Friday, December 22, 2006

The Season of Love

This is how we have come to know love: He laid down His life for us.
--1 John 3:16a
People everywhere talk about the Spirit of Christmas, but what is the Spirit of Christmas? I suggest to you that the Spirit of Christmas is truly the Spirit of Christ. It is love, love for your neighbor and fellow man. The Spirit of Christmas, regardless of how the world might like to spin it, is shown best in the manger and on the cross. The Spirit of Christmas is absolutely a Christian thing because it is God's incredible love for the world that brought Christ to earth...the very essence of Christmas.
So, if you wonder how to get in the Christmas Spirit this season, just look to Christ. After all, He was a gift from God to humankind. He gave of Himself to all He encountered and He gave all of Himself on the cross so that we could live forever. Christ is the manifestation of the Christmas Spirit, let us all worship the King!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Engraved On The Palms of His Hands.

"Look, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands"
--Isaiah 49:16
In Knowing God by J.I. Packer, the author makes it his purpose to show that the most important aspect of our relationship with God is not that we know God, but rather that we are known by Him. Paul makes this point in Galatians 4:9 as he says you "have become known by God." Being known by God is more than being known by your best friend, however. In fact, being known by God is infinitely greater than even God being known by us.
As humans, we have a tendency to be absent minded on occasion. There are times when our minds are not concerned about the people we love. We may be occupied by a task or another relationship, and at that time we simply do not think about the other people in our lives. However, with God, it is completely different. He has inscribed us on the palms of His hands. In God's omniscience, omnipotence, and perfect love we are always on His mind. There is not a time when God is not loving you and me as His children. What an amazing thought that should drive us to the feet of our Father. Even in our worst moments, He is still loving us.
What an amazing God we serve who is able and willing to love us at all times; even though that love cost him the death of His own Son. He loved us when he was born of a virgin, and he loved us when he hung on the cross. He loves us even now in the midst of our imperfect lives...WHAT AN AMAZING GOD!

Monday, December 11, 2006

What Is Love?

"Love is patient; love is kind. Love does not envy; is not boastful; is not conceited; does not act improperly; is not selfish, is not provoked; does not keep a record of wrongs; finds no joy in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." --1 Corinthians 13:4-7
What is love? Well, the apostle Paul gave us a great definition in 1 Corinthians 13, but if that is not concrete enough for you, try this definition on for size. Love is a baby in a manger. That's right. If you ever wonder what love is, Christmas should be the perfect reminder for you. As you take time to look at the nativity scene in your home this year, pay attention to the baby in the manger. That is love right there. Talk about unselfish, not boastful, not envious...God, stepping down from the paradise of heaven where he is surrounded by praise always and coming to earth as a baby and being laid in a feed trough. WOW! If only we could love in the way that God loves.
What is love? If a baby in a manger is not good enough for you, try this one. Love is a Savior on a cross. Paul says that love keeps no record of wrong. Jesus must have loved us intensely to be willing to die on a cross for us to forgive our sins. The Bible says that God's forgiveness is different from man's forgiveness. According to Scripture, God casts our sins as far as the east is from the west. In other words, he keeps no record of our wrongs once we have come to him for forgiveness.
What is love? God is love! That is the message of the Bible. God loves you and desires to be in relationship with you. How much do you love God?


Fox News is reporting that an airport in Seattle, Washington has removed all of its Christmas decorations to avoid being offensive to anyone. Needless to say, the airport did not seem too concerned over the millions of Christians who are probably offended every Christmas by a society that works very hard to push anything that could be translated as Christian out of a holiday that would not even exist without Christ. But really, should Christians be surprised when Christ is pushed out of Christmas? Absolutely not, after all, it was Herod who tried to trick the Magi into giving up the Christ child so that he could have him killed.

There has been an effort to push Jesus away since he was born over two thousand years ago. The problem is not that people do not want Christ in Christmas, it is that Christ is not welcomed in their hearts. Welcoming Christ means accepting all that he had to say and all that he did. Needless to say, that is not a popular concept. The world desires to view Jesus Christ as some sort of rock star to be printed on T-Shirts, but of course, very few people are willing to accept Christ as he is. Not a rock-star, but the Rock of Ages. He is the Lord of the universe and he desires to be more than a conversation piece, he will settle for nothing less than total control over our lives, but it is up to us to surrender our control to him.

Why is Christ being removed from Christmas? It's not because the world hates Christians, they hate our Lord. We should not be surprised, he told us this was coming.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Prepare For Action

"Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being soberminded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ."
1 Peter 1:13
In this exciting letter, the apostle Peter warns his readers to prepare their minds for action. He goes on to instruct his readers to be holy. As Christians, we have all been called to the holy lifestyle of which Peter speaks. However, before he ever instructs his readers to live a holy life, he tells them to prepare their minds for action. The mind is the key to spiritual victory in all aspects of life.
Believe it or not, sin takes place in the mind long before it ever takes place in the body. If you want to be holy, if you desire to live up to the holy calling of Christ, you must not leave it up to chance. Those who maintain holy lives do so because they first prepare their minds for action. A holy life is lived by the person who first has a holy mind. The very first Psalm speaks of the blessings to come for the one who meditates on the law of the Lord. Why? Well, the blessings come because the meditations on the Lord bring about a life lived in devotion to the Lord. The Psalmist says "prepare your mind for action."
Rest assured, the devil will attack your mind long before he tempts your body. How will you respond, is your mind prepared for action to overcome the schemes of the evil one. Jesus said that even harboring sinful thoughts is sinful. Maybe one of the reasons for that is because Jesus knows that as we harp on sinful thoughts, we will most likely act on those thoughts in the future. Peter warns us to prepare our minds. The battle is coming, will you choose to think holy so that you can live holy?

Thursday, November 30, 2006

There is more

"If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied."
--1 Corinthians 15:19
It is really incredible to deeply consider paul's words here. For Christians, our hope really is all about eternity. without eternal reward, Christianity is pointless. As Americans, however, we focus so much on living for the now and we enjoy such freedom to worship that we've lost that sense of living for eternity. Martyrs the world over have understood what Paul meant. It is a worthy cause to die for Christ because the treasure for Christ's children is fournd in him, not in our own posessions or worldly ambitions. If he was merely a good man, we are to be most pitied. However, because he was more than a man, because he did rise from the dead, we can rejoice in his resurrection knowing that we will be joined to him in resurrection.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Subdue and Have Dominion

“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.”

What are we to do with this section from Psalm 24? It is a Psalm written to glorify God and to magnify his holiness. However, how can we consider these first two verses? As we look at the world around us, as we consider the way that we are called to “subdue and have dominion” over the earth that God has entrusted to us, we must always remember that we are merely stewards of this good land that God has given to us. As evangelical Christians, we understand our primary objective is to glorify God and to fulfill the Great Commission. However, I would challenge us to consider how it is that we are glorifying God in the way that we are managing the creation over which God has given us dominion.
I’m not writing to advocate tying ourselves to trees in Oregon or to suggest selling our SUV’s and buying hybrids. I only hope that in considering our responsibility to conservation and protection of the earth, we be always reminded that “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” What can we do daily to glorify God, not only in our Christian life and witness, but in the way that we steward His creation. To rightly determine our roles, we must divorce our thoughts and understandings from the political power play that is depicted in environmental concerns and search for truth and God’s will, not the will of a political party or activist group. Are we working to take the same care of God’s earth as we do our own homes?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Is Vision Really Necessary in the Church?

Vision casting is a big catch phrase in ministry today. A quick look through a Christian book store will yield more books on leadership than any person could be expected to read in the course of a year. Inevitably, all books on leadership within the church, and most on secular leadership, address vision casting in some form or another. Unfortunately, even with all of the information available on vision casting, many churches and church leaders are yet to grasp the concept or to see the need for casting vision beyond their current situation. The purpose of this paper is to examine relevant literature and classroom material that deals with vision casting and to determine the need for new vision and appropriate ways to cast and implement vision in the local church.
It is sad to note that even after many years of writing and teaching on leadership and vision casting, there is still little fruit to show for the efforts. There continues to be such a great need for visionary leaders that the book market is filled with leadership material. Vision casting has become such a huge market in our current church culture that some men, such as Andy Stanley, have based nearly their entire writing ministry on vision and leadership. But before anyone can properly cast vision, it is essential that vision be understood. In his 2001 book, Visioneering, Stanley lays the “blueprint” for establishing personal vision. The first chapter of that book defines vision as that which is “formed in the hearts of those who are dissatisfied with the status quo…Something that should be done…the element that catapults men and women out of the realm of passive concern and into action” (Stanley 2001a, 17). On the same page, Stanley quotes Aristotle who says “The soul never thinks without a picture.”
Webster’s 1970 edition of The New World Dictionary lists six definitions for vision, the fourth says that vision is, “the ability to foresee or perceive something not actually visible, as through mental acuteness.” Myles Munroe says, “Vision is the ability to see farther than your physical eyes can look” (Munroe 2003, 17). According to George Barna, “Vision transcends time” (Barna 2003, 15). Yet another author says vision includes optimism and faith and is venturous (Sanders 1994, 56). Jim Collins sees vision a bit differently. His “hedgehog concept” is realizing the one thing you were called to do well and focusing and filtering all other ideas through that one concept (Collins 2001).
Biblically, a vision can be several things. Isaiah had a vision of the Lord in the temple. Samuel’s vision of the Lord in 1 Samuel 3 was auditory and apparently not even visible since Samuel responded by going to Eli three times before receiving the vision through the voice of the Lord. Paul’s vision of the Lord was both in Word and sight as he experienced the resurrected Lord on the way to Damascus. In Hebrews, faith is described in the ESV as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Needless to say, the definitions for vision are seemingly endless; but for the purpose of this paper and to understand the appropriate use within the church all of these definitions are important. However, since the basic definition of “vision” suggests that it is clearly seen, a definition of the term must be given for this paper. The definition of vision as understood by the author and as intended by this paper is, seeing beyond current situations and circumstances into the clear and necessary possibilities of the future. Vision means knowing where the ship is going, even if the captain is not completely sure how to get there. Even in the midst of the storm, the vision of the captain is not on the waves and winds, but rather his port of destination. Vision enables the captain to maneuver through the obstacles of maritime travel because he knows where he is going.
Having established then a clear definition for vision, vision casting becomes a relatively easy term to define. Vision casting is the process of making the vision known. The ship captain “casts vision” by telling his crew their port of destination. Jesus, cast his vision to the disciples by telling them where they would go and what they would do, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth,” but he did not tell them exactly how it would all happen. John Maxwell says, “All great leaders share their dream with others (Maxwell 2003, 60). Vision casting is not necessarily a road map, but it is an address.
Effective vision casters—or visionaries—are those people who are focused on their vision and not on the processes of their church, company, or organization. Much has been written in recent years on the failure of systems seen in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries because of advances in technology. Visions are the catalyst for creating systems. Systems may fail, but those systems that have been created in response to a vision have the ability to change and adapt because the end result (achieving the vision) is the goal, the process of production is merely the means by which the goal is reached. True visionaries in the church build their ministries around their vision and not vice versa. It is for this reason that visionaries are able and willing to change worship styles, or small group structures. The effective vision casting leader places focus on the vision of the church (you may fill in the blank to fit your vision here) rather than on the carpet color, music style, the church bus, or the traditions of the specific church in which they are ministering.
Unfortunately, effective visionary churches seem to be the exception rather than the rule today. Perhaps the reason that most churches are not living by vision is because most churches have no explicit vision. Leaders of previous generations tend to rely on the systems present within the church rather than on vision to guide the church. For example, a visionary pastor with a vision to glorify God in worship will make necessary changes in the worship to be confident that God is glorified in the service. A pastor stuck in the paradigm of previous generations will hold firm to old traditions because that is the way that the church has always worked. The leader stuck in old paradigms fails to recognize that the systems present within the church today are in place because there was a vision in the past and the systems of the church (whether worship style, government, Sunday School or a wide variety of other things) were created in response to that vision.
Because the old systems have failed, it is essential then that pastors take their hands off of history and dream toward the future. The most terrifying aspect of scrapping old systems in view of new future vision is leaving the security of those systems behind. Erwin McManus, in his book Chasing Daylight, talks about the fear of the unknown in the future. McManus uses Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as an example of people who let go of the past and stepped into an uncertain future following their vision. If their vision was to see God honored even in exile, their purpose statement certainly was not “step into a blazing furnace.” Surely those three young men would rather have experienced the presence of God in the temple; however, they were willing to face an uncertain future as long as it was in line with their vision. There was security for those three boys in silent and secluded prayers, but the future was uncertain when their faith was found out and exposed in public. God, however, honored both their willingness to pursue him in an unusual circumstance and their decision to be true to their vision (McManus 2002, 100).
The future is uncharted territory; it always brings some level of risk and discomfort with it. The future in the absence of a security blanket can be downright terrifying. Before being overly critical of pastors who do not embrace vision, it is worth noting that no God-called pastor desires to see membership decline and churches die. The problem is not desire, the problem is fear. The new way, Visioneering, as Stanley puts it, is scary, but it is necessary. It is necessary because the Great Commission is still not complete and the church is still called to be actively spreading the gospel. Surely Paul had no idea early in his ministry how he was going to accomplish the task put before him by God. However, near the end of his life, he does not tell King Agrippa, “I did it the same way I’ve always done.” No, in Acts 26:19 Paul says, ‘I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.” Paul did not always know the way, but he knew the destination. God gave Paul a vision, and it was this vision that kept him on track.
Realizing that overcoming the fear of change is essential for the church to grow, the process of establishing vision is a necessary task before vision can be cast or implemented. Aubrey Malphurs, in Planting Growing Churches for the 21st Century, suggests six elements that are necessary in every vision. “First, a vision is clear” and easily communicated and understood. “Second, a vision challenges.” Any idea that does not challenge is not a vision. “Third, a vision consists of a mental picture.” The leader should be able to visualize in his or her mind the vision lived out. ”Next, a vision relates to the future.” If it relates to now, it’s a news report, not a vision. “Fifth, a vision can be.” In other words, vision is a noun and a verb, all at the same time. The vision must be understood and seen (noun) as well as lived out in the life of the church (verb). “Finally, a vision must be. A critical sense of urgency [must exist] about a vision” (Malphurs 1998, 264).
Malphurs goes on from describing the necessary elements of a vision to giving an outline of six events for establishing vision. Those events are very functional, but the main idea is to pray hard and specific about developing a vision, dream big, and take plenty of time. Great visions usually do not appear overnight. The vision for a church or other ministry may indeed be many months in the making. However, if good things come to those who wait, then the aspiring visionary can rest assured that the time and effort put into a meaningful vision will reap rewards in the future. God’s timing may not be the preferred timetable of the future leader, but “those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:31). Strong, clear vision that is in line with God’s will is an invaluable ministry tool.
Once a clear and definite vision has been established, it must be clearly communicated and implemented. If the vision is urgent, as Malphurs suggests it must be, then a sense of urgency about implementation should and must accompany the communication of the vision. Change is always uncomfortable. The leader, therefore, must understand that people will need a good reason to change. A sense of urgency communicates a good reason for change and motivates people to accept and live out the vision. Often times the sense of urgency is communicated through education.
Aubrey Malphurs, in Advanced Strategic Planning, points out that a growth curve is present in every living organism and organization in the world. There is always a growth phase, a plateau phase, and then a decline phase. Educating a congregation on the realities of the growth curve is a beginning point for instilling a sense of urgency. That urgency can be further stressed as the congregation is shown where they are on the curve. For instance, a congregation who begins to understand the growth curve and discovers that they are in the plateau stage will know that the stage of decline is just around the corner. A church that finds itself in the decline stage should realize that survival mode is necessary, and even a growing church will realize that growth will not continue without beginning a new “S-curve” (A growth curve follows the general shape of an S, and is thus referred to as an “S-curve.”). Education gives birth to urgency (Malphurs 2005).
Once a sense of urgency has been created within the congregation, they are more likely to be open to the new vision of their leader which can lead them into “greener pastures.” In other words, people will only be open to a “fix” for the church when they see that there is a problem. Educating the congregation about growth curves, and then encouraging the congregation to gauge itself honestly along the “S” curve reveals the reality of the current or soon coming plateau or decline within the organization. Once the problem is perceived by the church, the pastor and leadership team are given fertile ground upon which to cast their vision and see it take root.
The vision is essential at the stage of urgency because a congregation aware of a poor future is likely to become urgent with or without a definite vision. Urgency without vision results in chaos. This would be comparable to pulling a fire alarm in a crowded school without any plan of evacuation. Urgency with vision results in passionate and productive work toward seeing the vision realized. In this scenario, the illustration is of the same school during a fire drill with an organized plan of evacuation. Vision establishes order.
The convergence of vision and urgency is seen throughout history in the casting of many great visions. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech serves as one of the great vision casting moments in American history. However, King’s “Dream,” announced at any other time in history might not have found an audience. But, during the height of the civil rights movement, when minorities in America felt the urgency for equal status in society, King delivered a vision that united the movement. The results of King’s vision are now evident in America today, where his dream of equal rights has been realized.
Implementing the vision, however, will not happen overnight. The vision must be communicated clearly and overwhelmingly. In a church setting, any successful vision must be cast by the pastor. His belief in the vision will empower others to buy into the vision. The pastor must cast the vision from the pulpit first. The pastor has authority on the basis of his position in the church, and the pastor’s authority is perceived to be greatest when he speaks from the pulpit. Therefore, the vision must be cast first by the pastor and it must be cast from the pulpit. However, one mention of the vision or promoting the vision in only one way is not a sufficient way to cast a pastor’s vision for the church.
Establishing urgency, casting the vision, and then seeing the vision carried out is spelled out by John P. Kotter as an eight stage process. Kotter, writing form a secular perspective, gives a very helpful paradigm for the process of vision casting that ends with the “anchoring” of the vision into the culture of the organization. His eight stage process is:
1. Establishing a sense of urgency
2. Creating the guiding coalition
3. Developing a Vision and Strategy
4. Communicating the change vision
5. Empowering broad-based action
6. Generating short term wins
7. Consolidating gains and producing more change
8. Anchoring new approaches in the culture (Kotter 1996, 21)
A new vision for a local church must permeate all aspects of the ministry. The pastor must be the primary vision caster; but for a vision to move from ink and paper to action in the church, the leadership of the church must be convinced of the need for and usefulness of the vision. The church leadership, which may include staff, deacons, elders, board members, or other key leaders, must work to support and cast the vision as well. These leaders would be the equivalent of Kotter’s guiding coalition. The purpose of the “coalition” is to guide the organization, in this case the church, through the process of implementing the new vision.
All ministries of the church should seek in some way to provide education about the vision of the church. This is, in Kotter’s terminology, the broad-based action. The church must put into action its vision throughout the organization, not only in the front office or the worship service. Sunday School, small groups, senior adults, youth, and all other ministries of the church must take the new vision seriously enough to act upon the vision. Malphurs says that every activity within the body of the church represents an opportunity to communicate the message (Malphurs 2005, 64). The broad-based action of the church to execute the vision within each smaller ministry results in the execution of the vision by the larger church over all.
The vision should also be referred to in some way on print publications, church bulletins, and websites. If a vision is to take root in the fertile soil of urgency, the vision must be cast far and wide. Scripture plainly says that the one who sows sparingly will reap sparingly. The same is true for the vision of the church. If the vision is not cast far and wide, the leader should not expect that the vision will be accepted by a large number of congregants. However, if the leadership of the church believes in the vision and in the possibility of a brighter future and works to spread the excitement of the vision, the visionary can and should expect to see the vision carried out in the life of the church.
As a final note on communication, nothing should be assumed in the communication of a new vision within the local church. The story is told of Vince Lombardi, one of the greatest NFL coaches of all time, that he started the first practice of every season in the locker room with a football in his hand. To his professional football players, Lombardi would show the football and say, “this is a football.” From there Lombardi explained his coaching strategy and their team objectives, but he assumed nothing and communicated everything. The pastor, leadership, and guiding coalition of a church during a new vision must assume nothing and communicate everything.
Once the vision is actively being pursued within the church, then the visionary leader is liberated to continue developing vision for the church. The freedom to do this will be given as the church finds small wins upon which it can celebrate. Andy Stanley refers to this process as “clarifying the win” (Stanley, audio). The clearly defined win will result in celebration. As the church sees the results of the pastor’s vision, the church will empower the pastor to continue implementing change upon which the church can be built. This is Kotter’s concept of consolidating gains and producing more change. In the church, one example is seen in new members. New membership will add to the overall workforce of the church. As the church is blessed with a greater number of laborers, the harvest can be even more plentiful. The visionary pastor in this situation, then, is faced with the task of implementing changes that incorporate expanded membership into the ministry of the church. A church engrossed in celebration and success can accept that change is good and beneficial.
As mentioned earlier in this paper, a great vision does not mean that there will not be uncertainty. In fact, uncertainty is the reason that vision is needed. Vision provides clarity in the midst of uncertainty. Andy Stanley suggests that leaders are allowed to be uncertain, but they must always be clear. Further he states, “The goal of leadership is not to eradicate uncertainty, but rather to manage it” (Stanley 2003, 84). “Uncertainty will not be your undoing as a leader. However, your inability to give a clear directive in the midst of uncertainty might very well be the thing that takes you out or causes you to plateau early in your career” (Stanley 2003, 98). People can trust a transparent leader who admits his fears and uncertainty as long as they are confident that the leader can navigate them through the future, regardless of what it may hold.
The visionary pastor is not a fortune teller, but he is a leader. The visionary leader is willing to say “I don’t know,” but he also says “but, we’ll find a way.” Many writers today use the term coaching in reference to leadership. This is an apt term because coaches can never predict what will happen during the course of an athletic event, but their game plan (or vision) enables them to adapt and adjust to address every situation on the court or playing field. The 21st Century is defined by rapid change. For the church to thrive in this new era, pastors and other leaders must develop and implement vision that will enable the church to address the ever changing future while remaining true to the sacred past and the command of God’s word.
The old adage holds true, if you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time. The church aiming at nothing is nearly always satisfied, but it is never living to its full potential. The church without clearly defined vision is like a person stumbling in the darkness. The apostle Paul was not content to stumble in the darkness, instead he pressed on toward a goal. Paul had a vision and he overcame all obstacles because he knew where he was going. In the book of Acts, as quoted earlier, Paul tells Felix, “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.” Paul knew he was obedient because he was sure of his purpose…he had a vision.
People, for the most part, do not like change. This is especially true within the church. Human beings are creatures of habit and ideas that threaten those habits are often met with opposition. However, for a church to reach its full potential, change is essential because those habits to which people become so addicted create ruts into which Christians often fall. Those ruts, over time, are dug deep, often so deep that church members can see only themselves within the ruts and not the possibilities of God outside of the ruts. Change is the automatic byproduct of an active vision. Change is not always comfortable, but change that is in line with God’s will keeps the church’s faith energized and its community excited. Routines bring order and stability, but they also put people to sleep. Visionary leaders wake up the church to do the work of the Lord.
Implementing new vision will not be easy, and the older a church is, the more difficult it will be to spur it onward to change. So, is it really worth the effort? Absolutely! Not only is vision casting worth the effort within the church, it is essential for the life of a congregation. The question that must be asked by all pastors, leaders, deacons, lay people, and even entire churches is not, “is it worth it,” but rather “can we afford not to implement new vision?” Churches holding on to a Twentieth Century paradigm for ministry and leadership will attract people with a Twentieth Century mindset. Those people will feel very comfortable and their mindset will not be challenged. However, the church will not adapt to the changing culture and as a result, the church will slowly waste away as members of the old paradigm pass away. Pastors and other leaders within the church must wake up and realize that the current model is broken and will be broken again in a short time as the world rushes by. The church model must be “fixed” and the fix will come through visionary leaders who prayerfully develop and institute exciting vision for the new century.

Barna, George. 1993. The Power of Vision. Ventura, CA: Regal Books.

Blanchard, Ken, and Phil Hodges. 2003. The Servant Leader. Nashville, TN: J. Countryman.

Collins, Jim. 2001. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t.
New York: Harper Collins Publishers.

Cionca, John R. 2004. Before you Move: A Guide to Making Transitions in Ministry. Grand
Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

Kotter, John P. 1996. Leading Change. Boson, Massachusetts: Harvard Business School

Malphurs, Aubrey. 1998. Planting Growing Churches for The 21st Century. Grand Rapids,
Michigan: Baker Books.

Malphurs, Aubrey. 2005. Advanced Strategic Planning. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker

Maxwell, John C. 2003. Equipping 101: What Ever Leader Needs to Know. Nashville:
Thomas Nelson Publishers.

McManus, Erwin Raphael. 2002. Chasing Daylight. Nashville, TN: Nelson Books.

Monroe, Myles. 2003. The Principles and Power of Vision. New Kensington, PA: Whitaker
House Publishing.

Prime, Derek, and Alistair Begg. 2004. On Being a Pastor. Chicago: Moody Publishers.

Rainer, Thom S. 2001. Surprising Insights from The Unchurched, and Proven Ways To
Reach Them. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Sanders, J. Oswald. 1994. Spiritual Leadership: Principles of Excellence for Every Believer.
Chicago: Moody Press.

Stanley, Andy. 2001. Visioneering: God’s Blueprint for Developing and Maintaining Personal
Vision. Oregon: Multinomah Publishers, Inc.

Stanley, Andy. 2003. The Next Generation Leader. Oregon: Multinomah Publishers, Inc.

Stanley, Andy. 2003. Practically Speaking (downloadable audio from Northpoint Community

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Ministry of Reconciliation

What is the church really called to be? I think that is a question that we do not ponder often enough. Sure, the church is about the five purposes that Rick Warren has shown us. Further, the church is not about me, but is about the glory of God. But, what does all of that mean? How is the church to give God all of the glory?

These are questions that I have pondered lately. Through some reading, and some praying, and some thinking, I think I have a few answers and they can all be summed up in one word concerning what the church is to be about: "Reconciliation." The church is to be all about reconciliation. Think about it, the church is the extension of Christ's ministry and is his body on the earth. Christ came to earth, lived, died, and rose again to reconcile mankind to God. Jesus founded the church as a community of sinners reconciled to God and cleansed of their sins through faith in Christ.

Further, the church is to be a community of reconciliation with the world. The church exists to glorify God and to carry out the Great Commission. If the church is indeed working to carry out the Great Commission, then the church is working to reconcile the world to Christ through evangelism. Missions is a ministry of Reconciliation.

Lastly, the church, if it is to be about reconciliation, must be about reconciliation between believers. The church must not about "forgive and forget, "or "just don't worry about it," or even "ignore it and it will go away." The church is about reconciliation, and reconciliation forces the church to deal with reality and to call a spade a spade, a sin a sin, and a praise a praise. Matthew 18 says that we are to approach our brothers when we are offended, not to ignore the offense. Paul goes on in 1 Corinthians to say that all of our actions should be done with love.

The ministry of reconciliation is not about retaliation, it is about love within a community of faith. The ministry of reconciliation recognizes that Christ died to reconcile us to himself and that the Spirit of Christ is unity. Division is never of God or glorifying to God. Reconciliation, however, is an extension of Christ's grace. As the church, let's focus on loving enough to do the hard work of reconciliation with our world, and with one another. What a beautiful picture it would be if the body of Christ looked and acted like the redeeming and reconciling Christ all of the time.

For more on this, see Making Peace by Jim Van Yeperen

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Parents: The Ultimate Servant Leaders

Though I am not a parent yet, I am convinced that good, Godly parents represent one of the best models for servant leadership. As I reflect on my years at home, on my years on my own, and even now on my year (plus a couple of months) as a husband, my parents have always modeled true servant leadership in their home and in our family. I am hard pressed to recount the number of liberties that my parents surrendered to provide a godly home. I feel confident that my father could have become a better businessman or fisherman and my mom a more prominant woman in the community or gardener, or a whole host of other things, but they chose to sacrifice much of their own personal life to ensure that my brother and I received the love, care, attention, and training that we needed.

Good parents point to the accomplishments of their children as their children's accomplishments, and not an extension of their own success. Parenting, like other leadership, takes patience and time and requires the sacrifice of many activities that may seem in the short-term to be more enjoyable or fulfilling. However, all leaders reap the rewards of their sacrifices not in the short-term, but in the long-range success of their students, families, churches, and/or organizations.

As I talk about my dad, I am reminded of the aggravation my brother and I must have caused him. We talked with him recently about one song that we used to play over and over again in his truck. Surely he grew annoyed with the repetition of that song, maybe to such a degree that it would have been easier to leave us at home with our mom (though I'm sure she wouldn't agree with that) rather than carry us along as he ran errands. But, he doesn't remember the annoying song as much as the time we spent together. The same is true of me and my brother, we remember the rides more than the song. I bet that the same is true of all great leaders and their apprentices. In the big scheme of things, the small annoyances fade into the dark places of the mind, but the long-term success of the underling becomes the crowning achievement of the servant leader.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Are We All Postmodern?

While in Indonesia, we talked some about Spiritual Warfare and the concept of the "excluded middle" in western culture as set forth by Dr. Paul Hiebert. As westerners, we have become so dependent upon and trusting of science and technology, that we tend to doubt anything that can't be explained scientifically or logically. To a large degree, we have worked to kill the concept of spirituality.

Having just read the account of Elisha making the axe head float in 2 Kings 6, I am reminded that this is a favorite target for liberal scholars to cast doubt upon biblical credibility. According to many, if it seems unbelievable then it is impossible, or at least, improbable.

However, in "less advanced" Eastern cultures, these extraordinary stories are accepted without question. The people of these cultures believe in and experience unexplainable spiritual phenomena regularly, so miracles are relatively easy to accept. As many might explain, they simply know no better; an advanced scientific mind expects that miracles are surely explainable with more knowledge and understanding.

I believe this points to an interesting reality. Generally, people are more "post-modern" by disposition than even "post-moderns" realize or are willing to admit. Everyone more readily accepts or believes things that agree with their own experiences than things that do not. Indonesians, for example, are untrusting of a simple cleaner like bleach because they are unfamiliar with it, the can not see it work. Yet, many in that culture believe that wet means clean simply because they can watch water wash away dirt (surely, this is a place where science would be very valuable because the could see the effects of bleach on germs and bacteria). Whether we like to admit it or not, experience usually trumps all else.

All cultures and people are shaped by experiences. As western Christians, we fight for the credibility of the Bible against opposition from the outside. We even struggle with ourselves to understand miracles recorded in Scripture. However, maybe even the fight is partially a result of our cultural indoctrination. The Bible is truth, it is God's Word given to man and God can never lie. God is truth and His word is a trustworthy foundation, not because I say so, but because God says so. Try as they may, man can never strip away the credibility of God's Word, because truth is not based on our experiences, rather it is realized in the Son of God, the embodiment of truth, who is, "The way, the truth and the life."

Borrowed, For Your Enjoyment

I thought that two following entries from Dr. Albert Mohler's blog were worth passing along. Since I believe he says it better than I can, I decided it would be best to allow him to say it. His blog can be found at

"It's Always a Disaster" -- Young People on Marriage

Posted: Wednesday, August 09, 2006 at 4:09 am ET

The Boston Globe offers a frightening view of marriage in the eyes of young African-Americans. The article is haunting as it reveals the bleak view of marriage held by these young people:

``I'm not looking forward to marriage," says Nakeeda Burns , a 17-year-old resident of Revere and daughter of a single mother, ``and I don't think we [people in general] should be married, because I see how other marriages ended up in my family and on television. It's always a disaster."

Even the married couples these teens know don't seem particularly happy. ``All of my friends who are married, they tell me not to get married," says Anderson Felix , 17, of Dorchester. `` `Wifey is going to keep you on lock.' `Everywhere you go, she'll call you every five minutes.' I won't be able to deal with that."

Anita Marshall blurts out, ``I want a big wedding if I get married," but she doesn't think she'll make it to the altar. Her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother were married; now they're all divorced.


Their disillusionment mirrors a growing resistance to marriage among African-Americans. In the post-Civil War era, when African-Americans had the option to marry legally for the first time, many did. The 1890 Census showed that 80 percent of African-American families were headed by two parents, according to Andrew Billingsley 's 1992 book, ``Climbing Jacob's Ladder: The Enduring Legacies of African-American Families ."

But in 1970, census figures showed that only 57 percent of black men and 54 percent of black women were married. By last year those numbers had slipped to 42 percent for men and 35 percent for women. In comparison, 68 percent of white men and 63 percent of white women were married in 1970, vs. 59 percent of men and 57 percent of women in 2005.

This is not only a matter of demography -- but of worldview and the future of marriage as an institution. When young people see marriage as a "disaster" in the making, something essential to civilzation and human happiness is lost.

The Accommodating Middle

Posted: Friday, August 04, 2006 at 2:27 am ET
Robert A. J. Gagnon, Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, has contributed some of the most important biblical scholarship on the question of homosexuality and the New Testament. He is also a committed churchman who writes with outrage and grief over his denomination's recent vote to allow what amounts to a local option on the issue of ordaining practicing homosexuals to the ministry.

In a recent paper, Professor Gagnon responds to Professor Mark Achtemeier of the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, a member of the Task Force that brought the proposal adopted by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) [See this news article].
In this important section, Professor Gagnon rejects the position that poses as a "middle" option. The entire paper deserves a careful reading, but this section is mandatory:

The truth is that Prof. Achtemeier has truncated the gospel definition of grace, which includes God caring enough about us to turn us from self-dishonoring, self-degrading sexual behavior that mars the image of God stamped on our sexual being to God-honoring, life-sustaining sexual behavior that enhances that image. Here too Prof. Achtemeier would have done well to compare Rom 1:24-27 with 6:12-23: Whereas God's wrath is manifested in giving persons over to the mastery of pre-existing impulses for sexual "uncleanness," of which impulses for same-sex intercourse are a paradigmatic instance, God's grace is now manifested in delivering us from the primary lordship of such impulses so that we no longer put our bodies at the disposal of such "uncleanness" (Rom 1:24; 6:19).

It is a terrible thing to manipulate the text of Scripture to advance what is essentially an anti-Scriptural agenda. There can never be true Christ-centered unity around the toleration of sexual immorality that would have appalled, and does appall, Jesus. The church should be about graciously and humbly recovering the lost, not training them to be content with their lost condition.

In all too many cases of theological declension in denominations, the forces of theological and moral revisionism are "enabled" by an accommodationist "middle" faction that refuses to draw essential biblical distinctions or to defend necessary theological and biblical boundaries.
See "I Am of the Middle": The Subgroup of the "Middle" and Its Accommodation to Sexual Immorality / A Response to Mark Achtemeier by Robert A. J. Gagnon, Ph.D., July 12, 2006. See other resources at

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

We're Home

We are home. Thank you for all of your prayers and support. We have tons of exciting news to share and good stories to tell, but there will be plenty of time for that later. Our flight home was nice, especially because it was shorter than the flight over there. For now, we are working to overcome jetlag and get settled in at home.

Thanks for checking in and contine to do so, I'll be sure to post more about our experiences in coming days.

Friday, July 28, 2006

A Real Shower

Last night a few of us had the opportunity to stay with an American family working on a teaching farm on the island of Sumatra. It was wonderful to sleep in a bed and have a warm shower. It has been interesting to learn of the different farming techniques used here and to see the other things being accomplished through this project.

Needless to say, as the time draws nigh, we are growing more and more excited about being at home, but we are really enjoying our time here. Continue to pray for us, we leave for home on Monday about noon (that's around 12 am for all of you at home).

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Panas sekali

That means very hot. Today was really the first day that the heat got to us. The heat level has exceded South Carolina finally, but it was still a great day. We did some more clean up and Angela and the other girls visited with a family and prayed for one of the children who has sores of some kind in his mouth. The family was encouraged and our women were excited to establish relationships that can carry over beyond this trip.

Today was the last day for Angela and I here in the earthquake region. Tomorrow she and I will leave with three other members from our team to visit an agricultural project on a different island. I am hoping to see a monkey while we are there, if I do, we'll be sure to have plenty of pictures. Maybe we could even get one home to play with Rowdy (that's our dog for those of you who do not know him).

We only have three full days left here and part of two of those days will be spent in travel. We are excited to get back home, but are sad to leave our friends here and the people who have touched our hearts. There is such a need here. We are humbled and thankful to have been able to help in anyway possible, with physical and spiritual needs. Please continue to pray that our work here will not stop when we leave, but that fruits of our labor will be seen for years to come as the soil we have tilled is planted and springs forth fruit in accord with the will of God.

Have a great weekend if we do not get to post before it ends. Someone remind our parents that we need a ride on Tuesday, and Angela wants Rowdy to be waiting at the airport (she has him a bit spoiled, she says he is merely over-loved).

Anyone up for the Beacon on Wednesday? (we had curry brains on our table tonight..mmmm)

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Not Much To Say

We are at a loss for words today, just wanted to let everyone know we are great. We love you all...

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


We're not sure what it is about this culture, but we get tired so early. It could be the fact that we are up so early. I haven't slept past 6:00 am yet, most mornings we are up by 5 or 5:30. It's insane. Needless to say, by the time we post these blogs, we struggle to keep our eyes open and then walk back to our bedrooms (it's more like a bunkhouse, guys on one side, girls on the other).

Today, however, I just want to brag a bit on our team. We are surrounded by some wonderful people who are truly passionate about their cause here. We feel tremendously blessed to spend this time with them. I truly wish that each of you reading this would have the opportunity to meet and spend time with our entire team. Words really just do not do them justice.

There really isn't any news from today, just continued to move rocks and spend time with the people here. We are confident that we are tilling the ground and leaving fertile soil in our wake. There is a process involved in this kind of work, and we anticipate results not only now, but far into the future. Please pray for those future endeavors.


We're not sure what it is about this culture, but we get tired so early. It could be the fact that we are up so early. I haven't slept past 6:00 am yet, most mornings we are up by 5 or 5:30. It's insane. Needless to say, by the time we post these blogs, we struggle to keep our eyes open and then walk back to our bedrooms (it's more like a bunkhouse, guys on one side, girls on the other).

Today, however, I just want to brag a bit on our team. We are surrounded by some wonderful people who are truly passionate about their cause here. We feel tremendously blessed to spend this time with them. I truly wish that each of you reading this would have the opportunity to meet and spend time with our entire team. Words really just do not do them justice.

There really isn't any news from today, just continued to move rocks and spend time with the people here. We are confident that we are tilling the ground and leaving fertile soil in our wake. There is a process involved in this kind of work, and we anticipate results not only now, but far into the future. Please pray for those future endeavors.

Monday, July 24, 2006

So Much Debris...

We continue to work to clean up debris in the villages from the earthquake. Some of the villages here have been nearly totally destroyed. However, it is exciting to help others rebuild their lives and to show hope in the midst of despair. The most exciting aspect is knowing that we are interacting with people of different faiths and giving them a positive view of Christianity.

Please continue to pray that those whom we encounter will see Christ in us. The perception of Christianity here is not great, but with each brick we remove and floor we sweep and vegetable we chop (the girls have helped in some of the cooking) we are removing barriers and giving people of other faiths a transparent view into the heart of Christianity and the love of Christ. God has used the events and disasters of recent history here to bring hope.

We hope and pray that each of you had a wonderful Lord's Day and we look forward to worshipping at home again soon.

On a more exciting note, we are bringing home tons and tons of pictures...even of KFC. KFC is huge here because the people love chicken. Tonight we bought ice cream sundaes there for $.75 and cones for $.14.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Church in Bahasa Indonesia

Bahasa means language. This morning we attended a local church. We were blessed to worship with our brothers and sisters from a different country. The sermon reminded us that regardless of our language and cultural barriers, we are united as one in Christ's sufferings and His word is not contained anywhere, but is free for all to experience. We do miss the opportunity to worship with our church, but we feel blessed to be where we are doing the work of the Lord.

Many of you will be excited to hear that even on the other side of the world, I have already had a Sunday nap and plan to have another. Worship here starts at 8:00 in the morning. The people were very cordial and seemed truly happy to have us in their worship service this morning.

It is kind of hard to believe that we have been here over a week now. We actually have only a week left and part of that will be spent in travel. Please continue to pray that we will be effective witnesses and workers in the short time we have left here. We are confident of God's sovereign will here and are convinced that He will bring about His good purposes as He sees fit.

We have enjoyed the comments that have been left and look forward to others, it is exciting each day to come to the internet cafe and read the words from home. Please stay in touch and keep us informed of the things going on at home.

Oh...and by the way, I haven't eaten any more intestines, but I did have Baskin Robbins's a tough job but somebody's got to do it.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Ahh...Western Toilets

Sorry if that seems a bit vulgar, but until you have been without western style toilets, you can't really appreciate them. The culture here uses a toilet that amounts mostly to a hole in the ground, but we have found a few places that appeal to us westerners and we are grateful for that...but enough about that.

We apologize for not posting yesterday, but it got late in a hurry and we were totally worn out. We toured an ancient bhuddist temple. At the top of the structure, we stopped and read scripture. It was really a special time to be reminded that we serve the true God.

Today we had off as well, so we spent it doing some sightseeing. We toured a silver factory and got incredible deals on silver jewelry for Angela, but I won't brag about that. We also toured the old part of the city where we are staying and saw some ancient structures and breathdtaking view of Mt. Merapi spewing smoke in light cloud cover, we have pictures.

Tomorrow we are worshipping in some local churches. A couple of our guys are preaching with interpreters. Please pray for them, we are excited. Our work will begin again on Monday, but we try each opportunity we have with the locals we encounter to share our stories and our hope with them. We love to see our team members share their stories as we pray for them and look for our own opportunities. God has indeed been good to us and we look forward to his continued faithfulness.

Angela is rushing me, so we'll be sure to give you some more info tomorrow. Please contine to pray for us.

Oh, and P.S. I got a blowgun and I am an expert already...Angela is soooo excited.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Good Day

Today was a great day. We realized for the first time just how much impact we can have while we are here. Angela and several of the ladies did puppets and ministered to some ladies and children here. She also enjoyed fellowship in the home of a native Ibu (mother) with the other girls from our team. One of the Muslim ladies was impressed with the way that Christians could relate to her. Her stereotype of Christians was very negative, she was shocked at how nice Christians are and how much fun they can be.

My group continued to work with the same church where we have been all week. It is exciting to have a presence in the native communities to show them a different side of America and Christianity than they expect to see. Please continue to pray that the Christian image will be elevated to the level of holiness and love to which Christ has called his children.

We are reminded today that we come to this land with a message of hope. We come to share the light with people in need and distress. Indonesia has been shaken and the people here are anxious for hope. We pray that our efforts rock sterotypes and open doors for hope to be realized in this nation.

Starting tomorrow we have some time off, we are going to visit an ancient Hindu (or Bhuddist, can't remember) temple near here. We'll be sure to get lots of pictures. We hope everyone is well.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Intestines...They aren't just for digestion any more.

So, this morning I ate intestines. I didn't know what it was until tonight, but needless to say, it was NASTY. Other than that, today was wonderful. The temperature was a bit warmer, but everything was great. Angela got to spend some time cooking, sort of. Maybe when we get home, she can cook intestines for everyone.

Angela spent some time with some Indonesian believers today. She was excited that they all sang together. As the Indonesian women sang, she recognized some of the hymns and sang along. God's children can worship him even through the barrier of language and Angela experienced that today.

This morning, I spent my quiet time next to an open sewer. It really stinks, but I was reminded that God is present among us regardless of where we are. On the other side of the world, the same God present in Spartanburg is active in our lives. God is great and we look forward to the lives he is changing.

More to come in the future, especially about the church we have helped to repair.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


Last night we were beat and really did not have time to share our exciting experience as we posted our blog entry. We went do Mt. Merapi, the volcano that has been active in Indonesia of late, and watched it spew lava from about three miles away. It was truly incredible to see the hand of God at work in nature. We indeed serve an amazing God. It was better than fireworks.

Today we went on sites for the first time. Angela and our other femail team members played games and sang songs with some children in a nearby village. They also spent time building relationships with some of the Indonesian volunteers here. She also slept late, it was nearly 7:00 am when she got up.

I say she slept late because me and about half of the guys woke up at 4:30. Since we were all awake, we went ahead and got our mondies (Indonesian bathing, no showers here, just big buckets of water and drains in the floor) and started eating and drinking coffee. By 8:00, I had eaten breakfast three times. I was concerned about losing weight, but Angela and I have both been very impressed with most of the food. In fact, there is a Dunkin Donuts right across the road.

We are really amazed that we have been away from home for five days already, it has flown by. It's amazing how much you can enjoy yourself and ministry even when sleeping on thin mattresses on the floor and sharing three bathrooms with 50+ people.

I spend my day in a nearby village demolishing and helping to rebuild a small baptist church. It was exciting. I also met a cute little four year old little girl named Ekka. Her parents wouldn't let me bring her home. I also ate some food from a street vendor, some sort of fermented fruit, it was terrible. But, what's life without risks...

We have been welcomed with open arms everywhere we have been and look forward to continuing to work and minister here. There are indeed needs and we are grateful for the opportunity to meet some of the needs.

Please continue to pray, and if you see my mom (Craig's) wish her a happy birthday from us.

Monday, July 17, 2006

We're Fine

I am sure that by now you are all aware of the earthquakes and such in Indonesia tonight (this morning for you guys). We are all fine, the quakes hit about 350 miles from us. We understand, however, that preliminary reports are that there is significant damage. Please pray for the people and the relief work that is underway already.

We were truly blessed to be able to pray with a relief team as they left our headquarters headed for the disaster. They were hoping to be on site less than eight hours after the quakes. Please pray for us and all that is going on here.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Our First Night

Last night we had a good night's rest. This morning we started off with a big Indonesian style breakfast with lots of rice, garlic, and STRONG coffee. Craig is really excited about the coffee!!!!!

We really enjoyed getting know some of our team members better and look forward to working alongside them. Many of our team members have been here before, they have had a lot to offer to us. Their understanding of the culture really helps us to feel as though we fit in even better. For instance, this morning I learned that I shouldn't cross my legs with the sole of my shoe pointing at anyone, it is an insult. Angela also learned that she shouldn't be seen with wet hair unless she is with her husband (that's me).

We have both been encouraged by the passion displayed by our hosts for the people and culture here. It is exciting to know that people from opposite sides of the globe can display such passion and care for one another. Though we are so different from this culture, we are all the same in our need for a Savior. Please continue to pray for our efforts.

Remember to post comments for us to read and to continue praying.

Finally Here

Well, after forty three hours of travel time, Angela and I have finally arrived with our group in Jogjakarta, Indonesia where we will spend the next two weeks aiding in earthquake relief. The flights really were not as bad as we expected, but the time changes have us messed up. We've only slept about 6 hours since we left on Friday.

Though things are different here, we are very excited. Tonight, we had our first ever experience on Asian roads. Though Jeff and Seth can talk to you about our Costa Rican mountain passes, nothing really compares you for the thousands of motorcycles jockeying for position, sometimes with as many as four and five passengers. It is truly amazing to watch, especially since I was not driving.

We will post more later, but for now, continue praying for us!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Please Comment as You Pray

As Angela and I prepare to leave for Indonesia, we are excited and nervous. However, we really look forward to the opportunities we will have for ministry. For all of you who are checking in for updates on our trip, I encourage you to please leave comments here or send us some emails so that we can know your thoughts and prayers.

Thank you to everyone who has helped to make this trip possible. We pray that many will be blessed because of your help and that you will be blessed because of your giving, praying, and caring.

A Thought for Parents

Growing up, I had very few friends that my parents did not know at least something about. My friends were always welcomed at my home by my parents; it took me a little while to realize that they were so welcomed because my parents were interested not only in being nice people, but also in being certain that I was hanging out with decent kids. Throughout the years, my parents developed a sort of mental file about my friends that to this day still amazes me. Further, I believe that there must have been a network of parents that talked regularly to ensure that information was conveyed properly from one household to the next because my parents were often telling me the latest high school news before I was even aware. In some instances news of my happenings would beat me home.

Even before high school, my parents were keeping a close eye on me. As a matter of fact, I can even remember attending a sleep-over party in elementary school where someone had the bright idea of throwing water balloons at a passing motorist. The passerby, unbeknownst to us, was drunk. As the water balloon burst on his window, the car screeched to a halt, backed up and turned into the driveway of the home where we were spending the night. The driver proceeded to have an altercation with the father of my friend whose birthday we were celebrating. Needless to say, after that the party was scaled down.

This event took place sometime after dark and then we went to bed. Amazingly, when my mom came to pick me up the next morning (she had to drive there, we did not live in the same neighborhood or anything), she questioned me about the incident with the water balloons during the previous night. I was shocked, how did she know? To this day, I have no idea how my mom and dad found out about the water balloon incident on that night, but I am thankful that they cared enough to find out about that incident and many others during my adolescent years. I am also thankful that my parents cared enough to restrict my future visits to that home.

I say all of that to point out that my parents cared enough to ask questions and to keep asking questions (from whomever they deemed necessary) until they found the answers they needed to ensure my safety and my solid upbringing. I do not remember always being excited about the prodding and subsequent discipline when necessary. I hated when my parents would question the character of my friends and I despised the times when I was told that I could not spend time with certain people. Looking back at those years now, however, I am eternally grateful that my parents cared enough to work hard at raising me and my brother because their hard work then has spared years of heartache that could have followed later.

Looking at the work that it took my parents to know my friends, it seems as though they were presented with a huge task. Unfortunately for parents today, the task has continued to grow. It has grown because students of today are not satisfied merely with having friends at school and in the neighborhood; the social network of most students has begun to extend beyond their immediate surroundings and social circles through the use of the internet and a variety of virtual communities that have sprung up seemingly overnight. For students this is reality and community, but for parents this is a frightening new world of which they have little if any knowledge.

Frightening as it may seem, however, statistics show us that teenagers are engaging in online communities at an alarming rate. According to an article found in the Pew Internet & American Life Project Report, a whopping 87% of teens are classified as “online.” That number is up 24% from just four years ago. Teens are taking over the internet and are making their voices heard., which sold for 580 million dollars in 2005, is made up primarily of teens. Its popularity grows seemingly exponentially, with membership around 10 million in January of 2005; it had quadrupled to more than 40 million members late in the same year. MySpace was so popular that in 2005 it was responsible for 15% of all internet hits in October of 2005 and in that same time period more than 20 million members clicked on.[1] It is time for parents to become as proactive about their teenagers’ cyber life as they are about their everyday life that parents are used to seeing.

I think much of the problem with teens and the internet can be summed up by the comment I received from one parent: “look, if its about the computer, I just have to trust them because I just do not understand it.” My response to this parent was, “you no longer have that privilege.” Parents teach their kids safe driving habits by driving with them and teach them responsibility by checking behind them to be sure that rooms are clean and homework is done. No one expects that a 14 year old does everything he or she is supposed to do, that is why parents, teachers, coaches, and other student leaders hold them accountable for their actions and follow behind them to be certain that they have completed their tasks.

I know that my suggestion for parents to become more proactive in the online lives of their teens is a bit presumptive. After all, I grew up in the technology age, I saw the birth and boom of instant messaging and email and was able to be a part of a college age that was just beginning to appreciate high speed internet everywhere. Most parents are not as fortunate. Those in the 40 years and up age bracket did not have the opportunities of readily accessible personal computer and of course the internet was not even thought of as they came through school. The suggestion of learning the internet and becoming technology savvy is a frightening and daunting task for many parents, but it is a task that must be tackled.

I do not imagine that parents of yesteryear had an easy time trying to understand the habits and actions of their children and of their friends. However, one thing is true, good parents took the steps necessary to ensure the safety and quality of rearing for the children they loved by being actively involved in their lives. The same thing must be true for parents of today. As parents today love their children and seek to raise them right, they must be actively involved in a multi-faceted approach. Teenagers often exist in multiple worlds at one time, “Oprey calls it multi-tasking,” was the quote from Sweet Home Alabama. Whatever its called, parents must be ready, willing, and able to contend with students who can watch TV, listen to music, do homework, talk on the cell phone, and chat simultaneously with an untold number of friends through IM, MySpace, and email.

In other words parents, attending the football games, band competitions, and dance recitals are vitally important and must be done, but that must be only a part of interaction with kids. Parents must take an active role by being interested in and understanding (at least to some degree) the things in which kids are involved. But fear not, because for those of you afraid of technology and concerned about understanding your kids, there is at least one bright spot. The light at the end of the tunnel is that knowing your children and their activities better does not have to be a new aged idea, in fact getting to know your kids can start old fashioned. Spending time with your kids is the best way


Sunday, June 25, 2006

Believe it all

Just recently I was asked for the appropriate response to a person who does not believe in a literal hell. This person suggested, like many others, that the “hell” of scripture is merely a metaphor for separation from God. My answer a the time was that this belief comes from a low view of Scripture that gives little authority to the Bible as the infallible Word of God.

Upon further reflection, I wish to expound upon that with more depth. As I pondered this situation last night (while mowing the lawn) it became clear to me that a belief in heaven requires no more or less faith or imagination than a belief in a literal hell. The only difference is that heaven is a pleasing thought while the other is terrifying. I went on to deduce that belief in heaven and not hell comes from a distorted view of the human condition and a limited view of God and his inspired word. Thus, to accept belief in heaven and reject belief in hell is to apply only the portion of scripture which seems agreeable and to reject that which is not pleasing as “metaphor” or even human error.

Obviously, this view is not in accordance with scripture. This belief is as John Broadus said of the argument for Postmortem salvation, “this doctrine did not arise from ambiguity in the Bible, but from a nineteenth century humanist concept of fair play.” This concept of fair play suggests that a “good God” would send no one to hell. However, the concept of fair play has nothing to do with the goodness of God. The pre-requisite understanding of the above position is that people do not deserve hell; but the fact of the matter is that people do deserve hell because of the sin in their life.

Unfortunately, this position has found its greatest adherents in the church among the members of predominantly liberal mainline denominations. It should sadden all in the Christian world that many of these denominations are of the reformed tradition. The reformers held a high view of God, His word, and of the depravity of mankind. Liberal theology in the form of the rejection of biblical inspiration and infallibility has led many down the dark path of demise.

God’s word is truth. That truth is to be the standard by which all of humanity is measured. By elevating secular ideas to the level of truth in opposition to the word of God, the world, and liberal theology has made God, the Creator, subservient to the ideas and observations of man, the creation.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Be A Man

The Bible mandates a certain style of leadership and structure in the family to maintain order. Happy homes exist in structured environments and structure is found easiest and most completely within God’s specific design for marriage and the family. The husband is the leader of the family and with that position comes great responsibility for the overall health of the family.

The husband is ultimately responsible for an unhappy home until he assumes his proper role which provides love, protection, and stability. I believe it is wrong to point blame at any other member of the family until the husband (and or father) is acting and performing in his proper role. Ephesians 5:22-28 and verse 33 say:

22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself;
33 Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.

It seems that in some way the responsibility of the wife to submit to her husband is dependent upon his sacrificial love and leadership. The church submitted to Christ after he gave himself for her. The respect and submission of a wife for her husband will follow almost naturally for a man who loves his wife as Christ loved (and continues to love) the church. In the last verse Paul commands first that the husband love the wife and then (maybe in response?) he commands that the wife respect her husband.

If indeed my interpretation and understanding of these verses is true, then I believe it not only strengthens the position of the woman in the home by reminding us that submission comes not through force or compellation of the husband, but rather through obedience to God’s word in a relationship where the man gives himself as a sacrifice for the good of his wife. Christ did not beat the church into submission, rather Christ died for his church so that we could in turn submit graciously to the one who was willing to die in our stead. Imagine how much wives would freely give to their husbands if men’s actions convinced the world and their spouses that they were willing to give anything, even their own lives, just to save their wives.

The responsibility for submission in the home does not rest first on the shoulders of the wife. Rather, the responsibility is greatest upon the shoulders of the husband who is called to love his wife in such a way as to earn her respect. Godly relationships do not demand submission; it develops as a natural relationship between husband and wife when the man is willing to accept the great and heavy responsibility laid upon him by the design of God as the leader of the household. In turn, the gratitude of the wife is made evident in her overflow of support for her husband. This support shows itself in her desire to please and satisfy the one who has given all to maintain her safety and to prove his love. The Bible calls this support submission, but rest assured that biblical submission is nothing less or more than evidence of things unseen. We may never see the wind blow, but we know it blows when the leaves move in its breeze. In the same way, love can never be seen, but the world knows it is present in a godly relationship demonstrated by the sacrificial love of a godly husband and the submissive love of a godly wife.

Men, step up to the plate and love your wife!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Helping Kids Make Wise Choices

I began youth ministry at the ripe old age of nineteen. I had just finished my freshman year of college when I went to work as a summer youth minister at my home church in South Carolina. Needless to say, student ministry brings a wide range of challenges of its own, but at nineteen years old, those challenges are very different. I will never forget standing in my driveway that summer speaking to a mother who stopped by to talk with me about her sixteen year old daughter. “Craig,” she pleaded, “just tell me what I should do with her.” I was awestruck; a mom in her mid-thirties was asking me, a nineteen year old kid, to tell her how to raise her daughter who was only 3 years younger than me. It was at this very moment, early in my ministry that I understood one thing very well; parents do not think they understand their kids.

As I look back at that moment, I think the question that mom was actually asking was, “Craig, how can I be sure that she makes the right decisions?” That situation revolved around a relationship with a boy, but relationships aren’t the only area where parents struggle to help their teens make wise choices. Obviously adolescence opens doors to all sorts of temptations and struggles with peer pressure and acceptance, so what are the things that parents can do to help their students make choices that will affect them now and in the future in a positive manner? I believe there are a few things that are necessary, some of which you might not guess, that will help you encourage your student to make wise choices.

Before I discuss the things that you can do as a parent, there is one thing that I must say. Parents too often disregard the impact they have on their children. “Craig,” I often hear parents saying, “I don’t know what to do, she just will not listen to me.” Parents, take heart, your children hear and retain more of what you say and do than you would ever believe. Your kids will never tell you how much they hear and heed what you say, but know that when you are not around they are talking about what you have said. I am always amazed at just how much kids need their parents approval deep down inside of them whether they want to admit it or not. So, parents, that means that you need to be sure that no matter how things seem to be going, you continue to parent, you continue to love, lead, guide, encourage, admonish, punish, and reward regardless of the response that you get from your students. Proverbs exhorts us to raise children up in the way that they should go so that when they are old the will not depart from it. Below is a list of some specific things you can do to help your kids make wise choices.

1. Eat Supper Together- If you want your kids to make wise choices, spend time with them daily. Time around the table opens conversation among family members where parents can know what children are doing and students can learn by hearing how mom and dad deal with conflict on a daily basis at work. According to studies cited by Miriam Weinstein in her book The Surprising Power of Family Meals (Steer Forth Press, 2005), children and teens who enjoy dinner with their families five or more nights a week were 32% likelier never to have tried cigarettes, 45% likelier to have never tried alcohol, and 24% likelier never to have smoked marijuana. "Those who eat lots of family dinners are almost twice as likely to get A's in school as their classmates who rarely eat as a family," Weinstein adds. The family meal is a pre-emptive strike against bad decisions in adolescence.

2. Ask Questions- Teens are famous for wanting their parents to leave them alone, but parents, if you want to aid your students in making wise choices, check up on them. Remember parents, you were once a teenager yourself thinking the same way your teen now thinks, so ask questions to hold your students accountable.

3. Spend Time With Them- I know that you may not be that cool, but go to their baseball games or band competitions. Teenagers want to know that they matter to their parents and you show that you care most by the time you spend with your kids.

4. Discipline- Your students need to know that you love them through discipline. Discipline is accomplished in many ways; the type is not the necessity. The act of discipline, however, is a requirement of parenthood. Discipline shows students first that you love them and second that there are boundaries in life and punishment for exceeding those boundaries.

5. Go To Church With Your Kids- I put this last, but it should probably have been first. Parents drag them kicking and screaming if you must, but get them to church and get yourself their too. The church is God’s vehicle for making himself known in this world. Regular church attendance and an active relationship with Christ is an assumption for all who seek to be advised by this article because it is a precursor to a healthy family.

As Comments Go...

For anyone interested, I have changed my preferences to allow comments from anyone who chooses to leave one. In the past, by accident, comments have been limited to those who are members of Blogger's service. I look forward to hearing from you!

Cowboy Up!

In a recent article in The Tie (Southern Seminary’s Magazine) entitled Pop Christianity and Pop Culture on Mars Hill, Russell Moore, Dean of the School of Theology addresses some issues confronting the church of America today as it engages American culture. Citing two groups of “evangelicals” which he labels as “Off-Brand Evangelicals” and “’South Park’ Evangelicals” Moore points to the weaknesses in the ways that popular culture is being addressed by the church today.

The “Off-Brand Evangelicals” are those Moore classifies as the money making branch of American evangelicalism. This group, according to Moore, seeks to “listen to trends within pop culture and to reproduce them in Christian dialect for use within the evangelical subculture.” Quoting directly from GQ Magazine, Moore remarks that much of Christian music is like the “perfume dispensers they used to have in pharmacies—‘if you like Drakkar Noir, you’ll love Sexy Musk?’…Well, Christian rock works like that.” (No doubt, these guys have been listening to much of the same Christian “music” I have heard in recent years.)

In his next category, “’South Park’ Evangelicals,” Moore makes mention of the emerging church as the poster child for a Christian culture who snubs its nose at Christian pop culture to “bask in whatever Hollywood and Manhattan churn out, looking for ‘signs of redemption therein.’” Citing this group, Moore says that they seek to know pop culture, using it as a medium through which common grace can be communicated and for a point of reference in developing a common cultural dialect with unbelievers. He seems to view “’South Park’ Evangelicals” as those who seek to not merely relate to pop culture, but to embrace pop culture in an attempt to mold their Christian understanding and identity into it. If you need a specific example to give skin to this concept, I am sure that Don Miller would fall into Moore’s “South Park” category.

Moore goes on in the article to address several issues relating to engaging pop culture in light of Acts 17. I agree wholeheartedly with Moore’s exposition of the message on Mars Hill as it relates to the particular issue of engaging pop culture. Moore points correctly to the fact that Paul did not go to Mars Hill to engage the culture, rather he was invited to Mars Hill because he spoke of things that seemed strange to those within his hearing. Once in the Areopagus, Paul did work to contextualize his message to his hearers, but not in a way that made the gospel fit the culture, but rather in a way that showed his audience that the gospel stood contrary to their culture. Paul’s understanding of the Athenian culture enabled him to speak with intelligence about their customs and in doing so enabled Paul to contrast their beliefs with the truth of Christ.

I wonder, however, why Moore, and others who address the issues raised by the emerging church, does not cite Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians concerning their use of Scripture and methods of sharing the gospel. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:2, “But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” Christ encountered culture daily, but we see clearly in the Scripture that Christ’s role in culture was one of redeemer. He may have been seen talking with a woman of loose morals, but Christ spoke with her about the sin in her life and her need of a Savior. It is true that Christ ate with tax collectors, but Christ also reprimanded them and condemned dishonest practices. Through Christ, these people were changed. Indeed Christ loved those steeped in the culture of his time, but he loved them enough to exhort them to better living.

Much of the background in the emergent church has to do with those who are disenchanted for whatever reason with the traditional church. Their dissatisfaction has led them, not to seek reformation in the church, but to embrace culture with a slightly Christian spin. I ask, does the emergent church truly speak the “open statement of the word of Truth?” Moreover, are the “Off-Brand Evangelicals” speaking the truth of God’s word without tampering practicing cunning?

I say today that culture must be addressed. As Christians we are called to live in this world, but to be reminded always that we are citizens of a heavenly realm. We are citizens of Christ’s Kingdom. As such, we do not renounce popular culture. We enjoy movies and television and good books. We place value on relationships built through every day interactions at the coffee shop or the gas station. Christians can and should enjoy music, secular and spiritual alike. But, as we live in the culture, we must be always engaging our culture with the Truth of God’s Word.

Sure, we can derive a Christian theme from almost any movie. As a matter of fact, given loose enough hermeneutics, Monday night wrestling could probably be a lesson in sin and redemption, but will it be a message true to the gospel or would it be an underhanded or disgraceful attempt at making the sinful spiritual? Paula Cole asked the question several years ago, Where Have All The Cowboys Gone? In the days before Brokeback Mountain, John Wayne was the quintessential all American cowboy, a man who spoke his mind and stood for something. Maybe a Christian cowboy wouldn’t be such a bad thing. I’ll admit, it would be nice to find an evangelical engaging culture with the honest truth of the gospel that was not afraid to stand for the Truth though it ran counter to the entire flow of popular mores. John Wayne could and would take on an entire army with a six shooter. I wonder if there are Christians today committed enough to the cause of Christ and the salvation of our society who would stand up in the midst of the army of pop culture, outnumbered many times over, and be willing to proclaim God’s truth that brings redemption from this world and reconciliation to the Father? Cowboy up!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Be Still

I sat on a wooden dock jutting out into a large cove on Lake Marion at sunset one evening. The frogs were singing, fish were jumping, and birds were feeding. It was a glorious site to behold an awe-inspiring moment for all five senses to take in. A buddy with me just looked up and said, “Surely this must mean what God was talking about when he said, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’” I quickly agreed and we took an extra moment to take it all in before leaving the small jon boat that we tied next to the dock for an early morning adventure.

Reflecting on that evening, I am reminded of the many times that I have sat quietly beholding the beauty of God’s glorious creation. Many times I have sat alone watching the sun break through the darkness of a winter morning shimmering in frosty grass and dissolving away the morning fog in awe-struck wonder. No less exciting was watching the sunset over the Pacific Ocean with my two best friends. On these and many other occasions, I too have though, “Wow, be still and know that God is God.” Nature speaks of His wonder in the quiet moments of life that we can never understand until we have experienced it.

However, upon a closer reading of Psalm 46, I believe that I have interpreted that verse a little too loosely. There is absolutely value in being reminded by God’s Word to enjoy his creation and give him praise for it. But, that was not the intended purpose of the Psalmist. Psalm 46 does not speak of a tranquil lake or a beautiful sunset. Psalm 46 speaks of violence, turmoil, confusion, and panic.

“Be still and know that I am God,” was not a suggestion for someone spending a lazy day on the lake or an observance of a visitor to the ocean for the first time. “Be Still,” was the command of God to his people during times of great terror. The Psalmist speaks of natural disasters and war and even of the earth “melting away.” Without a doubt, during times like this, the last thought for a logical person is to be still. During times of great peril, work is needed and busyness is a must. But God says, “Be still and watch me work.”

I believe that the command to “Be still” is relevant for Americans today. The American culture is one that stresses ownership and material gain. We fear that the Jones’s may have a bigger house or a better car. We are concerned that we may not get the boat we have always wanted or that our kids might, heaven forbid, have to buy clothes from a sale rack. And so, we work to fix it by working longer hours for more pay. We sacrifice family time in the name of our families. We neglect time with God and in his church because “I’ve got to keep my job.”

I read recently that the average drive for many workers commuting into cities is 90 to 120 minutes each way every day. In an attempt to find “the good life” Americans have begun to sacrifice their lives on the alter of success. The command to “Be still and know that I am God” must be heeded by Christians today. Though it runs contrary to cultural conventional wisdom, God commands that we take the time to step back and watch him work.

Psalm 46 is not about God’s glory in his creation. Psalm 46 is a song about God’s sovereign control over creation and his protective hand upon his people. Verses 1 and 2 claim that, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble. Therefore, we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea.” God is in control of all things, and God is protecting his people. It is for this reason that God commands, “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

Though the earth falls down around us, God reminds us who is in control. In times of struggle, God is a present help. We need not fear this world, and in the end the amount of success we enjoy here will be of little consequence. As we stand before God at judgment, I doubt he will ask how many cars we owned or how many square footage our house was. However, he may ask how much time we spent showing God to our children and loving our wives as Christ loved the church. God is in total control and his word in Psalm 46:10 commands that we stop and recognize God’s hand at work in creation protecting his people and bringing glory to his name.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Everyone Else Is Writing About It....

I have no desire to add to the hype surrounding Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, but I do feel that we have a responsibility as the church to address the issues that Brown raises in his book. The release of the movie version this month will open many more eyes to the intrigue and mystery of the novel along with the heresy and falsehood about Christ and the Christian church contained therein. I am preparing now for a series of sermons on the issues raised in The Da Vinci Code because I believe that we as Christians have a responsibility to defend the faith.

In 2 Timothy chapters two and three, Paul reminds Timothy to rightly handle the Word of God and that the Word of God is useful for teaching, rebuking, and correcting. We too must work to rightly handle God’s Word, and in the face of questions that aim right at the very heart of our faith, it is essential that we stand ready to defend the faith with correct handling and understanding of God’s Word. On his website, Dan Brown goes so far as to allude to Christianity as a “legend familiar to all of us.” This is yet one more example of this secular world opposing our Lord and questioning the validity of his church and his teachings.

I encourage you to pick up one of the many books that can be found in Christian bookstores today that deal with the untruths and misconceptions about the Christian faith and the history of the Christian church that Brown alludes to in his book. Further, we should all be reminded that The Da Vinci Code is a work of fiction, not one of fact. I am appalled at some of the ludicrous claims that are made in this book, but I do see the book and the movie as great opportunities for us to share our faith. The questions that will be raised by unbelievers will give us opportunity to combat false doctrine with the Truth of God’s Word. I challenge you to prepare yourself for the questions and to remember Paul’s words, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” God’s great plans can never be spoiled by man’s schemes; I am excited to see how God will work through this event.