Wednesday, December 31, 2008

End of the Book

Every year, about this time of the year, I get to the end-of-the-book. Like many of my friends, I read the Bible through each year and the month of December brings me to the latter books in the New Testament. The last book in the Bible is the book of Revelation which is the letter of the Apostle John to the church. It starts off with the words, "The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place".

The book of Revelation is unique in many respects including it being the only book of the Bible that provides a blessing to those that read it: "Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near." (Rev. 1:3)

Many of my friends believe the time is near. The Apostles all believed the time was near, so did the early church.

It's too bad that more people don't read the Book of Revelation. I think if they did they would be amazed at how wonderfully and with finality God brings to a close the rebellion of this present world and majestically ushers in the new heaven and new earth. The best part about the new heaven and new earth is that we will see God and "no longer will there be any curse" (Rev 22:3) which means that the unlimited potential that God had in mind in the creation will finally be realized.

Regardless of whether you believe that Jesus is coming soon or you believe that there is still plenty of time, you need to ultimately become the person that God has always intended you to be and your true potential will only become realized in Christ.

Maranatha ......Come quickly Lord Jesus!

Sunday, December 21, 2008


I just finished watching "Redemption" which is the prequel for season seven of 24 with Keifer Sutherland as "Jack Bauer". While I missed it on network TV, I've found and was able to watch the entire program on my computer via this cool site that is sponsored by Comcast, Hulu and assorted commercial advertisers. Fancast will likely be one my greatest leisure time activities in the New Year.

The hour-an-a-half movie is full of the standard cynical look at US foreign policy with Jack Bauer and a few other rough-and-ready para-military types trying to save the world with a little honor.

I'm a 24 fan so I enjoyed the prequel and will look forward to watching Series Seven. At the same time I was somewhat amused to see this concept of "redemption" wrapped around the idea of paying for one's sins by various good works. The program opens up, for example, with Jack Bauer working with one of his friends, who in the past also fully involved in covert ops for the government, in a children's school in Africa. Both men are paying for their past sins through these not-so-random acts of mercy only to have their charitable work with the children interrupted by the outbreak of war.

The fact that the war appears to have been financed by rouge business men from the United States proves to be an interesting start to Series Seven and I'm sure we'll see lots of action in the following twenty-four hours that time frame for the season.

Here's my sermon-in-a-minute: Redemption via your own charitable acts will never be as fulfilling as you hope, will not last you for this lifetime and not provide you with a get-into-heaven pass in the next lifetime. The only hope for mankind and the only redemption that is available, without fail, is a relationship with God, through Jesus Christ.

It will however, be a good season for 24.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

FireProof your marriage

There is nothing easy about having a good marriage. At the same time, there is nothing likely more satisfying and enduring than a marriage that has survived and thrived through both the good and the bad times.

Often, we take our marriage vows, "to love and respect; to be considerate and tender and stand by each other faithfully in sickness and in health, and, preferring each other above all others" as a statement-of-fact when actually it needs to be a blueprint-for-married-life.

Recently, I've been excited to have a great movie available for use to strengthen and encourage couples in marriage. I recently purchased the leaders guide with a special DVD that has six cuts from the movie. While I just started using it, it looks like the study will be great for couples that may be struggling as well as even a six-week group study for married couples.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Be wary of Moral Hazards

Rarely do I get a chance to “scratch my itch” and talk much on economic or political issues. However, I’ve been itching to post a few comments on the present economic situation so here is me scratching my itch…

When the $700 billion (does anyone really know how much money that is?) bailout of the credit markets was proposed in early October, I was a hesitant proponent. (How is that for a firm “maybe”?) I was hesitant because I am by nature very skeptical of the benefits of government intervention but I was OK with the idea as it was initially proposed. The initial proposal was explained by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson as the purchase by the government of poor quality and foreclosed secondary market debt in order to free up capital for lending and the normal health of the economy.

That situation has changed as the government, politicians, business and labor leaders, and special interest groups are lobbying hard for all kinds of bailouts from large insurance companies, banks and the Big-Three (including my Alma Mater: Ford) to direct subsidies for student loans, car loans and rental property.

I have a simple answer to these types of bailout requests. The answer is “no”.

My response has nothing to do with whether some of these corporate leaders were greedy (of course they were) or whether some people may end up unemployed (also unfortunate but likely) or whether the government has the money to help (it does not). My reasoning is actually much simpler than that and it’s based on the economic concept called “moral hazard”.

In economic terms, “moral hazard” refers to the long-term consequences of bailouts. Bailouts change how organizations handle risk, particularly the risk of failure. In simple language, when governments bail out people or organizations, it makes them and other people and organizations actually change their behavior not for the better but for the worse as bailouts actually encourage them to manage and make decisions that are more risky and more likely to require another bailout in the future.

Intuitively, we know that when we continue to make excuses or come to our children’s rescue, it encourage more of the same unfortunate behavior. Many of us have known for years that one of the downsides of pumping more money into programs that provide safety nets to people also encourages more people to behave in ways that make them more likely to require safety nets.

If we are fortunate, this economic downturn will not be severe enough to punish organizations that have been diligent enough to be re-engineering, reinventing and re-marketing themselves and are truly competitive in the world market. If the economic downturn is very severe and/or companies have been fat and happy and have not been diligent to remain competitive, the bailout won’t help them anyway.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Ambitious Lives

As parents, my wife and I have always been pleased when we see that our children (now adults) have ambition. Ambition was much more likely to get them out of bed in the morning than an alarm clock. Ambition also got them into college and through college so that they have the opportunity to work and have a career. Ambition introduced them to their spouses and now that we have grandchildren, ambition will encourage them to pay attention to the God-given role of being mothers and fathers so that their children grow up with these same opportunities as well.

However, too much ambition, or more correctly too much ambition for the wrong things, is a negative influence in our lives and will lead us down the wrong path. Expensive cars, the love of money, sexual conquests and power will become a corrupting influence in our lives and certainly will not please God.

The Apostle Paul had something to say about ambition. In 1st Thessalonians, 4:11 Paul says, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands.” Paul is telling us to be “ordinary”, or be hard working and a good citizen. In telling us to be ordinary, Paul isn’t telling us not to strive but rather to live in a way that we earn the respect of those around us and to avoid those lifestyles that would cause people to think that we have more selfish ambitions than to be good neighbor.

It is exactly for the cause of Christ that Paul encourages us to be ambitious for the ordinary. This 4th chapter of Thessalonians is often titled, “Living for God” in many Bibles and Paul’s instructions here are about the continuance of brotherly love and a reminder that we have been taught to “love each other”. Paul tells us that our ambition for the ordinary is "so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody." (verse 12)

I love that….be ordinary, mind your own business and be hard working; so that in every way, we have the opportunity to win the right to lead others to the Savior.

So get out there and be ordinary!

Friday, November 07, 2008

Holy Money

All too often, the best counsel and advice, the best instruction on integrity, accountability and transparency in our churches and nonprofit ministries is largely ignored by the very leaders, organizations and churches that most need to embrace it. Huge salaries, expensive cars, and lavish fringe benefits, when discovered, are widely reported by the press and the church suffers as a result. While there are no specific standards set by the government, the IRS, or even the Bible regarding how much salary is too much, at what price does a vehicle become inappropriate for a minister, or whether ministry leaders should fly coach, first class or on their own private jets, most of us intuitively know when enough is enough.

While there may not be any written instruction in the Bible about pastor salaries, cars or benefits, the Bible does speak about holiness. I remember learning years ago that holiness is about being separate. Not separate from the world, but separated from sin. I've also learned holiness isn't so much about being free from the distractions of the world as being uncorrupted by the things of the world.

When my daughter and son were younger they would challenge me from time to time about the rules their mother and I had placed on them that were meant to keep them from unholy influences. I told them often that although Jesus had the opportunity to eat, visit and fellowship with both saints and sinners, He always had more influence on the people around Him than they had on Him.

Unfortunately, in the midst of teaching on prosperity, the tithe and the hundredfold return, many have forgotten the basic understanding of holiness. One of the great expositors of the 19th century, J.C. Ryle, described holiness as "the habit of being of one mind with God ... hating what He hates, loving what He loves, and measuring everything in this world by the standard of His Word." In Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots, Ryle wrote that "a holy man will endeavor to shun every known sin and to keep every known commandment. ... [He] will follow after temperance and self-denial. He will labor to mortify the desires of his body, to crucify his flesh with his affections and lusts, to curb his passions [and] to restrain his carnal inclinations."

Though the topic of holiness involves an array of issues, let's hone in on those particular to running a ministry—more specifically, a ministry that has the opportunity to receive large amounts of money from donations given freely and provided a tax receipt.

As our churches and ministries grow, we need to allow those with the gift of administration the opportunity to exercise their gift to the extent that God has enabled them (see 1 Cor. 12:28). Pastors usually have numerous gifts, including those of leadership, preaching and teaching, to name a few. Yet pastors really should not be involved in setting their salaries, determining what types of cars the ministry should provide them and various other perks, let alone what the IRS requires regarding documentation on expenses and receipts.

Senior pastors and other ministry leaders who insist on rejecting the counsel of properly trained accountants and CPAs typically believe they do not need to be accountable to anyone. Yet those who continue to handle financial accountability and transparency via a "seat of the pants" approach are looking for trouble. Being too close to large sums of money is too much of a temptation for most men or women. Those who are wise will seek the counsel of others and find ways to separate themselves from that which would cause them to stumble.

Although we are all disturbed that Christian ministries and churches are currently the subject of government inquiry and public ridicule, I'm prayerful that we can see that "all things work together for good" (Rom. 8:28) through these inquiries. I certainly hope that in the end, many nonprofit and church boards will be strengthened, financial accountability will be improved and transparency enhanced.

In the meantime, a little discernment goes a long way. If it seems like “too much”, it likely is.

(excerpts taken from Holy Money also written by the author and published by "Ministry Today" in February 2008)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Change Happens

A change in leadership, any leadership, can result in celebration and also be a reason for consternation depending on your perspective. With the recent election of Barack Obama, we all have reason to celebrate. Barack Obama is the first African-American to be elected to the highest office in the land.

We can celebrate that regardless of whether you believe race was an issue in the election, he was elected and as a nation, we have crossed a significant milestone in this country’s history. Not unlike Ernie Davis winning the Heisman Trophy or Martin Luther King as Time Magazine’s “Man of the year” or Thurgood Marshall as a Supreme Court Justice, Barack Obama is another “first” and represents widespread cultural change for all minorities in the United States.

Another cause for celebration -- with 52% of the popular vote, Barack Obama captured the largest percentage of the American public’s vote since George HW Bush (53%) in 1988 and Ronald Reagan (59%) in 1984. Having a majority of the American public behind a new President can be both a humbling as well as empowering event and should result in fewer partisan attacks, hopefully on both sides. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all just get along?

In many ways, this was an historic victory for the Democrats; and we all can celebrate the fact that in America, we have a peaceful democratic process that results in elections with real winners and losers. All of which are accomplished without the loss of blood, the forming of mobs or shots of “tyranny” in the streets.

Finally, as Christians we believe in a sovereign God who is the ultimate determining factor in who will be allowed to govern a nation. As the Creator of all things, God rules supreme in the affairs of state. Regardless of the ruler, whether Prime Minister, King, President or Dictator, Daniel 2:21 says it is God that, “changes times and seasons, He removes kings and sets up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding.”

Change is certainly happening. Let’s pray and believe that ultimately we will all celebrate and enjoy the blessings of God on this nation, our cities and our families.

Still a little concerned? Well, remember to continue to look the Lord. Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will”.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Discipleship Challenged

Today, if we look around, we see churches that have great buildings, cool kid programs, are technically savvy, and culturally relevant. However, if the truth be told, many are also "Discipleship Challenged".

All too often, we just aren't doing discipleship AT ALL. That's a tragedy but likely also the reason that many of our Evangelical churches are failing. We fail not so much by declining attendance but by becoming more and more like the rest of the world.

As Evangelicals, we should be defined by two commands, typically known as the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.

The great commandment is actually two where ( in Mark 28) Jesus said, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'There is no commandment greater than these."

However it is the Great Commission that is largely ignored by the church. After Jesus rose from the dead he spent another fifty days teaching and preparing His disciples. Just before he ascended into heaven, Jesus gave them and us a command: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

Becoming a disciple is not the same as becoming a member of a church like it was some kind of club. The word disciple means "to follow" and "to learn". It also has the connotation of adhering to a person and imitating a person. That person is none other than Jesus.

The early church grew because believers invested in other people and made disciples. Many churches today invest in buildings and hope that some educational program will make disciples. Discipleship however has always been relational and involved reaching and mentoring and teaching. Just like Jesus!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

More Faith, More Compassion

A recent Gallup survey conducted worldwide found that there was a direct correlation between a faith and giving. People that identified themselves as being “highly religious” (I personally don’t like that term) are much more likely to have an active faith in each of three behaviors that Gallup surveyed: giving, volunteering and personal involvement.

For example, in the Americas, people who report that religion is important to their daily lives and who also report having attended a religious service in the past week are 39% more likely to recently have donated money to a charity, 61% more likely to have volunteered their time to an organization in the past month and 14% more likely to have helped a stranger or someone that they didn’t know in the past month.

It’s refreshing to know that “faith”, however defined, is active and not passive. For those that are Christians, the message of the cross is one of unconditional love and compassion. While Christ serves as our ultimate example of unconditional love and compassion, we are clearly told “go and do likewise” The example of the sheep and the goats that Jesus told (Matthew 25) of the end times and eternal judgment is clear about how our faith needs to be active: For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

Faith, compassion, generosity, self-less love are all the visible reminders of a faith-filled life.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Reconstruction Coming

Too many of our politicians and news personalities will mention the present economic crisis and then in the same sentence make a reference to the Great Depression from 1929-1941. I really don't think we are headed to another great depression but hopefully, there is a reconstruction coming. We'll be fortunate if the depth of the economic downturn is not as severe nor the time period as extended.

The Great Depression comparison is not that surprising as much of the political and economic sentiment in 1929 and 1930 is similar to what we hear from our not-so-great statesmen of today.

Take for example the Stock Market crash of 1929. The years preceding the crash were a time of great prosperity. The stock market was going through the roof and while there was a charge that the "rich were getting richer", most historians agree that all economic classes were prospering.

However, too much debt, too much leverage and the banks ultimately failed. A situation not unlike today in many ways. For example, the percentage of households buying cars on instalment more than tripled between 1919 and 1929, rising from 4.9% to 15.2%. Home mortgages were also on the rise as easy-credit seemed to improve the standard of living for most Americans.

The Republicans were blamed and the Dems won. While Franklin Roosevelt was an impressive political figure and was head-of-state during World War II, few of the campaign promises of the Roosevelt platform of 1932 were honored. The massive national debt of the previous administration under Herbert Hoover reached a high of 40% of GDP, but Roosevelt's debt ratio went well over 100% of GDP by the time the war had started in 1941 and of course higher afterwards. Expansive new government programs of the New Deal expanded the federal government. Unemployment, the cruel output of a depression, which today stands at about 6.1 %, was never lower than 17% during the Roosevelt administration and was at 25% when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

Hopefully, a reconstruction is coming. A reconstruction of our economy based on principles rather than simply opportunity; and a spiritual reconstruction of our lives based on Biblical principles rather than popular and contemporary fads and myths. We can all pray that the times and season of the transition will be relatively short and not as severe as the Great Depression.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Reaching the Unchurched

One of the largest and mounting concerns of the Western Church is the growing lack of effectiveness in traditional evangelism and discipleship models. While the development of the large metro and megachurches have stymied some of the identifiable trends in the decline of congregational commitment and attendance, it is believed that the shift and decline of the influence of the Church in the west since the middle of the 20th century can be attributed to a great extent to the development of the postmodern and post-Christian world view.

Many churches are actively trying to reach the “unchurched” and for good reason. In April 2001 Gallup report indicates that approximately 132 million adult Americans are unchurched, representing a six percent increase over the past 25 years.

Seeker-sensitive (and the less structured “seeker-friendly”) churches have been criticized for trying to “re-package” the gospel, for focusing too much on the felt needs of the individual and for the lack of a solid teaching or discipleship model. While many of the pastors and others in leadership in these churches have readily acknowledged the limitations of their seeker-sensitive and seeker-friendly models, their remedy has typically been to do either more-of-the-same (but better) or to do much-of-the-same and include more traditional methods of discipleship including bible teaching, Sunday school, and other formal (Wednesday) classes.

A primary assumption that needs to be made however in order for the seeker-sensitive and seeker-friendly models to even be the right response requires that the majority or at least a signification portion of the unchurched people in North America are actually seekers.

However, most data and even a casual observation of society identifies that the fast growing numbers of unchurched Americans belong to what is referred to as the postmodern segment. Categorically, Barna Research, the most respected association doing research and analysis of cultural trends and the evangelical church, shows that within unchurched groups, the fastest growing class of individuals belongs to a postmodern and post-Christian segment of the general population.

Postmodern and post-Christian people groups have the commonality in their belief that religious truths and morals are relative and totally dependent on what each individual or culture regards as truth. The latest research by the Barna group has identified that the majority of the unchurched today do not have even a basic understanding of biblical principles. Post-modern in their orientation, their worldview includes what they would consider a healthy skepticism of traditions, institutions and governments. Their worldview includes a skeptical view of principles held by the church and post-Christians therefore define their religious morals and truths as being relative or self-defined.

According to Brian McLaren (“A Generous Orthodoxy” 2004) Postmodern and post-Christian worldviews are more likely to seek to integrate faith and reason. It is within this integration that the spiritual becomes active and actually much more likely to be fully integrated into one’s life. While certainly not homogeneous in their belief systems, spirituality and faith for those that are postmodern no longer become a “Sunday expression” but a daily walk. Further, this daily walk of faith expresses itself more actively in social change, in environmental issues and other altruistic activities.

Within these different worldviews, legitimacy and permission is central to nearly all personal and society relationships. In the industrial or modern world, “Positional Authority” was the means by which most individuals would take their cues on legitimacy and in turn develop their concept of societal norms, behaviors, moral truths and political systems. With positional authority, individuals gave permission for those in positions of authority to dictate behavior and in many ways define societal conduct and beliefs. Positional authority in the modern or traditional worldview was represented and held by our political leaders, and the heads of our institutions including schools, organizations, the news media and the church.

As mentioned above, many churches, including many of the seeker-sensitive churches continue to rely on positional authority despite its growing non-acceptance. In fact, if possible, many church-goers and their pastor, preacher or priest would even encourage more coercive relationships, i.e.: “all Christian must tithe” or “people that attend this church must be dressed in such and such a manner”. Unfortunately, the only success that may be gained with this coercive approach would be similar to “success” of a robber when he demands “give me your money”.

Tactically, many churches have intuitively understood this very well and have embraced a more relational model. This was wise as relational authority is inherently strategic in reaching the unchurched. In a relationship, the attraction is friend to friend and ultimately grows into, “your friend is my friend.” As this relationship develops, the strategic importance is not only “your friend is my friend”, but “your God is my God”.

Relationships develop trust and with trust authority. From a market perspective, people in a relationship give the others in the relationship “permission” to share their individual worldviews, and discover their similar or dissimilar belief systems and moral perspectives. True relational authority develops because of honest, truthful and open relationships that develop over time. These relationships are not dependent on preexisting conditions regarding belief systems or a code of behavior. The normal ways that these relationships develop within the church are in the form of small groups. Small groups may be individuals, couples, with children or without and meeting in homes, restaurants or offices. While each group develops their own norms, the variety of norms is as broad as the number and the diversity of individual churches. Certain societal norms likely exist that regulate personal behavior and individual personal hygiene but everything else is “up-for-grabs”.

The church that truly embraces a relational authority approach to reaching the unchurched is likely to not only be perceived as friendly and comfortable for the guest or visitor but is also very likely to have individual members that genuinely look for opportunities to develop long-term relationships with the unchurched. The likely mode of developing relationships is in the form of small groups and the formation of these groups is REGARDLESS of any short or long-term success in terms of conversion, change-of-heart or acceptance of traditional Christian beliefs. Strategically, the church will look at these relationships as the primary method that the church will do evangelism and discipleship. Not coincidentally, churches that embrace this method will also be mission minded or what is being termed as being “missional”…from random acts of kindness to the delivery of food, clothing and assistance. Being mission-minded becomes operational and is also typically very relational and accomplished within the small group. As mentioned above, the postmodern worldview is open to full integration of faith and mission and this integration will reinforce the belief that the Bible is “the Truth” and not “a truth”.

It should come to us as no surprise that this method is effective. If we look at the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we find that Jesus came very humbly to this world and He relied greatly on relational authority rather than positional authority. Since he was God, he actually had the choice to use absolute authority. He chose otherwise.

Positionally, Jesus was the Son of God. Relationally, He was the son of a carpenter and the leader of a small group of primarily fisherman. The Pharisees correctly identified that Jesus was a friend of sinners and tax collectors. While He was referred to as “Rabbi” (positional authority), He preferred to call Himself the “son of man” and “son of God” rather than be seen as a king or ruler. The New Testament relates very clearly that He came to serve and to die for mankind rather than to establish Himself as a King.

Relational authority has ancillary benefits as well for the church. Since relational authority is “permitted” by those in the relationship, it is also less likely to be abused. Biblical truths are more likely to be “caught” rather than “taught”. Small group are inherently accountability groups as well. The coercive approach to moral compliance is more likely to be rejected and moral relativism is replaced by Biblical truth as the legitimacy of the Bible is permitted to be embraced after first being questioned and discussed.

Are there disadvantages to the relational authority approach? Absolutely! Quite frankly, positional authority is a much quicker way of achieving compliance, buy-in and acceptance. However, the fact is that positional authority in the postmodern world is severely limited by the number of positions that are accepted as “authoritative”. Another disadvantage is the lack of a centralized focus or control, as relational authority in the form of small-group formation is by nature, decentralized. This disadvantage however is offset by the great advantage of limiting the abuse of power. We also have the promise from the Bible that ultimately and realistically, Jesus is the head of the church and all of us are members of the same body.

A church that has a heart for the unchurched and is desirous of reaching out beyond the walls of the sanctuary to the community would be wise to understand relational authority. Today’s postmodern and post-Christian world view will ultimately limit traditional as well as seeker-sensitive approaches.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Jesus, a community organizer?

I don't know about you but I'm a little tired of all the offense both political parties pretend to take at dumb, stupid comments. Gender, race, ethnic and religious smears are actually quite rare in the arena of national politics regardless of what you hear on the news.

I'm sure you have likely heard the latest that "Jesus was a community organizer". The idea, I guess, was to counter the Sarah Palin’s comment that a small-town mayor was “sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities.”
There isn't anything wrong about being a community organizer. The best of them should feel a great sense of calling and personal satisfaction in taking on tough political issues, marching on city hall and demanding that people don't fall through the cracks. It’s good that these people are making a contribution in dealing with issues like homelessness or poverty.

I have to come clean and let you know that I was a little concerned at the acceptance of the comparison of Jesus to a community organizer. It's difficult, with even a rudimentary familiarity with the New Testament, to suggest a comparison. This type of generalization is unfortunately typical for many who want to reduce the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to some insignificant political work or contemporary figure.
Even the cry, "Jesus was a radical" (which I happen to like), reduces the uniqueness of the Son of God to a bumper sticker or political slogan.

Jesus didn't organize a community. Jesus came to die and in dying, save humanity from the curse of sin. Jesus didn't ask the government or others to solve any problems; he chose to become the solution. Jesus didn't rebel against the governing authority, he submitted to it, even to the point of a horrible death on the cross.
Perhaps, those that are so interested in this upcoming election should stick to comparing the various candidates, issues and resumes to more relevant and more contemporary political figures.

Jesus is unique, matchless and wonderful. There are no comparisons.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The 40 Day Student Revolution

Yesterday I was blown away. I really try not to to have a “been there-done that” attitude about ministry so I like to be blown away. This time it was by the students.

I visited a leadership small group for our students, known as XL, that meets every Tuesday night. My wife and I have worked with students and youth so we thought we knew what to expect. Well, we were very excited to see about thirty, very motivated, very committed young people and the leader couple that was equally fully engaged, fully committed and completely devoted to their students.

I’ve found that young people will typically respond very well to anyone that consistently invests time in their life. It’s not about curriculum, programs, being cool or even the right music. Young people can spot phony care and concern so only the real thing, the right heart will work.

I was also pretty impressed at the “40 Day Student Revolution” strategy being used that was developed by Operation Light Force, a ministry out of Florida. The students are being challenged over a 40-day period to be revolutionary Christians. The strategy includes random acts of kindness, prayer, fasting and basically reaching out to their fellow students. These are students (both middle and high school) that are being challenged to fast both a food and media element over a 40-day period. Each day has a specific evangelism assignment for them including things like writing notes to a teacher or principle or fellow student. They also are being encouraged to reach out to those that are alone, or buy a lunch for someone that doesn’t have one.

Ultimately, the idea is to get someone to ask, "WHY are you doing this?" This then opens an evangelism opportunity and an occasion to live out what it means to “love your neighbor”.

Barna says that this generation of students is the least likely to be involved in church, and the least likely age group to indicate that faith is a very important part of their life. At the same time, other studies regarding this same generation have shown that most consider themselves to be deeply spiritual, regardless of church attendance. While most may be searching for life purpose, many believe the main purpose of life is enjoyment.

Reaching this next generation of students means also reaching the next generation of leaders. Let’s pray that we stay committed to those that are not only in Jerusalem but also in our Judea’s and Samira’s as well.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Who are the Radicals?

Sometimes I'm surprised at the how far what is often said is so far from the truth.

I came across a few articles on the Web about the "Radical Christians" and there seemed to be two groups that were being referenced. The first was a group of pro-homosexual, gay and lesbian Christians organized under the United Church of Christ. They are likely sincere but very misguided. The second was a blog site that was ripping the Evangelicals in America for what was called, "exclusion, cruelty and intolerance in the name of God". This second group needs to look in a mirror for a good representation of intolerance.

Typically, I find that a little historical perspective is necessary to really see if a movement is a movement at all. Go back to the Reformation; now that was a movement! Christianity had become the "rule of the land" and the local bishops and priests were pretty much representative of the governing authority of the land. The Reformation was radical....not only did Luther, Zwingli, and other early reformers breath life into a very lethargic church by preaching salvation through grace by faith, but right on their heels were the Anabaptists, forerunners of such groups as the Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren who again challenged the rather tame beliefs and ministry of the other reformers.

We owe much to the Anabaptists. They were considered radical in their day but have contributed greatly to the Evangelical church today.

Fortunately, the spirit of reform, living a radical faith and being Christ-centered is still alive as more and more Christians today are trying to find the way to live out what the Apostle Paul said in Romans 12:2, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect”.

True radical Christians today are on a journey. They know that when a person begins an amazing adventure with God, a lifelong process will ensue. This process is the transformation from new believer to fully devoted follower of Christ. That process is radical as much of what the world has to offer becomes less and less satisfying and that which motivates is bringing others along on the journey and random acts of kindness along the way.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Christian Politics

According to a recent Pew Forum, the majority of people in the United States want religious institutions to keep out of political matters. While, this wouldn't seem to be an unlikely position for those that are the non-converted, the non-repentant and the avowed atheist. However, for the first time in recent history, a significant percentage of Evangelicals (36%) also say that churches should keep out of politics, a jump from 20 percent who said the same thing in 2004.

So what has happened in the past few years? Well, for many of us, too many of our religious leaders have become way too political, have become way too linked to the Republican party and all too quick to embrace political issues that have a very weak connection to a biblical position.

For example, how did Evangelicals suddenly become the group that wants to make sure that all illegals are shipped out of the country? Why in the world were we told by some of our religious leaders that if we agreed with global warming, we were acting contrary to our religious beliefs?

Don't get me wrong; in many ways, I continue to be socially and politically pretty conservative. But when Evangelical leaders continue to tell us to support particular candidates or political ideologies AS IF these candidates or ideoligies alone will help bring about some kind of moral alignment, we are headed for trouble.

Throughout the centuries, every time the church gets a little too cozy with the government, we are headed for problems. The church, under persecution, is actually a much healthier and stronger church than one that has compromised its message of the essential Jesus in order to influence a political point of view.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Journey Together

This week, I'm getting a lot of opportunities to do some hiking and bicycling. There are great places to see here at Mackinac Island including Arch rock, Skull cave, Sugarloaf, the British landing, Devil's Kitchen, and the inane, "Crack in the Island."

There are lots of things I like about hiking: Likely, there is no admission charge; no prior experience is necessary; you can start off on the easy trails, people that you meet along the way are always friendly; the more you hike the more you enjoy it; you feel good during and after hiking.

The best part in the journey however, is having someone to enjoy the hike or bicycle ride with you. The last few days, I've had the joy of hiking and biking with Chuck. While we were already good friends, we know each other better now than we did when we started the journey. I understand that most experts recommend having a "buddy" when you go hiking. Likely, they have some safety and security issues in mind but for me, it's great to enjoy the sights and the journey together. It's also a great time to talk, unwind and just enjoy the experience.

Christianity is often described as a journey. We do best when we follow Jesus as we travel through this life. Better than an expert guide, Jesus knows the way and desires us to become intimate with Him while we journey with Him. He desires to not only experience life with Him but also to take us to places that will be challenging. As we journey with Christ, we become more like Him and take on His attributes and His desires and may even get to see the rest of the world through His eyes.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sacred or Secular

It’s interesting how often the debate comes up regarding the Sacred vs. the Secular. Often it’s a conversation about music (i.e. “that church is using secular music”). Sometimes it’s regarding the movies (i.e. “The Chronicles of Narnia, was secular but can be helpful for students”).

What I try to remember is that this idea of Sacred vs. Secular is man’s construct, not God’s construct. God created the world and everything in it; all of us and all of our talents are useful by God and for God.

Often, people think of certain occupations as being sacred or secular. People will often say they are “in ministry”, meaning their occupation. Actually, God looks at everything that we do as being of importance and potentially honoring to Him. This concept of being “in ministry” is actually a carry over from what the Apostle Paul struggled with in the Hellenistic world. The Greeks held to a view of “dualism” where there was a dichotomy or a separation of the spiritual and the material. That carried over into the early church where we ended up with the enlightened and holy “clergy” and all the rest, the great unwashed and the unholy.

However, that is not how it is meant to be. Throughout the Bible, the Hebrew culture described the earth, morality and righteousness not as separated experiences, either good or bad, but only from the perspective that man was either following the path established by God or had turned to follow something that was evil and perverted.

Everything, including your occupation, is actually to be sacred, or worthy of God. Ministry therefore is that which engages a broken world and restores everything to be completely conformed and transformed into the Kingdom of God.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

You Will Have Persecution

The Voice of the Martyrs ( recently reported that Public Security Bureau (PSB) officers in China evicted one of the more prominent house church leaders, Pastor Hua Huiqi, and his family from their home in Beijing, China.

A number of sources have been reporting and commenting that the Chinese government has been cracking down on the Christian house-church movement members in China, likely in preparation for this summer's Olympics. Pastor Hua will remain in prison until well after the ending ceremonies.

The Chinese Church is estimated by some to be considerably more than 100 million. Officially, the Chinese government, which tracks "official" church registrations, acknowledges about 21 million but the house church movement is much larger. This persecuted church is also very evangelical and from those that are familiar with the leaders, is following a model very closely aligned with what is recorded in the book of Acts ("And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved" Acts 2: 47)

I can't help but believe that this persecuted church in many ways has thrived because of the persecution. Watchman Nee is often credited as one of those that was responsible for planting the contemporary seed of Christianity in China before the Communist revolution in 1949. That seed has resulted in a harvest that likely has China with the largest number of true believers in any country (yes, that includes even the United States).

Jesus told us that we would be persecuted "If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.... If they persecuted Me they will persecute you... for they do not know the One who sent Me." John 15:19-21

Church history has shown that the Body of Christ has always grown stronger under persecution while churches have fallen into mediocrity and even apostasy when they are embraced by the general community and the state.

While I don't pray for persecution in the US, I do pray for a strong, healthy and uncompromising church. I also pray for pastors that preach the Word of God and find every opportunity to reach out to a culture that is adrift, unaware and lost.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Americans Still Generous

In April, I published an article (I know, it's just a blog) on American Generosity and tried to debunk some myths about giving and the state of giving in America.

Just today, Giving USA Foundation published their 2008 yearbook with all of the stats anyone that likes numbers and statistics would love. According to their research, estimated giving in the USA rose to $306.39 billion in 2007, an increase of 3.9 percent. This was the first time that giving was over $300 billion and the US continues to be nation with the most generous individuals, as it is individuals (not corporations or foundations) that give the most, accounting for over 74% of all giving.

Churches receive about 1/3 of the total and gifts to churches in 2007 rose at a 4.7% rate, slightly higher than the total rate of increase. Other studies have shown that fewer and fewer church goers tithe (provide a tenth of their income to church), as little as 3% of those who attend church regularly. However, if you look at the fastest growing churches and those churches that are likely the most biblical in their doctrine, the percentage of people giving generously continues to be significantly higher than others.

These churches don't just teach doctrine, they live it. More and more churches are making disciples of Jesus Christ. They are embracing the ministry of feeding the poor, taking care of the broken hearted, reaching out to their communities and making a difference.

These pastors know that if you want to help people become committed followers of Jesus Christ, they need to be shown how to act like Jesus. That starts, by the way, not within the church, but within your community.

We continue to live in a very blessed country and most of us are more prosperous than any other generation anywhere. Let us remember that it is God that has provided for us. As the Apostle Paul said,

"Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all
things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good
work. As it is written: "He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his
righteousness endures forever." (2 Cor.9:8&9)

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Washington Feels Your Pain, Your Ministry May Not

The Wall Street Journal was the first to report that the IRS announced an increase in the optional standard mileage rates for the final six months of 2008. Effective today, July 1st, the mileage rate will increase to 58.5 cents a mile for all business miles driven from July 1, 2008, through Dec. 31, 2008.

Note this is a 16% increase since the beginning of the year and not at all typical for the IRS as they usually updates the mileage rates only once a year in the fall for the next calendar year. One exception was recent, in 2005, when the government raised the rate in the middle of the year, because of the gasoline-price hikes related in part to Hurricane Katrina.

While many can take advantage of the higher rate (thank you IRS for feeling our pain), many of my pastor friends may not. In working with churches and ministries, I've noticed that many will establish a specific reimbursement rate, likely the rate that the IRS prescribes, but do not update it frequently. I've seen rates posted on reimbursement forms that are a few years old or even significantly less than the maximum that the IRS allows (i.e. 25 cents a mile).

One of the ways to avoid this issue is to have a policy (remember the 3-P’s - Policies, Procedures and Practices that need to be aligned and appropriate for the ministry) that the church or ministry will “reimburse employees for mileage at the IRS rate as established from time to time.”

Simple and pain free.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Nonprofits Under Scrutiny

The Kiplinger Tax Letter reports that certain nonprofit groups have been facing heightened scrutiny from Federal, State and local levels of government. The nonprofit groups that are having the problems are particularly those exempt organizations that derive a majority of their funding from fee-for-service operations, predominantly those that are competing with other for-profit businesses and charging similar fees

The claim by the government is that the charities don't live up to the intended purposes for which they received their 501 (c)(3) status.

A number of charities are reported to have been denied property tax exemptions from States and localities including the State of Minnesota, where the State Supreme Court ruled in March that one of the county tax assessors acted properly in denying a nonprofit day care center exemption on property taxes. The court noted that the nonprofit was charging the same rate to all families and not providing a “charitable service” to local families

This situation has been developing here in Washington where there have been discussions related to the tax exempt status of hospitals, universities and adult retirement centers that all compete with for-profit organizations. It’s a stretch of the imagine to think that some of our large universities like Harvard and Stanford and the endowment funds of places like Notre Dame may be in tax-exempt-jeopardy in the near future if this trend continues. Legislation has been drafted but never has left committee, which requires tax-exempt hospitals to have written policies detailing their charitable provisions for poor and indigent patients. Just last year, universities were requested to use more of their endowment fund earnings to reduce tuition costs.

This will be an interesting development. Stay tuned after the November elections to see what transpires.

Friday, June 13, 2008

A Matter of Precision

Recently I had an experience that is likely a little embarrassing to admit.

I took a flight (which is a very normal experience for me) and ended up not at my intended destination but in a different city in a different state.

According to United Airlines, that shouldn’t have happened, however it did. While most of us have been at the wrong gate from time to time, even if we try to board, there are some processes put in place to keep us from being on the wrong plane, sitting in the wrong seat, headed for the wrong place.

This time however, all of those processes didn’t work and obviously, neither was my mind. I must have left it at home that trip.

Fortunately, it was one of those unusual trips that had lots of extra time before critical appointments, and I ended up driving the additional three hours to my intended destination. If it was ever going to happen, this was the trip. Other than a little inconvenience, there was no foul, no one else other than me that was inconvenienced.

I wonder how many other things in my life are somewhat off-track or missed because of a lack of precision?

Think of the type of precision that is needed by our NASA space program scientists. They calculate the exact ascent trajectory needed to not only have Atlantis or Discovery make it into space but also then be able to rendezvous with the International Space Station or dock with the European Space Lab. Or imagine the precision needed to carry out a successful space-walk!

Critical science: launch and escape velocities, orbital rates of decay, air frictions and gravitational pulls.

We also need a good bit of precision in our walk with the Lord. Jesus said, "Enter though the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."(Matt 7:13-14)

Seems like many prefer the wide gate and the broad road approach to eternal life. The lack of precision however may cause some inconvenient destination problems. How unfortunate it would be to find out you had not paid enough attention to all of the warnings and signs and clear directions that were given to you. Fortunately, that narrow gate is none other than Jesus and “whoever believes in Him, shall not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16)

Friday, June 06, 2008

Bigger Barns

Have you ever taken a look at how many things we accumulate? This generation has amassed more possessions than any previous generation. As a result, our homes are full today of things.

Not only are our homes full but we are living in even bigger homes in order to store up more things.

According to the U.S. Census (2007), the average size for a new home is presently about 2,581 square feet, up from 1,660 square feet in 1973. That is an increase of about 50% in less than one generation. Since 1950, the increase in size is more than 100%. What was all this extra space for anyway? Well it wasn’t for children or extended family as the average size of our families has decreased steadily from 3.67 members back in the 1940’s to just 2.62 in 2002. Taken together with the size of the house, that means that back about one generation, homes were built with about 290 square feet per person vs. about 1,000 square feet per person today.

But per person, we have many more things.

Likely seven or eight rooms of furniture including chairs, sofas, tables, lamps, flat screen TVs, stereo systems, game tables, exercise equipment (that is never used), computers, printers, faxes and WiFi modems, king size beds, dressers, decorative accessories, espresso and latte coffee makers, stacked washers and dryers (which are now un-stacked and positioned on pedestals), large stainless steel refrigerators, stoves and dishwashers, Rolex and other expensive watches, lots of clothing, sportswear, shoes for every season and occasion, and possibly a three-car garage full of new cars, and likely a boat, RV or snowmobile.

In the Gospel of Luke, (Luke 12:13-21) God called the rich man who had so much that he decided to build a bigger barn, a “fool”. Imagine God calling someone a fool! I wonder how often that happens. The rich man must have done something very foolish in order to deserve such a harsh response from God. What was it again that happened?

Oh, that’s right. The man had many possessions, had been blessed by God with a wonderful harvest but only thought of himself and not God or others; so he decided to build a bigger barn to store all that he had.

What a fool.

Monday, June 02, 2008

A Matter of the Heart

What's happened to Christianity?ˇ

Well, unfortunately, while we have made a lot of progress over the past 2,000 years, some habits are hard to break.

Sure, we got rid of the witch hunts, the Spanish Inquisition, the wholesale conversion of the American Indian, and Irish Catholics are no longer fire-bombing Protestant churches. At the same time, the divide between "us" and "them" continues to Christians are supposed to represent Christ to the world. But according to the latest report card, something has gone terribly wrong. Using descriptions like "hypocritical", "insensitive", and "judgmental", young Americans share an impression of Christians that's nothing short of . . .'unChristian'.

One of the recent Barna Group studies found that 38 percent of American adults label themselves evangelical, but only 8 percent of them actually meet the criteria that Barna has established which is as follows: Those include saying their faith is very important in their life today; believing they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; believing that Satan exists; believing that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; believing that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; asserting that the Bible is accurate in all that it teaches; and describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today.

Just 8 percent! Seems like something has happened.

What has happened in America can be debated. In one corner are those that believe that our doctrine, or the lack thereof, has pulled us down. The reasoning is that since people aren't properly schooled in the Bible nor doctrine nor creed, error has crept in. Whether Lutheran, or Reformed; Premillennial, Postmillennial or Amillennial, Charismatic or Bible-thumping, there are those that believe that the root of our problem is a lack of theological training.

They are entitled to their opinion but I think it's a matter of the heart.

When Jesus was asked which was the greatest of the commandments, He replied, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:36-38). The primary motivation of this religion of ours (and I still like to think of it as not a religion but a relationship) is love. Jesus went on to say, "and the second is that you are to love your neighbor as yourself."

The church is dying in America where we have more seminaries, schools, and bibles than any people at any time; also more radio and TV stations with the gospel taught and preached 24 X 7. The church is alive and growing in China, throughout Asia, South America and Africa where the people have nothing compared to us.

But they do have love.

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