Monday, January 31, 2005

Dead Church Part Trois

As all seven of you readers know, I have randomly touched here on the concept of a "Dead Church", working from one of my favorite books - "The Death of the Church".

And now, my friend, Tod Bolsinger has this post which begins to touch on the issue of real Christian Community - having the church become more of what perhaps (as I am not God, although my dog thinks so) God intends for it to be. I am passionate about seeing the church become more real, more vibrant, more genuine - so that lives may be changed for the Kingdom's sake.

I am confident that Tod will lead us further on an interesting journey. Perhaps we might even get off our blogging duffs and spend some real "face time" with people who are genuinely seeking after God. Now there is a concept....

Humility - A Concept Needed

During my lunch hour reading, I came across this piece in today's Wall Street Journal. Humility is something lacking in our cultural landscape, and I long to see more of it, and to practice it more in my own life. That individuals, churches, and nations knew more of the qualities of genuine humility.....

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Crossing the Border Into the Past

The Berlin Wall - circa 1984. "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" I think God had lots to do with it too! Posted by Hello

Last night, I began a tale of my travels into Eastern Europe in 1984. This was, for me, a turning point experience of my newfound faith, as I had come to know Christ the fall of 1979 (a story I shall reserve for later, if you care). Ever since my coming to Christ, I had always felt that something was missing - that I did not really understand the whole picture about what following Christ meant.

I shall never forget one man we visited in a little house in what is now the Czech Republic. Our team of four US well-meaning 20-something missionaries had worked quite hard at trying to "dress Eastern", meaning dull colors, no designer labels or hip styles, etc. We were painfully drab, and proud of it. We had memorized the route to our "contact's" home. We walked there from our campground outside of town, and we were quite pleased with the way in which we attracted essentially no attention to ourselves. It should be noted here that the people we were to visit were never notified in advance that we would be coming on a specific day and time; they were simple told to anticipate a visit at one or several times each summer - from "friends from the West".

The home of our contact came into view as we rounded a corner, and we were feeling more confident that no one would ever notice us, due to our clever disguise. As we came to the front yard of the home, we looked up to the front porch of a simple house to find the front door opening, even before we made it up the front walkway. Outstretched arms greeted us, as we were quickly welcomed in. We thought our "cover" was blown! After we exchanged greetings, we asked our contact how it was possible that we had been recognized, since we looked so "Eastern". This dear brother, persecuted for many years for his faith, imprisoned, and marginallized by the communist regime, smiled, looked us in the eye, and said,

"Oh my friends, that is easy. I saw you coming down the street. You you have freedom!"

Want to discover a new demension of faith? Spend time visiting persecuted believers, whose very lives are at risk because of what they believe. Moving. Transforming. Meeting people like this has a tendency to reorder your entire world view; it did mine. It has been 20 summers since we packed our vehicle full of Bibles and headed off on an adventure.

The adventure of following Jesus continues to this day!

A Remarkable Day

The early returns are in, and maybe I have it wrong - I just heard a probable 60% voter turn-out on Fox News. Given the fact that one might get shot or blown up voting in Iraq, I still find this day quite remarkable. As a side note, now might be the time for France, Germany, Russia, and other nations to consider really participating in some positive nation building. I wonder what my friend Rob Asghar thinks about today's developments, and the likely future for this struggling nation? May peace and find a new home in Iraq.

History in the making Posted by Hello

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Grasping for Freedom

Tomorrow the people of Iraq will be given, for the first time in far too long, the privilege of voting. In my reading of the Wall Street Journal this week, I noted that estimates for eligible voter turnout in Iraq are anticipated to be up to 80% of eligible voters. These voters head to polls under the threat of injury, while we head to the polls under the threat of being late to Starbucks, or missing a Simpson rerun if we get home a bit late. Can anyone tell what OUR voter turn out was here, in November, in the land of the free, etc? Try a 59.6 turnout rate of eligible citizens, the highest since 1968 when 61.9 percent of eligibles voted. Sigh!

An Iraqi votes in Michigan, overcome that his son, who was killed in the 1991 uprising,
could not vote with him. Hat tip to
Hugh Hewit for the link to this wonderful photo.

All these thoughts of freedom bring me back to a wonderful opportunity I was given in the summer of 1984, when I traveled to Eastern Europe on several occasions with a ministry then known as Eastern European Bible Mission, now changed by the force of freedom into New Hope International. I traveled with teams bringing (actually smuggling - very James Bond-ish) Bibles and encouragement to the persecuted church behind the Iron Curtain. That summer changed my life, and began to change some of my political perspective as well.

I will never forget meeting with the faithful behind the Iron Curtain. Young and old, humble and educated. Their perspective of their faith was so very different than mine. They really needed Jesus, they depended on Him daily, in a way that I could only imagine. Theirs was a faith that had legs on it, that meant something of substance. In 1984, freedom for Eastern Europe was only a fantasy. But more on my travels later.....

And now, it is the Iraqis' opportunity to grasp for liberty. May all of our prayers follow them as they head to the polls. Lord, keep them safe...

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

One Important Thing...Make that Two about $$$

I spotted a wonderful post today on Sidespot about money. This has been something that has possessed far more of my attention than is necessary over the years, and continues to do so. Given this, might I also point you to a wonderful sermon, one of the best I have ever encountered on money by my friend Mark Roberts.

With money on the brain, lets not forget that tragedy is still a daily occurrence many places in the world. ....From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Dead Church, or Community of Transformation?

Well, the early votes are in, and it looks like Election 2004 with two days to go. We are evenly split at 50% brilliant, and 50% "not bad for a neophyte". What am I to do with that? Help me out here people, and vote to your right..... I am sure the readership of this blog is now close to the occupancy level of my family van! Get out there and make a! I am also sure that the readership is handsome, kind, thrifty, well groomed, and treats dogs very well.

So, is the church in America heading toward cultural insignificance, has it become just another manifestation of our fixation with the temporal, or can it be a place of real, substantive transformation? Why is the church in our own country growing at a rather tepid pace (or in many denominations - shrinking), compared with dramatic, explosive, and sustained growth in many places in the "third world", most notably in Sub-Saharan Africa and South America? Why is it all we read about concerning church growth in America has to do with Rick Warren's latest book, or some Bible-belt Name It and Claim It congregation?

Could it be that we are not listening to the real meaning behind the stories we find in the book of Acts? Tod Bolsinger has started an interesting look at what Christian community really means. Read it, think about it, discuss it with your Christian friends. Perhaps, just maybe, if we could begin to grasp what real, meaningful, Christian community looks like, we could, one church at a time, transform our culture. I have to quote Tod's finishing thoughts today:
Further, Christian Community is not just a shared experience. It's
not people who sit together in pews or a movie theater or a football stadium
(even if they are the audience for a Christian event!). It's not polite
conversation at a potluck or a great weekend together at a Christian camp.
Christian Community is an ontologically irreducible organism. It is a
living reality that is imbued with the Spirit of God. And most
dramatically, it is the very life of the Triune God drawing people into a
covenantal relationship with God and each other. It is God's own being on
earth lived in and through believers for the single end-result of seeing each
person become like Jesus Christ. So that the Community together is a
witness for Christ.

Monday, January 24, 2005

An Excellent Book on Youth Ministry

Besides being the things listed in the headline of this Blog, I am involved in the ministry of Young Life (YL), a national para-church ministry whose motto is (modestly) "Every kid, everywhere, for Eternity". It is a wonderful ministry, and since the church often fails to reach kids, for a myriad of reasons, Young Life is there to reach out, big time. Have extra cash, send it Young Life's way! As a part of my involvement with YL, I have recently read a book that anyone who is even vaguely connected with the world of kids from 12 to 22 will want to read. "Hurt", by Chap Clark is just out, and is perhaps the most insightfully book on youth culture produced in some time.

Imagine this, taking a sabbatical from your career as a seminary professor, and instead of resting by the seashore, pondering theological thoughts (phew!) during your time off, you elect to teach public high school for a year, all with the intent of better understanding the lives and culture of young people. This choice to teach high school was the basis for Chap Clark's ground-breaking book, "Hurt". As a former youth worker and parent of a teenager (and another approaching teenage) I cannot say enough about this book for its clear perception of the state of youth culture. Prepare to be surprised, shocked, offended, and awakened to the state of our youth. This book will make you mad, sad, scared, and hopeful. Prepare for a paradigm shift. Clark has done careful research of the world of high school students, and his work examines their world of "clusters", or friendship groups, and also includes insightful glimpses of the social world, moral confusion, loneliness, and sexual behavior of our young. Clark points out in vividly clear language the pain they face, the confusion they deal with, and the ways we adults have abandoned them. However, this book is not a complete downer. Each chapter ends with hopeful suggestions for change; ways in which the cultural afflictions young people face can be healed. Hope is abundant, and change is possible. Make it your book club choice, buy it for your friends, fellow teachers, administrators, school board members, and youth workers!

There, said my feelings, I feel better already!

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Country Club or a Rescue Station

I heard a great sermon today - from Philippians 1:12-22. The premise was - do we want our church to be a Country Club or a Rescue Station (for dying souls). This was particularly interesting to me, as many of those in the church we presently attend quite enjoy the country club lifestyle. And I am more than happy to be invited to a country club to play golf, although my golf game tends to be somewhat offensive to some, and perhaps resembles something needing rescue, EMT, or life support. The country club is safe, serene, insulated, non-threatening. The rescue station, on the other hand is noisy, hectic, messy, cluttered, and lets in people we sometimes might not like to have around. You know, "those people".

I found it providential (as in God not making mistakes) how this morning's sermon fit so nicely into this musing by my friend Rob Asghar. Lord, please make my life more oriented to the Rescue Station....

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Our Fragile Lives

Our family spent the evening at the home of some good friends from church tonight. We have know n this couple for more than 15 years, and they have two daughters similar in age to ours - so that makes for lots of girlie-girl humor. Did you also know that knitting is quite the rage amongest teenage girls? Well, there, see what you learn here. Priceless tidbits of drivel!

Anyway, after all the silly girls left the table to go watch Disney channel, we adults lingered a while, to discuss the pain and heartache being faced by a dear family at our church. This young couple, Tony and Julie, along with their two young children, are struggling with the massive weight of a recurrence of cancer for Julie. The first time Julie had cancer was more than five years ago, and she (and the Lord) beat it. For a while. It has come back, and this time, more seriously. So many of us, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, fellow workers, and extended family have been praying for Julie's healing since last summer. The prayers never seem to stop. It is constant. When we wake, when we go to sleep, when we are driving, doing the laundry - always, "Lord, be with Julie and heal her, give Peace to Tony and the kids..."

I wrote to my Pastor friend, Mark Roberts recently, and asked him, "Does any of this make any sense to you?" His reply, "This side of Heaven, no". Which leads me to sharing this post, and a significant quote from it with you - its about this strange "in-between" life we lead here on earth, and is from Pastor Steve McMillan's blog - Steve lost a child nearly 7 years ago, and reflects on the loss....... and the mystery of this life we lead:

"I yearn for more than a son that doesn't die. I want something beyond just having my shattered dreams pieced together. I long for more than an answer to why some babies are stitched up wrong. I'm parched for something that I've lost and that I hope someday to find but I'm not sure what that something is. I grieve for my son who died and at the same time I realize my grieving goes even deeper. I mourn my homeless-ness. I grieve having to live where I don'y fit. I feel so much like a stranger - like I am not really welcome here - as if most of me doesn't belong in this space and this time. This longing is for something and at it's most consuming moments I swear I can hear inside of it a faint echo, like a lingering aroma or a shimmering mirage, it is too painful and beautiful to grasp and yet I long for it with all my heart. It is both scary and wonderful and I don't know what to do with it. I don't know if this is what Solomon calls eternity in my heart or if it is just my hope that it is. I don't know if my longing is the rumour of another world or just my frustration with who I am in this one. I'm not sure if I'm still grieving the loss of a dream or if I'm being given a new one. "

This is a fragile and temporary life we lead. Each day. Like Steve, I don't know much either. May we all seek, with all our hearts, the ability to better hear that echo; to see that dream.

Pray for peace and healing for Tony and Julie.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Way Too Much God?

No sooner do I think and blog, but I get nicely put in my place. Peggy Noonan, one of my favorite writers of the political scene has this editorial in today's Wall Street Journal. Entitled "Way too Much God", Noonan makes a raft of wise observations, concluding with:

"And yet such promising moments were followed by this, the ending of the speech. "Renewed in our strength -- tested, but not weary -- we are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom."
This is -- how else to put it? -- over the top. It is the kind of sentence that makes you wonder if this White House did not, in the preparation period, have a case of what I have called in the past "mission inebriation." A sense that there are few legitimate boundaries to the desires born in the goodness of their good hearts.
One wonders if they shouldn't ease up, calm down, breathe deep, get more securely grounded. The most moving speeches summon us to the cause of what is actually possible. Perfection in the life of man on earth is not."

It should also be noted that Ms. Noonan is quite sympathetic to us evangelicals, and the faith in general. She is in the midst of a form of sabbatical from the Journal, taking time to write a book about Pope John Paul II - I can't wait for it to be done.

We American's so need to keep our perspective about the messages we send to the world. One fellow who thinks about this is Tim Thompson. This editorial is wonderful help in that area.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

A Good Day for America

Whether all my friends agree or not, this was a very good day for America. For that matter, for the rest of the world, whether France, Germany, and Canada (sorry Tim Thompson) agree. And, if anyone gets a copy of the text of the benediction prayer by Kirbyjon Caldwell, let me know. In my alleged mind, it was a theologically balanced, repentant call to the nation. Jesus even got a nice mention at the closing, which got Caldwell in trouble with the press following the last Inauguration. Well done, Brother Kirbyjon!

Found the prayer as of December 25, 2005

Hook 'em horns Posted by Hello

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Supposing We Really Found Him?

This excerpt from a wonderful C.S. Lewis collection book, is well worth sharing. Back to The Death of the Church soon, I hope.
It is always shocking to meet life where we thought we were alone. "Look out!" we cry, "its alive!" And therefore this is the very point at which so many draw back - I would have done so myself if I could - and proceed no further with Christianity. An "impersonal God" - well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth, and goodness, inside our own heads - better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap - best of all. But God himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband - that is quite another matter. There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly: was that a real footstep in the hall? There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion ("Man's search for God!") suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him? We never meant it to come to that! Worse still, supposing He had found us?

He has, indeed, if we will let him.....

Pro Life or Pro Abortion?

While I tend to avoid politically polarizing debates about issues such as abortion (being a good, middle of the road Presbyterian fellow), this issue has come close to home recently, as my 8th grade daughter has chosen the "Pro Life" side in her Social Studies class debates on major political issues of the day. She has a remarkable teacher, Mr. Andrew Adanto, who has been known to burst into song; he sings God Bless American to his students on occasion, in a public school, no less. What a guy!

This brings me to a thoughtful Don Feder piece, directed to me by the good folks at Wittingshire. I will ask my 8th grader to read this, as it distills a very emotional argument into a synopsis that is sensible. While I do not pretend to understand it all, we must engage our minds to tackle these difficult issues.

With her permission, I will post the finished "Pro Life" piece when it is completed. Stay tuned.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Who Gets the Kids?

Alright, one more thing. I read this in today's Wall Street Journal, great piece, but scary to read. A nice story about a good President is excerpted below, followed by a well meaning, but confused troubled youth worker:

Sara Trollinger is among those in Orlando working to help young people embody conservative values. She is the founder of House of Hope, a residential facility that counsels teens in crisis using biblical principles.
Her political ties were forged through a miracle of sorts. On May 28, 1985, an article was written about her program in the Orlando Sentinel. That day, President Ronald Reagan happened to be in town giving a speech. Ms. Trollinger says she prayed he would see the article. He got on Air Force One after the speech, read the story, and wrote the facility a personal check for $1,000.
Today, a photocopy of Mr. Reagan's check hangs in the facility's entryway. A large painting of Jesus is surrounded by photos of Ms. Trollinger with Mr. Reagan, George W. Bush, and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. When conservative leaders speak of faith-based initiatives, they often laud House of Hope, which has seven affiliates.
Most of the 37 teens living in the Orlando facility have awful histories: violence, abuse, addictions. Almost all of them say they support Mr. Bush. They've discussed that he was a drinker who found God, and they see themselves in that story. "God can change your character if you let him," said Gus, 16. Ms. Trollinger describes Bill Clinton as "a terrible role model for our young people." She had residents pray for him when he was president.
The teens are also schooled in the nuts and bolts of politics, including taking road trips to the state capital in Tallahassee to see how bills are passed.
"This is the generation that will change the morality of America," Ms. Trollinger says. "The scripture says 'a little child will lead them.' "

God Bless Sara Trollinger, and the work she does. But Sara might want to think before she quotes Scripture to a reporter from the Wall Street Journal. This is from the prophet Isaiah, a prophecy of the coming Christ, as I understand it. Not the coming Republican youth!

More on Death of the Church

My post of yesterday regarding the decline of once healthy congregations has been rolling around in my mind. I did sound like a bit of a downer, but this is a topic I care about greatly. Christ came into the world to change it forever, one person at a time, and this still happens today. Last November I had the opportunity to serve as a counselor in the Billy Graham Crusade in Pasadena at the Rose Bowl. I stood with people from all walks of life, eager to recommitt or give their lives to Christ for the first time. Lives changed, faith renewed, hope restored, all by the Living Christ.

I used to attend a church where the pastor would announce nearly every Sunday morning at the beginning of the service....."The Living Christ is here!" And He is, indeed. I see evidence of it every day. But, around us, the organized church may be struggling for its future. Suffice it to say that the denomination I belong to, the Presbyterian church, has experienced massive membership loss over the past 25 years or so.

Why is this so? In my mind, one word - irrelevance. In short, the modern church has become irrelevant to the modern man and woman. Secondly, our affluence in American has blinded us to the lack of real meaning in our own lives. And yet, a carpenter from Nazareth still changes lives. How do we reconcile the two? Here is a starting point.

My Friend Pastor Tod

Want to read a painfully hip blog that tackles interesting and tough issues in church leadership and culture? Visit "It Takes a Church" - the website of Tod Bolsinger, my friend of so many years that neither of us cares to discuss it in detail. Tod is the pastor of San Clemente Presbyterian Church, a husband, father, average surfer (required for the pastorate), and really pathetic golfer. Tod gave me a nice salute today on his blog.

I will disclose grizzly details of Tod's bachelor life, for donations to World Vision Tsunami relief. Tod would be proud of your donation.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

The Death of the Church

Here is a book that anyone who leads within the church and cares about its future direction should definitely read. Written for the layman, but with insights that are greatly helpful for pastors as well. Although published about 8 years ago, it still holds wisdom today.

So why was I thinking about a book I read almost 8 years ago? I had an interesting and somewhat sad conversation today with a fellow parent on the sidelines of a soccer game. As we stood at the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains, the warm sun still feeling new after nearly a week of rain, the backdrop of this girls soccer game was lovely. This Psalm was in the back of my mind, as the conversation turned to our common experience in the church. My fellow-parent-friend has been involved for a number of years in a slowly atrophying church in our town. In the interest of propriety, I will not discuss the specific reasons that this once healthy church is in decline, but chalk it up to, well, that problem the church has everywhere - the people in it (including me, lots of times). The town we live in has a nice handful of these quietly sick, small, essentially mission-less places, where those involved continue on in committee meetings, and seemingly bide time. I have heard more than once, "our church was really great and vital during the 1980s, but now...nothing is happening".

So, back to the book, noted above. Read this, and you will understand more about how the church must change in order to affect the world in a more relevant and meaningful way. I may have more to say on this later, but shoot, I have to go to work tomorrow....and it is late!

Wishy Washy Educators

My wife and I are believers in Christ. We are also parents of two girls, aged 10 and 13. We are also big proponents of public education. Although we could afford (with some stretching, like eating more cat food) to put our girls in nice, happy, private Christian schools, we do not, as we would like our girls to grow up in the "real world", and learn to deal with all the vagaries of real people, with real problems, joys, pains, and warts like we have. We feel that often, private schools can put kids into an artificial world. Anyway, that is for now. If one of our girls needs something special that only a private school might offer, we would reconsider.

All that said for this. Public education makes me crazy for its lack of virtually any moral instruction. Case in point is this post about a recent "situation" in Palo Alto, California.

This should cause us all to pause and pray (consistently) for our teachers and school administrators, both Believing and not. Also, I recently read an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal by Terry M. Moe, which says:

"If we really want to improve schools, something has to be done about the teachers unions. The idea that an enlightened "reform unionizing" will somehow emerge that voluntarily puts the interests of children first -- an idea in vogue among union apologists -- is nothing more than a pipe dream. The unions are what they are. They have fundamental, job-related interests that are very real, and are the raison d'etre of their organizations. These interests drive their behavior, and this is not going to change. Ever.
If the teachers unions won't voluntarily give up their power, then it has to be taken away from them -- through new laws that, among other things, drastically limit (or prohibit) collective bargaining in public education, link teachers' pay to their performance, make it easy to get rid of mediocre teachers, give administrators control over the assignment of teachers to schools and classrooms, and prohibit unions from spending a member's dues on political activities unless that member gives explicit prior consent.
These reforms won't come easily because the unions will use their existing power, which is tremendous, to defeat most attempts to take it away. There is, however, one ray of hope: that the American public will become informed about the unions' iron grip on the public schools and demand that something be done. Only when the public speaks out will politicians have the courage -- and the electoral incentive -- to do the right thing. And only then will the interests of children be given true priority."

Food for thought.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Thought for the Day

From John Stott's daily thought. This, to me is the primary reason so many do not desire to follow Christ, in a nutshell:

We must cast aside apathy, pride, prejudice and sin, and
seek God in scorn of the consequences. Of all these
hindrances to effective search the last two are the hardest
to overcome, intellectual prejudice and moral self-will.
Both are expressions of fear, and fear is the greatest
enemy of the truth. Fear paralyses our search. We know
that to find God and to accept Jesus Christ would be a very
inconvenient experience. It would involve the rethinking
of our whole outlook on life and the readjustment of our
whole manner of life. And it is a combination of
intellectual and moral cowardice which makes us hesitate.
We do not find because we do not seek. We do not seek
because we do not want to find, and we know that the way to
be certain of not finding is not to seek.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Do not pay attention to the appraiser behind the curtain!

This blog is off to a pathetically slow start, but given some time, persistence, and heavy medication, perhaps it may amount to something.

Foremost on my mind the past week has been the tragic earthquake and tsunami in Southeast Asia. We all should have a part in healing ....go to the best organization I know of to help in the context of Christian relief:

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