast China. They were arrested because they are not a legally sanctioned church. China allows churches to meet as long as they are registered and tightly controlled by the Communist government.

This serves as a reminder that our Christian brothers and sisters, in other countries, still face persecution and imprisonment. Our comfort and freedom tempts us to forget that persecution continues in many areas of the world. International Christian Concern released their list of the top ten countries that persecute Christians.

Here are the top ten:

1. North Korea
2. Iraq
3. Ethiopia
4. Saudi Arabia
5. Somalia
6. Iran
7. Eritrea
8. China
9. Vietnam
10. Pakistan

January 5, 2007

Outflow


Steve Sjogren and Dave Ping are releasing their new book Outflow. I received my pre-release copy this week. I will be reviewing it here later.

BUT!!!!!

I was privileged to take part in the preparation of the material. Check me out! The core of what Steve and Dave talk about in the book, we at the Dayton Vineyard live. Most of the people in the video were from our church.

January 4, 2007

A History of World Religions...in 90 Seconds

This is a very cool, quick overview of World Religions.


Thanks to Church Relevance.

Another Article on Simplicity


Kem Meyer has a post on her site that also reminds us that simplicity is better than complexity.

Simplicity: The Key to Design, Writing, and the Church

Simplicity is the key to most things in life. People have the tendency to cram too much stuff in their design projects, their writing, and even their church schedule. There is a fine line between too little and too much.

Designers need to include more white space, writers need to remove at least 10% on the re-write, preachers could cut 10 minutes from their sermons and the congregation wouldn't miss it, and churches could cut programs and improve their effectiveness.

This video from YouTube is a good example of how much we want to cram into something:



Thanks to Matthew Stibbe.

January 3, 2007

Dictators and Teams: Thoughts on Leadership


Recently, there has been a large swing toward collaborative or team leadership. This has often been at the expense if a primary or senior leader. But the truth is, a full-on team/consensus leadership model actually makes the "product" or organization dumber...

Kathy Sierra at Creating Passionate Users has a great post about the Dumbness of Crowds.

She quotes James Gosling as saying that Apple is run by a "dictator with good taste," and they lead the industry. Meanwhile, many companies run by a consensus model of leadership are failing to break away from the pack. Despite the fact that many pastors and church leaders hate the idea of a personality-driven church...the reality is that ALL churches are personality driven. People begin attending or stop attending because of who you and what you stand for.

Senior/Lead Pastor does not mean dictator. It doesn't meant that your ideas are the only ones worth listening to. It also doesn't mean that you should not have a leadership team. I think, as Kathy points out, it is not that teams are bad it is just that the more people that are part of making the decisions and the more "consensus" that is sought...the dumber or mediocre the outcome.

God calls us to lead. Leading does not mean being the dictator of our own little kingdom, but rather reminds us that we are to bring people along toward a common vision or goal. That goal is the expansion of the Kingdom of God. It seems that the most effective teams are small groups (2-3) of independent, trusting people with a primary leader. There must be a sense in which someone makes the final decision, but where everyone, at the bare minimum, feels heard and understood.
Most of the progressive churches and plants are driven by strong, visionary leaders who develop a core of solid leaders around them.

Testing


Today, I am making a few changes on the blog.


One of the updates is the expandable posts. I may not keep it, but I am trying it out for awhile.

January 2, 2007

Bemus Point, New York


This weekend I visited the Bemus Point United Methodist Church in Upstate New York. I was staying in Westfield visiting some friends, and this is where they go to church.

I was pleasantly surprised at the service. Their idea of contemporary worship was actually contemporary. Even the more liturigcally oriented songs were fun; one had a very Celtic beat with a great violin player. Doug Kibbe, the Associate Pastor, preached a very good sermon on being patient and waiting on God's timing. It was very well delivered, funny, and memorable in a simple way.

The church is growing. (My friend said it is the only church of that style in the area.) I think this caused the only downside to the whole visit. They are growing and their systems and facilities are not keeping up. There were a lot of people, the hallways were too small for people to pass, and the cookie and coffee area was not large enough to allow people to actually talk and relax. They had no greeters (except people distributing bulletins), but everyone was friendly enough.

I had a great experience. It could have been different if I were visiting without my friends, but I loved the service.

January 1, 2007

Thank You, USC!


...for proving that Michigan did not deserve a shot at the National Championship!

Go Bucks!