May 31, 2007

Tagged

Ok, so I have been tagged. I won't bother tagging other people, but I will say that I was tagged by Stephanie. I don't know her personally, except by reading her blog and the e-interaction. It is amazing to me how two people, so far apart, can get a glimpse into each other's life.

Anyway...

I am supposed to tell you 8 uninteresting facts about myself based on the following:

Food: If I can eat it before it eats me, I am usually willing to give it a try. Although, I don't do Fear Factor.

Family: I have a wife and daughter.

Exercise: I like hiking alot. I just don't exercise regularly...and I know I need to.

Obsession: Reading and writing. I like theology, church planting, history, science, whatever. I like to read whatever I can get my hands on, and then assimilate it and write.

Profession: I am a Communications Coordinator and a freelance writer. I am also preparing to plant a new church in the Huber Heights area of Dayton, Ohio

Faith: Jesus Christ!

Ailments: My feet and ankles. I slammed my foot into a tool box over a year ago, and it still hurts sometimes.

Games: I am very competitive; too competitive. I have a hard time "just" playing. I want to win. Anyone who says "winning isn't everything" is losing!

So, now you respond. Feel free to respond in the comments. I know, this probably isn't the way this tagging thing is supposed to work, but I have never been one to play by all the rules.

Belittled

I am as guilty as the next person of saying some unkind things about those with whom I disagree. In fact, you could probably search the archives of this blog to find ample examples. To be honest, though, I am more careful publicly than I am in the confidence of close friends.

I believe it is perfectly natural (and okay) for us to have strong opinions and to disagree with others. It is okay to critique another person's opinion or work. We are able to disagree with other people's methods and ideas. It is a sheer fact of existence that two well-meaning, intelligent people can come down on opposite sides of an issue.

But...

We should not, as Christians, critique someone in such a way as to demean them as a person. In our desire to make our point or stance stronger, we move from the position, idea or method and belittle the person or group that holds it. Rather than simply disagreeing with someone's position or opinion, we feel we need to attack them personally or imply that everyone in their field is like that.

Take for example: The wonderful practitioner who belittles everyone who teaches in the universities for being out of touch and disregards their opinions because they are academic. Or, the university teacher who belittles the wonderful practitioner because is not well thought out. Or, the small church pastor who criticizes the large church pastor for selling out and being interested only in crowds. Or, the large church pastor who states that small church pastors have no vision, leadership, or are somehow inadequate. The list could go on and on.

It is not just reserved for people in particular fields. The atheists do it to the Christians. The Christians do it to the Muslims. The Republicans do it the Democrats, and vice versa.

It is not enough to state our own position...we have to belittle the other person.

How about James 3:10-12?

I believe we each have a role to play. I don't have to denigrate the University/Seminary Professor just because I disagree with his position. I don't have to put down the atheist just because she chooses not to believe in God. I don't have to insult the Republican party just because I disagree with my Senator.

I believe for me to "love my neighbor" as myself, it must be most apparent in the way I speak about and deal with those with whom I disagree. I must work to be above reproach in my speech toward those I dislike. It is imperative that Christians disagree with passion in order to gain more insight and develop better ideas and solutions. But we must do it in such a way that values the input, ministry, style, and perspective of the other person.

I, of all people, will not be perfect at this, but I want to do the following:
1. Assume the best of other people. I want to believe they are out to extend the Kingdom of God and that they have the best of intentions in holding their beliefs and opinions.

2. I want to believe that each person is living obediently to God. I want to believe that each person has sought the voice of God for their life, and that where they are in life is a result of them obediently following God.

3. I want to disagree and critique in a way that affirms the other person. I don't want to belittle the other person simply because I disagree with their opinion or method.

We have a responsibility to be careful with our speech toward others. Words, biblically speaking, are like weapons. They cut people. They can do irreparable damage. When we speak out blessings and curses we cannot take them back. We can apologize, but they have been spoken.

May 30, 2007

I'm Going to Disn...MinistryCom

I am going to MinistryCom. For those who don't know what MinistryCom is, it is a conference for Church Communications Professionals...but I am going anyway!

It looks like a good conference, and will serve me well. I am currently the Communications Coordinator at the Dayton Vineyard while I retool and prepare for the church plant. Terry Storch from Lifechurch.tv and Kem Meyer from Granger Community are the two I am most excited to see.

Did I mention that it is in Nashville and I am NOT a country music fan? Oh well, I'm not going for the music.

May 29, 2007

Using Commas

I post about several different things here: church planting, theology, church life, and writing.

Here is a little bit of grammar for you. Always use a comma before a conjunction in a list. For example: I like the colors red, blue, and green.

Some people might say you don't have to use a comma, but it is always better safe than sorry. Take this quote for example from the ContraCostaTimes: "The survey provided information about religion, school culture, curriculum, race relations, discipline, exposure to violence and homework." Most schoolchildren would say that exposure to violence and homework are the same thing. And all students are exposed to homework whether they like it or not. It would have been better to have the comma there in order to avoid the weird sentence construction.

Just another example of me on a soapbox!

May 27, 2007

Some Tongue-in-Cheek Humor From Tony

Last time I had to insult Tony Morgan to get him to check out my blog. This time, I am just going to link to a little of his tongue-in-cheek humor.

Holy...Um...Hog?!

It seems an 11 year-old Alabama boy shot and killed a 9+ foot wild board that weighs over 1,ooo pounds!

The kid looks absolutely dwarfed by this thing. It is so large that many are saying this is a fake.

Who know?

But that is going to be a lot of sausage!

The kid used as Smith and Wesson Model 500 handgun to bring the beast down. Besides wanting to know where they grow hogs this big, I want to know how an 11 year-old can afford a gun that costs about $1,500. His dad set up a website to honor the achievement.

May 26, 2007

Fonts

Matthew Stibbe pointed out this article about what fonts a few writers like to use. Here is the article.

As a writer, I am a geek when it comes to fonts, grammar, and word 0rigin stuff.

So what font do you like to use for your writing and why?

Extra credit for someone who can tell me what the word is for adjusting the spacing between fonts.

May 25, 2007

Open Ended Questions

Conversations are all about the question.

"Hi."

"Hello."

If there are no questions, the conversation ends right there.

Why is then that so many of us bloggers and writers fail to recognize the power of simply asking? Most of us want an ongoing conversation, but our style of writing and speaking do not lead people to ask a question. We write in such a way that only asks people to be readers and not interact.

There is a place for making a statement, but how much more beneficial is it if we would just ask a question?

I recognized this in myself (again) as I re-read a comment I made on someone else's blog. I made a statement. I didn't ask a question, and, therefore, I did not really involve myself in a conversation. I do that on this blog sometimes, too. I write a post, and do not leave room for conversation to develop.

The secret, I think, is in asking open ended questions. (This is also a good skill to learn when seeking to start conversations with strangers or to carry a continuing conversation with someone else.) Open-ended questions are questions that require more than a single word response. In conversation, non-open-ended questions are okay as long as they are followed up with more questions. In writing, however, the non-open-ended questions are more deadly because you are not there to personally extend the next question or to keep the conversation going.

Non-Open-Ended Questions:
Do you like the color red?
Do you like lasagna?
Did King Solomon do the right thing?

Open-Ended Questions:
Why do you like the color red?
What are your top three favorite foods?
What do you think caused Solomon's downfall?

So, what do you think? What are some techniques you have used to keep a conversation going? What are some ways you use to get people to interact with what you are saying or have written?

May 24, 2007

Message Tainted by the Messenger

No, this is not a post about a pastor with a moral failure. It is about a new magazine call Deliver.

This magazine for "marketing professionals" is sharp! It has great graphics, informative articles, and the stated purpose to: "offer case studies, news features, opinions and white papers that present relevant messages to our users [marketers] about how best to influence the consumers they court."

But...

Does ownership of the magazine affect the information they present?

Take these quotes from this article:

"In a recent study by the University of Georgia, consumers ranked e-mail spam as intrusive and annoying, rating it a 2.46 on a scale where one was worst and seven was best. Comparatively, unsolicited direct mail received a 3.87 ranking."

"Now we’re not saying that there’s never a reason to employ an e-mail marketing campaign. But the problem you face when you choose to drop your marketing into someone’s inbox is that you’re tainted by association. Sure, your message is legit, but you’re putting it into a channel where you run the risk of being screened out and ignored."

They give the obligatory acceptance that direct mail CAN receive a similar association, but it receives a more favorable acceptance.

Now here is the secret...this magazine is put out by the US Postal Service. Do you think there is an agenda at work?

I wonder how many of a churches ministries are viewed in the same way. The church is feeding, caring, loving...whatever...simply because they want to convert me?

I think it is imperative for us in the church to ACTUALLY love people. People are almost literally dying to be loved and cared for. They want to be heard. And they don't want to be seen as a means to a larger church or as a potential convert.

Imagine what could happen in our communities if we actually loved the people around us.

May 23, 2007

5 Steps to Have a Consistent Time with God

For years I struggled to have a consistent time with God each day. My strong protestant roots convinced me of the need to spend time each day in prayer and Scripture reading. The problem was that the harder I tried, the more I failed, and each failure brought a fresh round of guilt.

I really did try. I would get things going for a few weeks, and then my workload would increase or something would happen that would throw me. For most of that time I was ministering in churches as either a youth pastor, and even struggled through the first several years of pastoral ministry. I desperately wanted to be consistent, but could not seem to make my self.

The guilt was overwhelming. I had this running battle with myself: "You are a minister! Of all people you should be doing this. How can you tell people that they ought to be doing this when you can't even do it?" Each failure brought on more guilt and hopelessness. I knew, at least cognitively, that I should be doing this because I wanted to and not because I felt I had to.

Several things converged to help me conquer my problem:
1. I realized it truly was a Grace thing. I didn't have to do this stuff. I was in a relationship, and God loved me. The more I realize He loved me, the more I wanted to spend the time.

2. I matured. Let's face it, somethings just take time. We become different people as we grow older and mature. Something just take time, and are left behind with age.

3. I rejected Protestant-only spiritual formation. I discovered Renovare and Richard Foster. I learned that there is more to spiritual growth than simply reading the Bible and praying (though those are key components). I discovered the ancient spiritual disciplines. I read books like Celebration of Discipline and The Seven Storey Mountain. These books told me what the spiritual disciplines were, how to practice them, and painted a picture of someone whose life was absorbed with being in God's presence.

I wanted that! And as soon as I wanted it, I was able to pursue it.

The Protestant Church threw the baby out with the bathwater, as the saying goes, when it rejected Catholicism. We lost the rich spiritual heritage and spiritual practices that made ordinary men and women into saints. They weren't perfect, but they were surrendered to God and sought to be in his presence. We need to practice things like fasting, simplicity, silence and solitude, retreat, and the various other historical/classical spiritual disciplines.

4. I created a plan. I started with just a few simple goals. I would fast one day per week, I would read the Bible and pray for 1/2 hour each morning, I would attend church, and I would journal. A short while later I added the devotional reading of spiritual classics. These simple goals gave me something to shoot for, and gave me a challenge to meet. Many would call this a Rule of Life, and is in the same vein as St. Benedict's Rule. (Here is a simple tool to help you.)

5. I set a regular time and place. It is amazing how your body will get used to doing a certain task when it placed in the same spot at the same time every day. I made myself get up and sit in my home office. I created a routine. I got up, started the coffee, raced to the restroom (running water and all), poured my cup of coffee, and went up stairs to my chair. Same routine...not to become boring, but to create consistency. Our bodies and minds like consistency. (I think this is a secret for those with ADD...consistency and grace to allow yourself to do more than just one thing.) I found that as I kept my regular time and place, I was then able to have times with God in other times and places. Before, I found it difficult to concentrate when I went to the woods or wherever. Having a consistent place and time made the "special" times doable.

The one thing to remember is that it is okay to start over when you fail. Just like every year has a January 1, so every week has a Monday, and every day begins again. We always have a chance to start over. We just need to be able to forgive ourselves, get over the guilt, and start again. I am still not perfect. I miss days each week. I just know that I can pick it up again.

What has helped you become more consistent? What spiritual practices have helped you?

May 22, 2007

Walk A Mile In a Leader's Shoes

Michael McKinney at Leading Blog has a thought provoking post.

In it he quotes Noah Webster the President of the US on the show 24.

Noah Webster says, "You know Tom, it’s easy to think you’ve got all the answers when none of the ultimate responsibility lies with you. But sittin’ in this chair.… Until you sit in this chair, you don’t know anything."

He also points to one of his earlier posts. Where James Reston, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, is quoted as saying,
"One of the blind spots of reporters is that after a while we are inclined to forget that officials are people. Preoccupied with issues, we come to regard them as liberals or conservatives, honest or crooked, but seldom as ordinary folk who have wives and children and cry when they’re hurt. Sally was always saving me from this folly. She knew a lot of these official families and knew also when their kids were sick or flunking out of school or fiddling with drugs. Thus when some political luminary seemed to be in a slump, talking more nonsense than usual, she would say maybe he was worrying about the family, or, as I was inclined to believe, about his own wandering and wayward habits. Still it was useful to be reminded that these headline characters have things to worry about other than the national debt—their own debts, for example."
What do you think? How often does this cross your mind when you are talking about a leader or boss? How should this change the way you talk about the current or future President or Presidential Nominee?

Preach It Till You Get It

Peter Bohler was one of the people who changed Wesley’s life and theology. He told Wesley how faith in Christ could be an instantaneous work of God and that when a person had a saving faith God’s Spirit would affirm it.

Despite years of disciplined pursuit of God, Wesley still felt unsure as to his inheritance of heaven. He was afraid to die; the oceanic storms coming and going to America were enough to convince him of that. He could not understand why someone who hoped to go to heaven would be afraid of death, and, yet, he was afraid of death.

On the voyage to America, Wesley was intrigued by the Moravian Christians. Despite the fiercest storms, they were not afraid. Wesley (or one of the Moravian Christians) might have overstated the case when he claimed that even the women and children were unafraid. But they had something Wesley wanted. They were confident of their place in heaven.

On March 5, 1738, Wesley wrote,

“I was, on Sunday, the fifth, clearly convinced of unbelief, of the want of that faith whereby alone we are saved.

Immediately it struck into my mind, ‘Leave off preaching. How can you preach to others, who have not faith yourself?’ I asked Bohler whether he thought I should leave it off or not. He answered, ‘By no means.’ I asked, ‘But what can I preach?’ He said, ‘Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.’

Accordingly, Monday, 6, I began preaching this new doctrine, though my soul started back from the work.”

Bohler’s statement intrigues me. “Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.” I don’t think this is an admonition to hypocrisy. I believe it has a two-fold purpose. First, it is a statement that certain beliefs often follow action. For example, sometimes you have to begin to show love and forgiveness toward someone before the fullness of it is realized in your heart. Second, it is a statement that when Wesley preached the doctrine he would be forced to study the doctrine, and in studying he would learn more. It is often said we learn more by teaching something than by being taught something.

It is to the first point that I would like to reflect.

When I planted the church in Pleasant Hill, we started out like any other church. We gathered a group of interested people. We did community surveys. We sent out a mass mailing and did the phone calling. We also did some outreach events.

I wanted to reach lost people, but, to be honest, I didn’t know why. I had my calling to the ministry which I took as a call to reach the lost, but I couldn’t really say why I ought to. I also didn’t want people to go to hell, but, again, not a real point of passion for me. (I know that sounds bad.) I just couldn’t put it into words. And while I wanted to reach the lost, there was nothing behind it.

Everything began to change when I started preaching about the Great Commandment. I started to realize that evangelism must come out of my love for the person, and that love is often developed and demonstrated through action (see the story of the Good Samaritan). So, I began serving people. I served everyone; especially the people I didn’t like or that really made me mad. I served them, and the love began to grow. The more I preached about loving my neighbor…the more I wanted to love my neighbor…the more I served my neighbor…the more I grew in my love for my neighbor.

The church I attend and where I work does a tremendous amount of outreach. There are very few churches in the world who do as much for others as we do. We use the tagline that we are doing this to “Show you God’s love.” I believe that church needs to market that God loves to people around them because they don’t often get that message from the church. But, I fear we can focus so much on “Showing God’s Love” that we miss the point where we are actually supposed to love the person.

But then again, we do learn by doing.

What do you think? Would this be advice that you gave to someone who was honestly searching? How would this advice change the way you dealt with young leaders?

May 21, 2007

Just Because I Disagree With You

1. Does not mean that I think you are any less a Christian.

2. Does not mean that I believe my way is the only way.

3. Does not mean that I have to insult you or the way you do things.

4. Does not mean that I can't find something of value in what you do or say.

5. Does not mean we have to "break fellowship" or whatever Christianese we use to say we are going separate ways. We can agree to disagree and work together.

6. Just because I have a critique of what you are doing that disagrees with yours does not mean I disregard everything you are doing or that I don't believe God is using you.

What are your thoughts?

(Check out other posts on this topic here, here, here, here, here, and here)

May 19, 2007

I Found a Good Post

Thanks to Bob, I was pointed to this post. Great conversation and great presentation of the Gospel.

May 18, 2007

Keep Your Eyes on Jesus

This morning was a good morning. I was able to sit quietly in a corner with my cup of coffee and read the Bible. I have been reading through the Bible in a year. Today as I read, 2 Chronicles 20:12 struck me hard; especially the last phrase.

"We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you."

Jehoshaphat is faced with going to battle with an enemy. He is vastly outnumbered, and the enemy troops are better equipped and prepared than his. Rather than fret or worry, Jehoshaphat calls the people of Judah to a time or prayer and fasting. During this time, He prays a corporate prayer with the above phrase in it.

After reading this, I immediately wrote it down in the front cover of my journal. It exemplifies how I feel most of the time. I don't have a clue what I should do to reach lost people, to plant a church, to lead a group, to represent God, and sometimes to even be a Christian, but I try to keep my eyes on Him.

I think this might be the secret to leadership: keep your eyes on Jesus and keep listening to what God tells you to do.

So many times we try to replace God's ways with man-made methods. Business models are great and necessary. Systems and structures and time-lines are necessary. But sometimes God steps outside of these things and does something out of the norm. We have to be prepared for them by listening to His voice. Then we have to be willing to step out and do what we have been told to do.

It is always interesting to read the journals and thoughts of historical figures. It is amazing to me that these men and women, who demonstrate such resolve and determination, are often insecure and struggle with their own inadequacy to the task. Francis Asbury, the man who established Methodism as THE religion in the United States, was extremely insecure. His biography is an historical must read for church planters. Check it out here: America's Bishop by Darius Salter. (My name is in the front pages for helping with the book).

I remember the months before planting my church and the first year or so. I was absolutely a pain in the...well, you know. I thought I knew everything about church planting. I read the books and websites and researched and all that, but I hadn't planted. Now, as I face my second church plant, I recognize how absolutely inadequate I am to the task. We are all inadequate to the task; only great egotism and pride tells us otherwise.

Take a few moments. Push away from the computer and close your eyes. Then just say those words to yourself several times. "We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you." Reflect on that for a few moments. Then thank God for providing.

Women Belong in the Kitchen!

I dedicate this post to my friend Shawna. Let the comments begin...

It seems the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary thinks that too many women are gettin' themselves too edumacated! The fact that 60% of college enrollees are women tells Mr. Patterson (his first name is Paige?!? :) ) that the US Church is in trouble.

Rather than encourage men to step up and do what they should be doing Mr. Patterson is following the example of so many by denigrating women.

I believe we need more strong, male leaders. I believe we need men to step up, actually be men, and take leadership over their homes and churches. But I don't think this is at the expense of women fulfilling their God-given spiritual callings and using their gifts.

I am a strong believer in equality of the sexes with an understanding that we each have different roles to play. That role, however, is not necessarily based on our sex, but on our ability, calling, and gifting.

And we definitely need to get away from the aloof, macho male-warrior as our only model of manhood.

May 17, 2007

Considering My Posts on Wesley...

I found this link (via Monday Morning Insights) about John Wesley: 10 Things You'd Hate About John Wesley. I have posted about weird skeletons in the closets of the revered leader.

I think this teaches us that history has a way of romanticizing our leaders and heroes. Often, history forms them into people that we could never hope to be. John Wesley, surprise?, was human. He had faults, and many of his greatest strengths were also his greatest weaknesses.

May 16, 2007

Weak Preaching

In the past 15 years, I have preached and taught more times than I can remember. I love to preach and teach. In fact, I feel it is a big part of my calling and gifting for ministry.

But I have never experienced what Wesley experienced…

On Sunday, February 5, 1738, Wesley wrote in his journal, “In the afternoon I was desired to preach at St. John the Evangelist's. I did so on those strong words, ‘If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.’ I was afterward informed many of the best in the parish were so offended that I was not to preach there any more.”

Again on Sunday, February 12, Wesley wrote, “I preached at St. Andrew's, Holborn on ‘Though I give all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.’ Oh, hard sayings! Who can hear them? Here, too, it seems, I am to preach no more.”

I have never been asked to not come back. Many have probably wished I would never come back, but I have not been formally asked.

I wonder what he said that caused so much dissension. Was it his theological stance? Was it their spiritually deadness and they didn’t like being challenged? Was it that he was boring? Was it the right message at the wrong time?

Wesley seems to have thought the people were rejecting the Word of God.

I think we as preachers sometimes misunderstand what is going on. We think we have the next best sermon since the one on the mount. Or, we think this sermon is really going to whack them upside the head…And then it all falls flat. Or we mistake aggressive or passionate preaching for Spirit empowered preaching. (One book that changed my preaching forever was Preaching in the Power of the Spirit by Dennis Kinlaw.)

Was it the people? Did it need more prayer? Was it hyped more than it deserved?

I have found that my impressions of “This is going to be good” and it actually being "good" are rarely on target. What most often happens is that I walk out of the pulpit (or whatever I was preaching behind) and feel like an absolute failure. Then, someone comes up weeping about the impact of the message on them, or I receive an e-mail about how a person has been thinking about what I said all week. The times I feel that I really gave it to them or that I feel I spoke well on a subject are the times that are greeted with a simple, "Well done." And we are fooling ourselves if we think we are going to hit it out of the park week after week.

Paul’s statement about God being found in our weakness is no more prominent than when we step before a gathering and proclaim the Word of God. It is often in the “weak” moments that Christ is most glorified, and not in our moments of glory.

Jerry Falwell's Enemies

I found this quote by Hustler Magazine publisher Larry Flynt:

"The Reverend Jerry Falwell and I were arch enemies for fifteen years. We became involved in a lawsuit concerning First Amendment rights and Hustler magazine. Without question, this was my most important battle – the l988 Hustler Magazine, Inc., v. Jerry Falwell case, where after millions of dollars and much deliberation, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in my favor. My mother always told me that no matter how much you dislike a person, when you meet them face to face you will find characteristics about them that you like. Jerry Falwell was a perfect example of that. I hated everything he stood for, but after meeting him in person, years after the trial, Jerry Falwell and I became good friends. He would visit me in California and we would debate together on college campuses. I always appreciated his sincerity even though I knew what he was selling and he knew what I was selling. The most important result of our relationship was the landmark decision from the Supreme Court that made parody protected speech, and the fact that much of what we see on television and hear on the radio today is a direct result of my having won that now famous case which Falwell played such an important role in.”

It is always interesting to read what someone's enemies say about them. I think Larry Flynt's comment is a tribute and an honor to a man who pastored a church for 50+ years.

(hattip: Monday Morning Insights)

May 15, 2007

Jerry Falwell Dead at 73

Jerry Falwell was found dead in his office.

I am not a fan of the man or his self-appointed position as spokesman for conservative Christians. He has made some very controversial statements that have been applied to all who consider themselves Christians.

But, I certainly mourn the loss to his family and friends. He has accomplished some great things in his life. Founding a church that has grown 24,000 members and starting Liberty University.

Starting Spiritual Conversations

An important part of evangelism is being able to start a “spiritual conversation.” In some ways this is the most difficult thing imaginable, and in other ways it is very easy. It seems that so many people are willing to speak about spiritual matters. The real trial comes in speaking about our personal beliefs without belittling what the other person believes.

Being able to speak about personal beliefs without belittling others is not a sign of spiritual cowardice. “You aren’t willing to say that someone else’s beliefs are wrong?” is a claim heard often. I think that we demonstrate the greatest level of love for neighbor when we respect their beliefs.

Does it mean that I agree with what they believe? No

Does it mean that I think whatever someone believes is okay? No

I do, however, think our primary action is to demonstrate our love for the person. This begins with actively listening to the person and respecting their beliefs.

As I have been reading the Journals of John Wesley, I found this entry written on January 2, 1738, “I went several times the following days, with a design to speak to the sailors, but could not. I mean, I was quite averse [willing, wanting to] to speaking; I could not see how to make an occasion, and it seemed quite absurd to speak without. Is not this what men commonly mean by, "I could not speak"? And is this a sufficient cause of silence, or no? Is it a prohibition from the Good Spirit? or a temptation from nature, or the evil one?”

Often our silence is not for lack of “want-to” is a lack of know-how. We simply don’t know how to start a spiritual conversation with others. In order to start a spiritual conversation, be aware of the following:

1. The Holy Spirit. Often we depend on our own insight or wisdom rather than be attentive to the voice of God. God has promised that His Holy Spirit will precede us. The Spirit must prepare a person’s heart to hear the Good News. Often the conversation will just open up in front of us as the Holy Spirit makes the way.

2. Timing. Sometimes we can blow up the whole process by rushing into a spiritual discussion that just is not there. We need to be willing to speak when the opportunity is there, but we cannot rush a person’s spiritual journey toward God. God moves people toward Himself one step at a time. Our well intentioned statement may do more to push people away than help them move forward.

3. Pray. Pray before, Pray during, Pray after. God moves in response to our prayers. He is willing to give us both the opportunity and the words if we are willing to ask.

4. Be natural. A word that is being overused lately is “Authentic.” But it does remind us that we need to be comfortable. We need to use typical words that everyone understands. We need to be humble and not preachy.

Often the simplest of questions will get the ball rolling. I have read the spiritual discussion starters in Contagious Christian by Bill Hybels and Mark Mittelberg. The problem is that out of context they seem so hokey. I think the questions will come if we are just aware of the opportunity or willing to share how God helped us with a problem. Then the questions like: “What do you think about God?” or, “What do you think a real Christian is?” will be able to be used.

I am a firm believer in the ability of the Holy Spirit to open the doors for us to share our faith with others. We just have to be willing to go through the door when the opportunity arises.

Happy Mother's Day

On Mother's Day it is nice to take mom out for a nice dinner. Many people go to brunch or to church and then lunch. Most spend their time thanking Mom for all she has done.

But these five...

started a riot at the Golden Corral!

May 14, 2007

I Finally Have Access

The guys just left my house after installing the cable and Internet access!! We haven't had any home connection for about 2 weeks. While I could possibly live without cable, I really like having the Internet back.

May 11, 2007

Success Found In Failure

The last church I planted did not fail. It didn’t fall apart when I left. I am glad for that. But there was a time when I thought it might all fall apart. During the first two years of planting, I was sure it was going to be a church plant failure.

I started with high expectations, and not a single expectation was met. In the beginning I was excited about planting. I attended conferences, classes, and read books. We did large scale marketing campaigns and outreach events. I saw a niche our church could fill. But on our Grand Opening day, only 75 people showed up (half were from supporting churches and returned to their churches the next week). Over the next few years, the church stagnated and saw only a few people come and stay. In fact, we had more people leave the church than new people start attending.

By the third year, even though the church did not grow, I stopped believing it was a failure, and started seeing something much deeper happening. I noticed a similar idea in Wesley’s journey to Georgia.

Wesley, much to his relief, arrived in America on February 6, 1736 on a little island near Savannah, Georgia. His trip had taken nearly four months, and was more trouble than he wanted. Several large storms ravaged the ship, and Wesley feared he might die. On Saturday, November 17, Wesley wrote, “About eleven I lay down in the great cabin and in a short time fell asleep, though very uncertain whether I should wake alive and much ashamed of my unwillingness to die.” Again on Friday, November 23, he wrote again, “In the morning it increased so that they were forced to let the ship drive. I could not but say to myself, ‘How is it that thou hast no faith?’ being still unwilling to die.”

At the start of the journey, Wesley had undertaken the task of learning German. There were 26 Moravian Christians on board the ship. Wesley would often participate in their worship services. He marveled at the inner peace and humility exhibited by the group.

“I had long before observed the great seriousness of their behavior. Of their humility they had given a continual proof by performing those servile offices for the other passengers, which none of the English would undertake; for which they desired and would receive no pay, saying, ‘it was good for their proud hearts,’ and ‘their loving Saviour (sic) had done more for them.’ And every day had given them an occasion of showing a meekness which no injury could move. If they were pushed, struck, or thrown down, they rose again and went away; but no complaint was found in their mouth. There was now an opportunity of trying whether they were delivered from the spirit of fear, as well as from that of pride, anger and revenge.

“In the midst of the psalm wherewith their service began, the sea broke over, split the mainsail in pieces, covered the ship, and poured in between the decks, as if the great deep had already swallowed us up. A terrible screaming began among the English. The Germans calmly sang on. I asked one of them afterward, ‘Were you not afraid?’ He answered, ‘I thank God, no.’”

There was something different about the Moravian Christians that Wesley wanted. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but it was different than anything he had ever experienced. On February 7, 1736, Wesley met Bishop Augustus Spangenburg. Wesley wrote, “I soon found what spirit he was of and asked his advice with regard to my own conduct. He said, ‘My brother, I must first ask you one or two questions. Have you the witness within yourself? Does the Spirit of God bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God?’ I was surprised, and knew not what to answer. He observed it and asked, ‘Do you know Jesus Christ?’ I paused and said, ‘I know He is the Saviour of the world.’ ‘True,’ replied he, ‘but do you know He has saved you?’ I answered, ‘I hope He has died to save me.’ He only added, ‘Do you know yourself?’ I said, ‘I do.’ But I fear they were vain words.”

I don’t know if Wesley realized it or not, but this encounter would change his life and ministry forever. He observed the Moravian Christians serving without anger toward those who treated them harshly. He saw their lack of fear in the face of death because they were not afraid to meet God. He discovered that God’s Spirit bears “witness with your spirit that you are a child of God.”

Wesley and his companions went to America to witness to the “poor heathens,” but it was Wesley who would be most affected by the trip. His absolute failure would send him to the edge, but his encounters with the Moravians initiated a deep change that revolutionized his approach to ministry.

I believe our greatest failures are the fertile soil for God to change us. We realize we cannot accomplish His great tasks on our own. We are incapable of mustering enough strength or vision or commitment to do it on our own. We are not smart enough to find the latest technology or technique to reach people. Only God can.

What made the church plant seem like a failure to me was that I was more concerned with how people viewed me than I was about actually loving people. I just knew that the other pastors were looking at me and thinking, “He has no clue! What a failure.” I felt the pressure of living up to some invisible standard that I had set up and perceived from my church leaders.

God’s greatest work is within us; to change us. If we are willing to listen, he will make us people who actually love Him and love others. But, first, He has to get us to stop loving ourselves so much first.

Wesley traveled to America to “to save our souls; to live wholly to the glory of God.” Little did Wesley know that God would do exactly that through his failure at ministering to the “poor heathens” of Georgia. His greatest failure was the seed for something far greater.

May 9, 2007

Returning to the Catholic Church

Dr. Francis J. Beckwith, former president of the Evangelical Theological Society, returned to the Catholic Church. (Here is his homepage). You can read about it here on his blog. Here is the ETS Committee's response.

Despite what you might think about Catholicism, I find the comments on the blog very interesting. And by "interesting," I mean saddening.

I certainly don't want to give the impression that theology doesn't matter. It does. But, I think a lot of doctrinal positioning is just to help us experience God more fully. I think there are general boundaries that define the Christian faith (see the Creeds of the Church). Doctrine helps us put into human words how we have experienced and understand God and Scripture. I love C.S. Lewis's definition of theology.

What I find interesting are the comments about taking the word of the "Early Church" over the words of Scripture. The irony is that the commentor is looking at Scripture through a theological viewpoint. Like it or not, they are not reading the Scripture as someone unaffected by a theological stance. They think they are, but they are reading the Scripture through their own theological lens.

In order to understand the meaning of the Scripture wouldn't you want to know what the Disciple's disciples wrote about their teacher's perspective? That is what the Early Church Fathers are writing about. They were able to sit beneath the actual teaching of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and others without a couple thousand years of separation.

No matter what theological viewpoint you come from, I think God has instructed us all to love our neighbors as ourselves...even when they return to the Catholic Church. I admire a man who is willing to explore his theological convictions, re-evaluate his beliefs in prayer, and then make a commitment to follow no matter what others might say.

Evangelism Must Start With Love

I decided to start reading some of John Wesley's Journal. I don't know if I will start an ongoing series, but I did want to write on something that struck me as I read. Be sure to check out the Wesley Center for Applied Theology.

On Tuesday, October 14, 1735, John Wesley and three friends embarked for Georgia. They were going to be missionaries to the New World. With high hopes, they felt a great sense of excitement at the possibilities ahead.

In his journal, John Wesley wrote, “Our end in leaving our native country was not to avoid want (God having given us plenty of temporal blessings) nor to gain the dung or dross of riches or honor; but singly this — to save our souls; to live wholly to the glory of God.”

Wesley’s endeavor in Georgia would be an absolute failure!

I was reading Wesley’s journal yesterday, and that line, “to save our souls; to live wholly to the glory of God” struck me. It didn’t strike me in the way you might think. Knowing that Wesley’s Georgian Missionary endeavor was a failure, I thought, “I wonder if it had anything to do with his desire to “save our souls” versus that of the people he was going to minister to?” We all need to have a desire to save our souls and to “live wholly to the glory of God,” but often that is code for “I am concerned about me.”

Wesley’s ministry was characterized by reaching out to the hurting, the lost, the broken, and the poor. He set up orphanages, schools, and job programs. But his ministry in Georgia was a failure. It wasn’t until there was a fundamental shift in Wesley that he began actually reaching people.

What was that shift?

It happened at Aldersgate where his heart was “strangely warmed.” Many have called it Sanctification which Wesley defined as loving God and neighbor. But it represents something far deeper. Wesley shifted from being concerned only for his own salvation, and simply loved God and loved his neighbor.

Wesley stopped seeking his own salvation and viewing people as possible converts, and began to love them. As you read his early journal entries, you get a sense that he was there to impart of his vast knowledge; he viewed himself as superior or a savior, not in the biblical sense, and everyone else as deficient. Following his Aldersgate experience, and worked out through the rest of his life, Wesley seems to have actually loved the people in need.

I wonder how often we have approached evangelism in a manner that tells people we think we are their superior. I am the great and mighty Saved One and you are the Heathen Sinner in need of my message. I am somehow better because I am already in the “in” group, and you are not.

How unfortunate. The verdict is the same for everyone…we are all sinners. The only difference is that we are forgiven. When we approach people with this mentality, we push them away; not only from us, but also from the true Savior who can rescue them from their sin.

Evangelism that doesn’t start with loving the other person is not really evangelism. I think the primary work of God in us is to help us actually love other people. Not just to “like” them, but to love them.

This should go without saying, but “love” is not a mushy-gushy feeling. It is our seeking and desiring the best for others. It is also a verb. We show love by caring for others and meeting their needs. Many have confused “helping a person get saved” as meeting their needs and demonstrating love. It is part of it, but there are other needs that must be met first.

Sometimes the greatest need the person has is for patience. It takes time for them to accept the message of Jesus Christ; it cannot be rushed. We don’t want them to verbally acquiesce to something that they don’t truly believe.

If we are simply trying to convert someone, then we have missed it. We must love them. Loving someone means we care for them, treat them exactly the same, even if they continually reject God’s message.

May 8, 2007

King Herod's Tomb


Fox News, along with others, are reporting the discovery of King Herod's tomb.

Herod's bones are missing from the sarcophagus, but the design and ornate decoration leads the archaeologist, Ehud Netzer, to believe it to be Herod's tomb. The tomb was obviously raided shortly after his death. This would not be surprising considering Herod's treatment of the Jewish people.

My Own Space

Sorry, my posting has been down. In the past two months, I have changed my job responsibilities and bought a new home. We are only a few blocks from our apartment, so we are moving a little bit every evening.

Last night was our first night in the new house. It was a bit weird, but nice.

So....

This morning I got to use my office space. For the first time in over a year, I have an office space of my own again. I have my chair, my desk, some of my books, and my Bible. I was able to have my time with God in the comfort of my OWN space.

I was not sharing space with the kitchen or the dining room.

It is really nice to have your own space. You can shut the door, and get away from all the stuff around you. It is your place.

I have my office, what space do you use to get "away" each day?

May 1, 2007

Fired Up!

What gets you fired up? You know...your pulse races...your palms begin to sweat...your speak faster and your voice gets louder...you speak with passion. Usually when this happens, I begin to speak more forcefully. I find it hard to believe that those around me could possibly disagree.

The other day I took my mother-in-law to a doctor's appointment. When I dropped her off at her apartment, we ended up talking for about an hour and a half. As we talked I found myself getting more and more fired up.

We were talking about the church actually being the church.

I get tired of hearing about churches that focus solely on themselves. They have a Field of Dreams mentality; "If you build it they will come." The build better Sunday school classes, VBS programs, and better worship services, but still the unchurched remain unchurched. They fail to get involved in the community. They fail to actually love their neighbors. They fail to do anything about the needs of the people around them.

Is every church doing this? No. But there are thousands of churches that say they want to reach the lost and then spend their money on stuff that doesn't really do anything. They say they want to reach the lost, and then ignore the needs of those around them. The pastor says he or she wants to reach the lost but their passion lays in some obscure theological idea rather than a passion to reach lost people.

We need to be serious about Jesus and about serving hurting and broken people. We should not condone an abusive or harassing form of evangelism. I believe that the if the church did one simple thing it would revolutionize everything. What is that one thing? Love lost people.

So, what gets you fired up?

Perfection

I read Scott Adam's blog. He is the creator of Dilbert. And, while I obviously don't agree with everything he says, I appreciate his perspective. (Most of what he writes is meant to be humorous and "discussion" inducing anyway). It is fun to watch him bring up a topic just so he can rile up the idiot commentors.

Anyway...

He posted this about the Don Imus/Rutgers Women's Basketball Controversy.

I think what we see is a desire, on Scott's part, to see in action what God has done for us in reality. He wouldn't say that. I am not sure where he stands religiously. But I think what he desires to see happen in this situation is what God does for each and every person who seeks His forgiveness.

God truly is PERFECTION!

A Tribute to Robert Webber

I just learned that Robert Webber, author of many books on worship, passed away. I met Dr. Webber a few years ago at a worship conference in Kansas City. His insight into the structure of worship was astounding.

Most what Dr. Webber wrote was a call to retain our heritage and tradition while also being able to experiment and advance. He did not want to drag everyone back into a liturgical worship style, but neither did he want people to lose their connection to the past. He focused more on developing a philosophy/theology of worship that informed everything a church did. (His 8 volume set on worship is astounding).

It is always sad to see a great mind, theologian, and God-lover pass away.