Monday, July 31, 2006

The Church and Politics...

A great discussion of the Church and it's role in politics is over at Jesus Creed. Thanks Scot, for opening this up, and thanks to all who are discussing it online. Big questions.

Learning about leadership...

One of the best resources I've found recently that has clear thinking about leadership is Slow Leadership. A good source of ideas and questions to help you in any area of your life where you are called to lead.

A great prayer...

...from The Divine Hours (a guide to fixed hour prayer).

O God, you both comfort me and disturb my complacency through your Spirit. May I recognize the blind, the lame and the prisoner in the circumstances of my life, and understand my call to proclaim the good news to the poor. I ask this through Jesus who is my way, my truth and my life. Amen.

Praying this is great. Living it would be even better.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

This is so wrong...

Christian Retailers Put Their Print on Products - LA Times

Virtuous Woman perfume comes packaged with a passage from Proverbs. But what makes the floral fragrance distinctly Christian, Hobbs said, is that it's supposed to be a tool for evangelism.

"It should be enticing enough to provoke questions: 'What's that you're wearing?' " Hobbs said. "Then you take that opportunity to speak of your faith. They've opened the door, and now they're going to get it."

More than 400 vendors packed the Colorado Convention Center last week to showcase the latest accessories for the Christian lifestyle. There were acres of the predictable: books, CDs, greeting cards, inspirational artwork, stuffed animals wearing "Jesus Loves You" T-shirts. Many of the newest items, however, put a religious twist on unexpected products — marketed as a means to reach the unsuspecting and unsaved.

Christian Outdoorsman was taking orders for a camouflage baseball cap with a red cross. In Booth 235, Revelation Products of St. Louis was pitching golf balls and flip-flops. Follow the Son flip-flops have patterned soles that leave the message "Follow Jesus" in the sand.

Gospel Golf Balls are touted as "a great golf ball with a greater purpose." Manufactured by Top-Flite, the golf balls are printed with well-known verses from the Bible, such as John 3:16 ("For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…. "). Dave Kruse, president of Revelation, said they were meant as "conversation starters," to help men share their faith while teeing up.

An added bonus: Duffers need no longer feel bad about losing a ball in the rough. "If you're playing great, good," Kruse said. "If you're spraying the ball, well … lose a golf ball, share the gospel."

How can we expect people to take the Kingdom of God seriously when it's all about "the stuff". These things make me queasy.

Read the whole article here.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Real Spiritual Transformation...

Kevin Miller over at Out of Ur echoes some of my thoughts from over the past 7 years of working to bring about spiritual transformation in the lives of people. His starts by saying,
"Spiritual Formation: we’ve already got a proven model, but do we want it?"

He then proceeds to ask a question that I think the church leaders of today have to wrestle with.
"What would happen to your life if you lived in close geographical community and relationship with other people; if you lived in submission to authority; if you practiced silence and simplicity and discipline; if you regularly read the Bible and prayed and meditated on what you read; if you made study part of your life; and if you worked hard in some daily occupation, seeing your labor as full of dignity and offering it to God?"

Do we want to be changed? Are we willing to live counter-culturally in order to allow that transformation to take place? It's a question I am asking of myself and thinking through on behalf of the congregation I lead. The jury is still out...

Read the whole post here. He has good ideas, and ones that we need to work out in practical ways.

"I've been everywhere man..."

Well, not everywhere, but lots of places in the US. Check it out here...

Create your own visited states map

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Gift of Giving...

My mother and father-in-law spend time each week visiting Lynn. Lynn is a "40 something" year old woman who has been confined to a bed her whole life. I'm not sure what all her conditions are, but her limbs are twisted and contorted, she can only eat food that has been mashed, and she very rarely gets out of the extended care hospital facility where she lives. She can't talk, but she can communicate by making noises and facial gestures for "yes" and "no". At first glance you might think that she isn't very smart, but you'd learn quickly that Lynn has an incredible intelligence. Once my wife promised to visit her "two weeks from Tuesday". When my wife was delayed and didn't actually arrive for a visit until Thursday, Lynn had a scowl on her face. She made it clear to Angela that she had been expecting her all day on Tuesday. One other time Lynn told Angela and I that her sister Sandy was sick and that she wanted us to take her to the hospital gift shop to buy her a get well card. We did that, feeling good that we had helped out. Truth was that Sandy was just fine and Lynn got a lot of laughter out of playing us for the fools.

Sandy is a wonderful sister who has loved Lynn throughout her life. Lynn has her, and she has my in-laws. My mother-in-law used to work with Lynn and introduced her to my father-in-law over the phone once. My father-in-law, the big tough logger type of guy, was hooked at once. I've watched them as they have given their lives to Lynn over the past 15 years. And I've learned something. They give to Lynn, but they receive so much more. When Lynn lights up as they walk into the room, when she has something to communicate to them and they have to work it through (sometimes for over an hour) to figure it out, when they smile as they tell us stories about Lynn's most recent "prank" all these moments my in-laws are receiving blessings from God. They started out this relationship by wanting to do something for Lynn. Who would've guessed that as time went on that they would receive so much from her?

I've spent a lot of time working with people with mental and physical disabilities. One thing that I have learned is that we are the ones who are blessed by being a part of their lives. They are gifts from God that come in unlikely packages. I think that's why I was so moved by the video below. It's the story of a father who brought his disabled son along for the ride as he ran a triathlon. Take a look...

Moving, eh? Let me encourage you to open your heart to some of those "unlikely gifts" from God. I promise that you'll never be the same again.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Simply amazing...

Hat tip to Rudy at Simplify who points us to one of the coolest ideas that I have ever seen...

"A small wheelchair car you drive with a joystick. This Hungarian car is designed as a small vehicle for wheelchair users. The wheelchair-bound user rolls her chair right into it and drives with a joystick. The car's interior space has no front seat -- just a space built to house the driver's own wheelchair so all she has to do is roll in through the extra large car doors and into position. The wheelchair locks into place within easy reach of the car's controls which are centred around a joystick."

Wheelchair car at Simplify

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

How the Kingdom Comes...

Tim Larson writes really well. And not only does he write well, he also has something valuable to say. Take for example what he writes about the coming of the Kingdom of God…
It seems to me that I have, for a long time, considered the Kingdom of God as some type of all powerful, impregnable force that would conquer by spiritual (military) might, the forces of darkness that pervade our society. It would conquer our culture and way of life with the sword of the Spirit, of course...And then I am faced with the words of Christ, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." "Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.” and “The Kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is’, or ‘There it is’, because the kingdom of God is within you.”

The Kingdom is subversive, always moving in secretly, quietly overwhelming defenses. It absorbs and consumes evil, transforming it into good. The Kingdom of God is the not only the most powerful force in the world, it is often the most surprising. Those who think they control it will often be crushed by it. Yet those who surrender to it will never be the same again. Thanks Tim, for your thoughts. The Kingdom lives and breathes in them.

Read More

The Honesty of Children

A friend (Thanks, Randi) sent me a group of pictures of kid's letters to God. I was amazed by what I saw there. There is an honesty that children have that we need to recover. They say what they feel and think and don't realize that they shouldn't. One of the most telling pictures was this one...

We would never say that, but the truth is that many of us want to follow God on our terms, not on His. He asks for all that we are. May He give us the grace to not hold back.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Learning to Pray...

Church may not be the best place to learn how to pray. I've suspected this all along, and Philip Yancey gives my theory some strong support in his article, The Word on the Street. (Read the full article here.)

"If you're writing a book about prayer, you should hang around the homeless for a while," said my wife, a veteran of inner-city ministry. "Street people pray as a necessity, not a luxury."

Her advice made sense, especially after I interviewed Mike Yankoski, a Westmont College student who, along with a friend, left school for five months to live on the street. (His book, Under the Overpass, tells the story.) Mike told me that homeless people, having hit bottom, don't waste time building up an image or trying to conform. And they pray without pretense, a refreshing contrast to what he found in some churches.

I asked for an example. "My friend and I were playing guitars and singing 'As the Deer Panteth for the Water' when David, a homeless man we knew, started weeping. 'That's what I want, man,' he said. 'I want that water. I'm an alcoholic, but I want to be healed.' As I spent more time with David, I realized that a connection with God is his only hope for healing. He simply doesn't have the inner strength. He relies on prayer as a lifeline."

Prayer is more about honesty that flows out of need (even desperation) than it is about saying the "right things" to God. Just as our human relationships grow from complete (and sometimes reckless) authenticity, our relationship with Jesus grows as we honestly interact with Him. We need to pray by laying all pretense aside and opening our heart to the One who knows it already, but waits for us to willingly share it.

Yancey's Full Article

Friday, July 07, 2006

Educate yourself

Want some MP3's that will stretch your thinking in regards to spiritual growth and the church? Then check out Radio Allelon, a great source for ideas that challenge and stretch.

Humility needed...

Here's a fascinating post from Willzhead. Read it slowly and let it impact you. And don't miss Will's conclusion...
"What ideas are we still holding on to because of social conditioning, culture or other factors? What things do we believe that are utterly inconsistent with the call of Christ on our lives?"

Read the post

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Trouble with Email...

Email is the best and worst thing that has happened to the church in the past few years. As a pastor I spend a considerable amount of time helping people communicate better with each other. And email, while it increases the amount of communication, doesn't always increase the quality of the communication. Here's my words of wisdom: be careful in regards to what you say, and in your interpretation of what you think they said. Wired news writes...

"According to recent research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, I've only a 50-50 chance of ascertaining the tone of any e-mail message. The study also shows that people think they've correctly interpreted the tone of e-mails they receive 90 percent of the time."

Read the rest here

Good Music...

I'm pretty picky when it comes to music. I find that so much of Christian music today is nothing but drivel and trite lyrics. I like a song that has some meaning. I want to be able to reflect on the lyrics and see multi-layered meanings...profound metaphors. And I want the music to fit the lyrics. For a long time I thought that the only person who could do that was my great friend Matt Auten. (If you aren't familiar with Matt's music you are missing out.) But I've found another one. Chris Rice. I started listening to Chris a couple of years ago and am continually amazed. His music moves me. God speaks to me through his lyrics. You should check him out.

He has several songs that I really love, but one of my favorites has to be Smell the Color 9. It took me a while to love this song, but I have grown to appreciate both the honesty and the fun of someone who is learning to trust a God that sometimes seems far away. Here's the lyric...

I would take “no” for an answer
Just to know I heard You speak
And I’m wonderin’ why I’ve never
Seen the signs they claim they see
Are the special revelations
Meant for everybody but me?
Maybe I don’t truly know You
Or maybe I just simply believe

‘Cause I can sniff, I can see
And I can count up pretty high
But these faculties aren’t getting me
Any closer to the sky
But my heart of faith keeps poundin’
So I know I’m doin’ fine
But sometimes finding You
Is just like trying to
Smell the color nine

Now I’ve never ‘felt the presence’
But I know You’re always near
And I’ve never ‘heard the calling’
But somehow You’ve led me right here
So I’m not looking for burning bushes
Or some divine graffiti to appear
I’m just beggin’ You for some wisdom
And I believe You’re puttin’ some here

‘Cause I can sniff, I can seek,
I can count up pretty high
But these faculties aren’t getting me
Any closer to the sky
But my heart of faith keeps poundin’
So I know I’m doin’ fine
But sometimes finding You
Is just like trying to
Smell the color nine

Smell the color nine?
But nine’s not a color
And even if it were you can’t smell a color
That’s my point exactly...

You need to hear it to do it justice. Do yourself a favor. Let God speak to you through Chris Rice's (and Matt Auten's) lyrics.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


The thing I love about preaching is that it forces you to wrestle with the text of Scripture. You can't (or maybe I should say you shouldn't) just look for a message to share. The goal is to see what truth is there and try it on for size. I'm currently working on a sermon series that shows the parallels between the Jews journey out of slavery in Egypt to the "Promised Land" and our own spiritual journey from slavery to sin to freedom in Christ. I've always loved the metaphor of the wilderness journey as one that speaks to where we live right now. Our lives are often filled with struggle and pain, just as the Jews struggled wandering through the desert. We feel like God is hiding sometimes. They felt it too. But perhaps the most powerful idea that I've seen lately is that God uses all the circumstances of the wilderness to make the Jews the people that he wants them to be. He painfully strips away the parts of them that are not dependent on Him and helps them to see that He is their God. Here's what He says to Moses in Ex. 9:16 -

“But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”

God uses our experiences, both wonderful and painful, to show us who He is, to show the world who He is, and to make us into the people we need to be. We miss this shaping process too often in our own lives. Our experiences are not just experiences, they are one of the ways that God shapes who we are. They are difficulties that drive us into His arms and remind us of our own powerlessness. They make us followers. It would be nice if life were easy. But easy lives make for weak people. Easy lives make for people who think they could probably handle this thing all on their own. In the wilderness, however, we realize the truth. We learn that if it wasn't for Jesus we would be hopelessly lost. He shapes us through the difficulty.

As in most things we really are like little children. We don't actually know what it is that we need. And God says, "Trust me. I love you. I would never put you through pain if it wasn't something that would help you to grow."

He's making us into a people who look like Jesus. At times that can be very painful. But the process is one that makes us whole.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Good words...

My brother Mike preached a great sermon this week. You can hear it online here.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Just for fun...

Here's a great link. There is much more to England than just the monarchy. See for yourself here.