Sunday, July 31, 2005

Some ways of thinking about leadership

In traditional churches it is common to think that everyone should be in on the decision making. The church is a democracy, and all people should be heard. If it's not practical for all to be heard, then at least every viewpoint needs to be heard. From what I've seen this way of thinking will kill the church. Since "vision leaks" (was it Andy Stanley or Erwin McManus that said that?) and evangelistic fervor is entropic (we lose our energy to win people to Jesus), churches commonly redirect their energy and resources to take care of themselves.

In newer "leadership oriented" churches, the argument is made that not all voices should be heard. Instead, the leaders function as the stewards of the church's mission. Their job is to know current reality, be completely sold out to fulfilling God's mission, and to make the wise decisions to make the mission a reality. The idealist in me sees this as a great way to do things. The cynic in me sees it as another form of our culture's tendency to expertocracy.

How about a third option? What would happen if all the people consistently developed their relationship with God and each other? What if they cultivated their ability to hear God through careful listening (in the Bible & prayer) and ready obedience? Then when a decision needs to be made - assuming it's a big decision that knowing the mission of the church alone isn't the deciding factor - the church gets together, not to vote, not to hear an edict (we usually call it a "presentation" these days), but to wait on God. In my experience, sometimes God will speak quickly, sometimes not. Sometimes God will speak through an established and recognized leader - but often not.

The advantage of this third option - over the Democracy and Leadership models - is that it won't work without God - or without our steady cultivation of our life with God. Nothing automatic anymore. No guarantees going in that we'll get what we want.

Might be worth trying.

Sunday Sermon - 31 July 2005

I preached on overcoming regret today. We have a tendency to ask "What if?" looking back in our lives. This too often results only in regret or despair. Looking at the characters of King Saul, Judas Iscariot, Peter and Jesus, I suggest some ways to handle "What if" situations. I also suggest that God's call to us is a kind of future "what if" - and that we can respond in faith. You can listen if you like.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Sky High

I took the kids to see Sky High, the new Disney movie this afternoon. It was light, fun, family entertainment. Though the plot was fairly predictable, the characters seemed to enjoy themselves. As usual, the villians took themselves too seriously, but even their villiany seemed pretty cartoonish.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Spreading the Democracy of God?

A conversation today got me thinking again (I've been told that is dangerous business). We were discussing fleshing out Matthew 6:33: 33 "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."

What exactly are we to seek? what is it that will be added? Those were supposed to be the questions. The question I came to, though, was: "Who do we as good democrats even begin to understand Kingdom?"

I'd like to invite you to consider how we who live in a country that generally understands that democracy and the exportation thereof is the major factor in freedom are to understand Kingdom. Because I seriously doubt that a modern translation of "seek ye first the democratic republic of God...." would be faithful to the original intent or language.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Avian Flu - Are We Prepared?

Winds of Change has an informative post on Avian Flu - a major threat to the whole world, and one sitting right on our door step. Are we prepared? Do we have sufficient medications available? Do we have the infrstructure to create and distribute medicine when the need arises? Sure looks like we aren't prepared.

Do our elected leaders know this? They will if you call them.

Feed Store Update

I posted below about the fire at our youth building, the Feed Store. Here's an update in Q & A format.

Question: I’ve heard some people asking about the wiring of the Feed Store. How was it done?

Answer. Tim, the trustees, and the church leadership wanted to have the best and safest environment for the youth, so a professional electrician rewired the building as part of the
renovation. The city inspector then inspected it. Everything passed.

Q: When will we know all the details?
A. The State Fire Marshals and the East Texas Arson & Explosive Task Force (which includes the ATF) were at the site yesterday. Their initial study indicates the likelihood of arson. They are continuing the investigation, as are our local police. The adjustor from our insurance company was out this morning and told us they would be doing their own investigation also. If you have any suspicions or information do not gossip about it but call the police and tell them.

Q: Arson? That’s horrible! What should we think?

A. Pray for the arsonist to repent and come to faith in Jesus. Pray for him/her to be frustrated in any further destructive or illegal intentions.

Q: Was the Feed Store covered by our insurance?

A. Yes, though after the loan is paid off (we still owe about $50,000 on the building) there likely won’t be enough left to rebuild to where we were.

Q: What happens next?
A. It's too soon to say. We remain committed to reaching the youth of Pittsburg. In the interim we will use our remaining buildings for this ministry. Sunday night at 5 p.m. we will meet with the youth and talk about what lies ahead. Since they themselves put so much labor into the renovation effort, they are in mourning.

<>No building or rebuilding takes place without a charge conference meeting, and right now the trustees are fully engaged with the insurance company.

Q: What can each of us do next?
A. First, Pray. Pray for a fresh filling of the Holy Spirit. Pray for the youth, youth leaders, and others who are broken hearted after spending hundreds of hours working on the Feed Store.
Second, recognize that satan would like to use this as an opportunity to destroy us - don't be surprised about that, that's just what he does. Do not give the devil a foothold - through gossip, through blame, through attacking each other. Every time we do that satan wins.
Third, Offer yourself to the Lord. Say something like, "How can you use
me now, Lord?"

Q: Why did this happen to us?

A. We don’t know. Whatever the reason – if there is one – this is a time of testing for us. Our maturity in Christ, our character, our love for each other, our commitment to God’s mission and purposes, our faithfulness to the church – all these are being tested. I pray that we will stand firm in Christ through it all.


Has the "Global War On Terror" become the "Global Jihad On Terror"? Today's Washington Post reports:
The Bush administration is retooling its slogan for the fight against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, pushing the idea that the long-term struggle is as much an ideological battle as a military mission, according to senior administration and military officials. <>
In recent speeches and news conferences, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the country's top military officer have spoken of "a global struggle against violent extremism" rather than "the global war on terror," which had been the catchphrase of choice.
The article suggest this change originates in a view that the "war" wil be longer and include more than just battlefield action. Quite possible. I find it fascinating that "struggle" can be a good translation of jihad also. I wonder how the US is handling the Arabic ranslation of this new phrase.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Funeral Crasher?

The rage on conservative talk radio yesterday was over a funeral crasher. Apparently Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor Catherine Baker Knoll attended the funeral of a Marine who had been killed in Iraq. Here is the story from the Pittsburg Port-Gazette.

The article says that Knoll attended the funeral uninvited. The reasonable concern is that she apparently took every opportunity to politicize the event. To politicize a funeral for personal gain is the ultimate in bad taste, but can be remedied at the ballot box.

My concern is not that Lt. Gov. Knoll acted in such a boorish and insensitive way. That much is obvious. My concern here is that every conservative talk radio host I heard reference the story was furiously offended that Knoll had attended the funeral though she hadn’t been invited.

I have never heard of funeral by invitation. Certainly there are times when the family desires a closed or very limited service, but in general funerals are attended freely by all who want to pay respects to the deceased. That Knoll seemingly intended to pay no respect is a great point of discussion for talk radio and partisan debate. Who attends which funeral is not.

Systems approach

It is the time of year when professional football players hold out for more money. Players and their agents sit across tables from owners. Offers meet counteroffers until a compromise is reached somewhere in between. It is a microcosm of a system that is rooted deeply in our culture; the adversarial system.

The primary presumption of the adversarial system is that a fair outcome is reached by opposed sides vigilantly contend on issues at which they are at odd. The outcome of such organized and refereed contention is to be accepted as the best possible outcome. The adversarial system is the basis for contract negotiations, our justice system, and much of the work of the academy.

But ought it be the basis for all our public and social interactions? One of the benefits of the adversarial system is that it works whether or not one’s opponent has compromise or fairness of outcome in mind. In fact, this system assumes opposing sides in a dispute may even be willing to withhold relevant information or even cheat in an attempt to gain an advantage. In other words, the adversarial system is set up for interaction that cannot be based on trust.

Since the adversarial system is designed to overcome or at least provide for mistrust, it should not be the primary model used in some settings. It certainly does not belong in family relations or in the church.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Does God Exist?

“Does God exist?” This question was the theme of the day Tuesday at Senior High 2 camp at Glen Lake last week. I was the preacher at worship that evening, and was to preach on the theme. I confess I have some difficulty using the standard proofs of God’s existence. It isn’t that I don’t believe them or can’t follow their logic.

There are two reasons I have some difficulty with the standard proofs of God’s existence. The first I will deal with here, the second next. My first problem is I don’t think strict logic and clear reasoning will convince all unbelievers.

For example, one argument that seems flawless to many Christians is the argument from creation. Paul expresses this argument in Romans 1, and it appears elsewhere in scripture as well. A simplified form of the argument is that a look around at the beauty, intricacy, and variety in the world would require a Maker to have brought it into being.

This is closely related to the argument from causation; every effect has a cause, and there must have been some ultimate First Cause that began the chain reaction of effects and causes that gave us the world we have today.

The difficulty of using these “proofs” to conclusively convince unbelievers is simple. These proofs work for us because we believe in a Creator or First Cause. In other words, before we articulate these arguments for God’s existence, we already believe.

There are many unbelievers who look at the same beautiful sunsets I do, who are as in awe of the splendor of nature as I am, yet who do not attribute such beauty and splendor to God.

If we truly want to convert others to our perspective, to believe in the God in whom we believe, we must first be able to understand things from their perspective. When we have done so, we earn the right with them to be heard from our own perspective.

Feed Store Burns

Led by our youth pastor, Tim Ruland, the church spend over a year renovating an old feed store building to be used as our youth building. Not being one of those churches with millions to play with, Tim used his creativity, some grant money and hundreds of hours put in by his whole family, the youth group and others in the community to make the building a place for youth ministry. The grand opening was in early February, and since then the youth have had a great time meeting and hanging out in there.

This morning at 6 we got a call that the Feed Store was on fire. I rushed down to the church. The Pittsburg Fire Department was already there, but (as I heard later) had been unable to get the nearest hydrant to work, and were only pumping a small amount of water on the fire. By the time they were able to get real water flow on the building - almost 30 minutes later - it was too late. we give thanks that no one was hurt and that the fire didn't spread to other buildings (our other buildings are very close - one only three feet away). But we have a long way to go to get our dream for a youth ministry facility back on track.

Since we have old buildings (including a beautiful hundred year old sanctuary that was just renovated - which we're still paying for - not to mention the pipe organ and windows) that demand lots of money and attention I've often told the people that we're not in the building business but the people business. Right now the people are hurting inside. Tons of labor went up in smoke. But in the end it's a building. We're out to build people. So pray for us.

UPDATE: The state Fire Marshall and peopel from ATF are investigating the remains this morning. We don't have any reason to suspect arson, but it's certainly worth checking out.
Also - KLTV in Tyler/Longview sent a camera man out to interview Tim Ruland our youth pastor. If you're in the region watch their newscasts tonight.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Today's Sermon - How Much is Enough?

I've uploaded an MP3 of today's message, "How Much is Enough?" It's based on Luke 14:25-35 and asks how much prayer, bible engagement, giving, forgiving, love and commitment are enough. My suggestion is that before we answer these questions for ourselves we note that when Jesus asked that question of the Father in relation to us, it cost him his life.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Church Discipline

Marlin Jeschke writes in Christianity Today about the loss of discipline in the church. More than just a function of church size, more than a revivalistic attitude that cares mostly about one's salvation, this loss of discipline is due to Constantinianism: an acceptance of the State as the legitimate arbiter of morality, of right and wrong.

We Methodists used to be a disciplined people. We still call the book that orders our life The Book of Discipline. But this discipline is usually allowed rein only in the abstract and institutional. When it comes to personal discipline, we're afraid to do it. Since the Golden Rule is often our highest understanding of social morality, and we ourselves do not wish to be disciplined, we do not extend discipline to others. Evidently, then, if we are to recover discipline in the church, we will have to start with our own willingness to receive discipline - to be disciplined. Some of this "being disciplined" will be our own effort - like the athelete seeks to be disciplined in practice and preparation. Some, however, will come from outside us and will be contrary to our immediate will. But this only shows what we need: to submit out immediate will to God's will accepted as our own. God wills that we be holy - that we exhibit the character of Jesus. When we take this desire of God's as our own will - our own quest - then we will subordinate our immediate will and desires in particular instances to this greater desire.

Now it may be that those who wish to discipline us are not inspired by a vision of the Holy God but by legalism or a simple will to power. In the long term, these mistaken disciplined will be resolved in the course of mutual discipline - not merely the one accountable to and disciplined by another, but all accountable and disciplined by all, since all are pursuing the same quest.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Methodism & Poverty

When I first saw the headline, "Methodism Needed in Madness of Poverty," my first thought was that this was a creative translation from a foreign news source. Foreign it is - The Globe and Mailis a Canadian paper - but it really is talking about Methodism, or at least John Wesley's teaching on money. Based on a World Bank report on poverty, the article suggest Welsey's admonition to "Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can" as a much neglected solution to world poverty. Noting the apparent failure of many years of country to country assistance (too often siphoned off to the overseas accounts of the country's elites), economic reform that allows the hard work of the poor to be productive for them - and not just for the bottom line of Western companies that thrive on their low costs - would be a good, and Methodist, solution to world poverty.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Podcasting from Church Camp

I learned at the last minute that we'd be having workshops each day of camp. I happened to have my MP3 player/recorder with me, so I thought I'd do a workshop on podcasting. Had I ever done one before? Nope. Did I know how to get one online? Nope. But I figured it couldn't be too difficult. I was surprised, however, when I learned that none of the kids (Senior High) knew what podcasting was - or had even heard of it. No matter - I plunged on ahead.

My suggestion to the kids was to let their creative juices flow. Through sharing a testimony, a short skit, an interview or an original song (who wants to mess with copyright issues?) they could get the Word out to the nations - well at least those who speak english. Apart from the technology, it would challenge the kids regarding their ability to articulate their faith. Even if this articulation only reached the level of asking or raising questions it would be a plus.

I discovered that a few of the kids were able to turn on their creativity pretty quick. Others couldn't think of anything to do. What I did with these kids - and some others - turned out to work pretty well. I picked a subject I thought they'd know something about and interviewed them. It worked fine.

Each podcast works out to just a minute or two - with more planning and practice we could do more.

To listen to the results you can check in here:

Two Kinds of Unity

Last week in, Frederica Mathewes-Green wrote about contrasting understandings of church unity held by the Orthodox (her own tradition) and the Catholics. The former understand unity to be rooted in a unity of faith: believers today believe what the early church believed. Catholics, on the other hand, see unity rooted in the institution of the church. Though they'd see an important role for ancient shared faith, what really matters is proper connection to Rome and the Bishop of Rome.

Which kind of unity characterizes the United Methodist Church? I think part of our recent conflict stems from these two views competing against each other. Though the conflict is usually seen as the "liberals" vs. the "conservatives" (and on many issues, that conflict is very real), there is also a conflict between both these groups and the "moderates" who say something like, "Quit fighting over doctrine. Let's just be united!" Since both "moderates" and "liberals" tend to view doctrine as less important than "conservatives" do, the bulk of this conflict is between the "conservatives" and "moderates." This is one reason why I think it is silly to think that the UMC will split into two pieces if it does split. The fault lines are too numerous for that.

If one identifying factor of UM "moderates" is their understanding of unity as institutional, I think it's clear they are the strongest group - numerically, at least - in the church today. There power was shown in the recent General Conference resolution for unity. I have my doubts that an institutional view of unity will last long in the UMC since we lack the authoritarian structure of the Catholics (and their's may be falling apart also). We'll see.

Praying for Eritrea

Both Marxist & Islamic countries have a heritage of persecuting Christians. If you've read anything by Solzhenitsyn, Brother Andrew, Richard Wurmbrand, et al., you know how brutal oppression was under the Communists - inspite of claiming freedom of religion. Most of the communist givernments have fallen (failed) and have been replaced by something less antogonistic. China and North Korea remain - both repressive, though the latter much more so than the former (due to less paranoia?). In Africa, Eritrea remains governed by Marxist principles. Those principles dictate that Christians are parasites and dangerous to society and must be "dealt with." If intimidation doesn't work, then they use torture. If torture doesn't work, then murder. Read the article linked in the title for the latest on persecution in Eritrea and for guidance on how to respond.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

We Need Reasoned Discourse

Similarities abound between the Anglican and United Methodist Churches. Both continue a long struggle to figure out how to deal with doctrinal pluralism and indifferentism. I've learned a lot from Tom Wright over the years, not only from his works on the New Testament (his field of specialization), but also from what he has written on the church. Here's a recent newspaper column arguing for a return to "reasoned discourse" within the church, moving away from mere opinion and the "more victimized than thou" approaches so prevelant today. Good stuff.

Summer Camp Again

I enjoyed reading Richard's assessment of the camp from which he has just returned. I leave tomorrow for a senior high camp at Glen Lake Camp in the Central Texas Conference. I have been volunteering at this camp for about a decade, and enjoy immensely the contact and ministry I am able to have with the youth, the college-age staff, and with other adults.

After a hiatus at last year's camp, I am preaching one of the evening worship services this year. My topic? The existence of God.

I look forward to the entire week, but I must admit I am especially excited about getting to preach. I don't recall ever having preached on the topic of God's existence.

Reminds me of a discussion I had with a grad student a couple of days ago. I described myself to him as a postmodern Christian. I could tell from his reaction that he was concerned about me. Having once been very near the place he is now, I decided to try to explain myself in terms he might understand and accept.

(I admit some of my motivation for describing myself as postmodern was to get a reaction similar to the one I got; sometimes I like to say things more provocatively than I might otherwise to get a conversation going)

For the purposes of this piece, the main point of difference between he and I was that he thinks the most important thing Christians can do is rationally and philosophically prove God's existence. I, on the other hand, think the most effective evidence we can offer to those who don't believe is changed lives. For lives to be so changed we need the church.

What will I offer the youth and other adults at camp this week when I preach on God's existence? The evidence of changed lives. Hopefully someone there will want his or her life touched and changed by God.

Inside the mind of Suicide bombers

This interview in the TimesOnline offers a unique picture of how suicide bombers think. Sounds to me like they need the Gospel - some real good news.

Back from Church Camp

Now that I'm back from church camp, regular posting should resume.

I worked Senior High camp at Lakeview Methodist Camp. Our camp had about 160 kids and was very well run. Richard Luna & David Luna (no relation, though both on staff at Pollard UMC in Tyler) did a fine job directing the camp. I've been working camp since 1981 and this was clearly one of the best. Strengths of the camp this year include:
  • A large number of hard working adults. We had 6 pastors, numerous youth directors and other adults who gave of themselves from early in the morning until very early in the next morning (that happens when you get to bed after midnight everynight and have to mobilize the kids in your cabin to get to breakfast on time. These leaders showed clear dedication to Christ and to the kids. We had both quantity and quality.
  • Good small group interaction. Since I had a group, I don't know the details about the other groups, but from what I did see they went well. My group came together better than any other I've had a camp. This was partly a function of the adult leaders (we had three), but also of the kids. They were hungry for God & for his work in their lives. It makes a big difference.
  • Good preaching. Jeff Gage, pastor of FUMC in Hooks, Jonathan Bynum pastor of Greggton UMC in Longview, Eric Ryburn, pastor of St. Andrews UMC in Mt. Pleasant, John Whitehurst, pastor of FUMC Ore City, Richard Luna, and I were the preachers. Good, challenging, substantive preaching - the kids responded well.
  • Changed lives. The more time I spend with kids today, the more I see broken and hurting lives. Huge numbers are impacted by divorce. Huge numbers are affected by major tragedy. Many are struggling. Most of the things they deal with don't come from within but from without. At the testimony time Thursday night many shared about their experiences of God during the week. Bishop Huie's vision is to plant 10 new churches a year for the next 10 years. Some of those future pastors were touched by God at camp this week.
  • Technology. Adam Lema (on staff at Greggton) and John Whitehurst integrated technology into camp with skill and humor. The movies John's video workshop participants made were entertaining and fir well with the message of the day.
Things to work on:
  • Raising the articulacy level in youth. Of course, we need to do this with all ages within the church. We've understood Christian education too long as a passive activity - sit still and be quiet. We need to work on helping people develop skills at articulating the (and their) faith. This is a job for the local churches, but perhaps we can find more ways to do this intentionally at camp.
  • Bringing kids into leadership. In his worship workshop David Luna did a great job of drawing kids into planning and leading worship. Perhaps next year we can find a way to have some kids who are spiritual leaders who will connect with the mission of the camp from the get-go and join in the prayer support needed for each segment of the camp.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Credibility Gap

Someone referred to my daughter by saying "hey, kid." Oddly enough, it was another kid!

It's not that she's not a "kid." She is 16, well within the normal range for being called a kid. The problem was, the young man who called her that, a "kid" himself, meant it in a condescending manner. At least that was the tone and context in which it happened.

He was in a position of alleged leadership, my daughter merely in attendance at the event. I say alleged leadership because I don't consider anyone with a condescending attitude an actual leader.

Leadership, as well as authority, by my best understanding, are things that come along with respect and credibility. Once this young man, probably the same age as my daughter, said "hey kid" to her, he lost all credibility and respect, and thus his ability to lead.

Oh, sure, being in a "position of leadership" he still did have some ability to control my daughter, but when such control is exercised entirely absent respect and credibility it loses the character that leadership, authority, and control ought to have in the context of Christian community.

Once upon a time, when I was a "kid," an older adult referred to me as "you people." Instantly, I had no respect for him, nor did I care what he had to say at me following that phrase.

If we want the world to hear us; if we want other Christians to hear us, we need seek credibility and respect so far as it is up to us.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

What does IT mean?

Greetings from SpiLiRa!

Heard a message on Micah 6:8 last night. "God has shown you, O mortal, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you? But to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God." The message was presented in an interesting way; three men each spoke on one of the three requirements.

At least, that's what we were led to expect. That is what the power point said on the screen. What happened was each of the three men took the opportunity to tell us God loves us. I'll admit the first did refer to justice a couple of times, and the second was by all reports a very kind man. The third admitted he had a lot of ego, probably too much to be talking on "walking humbly with God," but that God loves us anyway.

Not a one of them said anything that was unscriptural, but neither did they speak to the scripture on which they were purporting to preach!

I've run into this homiletical practice before; perhaps it is a method taught at some seminaries. Between you and me, though, it drives me crazy. How could you preach on a text as powerful as Micah 6:8 and ignore the text?

The good news is the scripture for the week is one of my favorites, an essential text for faithful postmodern Christians, John 8: 31-32. Surely someone will actually speak, teach, or preach on this one!

Friday, July 08, 2005

Supreme Court Appointments

If I were president and faced with making an appointment to the Supreme Court, one person I'd want to look at closely is Stephen L. Carter of Yale. As far as I know he's never been a judge (though he clerked for Thurgood Marshall), but has spent his career in academia. I've read a few of his books and many of his columns. I have a great respect for him as a Christian and a scholar. Of course I haven't heard his name mentioned in any of the lists of prospects, so we'll have to wait and see.
UPDATE: Here's Carter's recent commentary on the nomination process.
UPDATE: (7/19/2005) I see that John Podhoretz at National Review's "The Corner" i slooking at Carter also.

Total War?

John Derbyshire of The Corner at National Review Online says this about war (the link is here. Since The Corner doesn't have links to individual messages, you can find it at 10:32 a.m. on July 8, 2005):
Wars should be fought with the utmost ferocity, to the complete destruction and humiliation of the enemy, and without any regard to casualties among noncombatants in his territories. To fight a war in any other kind of way is to sow dragon's teeth, as the second half of the 20th century illustrates. Yet such a war is impossible under present Western sensibilities. America has now been fighting the War on Terror for longer than we fought WW2 -- yet we have not even captured Osama bin Laden!
I understand this purist view, though unlike Derb I don't lament that we can't pursue it. "Present Western sensibilities" are still influenced (though less than at other times) by Christianity. Though Derb's war proposal might fit with Saul's mission to smite the Amelekites, it's a far cry from Jesus.

When, in recent history, has this kind of war been fought - and by whom? The Axis powers (at least Germany and Japan) fought this way, and in response the Allies tended in this direction. But that was a change in the American way. We certainly didn't fight that way in our earlier wars (though there were instances during the Civil War, it was never the policy of the US government to fight this way).

IF we can come up with a Christian justification for war, it will not be a justification for this kind of war. The most positive Christian response to war (I don't count the practice of "Christian" states and organizations since Constantine as seriously Christian) has been the Just War tradition. Its restriction that war must be not only defensive (which Derb would likely have no difficulty with) but proportional form absolute barriers to total war.

MORE: We preachers and church leaders sometimes lament that people don't focus entirely in their life with God - when we mean something more like their life "with the church." This kind of totalism sounds so spiritual - but so easily becomes misguided, just as the total war approach.

I will be at the front of the line to argue for the importance of the church and that church is part of what salvation is all about. But in itself it is not what salvation is all about. The life completely sold out and dedicated to God is not about God alone. Back in Genesis when God made Adam, their mutual relationship was perfect. But consider what God did. First God distracted Adam with work - naming and interacting with a bunch of animals. Then God took a more drastic step. Not only was the perfect relationship with God not enough, not only was the naming job not enough, but God own judgment was that Adam needed someone like him: an Eve. I believe that the salvation offered us in Jesus is a restoration of all the good of Edenic existence - except better, and that God wants that salvation to start now. If that is the case, a single minded focus on glorifying God will not lead to a one track mind or a totalizing way of life of absolute focus. God's simply too big for any single activity of ours to be the complete fulfillment of his will.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Joy at Work - Joy at Church?

Christianity Today interviews Dennia Bakke, author of the new Joy at Work. CEO of a major energy company, Bakke considers joy a missing element - both at work and at church. Read the interview & seek joy - for yourself and those around you.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

An Alternative Voice on What Africa Needs

The healthy countries in Africa are few. Disease is rampant. Economies sputter - when they're not being pillaged by their "rulers for life" and their cronies. The accepted wisdom is the same as most other problems (public education, health insurance, etc.) - "Send more money!"

But at least a few Africans are tired of playing this game and want real deliverance. Der Spiegel interviewed Kenyan economist James Shikwati - check out his comments. (thanks to Vodkapundit for the link!)

UPDATE: Nicholas Kristof writes on the same subject - toa similar point - in the New York Times.

Rachel Scott Film

A powerful film about the martyrdom of Rachel Scott at Columbine has won a movie award. You can see the film here.

Too old for youth ministry?

Just got off the phone with a life time friend and co-conspirator in youth ministry. Another mutual friend came up in the conversation who has been active and effective in youth ministry since the mid 70's.

Conventional wisdom says you don't do youth ministry for that long. You are supposed to grow out of it. I love bashing conventional wisdom!

Here's my take, and it has borne out over years of observation and practice. There are three essential factors necessary for doing effective youth ministry, and none of them have anything to do with age. These factors are: 1) a solid and growing relationship with God; 2) authenticity; and 3) open and honesty memory.
  1. The first one seems like a no-brainer, but if I didn't include it some of you might think I was an idiot. To reach youth for Christ, grow them as disciples, and develop them as Christian leaders, one has got to make the effort and commit the time to taking care of one's own relationship with God.
  2. Many things have changed over the decades about interests, lifestyles, and distractions for youth, but this one thing has remained constant: youth have naturally well-honed fake detectors. Youth will quickly figure out the youth director or volunteer to learns the lingo and tries to dress like they do on the O.C. It is more important that you understand what it is about rap music that attracts teens than that you listen to it yourself. Be the you God wants you to be. As soon as you try to be someone else, you've lost the youth.
  3. By honesty memory I don't mean you are good at trivia or memorization. I mean you can remember how life as a teen was for you. Too many adults approach youth with the "You think life is tough as a youth, just wait 'til you're an adult" attitude. Sure, when you are 40 and facing marital stress, losing your job to outsourcing and dealing with teen children of your own, it is easy to imagine how smooth life would be if your greatest worry was next week's chem test. But don't your remember how much it hurt to get dumped when you were 15? NOW you know that wasn't the end of the world, but at the time you sure thought it was. Stay in touch with your memories of life as a youth.
Now here I am, 16 years into pastoral ministry, and I have a youth director. I could lose touch with the kids, reasoning I have someone on staff to handle that. But I can't bring myself to do that. Youth keep me young at heart and fresh of soul.

Can one get too old to do youth ministry? I doubt it. Ask me again in 30 years.

Carnival of Education

Check out this week's Carnival of Education! Week after week they have interesting and inspiring discussions of educations. Pposts range from school administration to homescholing to higher ed - and everything in between.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Discontent vs. Satisfaction

On the face of it, most of us would choose satisfaction over discontent. It’s so much more comfortable. But that’s only as long as we leave the issue as an abstraction. Once we ask what it is we’re discontent or satisfied with, the picture changes entirely.

Have you noticed it’s mighty hot outside? After spending a few days in California and experiencing highs in the mid 70’s I’m especially aware of our heat wave. When we lived in California we were satisfied with not having an air conditioner. We only needed it 3 or 4 days a year. Here in Texas we’d die without one. If our AC goes out even for a short time we rapidly become discontent. I bet most of you are the same way.

Consider another area: education. I’ve known quite a few students over the years who are satisfied with their level of education. “Who needs high school?” they ask each day. Or, “Who needs a degree?” Most of us know that getting more education – whether “more” means finishing high school or getting a college degree is a great good for us. How much easier would educator’s jobs be if they had students who were discontent with ignorance, who were hungry to learn?

<>What about church life? One of my jobs as pastor – one of the hardest – is to create and manage discontent. Does that sound strange? Let me give you some examples.
  • <>We have a goal of bringing our average attendance over 200. This goal is rooted in discontent. We are not content to have only a small portion of the body in church any given Sunday. We’re not content to not be reaching our community.
  • Less than a quarter of our membership is in a small group or study group each week. I’m not satisfied with that. I want to see every member hungry for God – hungry enough to not be satisfied with their current relationship.
  • I’m not content to just have people attending Sunday School. Over the years I’ve known people who have been in Sunday School longer than I’ve been alive. Yet they protest that they’re ignorant and don’t know much about the bible. They don’t know how to pray. They don’t know how to lead their children or friends to Christ. I’m not satisfied with classes whose only product is fellowship (though fellowship is a good thing) or adding knowledge to one’s brain.

Do you get the idea? Creating discontent is one thing. Managing it is another. We need healthy discontent – discontent that leads to action, not to despair or defeat. Hebrews 12 tells us that for the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross. We endure the hard work of moving from discontent to satisfaction, not settling for mediocrity, because we follow the example of Jesus.

<>What’s the difference between healthy dissatisfaction and negativism? We’ve all been around negative people and know how draining they can be. Someone who is dissatisfied in a healthy way has the following characteristics:
  • <>Their dissatisfaction is rooted in what God wants, not what they want. They know that if God gets what He wants it will likely cost them more, not less. They know they must apply themselves to be part of the solution, not just stand at a distance and lob criticism.
  • <>Their dissatisfaction is exercised in love. At the same time they urge the Body on to fulfill its mission of holiness and outreach, they seek to build up the Body and each member.
  • <><>Their lives are oriented toward joy – knowing the blessings God has in store for those who patiently endure.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Do-It-Yourself Schools

The Dallas Morning News tells the story (registration required - but free) of the Nguyen family of the metroplex. A generation ago poor immigrants from Vietnam, now they are a large family of doctors, engineers and educators. By their reckoning they've received so much, now it's time to give back. They're starting a school - St. Ignatius of Loyola - where they themselves - the extended family of educated thankful people - will do much of the teaching. Way to go Nguyens!

Let's try another step. In the recent issue of Books and Culture Alen Guelzo, professor of history at Gettysburg College, writes "Cracks in the Tower: A Closer Look at the Christian College Boom." Booming they are. But will it last? In his examination the question isn't only will the colleges keep booming - or stay open - but will they stay Christian. In Guelzo's analysis, the never-ending quest for adequate funding leads these colleges to dilute their Christian identity until - like Harvard, Oberlin, USC, etc., that identity is left as not much more than a historical footnote. Looks pretty bleak.

I can think of a couple of possibilities.

First, instead of (whell, for now it'll be "in addition to") operating colleges, Christians can operate a network of seminars and workshops that function as "add-ons" to educations gained elsewhere. Some Christian institutions are already doing this. There's loss involved here - particularly in the lack of ongoing sustained relationships and the deeper dimensions of learning they make possible. But with the economics of higher ed for so many entailing working full time on the side and/or commuting to school, or from another point of view the commodification of higher ed, this loss is too common to education in general.

Second, what about small, local schools - akin to what the Nguyens are doing on the high school level? Could Christian faculty from nearby schools - and well-educated non-faculty start a non-localized school? They could get library privileges at other local schools - maybe even require their students to take a set number of classes at other institutions so they could have access to those big things that take serious capital investment. The obvious problem here is accredidation. Since a college degree is a commodity, the only way to regulate them and guarantee it actually means something is to have experts overseeing the process.

If educators dared to start such a school - would anyone come? Some may dare. Whatever model we find - whether an adaptation of current models or something new (or ancient!) - Christian higher education is worth doing.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Live 8

Rock and Rap and Pop are going global today with the "Live 8" event. A next-gen version of 1985's "Live Aid," this re-do is again headed up by Bob Geldof.

The theme this time is poverty. This world-wide concert event is billed to promote poverty awareness. Allegedly as many as 5.5 billion people will witness some part of the concert. One would think that if 5.5 billion people were made aware of poverty dome real differnce could be made.

But the artists show up in their limos, sing their songs that depersonify people, especially women, glorify violence, sexual activity and materialism, then go home to their posh cribs.

I don't know about you, but I don't have high hopes for the New Poverty Awareness.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Jack Hayford

Christianity Today has a feature on Jack Hayford, pastor of Church on the Way in Van Nuys, California. I've never been to the church, and haven't had much opportunity to hear Jack Hayford or read his books. I did meet him in a pastor's conference about 12 years ago. It was one of those few conferences that attract only a small number - I suppose there were about 50 of us. In that small group I was able to meet Jack and fellowship with him over a meal. He was not only the main speaker for that event but also the worship leader. My impression of him was of a man of great humility - and flowing from that, great power in the things of God. May God raise up more like him!