Thursday, December 18, 2008

I'm not a car guy, but...

...when I was walking into the local Wally World, I saw the new Dodge Charger. I, and about every other guy walking in, stopped and drooled. It's like the General Lee and a Ferrari got married and had this as their baby. Wow.
And they say Detroit is going under.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Are We Doing This?

I drove past this the other day. I don't know about you, but I'm not really in the market to have my headlight lenses polished. Ever. And to my recollection I never have been, or ever will be.

In short, they are providing something they can do that no one really needs.

Is the church doing this?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Classic that Doesn't Dissappoint

A good rule of thumb: If you are trying to grow as a follower Jesus, go for what's old and time-tested, not what someone just thought up and a publisher marketed to you to get you to buy.

One such resource: The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection. A friend described him as a "klutz who broke everything." In an effort to make something of himself, he left the services of a French Lord and entered the monastery and there became the washer of pots and pans. His simple meditations from the 17th Century on what it means to pray have endured and spoken to many.

Here's what Henri Nouwen wrote in the foreword to a recent edition:

"Although we are busy we experience ourselves as the passive victims of great powers that control us and seem very hard to resist. Life seems like a long series of randomly scattered incidents and accidents over which we have no control."
I'm not sure I've heard a more concise summary of 21st Century life in America. And it's too this sense of fragementation that Brother Lawrence speaks.

I'll post reflections as I read my way through.

Where to order:
Online edition (free)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Meaning of Christmas

It's easy to lose Christmas in Christmas.
This short video produced by a church in London is a thoughtful and well-produced reflection on the true meaning of Christmas. I hope you'll see Jesus in the middle of Christmas this year.

As a bonus, everyone in it has a British accent.
(ht: adrian warnock)

That's Christmas! from andy pearce on Vimeo.

How the Economy Reveals Our Souls

My good college friend, Lt. Commander Brian Weigelt, is currently serving as a Navy Chaplain, working as an agent of the Kingdom of God at sea. He's a great man (plus, he gets the great nickname "Chaps").

While he's at sea (in an undisclosed location) he sends out a daily email to the crew of the ships he serves. They are easily some of the best words I read each week. And yesterday's was particularly poignant, given the state of economy.

TODAY'S WAYPOINT--A Daily Reflection from Chaplain Weigelt
December 12, 2008

"Of the billionaires I have known, money just brings out the basic traits in them. If they were jerks before they had money, they are simply jerks with a billion dollars.” – Warren Buffett

Psalm 62:10 (New International Version): Do not trust in extortion or take pride in stolen goods; though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them.
Each day there seems to be yet another headline describing the desperate state of our economy. Economists in their ivory towers will note that this is simply a typical correction to the economy, readjusting expectations that weren’t based in reality. That explanation doesn’t necessarily make things easier for those who are suffering severely from the loss of jobs and reduced real estate value. Part of the problem many of us face is the fact that we have tied our identity too closely to our economic status, or to our material possessions. While this financial downturn may be a correction to our economy, maybe we should also consider a correction to our self-understanding. Our true identity, our true value does not have anything to do with the amount of money in our accounts. In fact, our account balances can insulate us from reality. Perhaps each time we read a headline about the economy, we should remind ourselves that the economy doesn’t define us.

Have I had too high of expectations for money?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Cereal Night

A few weeks ago, the guys in my small group were waxing nostalgic for the cereals of our youth; those sugary creations of careless Cereal Executives that fueled our childhoods.

So, we decided to have cereal night at Small Group. Everyone brought their favorite. I loaded up on on Fruit Loops...then proceeded to lapse into a sugar-induced coma. Good for making memories, not so good for discussion.

These are good men that I love and admire.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Why Pyromaniacs Are Right At Home in the Church

People in our culture generally like Jesus, but they generally don't like the church, so why bother? In other words, why does the Church exist?

Elton Trueblood's answer: "The Church exists by mission as a fire exists by burning." I recently had lunch with a church consultant I met through an odd series of events who echoed Elton's thoughts.

Every church exists by vision, he says, whether it's something that's articulated or not. If it's not, it's what he calls a "default vision." That default vision usually means something like, 'run our programs, keep everyone basically happy, keep the structure running that's gotten us here.' Without leadership, I suppose any group defaults to that sort of maintenance.

If the church is to burn, he says there are three crucial elements.
Strategy (to move toward that vision).
Structure (to support that strategy).

If the default vision isn't challenged, then real vision ends up coming hat-in-hand to structure, asking if it can play a bit. A very backward arrangement. Nothing burns.

David Bosch in Transforming Mission nails it:

Mission [is] understood primarily as being derived from the very nature of God. It [is] thus put in the context of the doctrine of the trinity…The classical doctrine of the missio Dei as God the Father sending the Son, and God the Father and the Son sending the Spirit [expands] to include yet another ‘movement’: Father, Son and Holy Spirit sending the church into the world…mission is not primarily an activity of the church, it is an attribute of God.

God is a missionary God.

Mission is thereby seen as a movement from God into the world; the church is viewed as an instrument for that mission. There is a church because there is a mission, not visa versa.

Then the question--and challenge--becomes what is that mission and how do we live it? Jesus was pretty clear. I'm not so sure we are. This is the best description I know of what Jesus means by that. And here's the result when we do that:
  • People confront their demons and find them already overcome by the Risen Jesus.
  • People change.
  • The past is healed.
  • Love grows.
  • Hope flourishes.
  • Communities are transformed.
  • Kids have better parents.
  • Employees have better bosses, and bosses have better employees.
  • Beauty flourishes through the arts.
  • Single moms find help.
  • Marriages blossom.
  • 13 year old girls trapped as prostitutes in the dark corners of the world are rescued.
  • Mosquito nets keep babies safe from malaria in Africa.
  • Clean water wells are dug in remote villages so kids don't die from some simple like diarrhea.
  • The Kingdom of God comes on earth, as it is in heaven.
  • Jesus is Lord.
Is anyone in their right mind not for all that? But in order for it to happen, we must be set ablaze. So then let's get on with it and burn.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Why There is No Future in the Past

What do you do when things seem to be unraveling? When suddenly or overnight or out of nowhere or without explanation something in your circle of influence runs you over? A child, a marriage, a relationship, an opportunity, a job goes south?

Like it or not, this 'out of the blue' feeling is the reality that when the present isn't effectively managed, it has a way of becoming a past that builds and builds into 'the wave' that now seems ready to sweep away both your present and your future. It's like you're standing on the beach called 'the present' and you get washed away by an unexpected tsunmani called 'the past.'

Can you relate?

The hard to swallow truth is that there usually is no "suddenly." The past is, more often than not, something of our own creation. There are exceptions to that, for sure.

Regardless of who or how the past happened, it often ends up determining your future. "There and then" keeps you from living "here and now." It's not that the future is determined in the sense that we can't escape it no matter what, it's just that our past has become the most influential voice in our present. And so we futilely search for a future in the past.

As a result, we feel helpless against 'the wave.'

Enter the Gospel--the good news--of Jesus. It is the announcement that Jesus has taken the past and overwhelmed and overcome it, calming it's angry waters.

Paul, writer of much of the New Testament says it this way: "God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them." Jesus silences the voice of the past and invites us to live here and now in light of God's future; A future full of hope and possibility.

Can you see it?

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Interview with Tim Keller

Few people think more carefully and clearly than Tim Keller about the church, the Gospel and the mission of God. I learn something every time I interact with his work.
Tim is pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. He is author of the New York Times bestseller The Reason for God and a newly released book, The Prodigal God. He is also cofounder of The Gospel Coalition.

Here is a link to a two part interview with him on "Ministry in a Post-Christian Culture"
From the interview:
"The new heavens and new Earth are coming in which 'everything sad is going to come untrue.' Don't get too bent out of shape because your church didn't grow this year."


It's just after 10PM in these photos. I am feeding my boys pure sugar and we are still 15 minutes from home.
They are in their pajamas, their mom knows where they are (I think).
We are breaking with routine and having fun together. I'll be doing this sort of thing as a memory maker as they grow up and wanted to give them a practice run.
And I'd like to go on record as saying that the French Cruller (in the 3rd pic) is the best donut ever created.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Opie on Leadership

Ron Howard (aka, Opie) is all grown up now and directing films.

In a recent interview with Time magazine, he had this to say about making the transition from acting to directing. Good words on leadership.

BlockquoteFor me it was learning to not control everything. When you're directing, of course, you're supervising everything, but if you don't trust the artists you're collaborating with, you wind up tying one of their hands behing their back. My work got much, much better when I learned to let go a little bit."

To Hell with the Devil

This brought back some memories.
Jerry was carting this around the office and I took a shot of it.

Stryper was one of the original bands to bridge that great impenetrable chasm between Heavy Metal and Christian Rock. They also did some serious work promoting the mullet.

Long live the hair stylist of Stryper!

If you were (or are) a fan, here they are in all their glory.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Weirded Out

While waiting for some friends to meet us the other night, my wife and I stopped in at C28. They bill themselves as a Christian store. Every item has a Scripture verse or some positively themed thing on it. Not bad.

To boot, they're located at the Short Pump Town Center, the hippest mall in Richmond, so they are keeping good company. Not bad either.

And at first glance, the designs are on par with what you'd see at a place like Express or Old Navy. Not bad at all...but then that's part of their strategy. They reel you in with design and then hit you over the head with their message.

The cheeriest store associate you've ever met asks if you've been in before. "No?", they ask, "well, it comes from Colossians 2:8, it's a verse in the Bible." And that's where the weirdness begins. You can feel them searching your face for any hint that you might not be "one of us."

Let me be clear. I have no problem with good art or design (love it), Scripture printed on a shirt (like John Wesley, I am a man of One Book), or talking about Jesus (to quote St. Paul, "I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ"), but I am not a fan of the "hit you over the head" method of evangelism. Just not.

After I bought a hoodie and pair of jeans, the very cheery associate asked me if there was anything he could pray with me about.

I'm sorry, come again??

Let me be clear again, I am all for praying with people (do it all the time as a pastor), but in a store, after I bought a pair of jeans and a hoodie? Just culturally weird.

But they are unabashed about it. Their website says they sell "bold Christian apparel." The sign out front says they are a "christian store." The sign behind the register says they exist to evangelize and make a profit so they can fund the spread of the gospel. Again, not bad in and of itself.

But I have a few questions:

  • Does this sort of approach reinforce pushy stereotypes about Christians as people who shove God down your throat?
  • Does it send a subtle message that Christians are only interested in getting people to think like them and not actually interested in making the world a better place?
  • Does this put a mark on Jesus' reputation in the broader community, leveraging short term results for long term damage?
  • Does it actually end up reinforcing the Christian bubble? Our own music, our own bookstores, our own fastfood (best chicken sandwich ever, btw), and now our own t-shirts, jeans and hoodies. As in, isn't it exciting that now we don't even have to interact with those heathens in the world?
  • Does this form of evangelism mistake words and ideas about Jesus for real trust in Jesus that results in a group of people living a new way of life that radically transforms the community?
  • Does this kind of approach actually confine Jesus to a little world of our own making, saying that there are some places he won't go because they are too dark or impure?
  • Does it misunderstand that "Christian" is a noun (who I am) and not an an adjective? The very store itself is Christian? How does that work exactly? Was Jesus' carpentry shop a "christian" carpentry shop that advertised in the Shepherd's Guide, or did I miss that part of the New Testament?

If you are a Christian, you might be thinking, 'yeah, but their website says 12,000+ people have been saved.' I would remind you that God loves people so much he'll even use our mixed up efforts to do it. He even used a donkey to deliver his message. I would counter the people saved are more about God's kindness, not necessarily C28's brilliant evangelism strategy.

I think the band Delirious gets it right. They refuse to be labeled a "Christian band" because they say their mission is not "to a market of believers," but to the whole world because that is the mission of Jesus.

What might that look like?

  • If you are a great retail sales associate who follows Jesus, go work at J. Crew or A&F (for example) where people generally don't care about Jesus live dark lives. Bring your radiance and kindness to bear on that situation.
  • If you do good design, do good design that the whole world will buy and enjoy. Bring beauty into the lives of people everywhere--not just Christians who already know Beauty.
  • If you want to evangelize, get to know your neighbor and care about them and their life. Go to all your work parties and become a real friend.
  • If you think the fashion industry is over-sexualized and impure, get into it and make killer design that isn't. Become friends with the people who do the opposite in the process.
  • And if you want to wear cool apparel with a message, try Jedidiah or Tom's Shoes or Bead for Life. Wear their products, then when someone asks you about it, tell their compelling story of righting the wrongs in the world and see where it goes from there. Jesus righted wrongs, right? And his actions to make people's lives better were the bigger part of his message and attraction, weren't they? In fact, it's why people crowded to hear what he had to say in the first place. His actions were so compelling, they had to know what he thought.

I'm just saying.

The Glory of Men

"All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of the Lord stands forever."
1 Peter 1:24