May 30, 2008

Insurmountable Obstacles

A friend of mine blogged some great observations about Insurmountable Obstacles.

He makes this comment about a church service he attended:
I was genuinely sad and angry at the same time. I so long to be somewhere where our faith matters, where we believe in God and love Him so much that we literally fall on our faces in His presence. Instead, I sit in a church service that is ostensibly more focused on American military might than on God's omnipotence. I stand and sing with scores of others when none of us really grasp the levity of what it is we're singing about. And I'm just as complicit in all of it as anyone else is.

As I stood there thinking about it all, I realized that revival fire never will fall because we aren't meeting the prerequisites (the first of which is true repentance--I promise to discuss this in a future post)! We've constructed so many obstacles to God's Spirit actually having any sort of sway among us that we're as close to revival as we are to the Crab Nebula. Too many of our churches simply are not in any posture spiritually to receive the fullness of God's Spirit. If I may wax pessimistic--our spiritual glasses aren't even half-full.
I am not sure, however, that we can EVER meet the prerequisites. Yes, we experience true repentance. Yes, we can do better on some days more than others. Yes, there are some churches that seem to be able to do this better than others.

But I think this is part of our living in a state of the "already and not yet" understanding of the Kingdom of God. I also think this is where the sacrifice of Jesus Christ makes up for our lacking. There is a sense in which we are freed from sin, experiencing God's presence, seeing His power, and being guided by His Holy Spirit. But there is also a sense in which we are not. Things in this world are not yet as God desires them to be; they will be one day. For now, we are part of a fallen humanity.

We can never meet the requirements.

I think God knows and understands this. He is God after all!

He knows that we are fallen. He knows that our understanding is dimly lit. He knows that, even at our best, we are still part of the fallen creation that misses the mark. There is no such thing as getting it completely, absolutely right in doctrine, in worship, in practice. We can't even get it right in our intentions. If we stopped our spiritual practices because we had mixed intentions about why we were doing things...we would never worship or pray or serve.

I think about the term "maranatha" which is often translated as "Lord come." It has eschatological (end of things as they are) significance. Usually people understand this to mean "Come and get us out of this world." What it really signifies is a cry for God to "come and set things right." There is a big difference. One seek God's assistance to help us escape the world, and the other seeks God to set things right in the world.

Speaking about the pastor's Gospel-centered message,Andy said, "...that message stood at the center of that service like a fine jewel caked in mud and dirt, so too we in the church have too often mired the jewel of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the mud and dirt of our own ignorance and selfishness."

I think that points us to the tension of wanting God's Kingdom to come while recognizing that it is not yet here. We know, deep down, that the world is not right, and we want it to be set right. For now, whether we like it or not, God's wonderful Gospel is caked in muddy, dirty, mixed up humans who don't get it right.

Our Own Worst Enemy

Andy says, "Week after week, we erect myriad obstacles which keep at arms' length our loving Father who, because He limits His own limitlessness in order to give us the freedom to truly love and worship Him, finds those obstacles insurmountable. In the end, it simply may be that our worship gatherings, indeed our churches, are more about us and less about the One that we claim them to be."

What a scathing indictment. If true, we are our own worst enemy when it comes to seeking God. For me this shows the danger of thinking I have the correct beliefs or the correct expression of the faith. I think that attitude often interferes with our ability to worship in an environment we don't like or with people who have doctrine that is not like ours. I have found that if I can't worship in particular environment that I am probably the problem.

God's word promises that wherever two or three gather in "my name, there I am in the midst." So even if things go horribly wrong, you can't "sense" the presence of God, or they are doing things completely wrong...God still promises to show up. I just have to be able to recognize Him when He reveals himself.

How to Prepare Yourself for Worship

I also have to do everything I can to prepare myself to worship. I have to ask myself the following questions:

1. Is my heart right and prepared?
Have I sought God's forgiveness? Have I offended a brother? Have I invested the time this week to prepare my heart for God's presence? Sometimes we absent ourselves from God's presence all week long, and then expect to "sense" Him during the one hour weekend service. Getting to know the voice of God takes time in His presence. I have found that if I don't "practice" and "discipline" myself to listen for His voice...He is not going to automatically make himself known during the weekend service.

2. What do I see that is right?
We often look to the negative and focus on that rather than trying to find the positive and where God IS moving. It is easy to nitpick and find fault. People love to find fault. I found this a particular struggle for me. What I need to be doing is listening for the voice of God to speak through the songs...the message...maybe, even the announcements or offering. God promises to speak, but am I listening.

3. Is my focus on worshiping God?
There is a pervasive attitude of me-centerdness in the church. We ask "What am I going to get out of this service?" People complain, "I didn't get anything out of that service." I think we will get the most out of the service when we stop asking "what's in it for me?" and start asking "How can I give my worship to God?" It is time to make God the focus of what we do in worship.

4. What can I put into practice today and this week?
The believer's church service is about encouraging, strengthening, and preparing the believer to work in bringing about the Kingdom of God in his or her world. I say believer's service because I think it is okay to have a service that focuses on reaching unbelievers in a more "simple" and "culturally relevant" manner. A believer's service is where the "What's in it for me?" comes into play. After we have focused on praising and worshiping God, what's in it for me becomes "How can I use what I am hearing and experiencing to bring about God's Kingdom in my home, work, school, world, and life?" "What's in it for me?" still focuses on how it works out for God.

What are some things you do to prepare for worshiping God and to remind yourself of the true meaning of worship?

May 23, 2008

Politicians and Pastors

Pastor's are ruining the politician's chances of winning...or at least that seem to me what is implied in articles such as this. McCain sought help from Rod Parsley of World Harvest Church in Columbus, Ohio, and now some of Parsley's comments are being used against McCain. Rev. Parsley refers to Islam as a "conspiracy of spiritual evil." Barack Obama, as we have seen, had his own trouble with comments made by his pastor. McCain, like Barack, now feels it necessary to distance himself from the pastors in question.

There are several ways to view this:
1. We assume that politicians holds the exact same view as the pastor.
2. We assume that politician may hold some views in common, but not all.
3. We assume that the politician was simply using the person to wedge into a particular demographic.

I am likely to believe that Barack Obama falls into the second category because Rev. Wright (no relation) is one of the pastor at the church where Obama regularly attends. McCain, on the other, was seeking to court a few extra religious votes when Huckabee was pushing toward the candidacy. Then, again, I may be totally wrong.


I do have a problem when politicians of any party or level begins to use the church to further his/her own political agenda. I have more of a problem with a church that allows itself to be used as a political pawn in an election match.

It is not that I believe the church should have nothing to say in the political realm. I believe the church is a VERY political entity; especially when we talk about concern for the poor, war, abortion, etc. Jesus message of a rival Kingdom was a very dangerous political message. The biblical assertion that "Jesus is lord!" was a profoundly political statement in the face of Roman occupation. Caesar was the only one who they were to refer to as "lord."

We cannot afford to remove the church from the political realm. What we must do is remove the church from the partisan realm. Politicians on both sides must be challenged by the Church.

I found this quote from Pope Benedict XVI, "Any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted. Only when their faith permeates every aspect of their lives do Christians become truly open to the transforming power of the Gospel." I think that is a very appropriate way to think about a Christians involvement in politics.

May 21, 2008

You Too Can Ruin America!

Destroying the American budget is no longer solely in the hands of our President and elected politicians; at least according to a new online game. Thanks to American Public Media, you too can ruin...I mean balance the US Budget! This game gives you the opportunity to play lawmaker/politician, and see how your values and monetary decisions would affect the budget. This game is more than a game, though. American Media worked with the Congressional Budget Office and others to make this as accurate as possible.

So go ahead...ruin the American budget you won't be the first!

May 20, 2008

Hillary Tries for the Bloggers

I understand the use of blogs, Twitter, etc. as they as part of a campaign, but to use this way reminds me of Seth Godin's book Meatball Sundae!

May 18, 2008

Prayerful Exegesis

My senior year in seminary was VERY busy; a typhoon of events and crisis. I was graduating, Lori and I were expecting our daughter, we were packing to move, buying a house in another area of town, and working with a small group of people to start a church. Too much to do, too little time, but one story sticks in my memory that I keep coming back to for reference, for conviction, and for realignment.

One of my professor was finishing up his class on the exegesis of Matthew. He stepped out from behind the lectern, leaned against and said:
You are all seniors, and will be going out to pastor churches and preach sermons. I have a hope for you. I hope that you have this one week where everything goes really well. You get to spend time exegeting the passage of Scripture you will be preaching. You get to check all the original languages, read all the commentaries, and that you write a beautiful and eloquent message. You deliver the message and it is great! You feel really good about what you have done.

But then you are standing in the back, shaking hands with people as they leave, and this older gentleman walks up to you. He says, "Pastor that was a good sermon, but I don't think that is what Paul meant..." then he goes on to explain. He isn't doing it to be mean or to poke at you. He isn't rude about it. He just sense a real difference of understanding.

At first you are angry because you have had a great week of preparation, and the sermon felt good as you preached. You did all the "homework." But then you will become angry because, as you go back and look over things, you will know he is absolutely, 100% right. He is right, not because he read all the commentaries or knows how to read the original language. He is right because he has spent years meditating on and praying the Scripture.
Knowing my professor, this was not an endorsement of lazy intellectual, prayer only handling of the Bible. It was a strong statement that, no matter how rigorous, the intellectual/academic study of a biblical passage is not enough. God expects us to use all the available tools we have, and there thousands of good resources available to those preparing a message.

Too often people fall on one side of the extreme or the other. They neglect the historical, linguistic, and theological resources and focus solely on praying...even though they have adequate access to those resources. God's Spirit will not bless shoddy, lazy preparation. Too many times people leave the preparation up to the "movement of the Spirit" rather than invest the time, energy, and intellectual activity in research, thought, and development.

Or, there are those who look only to the intellectual tools available, and forget that God's Holy Spirit still leads, directs, and speaks concerning His Word to the Church. It was Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus, who most readily heard His voice. We too must not allow the "tools" to lull us into believing that we can have this all figured out just by getting all the historical and linguistic things correct.

There are some people who reside at the far extremes of this continuum, but most people are really a mixed up combination of the two. They study and know they should pray more. They pray and know they should study more. Most lean one way or another based on personality issues (not that this is an excuse!). I tend toward the study more side, and realize that I never feel comfortable with the amount of prayer I have put into the process.

For some crazy reason, God decided to work in and through human beings rather than force us to do as He wishes. God's Will will be done, but not at the expense of forcing someone to do something. The two, academic study and prayerful reflection, are meant to work in unison. Why? Because God calls brilliant men and women to write resources for Church's use in studying His word. He also asks us to wait before Him and to learn from Him through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will guide and direct us into "all Truth," but His direction will not supplant the hard work of studying the available resources.

Our calling is to balance the tension between the two; being a "workman" that also listens for the voice of God in prayer.

May 16, 2008

The Father is Watching

I just read Seth Godin's post about acting in a way that would make him mother proud. He says, "At the CMA conference yesterday, someone asked me about marketing ethics. I said that marketers have to act as if their mom is watching... because even if she isn't, someone else is."

What a reminder to us that even when no one sees us, there is someone watching. Not that God is looking to pounce on us when we do something wrong. It is just a reminder that we have a responsibility to make our Father proud.

May 15, 2008

Merging Two Small Churches

I get a lot of hits from search engines about merging two churches into one. Take the blog title The Merge and add a bit of discussion about church, theology, and Bible, and get placed on the search engine for people wanting to merge two churches together.

I don't know a lot about how to do it, but I do know one piece of information for those who are looking. I once worked for a denominational headquarters with a great research department. One of things that I noticed was that two churches of 50 people (or whatever number) became one church of 50 people after a merge. Not immediately, but over time. Very rarely did you get a church of 100.

I think that a pastor, leadership team, church style, whatever that fit the church of 50 does not automatically jump to being able to handle the 100 people. Therefore, it goes right back to being 50. Also the people who were at one church because they liked the pastor no longer like the new guy, and so they leave.

There are probably a million other reasons for the two churches not being able to combine into one, bigger church, but I saw the actuality of it happen over, and over, and over again for multiple sizes of church.

Addition: In an attempt to help you find what you are looking to merge two churches...I am providing links to's series on Merging Churches. I hope this helps you in your pursuit of furthering God's Kingdom in your area.

Should our Church Merge?
Merging Tips
What to do during merger talks
The Public Merger Meeting
Why I Believe Partnerships are Important

Let me know if any of these help. Please feel free to leave a comment here to help others who are trying to merge their church with another.

Update to the Blog

Today I update the recommended reading/what books have influenced me tab at the top of my blog. Check it out and let me know some of the books that have influenced you.

May 14, 2008

Why Am I So Upset By Your Death?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about visited my estranged father. He and my mother were not married, and he left before I was born. I was five years old before he signed my birth certificate and acquiesced that I was his son. I have only seen him about 6-7 times in my life, and most of those for only a few brief minutes.

Through the years I have struggled with all the emotions that come with this kind of thing.

For some time I didn't really notice. I didn't know any different, and it didn't seem to matter. I was doing fine.

Then I felt the abandonment. What had I done wrong? Why didn't he want anything to do with me? Why did this happen?

The the anger and bitterness. I hate him and didn't need him anyway. Look what I did without him!

Then the pity. I feel sorry for him and for the things in his life that made him act as he did.

Emptiness seems to accompany all the previous; a sense that something is missing and that I am somehow incomplete. That hole can't be filled by anything. It is usually just a dull ache at certain times or a deep seated sense that things are just not the way they should be.

There haven't really been feelings of any kind for a while except the occasional feelings of emptiness. I just kind of existed and didn't think about it. Last month I received a phone call that my father was dying. Over the past few weeks, just prior to and since the visit, I have felt some combination of all of these feelings.

This morning I learned that he had passed away at 3:30 am...and I was overcome.

I don't know why I cried (yes, I cried). Why would I cry for someone I don't even know and has never made an attempt to see me? I am sure there a thousand of those pandering, pat responses people could give...don't worry it will be okay...he was your father after all...type of things. You know, the things people say when they don't know what to say and should really not say anything at all rather than those trite phrases.He was, after all, my father. :)

Maybe it is a loss of hope and possibility that I am mourning. I never really expected him to want a relationship or to be part of my life, but as long as he was alive there was always the possibility. Many people have changed and made amends and corrected faulty relationships; it could certainly happen to him. Now, all the possibility is gone.

I don't know what will happen from here. I don't know that side of the family, and there are no funeral arrangements. He donated his body to a local university.

This post should not, however, end on a meaningless, fatalistic note. Very early on I knew that my father was not the prototype of my Heavenly Father. My earthly father was the broken, distorted, sin-influenced version of everything that my Heavenly Father intended him to be. Even at my best, I too and the broken, distorted, sin-influenced version of everything that my Heavenly Father intends me to be. Too often people make the mistake of looking at the horrible wreck of their earthly father and saying, "If God is like that..." What we should really be saying is "The Heavenly Father is mold and model that everyone else should be compared against!" He is the one who gets it right. We don't always understand, but he is always right.

I have always found great comfort in this verse:

Sing to God, sing praise to his name, extol him who rides on the clouds—his name is the LORD—and rejoice before him.
A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.
God sets the lonely in families, he leads forth the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.

An Evangelical Manifesto

Over the past three years, some influential Evangelicals have been working on a manifesto to "reclaim the definition of what it means to be an Evangelical." They assert, rightly so, that theological rather than political or social principles should inform and direct the Evangelical movement as regards political action. They also want to broaden the political concerns of Evangelicals. There is more to political movement than gay marriage and abortion. Evangelicals need to be concerned with global initiatives, war, poverty, AIDS/HIV, etc.

Several key people were involved in drafting this statement: Timothy George, Dean, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University; Os Guinness, Author/Social Critic; Rich Mouw, President, Fuller Theological Seminary; David Neff, Vice President and Editor in Chief, Christianity Today Media Group; Dallas Willard, Professor of Philosophy, University of Southern California, Author. Notable absences include Religious Right people such as James Dobson.

If you would like to read the 19 page An Evangelical Manifesto go here.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, has written about why he is not going to sign the document here.
US News has an article about the release of the document here.
Here are some thoughts by Dr. Albert Mohler here and here and here.

I can't wait for N.T. Wright or Ben Witherington III to respond.

Phew! That is a lot of link love!

I plan to read this over the next day or so, and then post some of my thoughts on the document itself. If you read it and have some thoughts about it, feel free to comment here. It would be nice to discuss the issues it brings up.

A Blogger Friend

I haven't done this for awhile, but I need to. A friend of mine started blogging a while back, and you need to read her stuff...Funny!

Check it out, and let me know what you think... Crone and Bear It.

May 13, 2008

Looking Deep Inside is NOT the Right Direction

N.T. Wright says,
We have lived for too long in a world, and tragically even in a church, where...the wills and affections of human beings are regarded as sancrosanct as they stand, where God is required to command what we already love and to promise what we already desire. The implicit religion of many people today is simply to discover who they really are and then try to live it out-which is, as many have discovered, a recipe for chaotic, disjointed, and dysfunctional humanness. The logic of cross and resurrection, of the new creation which gives shape to all truly Christian living, points in a different direction.
The answer, as it turns out, is found in one of my favorite prayers from the Book of Common Prayer:
Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
What do you think?

May 12, 2008

Great Tools to Keep You On Top of Your To Do List and Life

Managing communication projects and freelance jobs requires that I keep on top of things. It is easy to lose track of what needs to be done if all my projects and ToDo Lists are spread all over the place. I have been trying to find better ways to manage all this. Since I spend a lot of time on the computer, the best place for me to go is online. As I have written before, I love Google products.

The customizable iGoogle homepage allows me to corral all my various products in one simple place. I use Gmail for my personal and blog e-mail. I use GoogleDocs to collaborate and to keep working documents in one place so I can find them either at work or at home. I use GoogleReader to handle all my my RSS feeds. I use GoogleNotebook to collect research and thoughts from various pages across the web. Google Calendar manages all the calendars I need (personal, work, and the Ohio State Football Schedule!).

And because these are housed online, I can access them from any computer anywhere in the world! Not to mention all the add-ons available if you use the Firefox browser!

Last year sometime, I signed on with Remember the Milk as an online ToDo List. I don't know if I just didn't use it properly or they have added a good deal of connectivity in the last year. But this week, I returned to them, and they are outstanding!

With the addon module it can connect to Firefox and integrate with my Gmail account. I can also put a gadget on my iGoogle homepage. And not, though it is still a subscription type of calendar, it connects to my Google Calendar!

If you need a ToDo List type of addition to keep your productivity on schedule...You couldn't do worse than Remember the Milk!

What do you use to make you more productive?

May 9, 2008

It's Enough to Make You Start Drinking

Nothing else needs be said!

Going to Church Makes Girls Work Harder

According to this article, women who attended church as a child work harder.

Here is a quote:
Researchers at the University of Georgia found that women who had attended religious services frequently (at least once a week) during childhood work about 80 additional hours per year when they are older.

Why do think this might be?

Maybe it gives a sense of calling and purpose. They are seeking what God would have them do, and then commit their lives to it. Anything you enjoy doing may be laborious, but it is not really work.

Maybe it gives a strong work ethic. People in the church are expected to work hard and make an impact. There is something about the "Protestant work ethic" that has been around for years. In order to be a "good Christian" you have to do a lot of stuff. I am not saying this is right, only an observation.

Maybe it is because we work for God not for a boss. Over the years, especially while planting the church, I learned that I do not work for a church board or a boss...I work first for God. My work must be pleasing to Him.

What do you think? Why might church girls work harder?

May 8, 2008

A Centerfold to Make You Drool!

A few weeks ago, I gave a friend some marital advice. "Every new project that your wife wants you to do ALWAYS requires a new tool." Craftsman is offering the 1,470 piece everything tool kit for $8,600. The picture is enough to make any tool lover drool.

But of of course we know it doesn't have EVERYTHING!

May 5, 2008

Iron Man

Que Ozzy Osbourne's Iron Man!

I am not usually a comic book movie buff. I thought Spiderman was okay, Batman was okay. The Incredible Hulk was horrible (although the new one looks good). Batman Begins was good.

On Saturday, my wife and I went to see with some friends. Normally neither of us would go to see it except we are social creatures and like to hang out with other people. (My wife still tried to talk all the wives into shifting theaters to see Made of Honor).

I have to say that I loved this movie. I thought Robert Downey Jr. was phenomenal in the role of Tony Stark...more than just the similarities. There were a lot of dry, funny lines. The story held together well, and I think this is due to Robert Downey's acting. He made a convincing transition from self-absorbed playboy to flawed superhero.

The message of peace was not a wishy-washy, let's-all-get-along message. It recognized the destructive nature of power and too many weapons, acknowledged personal responsibility to make things better, but also held on to the fact that force is, sometimes, needed.

All in all this is the best movie I have seen in awhile.

May 2, 2008

The Unused Power of the Bible

In Simply Christian N.T. Wright says,
The computer I'm writing on right now will do a thousand things, but I use it only for writing and for access to the Internet and email. In the same way, many Christians--whole generations of them, sometimes entire denominations--have in their possession a book which will do a thousand things not only in and for them but through them in the world. And they use it only to sustain the three or four things they already do. They treat it as a form of verbal wallpaper: pleasant enough in the background, but you stop thinking about it once you've lived in the house a few weeks. It really doesn't matter that I don't exploit more than a small amount of my computer's capability. But to be Christian while not letting the Bible do all the things it's capable of, through you and in you, is like trying to play the piano with your fingers tied together.
N.T. Wright is challenging me lately to think deeper and more actively about how my theology and practice cannot and should not be separated. They each inform and reflect each other. We need to be continually growing in our understanding of God and His activity in our world.