Archive for October, 2008

Molly and I support Compassion International, and invite others to do so as well.  For $32 a month you can support a child’s education, well-being, and personal development in under-resourced areas around the globe.  Molly and I exchange letters with our Compassion child who is from Brazil, and are encouraged when we hear what he is learning, what he is interested in, and how he is doing.  Compassion is a Christian ministry, which will be clear from the statistics below.

Here are some significant stats from a recent Compassion update:

  • In the last fiscal year, 154,122 children from our Child Sponsorship Program made commitments to Jesus Christ! And child sponsorships reached 902,172 globally — a 13 percent increase.
  • Compassion’s Child Survival Program is now providing lifesaving assistance to 12,073 caregivers and babies.
  • This year, nearly 200 students graduated from our Leadership Development Program.
  • Compassion was honored in an  recognizing charities that have earned consecutive four-star ratings. Compassion is the only ministry of its kind in the nation to receive this honor seven consecutive years!
I’d encourage you to check it out, and sign up.

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This week I’m in Fayetteville, AR.  I’m blogging from The Common Grounds, a coffee and espresso bar on Dixon.  This week has been great–plenty of time to write, think, and read.  Above is my drink of choice, the Americano.

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For those engaged in the political process this piece from Ben Witherington is a short, worthwhile read.  Witherington is the Amos Professor of New Testament for Doctoral Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary.  Witherington does not tell you who to vote for, thankfully, but offers some helpful guidelines for Christians evaluating both candidates and carefully discerning for whom they should cast their vote.

Witherington speaks strongly to his readers, saying:

There is really no excuse for laziness when it comes to being an informed voter, especially when we now have such a wealth of information online, and through other viable sources of news about candidates. Do not use the ‘cop out’ of ‘they’re all just the same’, or ‘no politicians are trustworthy’ or ‘I don’t have time for this’. If you have time to enjoy the freedoms you have in this country, then you certainly have time to become an informed voter. Period. 

This November Witherington encourages us to do our homework, vote even if we are frustrated, avoid being a one-issue voter, consider character, prioritize the issues, and to think and pray before casting a vote.  He doesn’t break down either McCain or Obama issue by issue–he doesn’t need to.  Others have done the work.  We just have to tap into the resources.

I would fall in to the category of “frustrated voter.”  This comes after watching the debates, reading plenty of print material, and intense discussions with friends about the issues.  I’m particularly frustrated that an $850 bailout bill was passed by Republicans who said that the $700 billion proposal was too expensive, and am miffed that a bill which was around 3 pages when initially proposed expanded to a 400 page document in a week.  If any incumbent voted FOR the bill in my district, which I need to check in to, then they may have lost my vote.  I don’t see our next President addressing the outlandish fiscal policies which have guided Washington in recent years, likely because our elected officials are benefitting in some way.  Obama and McCain have too much at stake to offer strong words and a solid plan for how our finances are and should be managed, likely because that would ruffle the feathers of their most wealthy political supporters.

I plan to vote in November.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t think it stinks to be part of American democracy right now.

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For those that don’t know, Tim Tebow is the quarterback for the University of Florida Gators.

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Some of you may have picked this up, but Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion came forward with some new information on American religious life.  Here is an article from the Fort Worth Star Telegram about the study.  In 2006 Baylor garnered national attention when they released findings concerning not only that American’s believe in God, but what characteristics God is thought to have (friendly, angry, distant, engaged, etc.).  Click here for a USA Today article which reports findings from the initial study.

According to a Baylor University Press release, a finding of the new study that I found particularly interesting was that megachurch communities are more intimate than commonly supposed.  Check this out:

“None of the things we all believe about the megachurch is true,” said Dr. Rodney Stark, Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor and co-director of the ISR.

Even with congregations of more than 1,000 members, the Baylor Religion Survey found that megachurches surprisingly are more intimate communities than small congregations of less than 100 members (Ch. 5, “Megachurches: Supersizing the Faith”). Megachurch growth is mostly due to their members, who tend to witness to their friends, bringing them into the group, and witness to strangers, much more often than members of small churches.

When compared to small congregations, the survey found that megachurch members display a higher level of personal commitment by attending services and a Bible study group and tithing. They also are more likely to accept that heaven “absolutely” exists and that God rewards the faithful with major successes, are more convinced of the reality of evil, are far more given to having religious and mystical experiences, are significantly younger in age and are remarkably active in volunteer work (as much or more so than tiny churches).

“We think of them as these great, huge, cold religious gatherings with a symphony orchestra and a paid choir and a lot of hoopla and a lot of good tidings but no bad tidings,” Stark said. “It’s not true that it’s all happy talk. These people are as interested in evil and sin as anybody in any of the churches. Their levels of satisfaction are high, their volunteerism in community service is very high and their outreach efforts are absolutely phenomenal.”

“I’ve heard stories when you go to some of the megachurches that you have to get tickets and parking like it’s a football game,” said Dr. Carson Mencken, professor of sociology at Baylor. “You go to a football game, you sit next to people you don’t know very well, and so I figured that’s exactly what megachurches are going to be like. The survey reveals the megachurches are not like that at all. These people do know each other, and they’re networked into the church through their friends and friends of friends.”

I’ve been on staff at large churches and have been around them now for the past six years (really beyond this).  I don’t deny that a great deal of good has come about from these behemoth faith communities, but I continually question the methodology employed, the assumptions that come with “church growth,” and the degree to which such communities are effectively making disciples of Jesus Christ.  I can’t help but look at multi-million dollar facilities and wonder if this was what Jesus intended.  I can’t help but marvel at million dollar sound and light systems, elaborate staging, and slick presentations and wonder if this is a setting more fit for amusement than engagement, entertainment than serious contemplation.  I wonder where the large church pastors are who are not that attractive, considering Jesus may have been uncomely in appearance (Isa. 53:2).  I wonder if the building of our organizations do not reinforce habits of consumption more so than fuel the development of generous character.  I wonder if we give more money toward facilities, staff salaries, and promotional materials than we do to the poor.

Some large churches are more careful than others.  Some remember the poor, and encourage their members to do so as well.  Let’s just say that some of my everyday conversations with church people have indicated that they feel well connected, affirmed, and at home in the large church, but their answers as to why they are there are more centered on social connections, buzz, attraction to a central personality (usually the pastor) than they are on the Lord and Savior of the Universe.  In other words, too often I’ve found that the feeling of connection people have with a church community has little to do with discipleship.

It may be true that in megachurches “These people do know each other, and they’re networked into the church through their friends and friends of friends,” and that “Their levels of satisfaction are high, their volunteerism in community service is very high and their outreach efforts are absolutely phenomenal,” but to what end?

I can only hope that the feelings of intimacy which exist are not ends in themselves, but lead people to Christian maturity that reaches beyond participating in a church program, tithing that reaches beyond a felt obligation to sustain a building and a capital campaign, and volunteerism that reaches beyond “do-good, feel-good” mentalities that center on the self.

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I took this photo on Saturday.  That would be Texas “Tech,” short for Technical, not Tecknical.

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This article from the BBC notes Pope Benedict XVI’s quest to understand why the Bible is ignored in modern times.  PB16 expresses a concern which I hold as well.  The Bible is a fascinating book worthy of our attention and thought, yet is insufficiently read, discussed, and grappled with by Christians, much less those who do not call themselves followers of Jesus.  The fault does not entirely lie with those outside clergy ranks.  I’ve met and heard pastoral leaders who lack confidence in the text, use it as a form of psychological self-help, or who don’t know the story very well, thus setting a poor example for lay persons.  Here is an excerpt from the BBC article:

Pope Benedict XVI has opened a synod of more than 200 cardinals and bishops from around the world to examine the modern lack of interest the Bible.

The Pope lamented what he called the harmful and destructive influence of some forms of modern culture.

This, he said, had decided that God was dead, and man was the sole architect of his destiny and master of creation.

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My friend Ryan sent me an email yesterday with some thoughts on the financial crisis.  With permission, I’m posting a portion here.  I took the time to read through the Crockett article which he provided, which is a fascinating snapshot from history.  Here are some of Ryan’s thoughts:

Read your blog regarding the bailout. Below is a link to a story I read while in grad school about Davy Crockett and how his attitude changed with regard to what the Constitution allows congress to do. I think it is applicable to these times. You’ll find that the conclusion drawn is very Ron Paul-ian, and although I think Dr. Paul is certifiably insane when it comes to some things, I agree with him when it comes to how our country’s government spends OUR money. I think you’ll like it. 
I think it was a congressman from Oklahoma yesterday (who is/was a medical doctor) that the bailout bill was like having a cancer patient develop pneumonia due to the cancer and treating the pneumonia even though it is a symptom and not the cause.

This is fuel for discussion.  Thoughts?

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It is Friday morning and I hope yours is going as well as mine thus far!  My job with the bus company has me up early each day and gets me started, and then I move to a coffee shop or my living room to research and write.  As I’ve been perusing my blog reader this morning I’ve found a few items I think that are of note.

First, Dan Kimball writes about how the meaning of the term “emerging church” has changed in the 5 years since he published his book The Emerging Church.  I tend to agree with many of his observations.  For anyone tired of the term, I would strongly recommend checking out Kimball’s analysis and clicking through his links to other bloggers and thinkers who have dropped the term all together.  The “emerging church” that I was attracted to around 6 years ago has evolved into something else–now I’m striving to practice historic, orthodox Christian faith.  Admittedly I have a  Protestant/Baptist predisposition, but am learning a great deal from the Church Fathers, the Monastics, and Reformers.  I’m currently in a Methodist context, and have been for a few years.  Anyway, here is an excerpt from Kimball’s post:

So…. the first thing that has changed in the 5 years since the book The Emerging Church came out is that in my opinion, the definition has changed. I am not wedded to any term and I don’t think most people are. I, like most others, are wedded to the gospel and to Jesus’ command of making new disciples – not a term to describe it. I have gone through the disiullusionment stage about church, and been hurt by the church and the whole deconstruction phase and questioning phase.

So I understand that very deeply. But the urgency of eternity here and the here-after and the people who are not yet Christians who need to hear about experience in this life the saving gospel of Jesus is what enabled me to rise me out of that. I want to focus time, prayer and energy on healthy evangelism and new disciples of Jesus being made who weren’t Christians before in our new cultures and new generations. That may involve all varieties of conversations including anything from music and art to justice to leadership to all types of thing. But underneath it is evangelism and the words of Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8 and mission driving it all. So in moving ahead, I don’t think using the term “emerging church” as it is generally defined today, describes this like it used to.

Next, I thought this post from Accidental Creative was quite good, entitled “Identity vs. Masks.”  The quote from Thomas Merton drew me in.  I’m all for creativity in ministry–in fact, I think it is critical in efforts to contextualize the gospel.  If we take a missionary approach to our culture, our communities, our cities, our ministries will express diversity reflective of the true nature of the Kingdom of God.  In order to contextualize our ministries effectively we’ll have to be bold in implementing our own creativity.  Here’s a portion of this post from Accidental Creative:

Many of us move through life wearing someone else’s clothes. We produce someone else’s art. We make someone else’s music. We write someone else’s words.  We replay someone else’s arguments. We don’t have the courage and the conviction to stand on our own and speak our own thoughts and craft our own work. We don’t have the courage to say “I don’t know” and to make it up as we go. We are wearing a mask…

The best antidote for all of this is – wait for it – unnecessary creating time. It’s critical that we have time to create for ourselves (and no one else) in which we can take on projects that fuel us, give us life and the opportunity to explore new means of expression. We discover ourselves and our unique “voice” as we act. We need to build intentional, structured time into our lives to express ourselves in new ways and to take creative risks where there’s a safety net.

Lastly, for anyone out there exploring the possibilities of launching an internet campus, here’s a great link from Tim Stevens.  A United Methodist Church decided to baptize someone over the web.  Check it out.

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Over the past few weeks I’ve been consumed with following the impending financial crisis which looms large in America.  I watched President Bush’s first television address to the nation, kept track of progress on the proposed $700 billion bail-out plan on Capital Hill, and surveyed the thinking of pundits from the New York Times, the BBC, the LA Times, FoxNews, and ESPN Page 2’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback.  Even Dave Ramsey has weighed in.  I have friends who have enthusiastically backed the plan and others that have vehemently opposed it, and they have called their representatives to have their opinion heard.

When it comes to the proposed plan I remain suspicious.  I guess I’m more of a free market capitalist than I supposed, holding the opinion that irresponsible firms on Wall Street should have to pay the price for poor decision making.  I also am reluctant to herald those in Washington as “heroes,” for it seems that pressure both from the executive and congressional branches of government led the housing industry to grant questionable loans to under-resourced Americans.  It seems to me that both the government and our leading financial institutions are to blame, and the American taxpayer will carry the heaviest burden in turning this ship around.  Even if a bail-out is a necessary action, I’m still asking if this will change our economic policies and decision making process in the near future.

Considering the fact that our government has borrowed more money in the past decade than in all our previous history combined I doubt that our approach will change, and I’m not surprised that a financial crisis has come upon us.  As Paul wrote in the book of Galatians, “A man reaps what he sows.”  Our reckoning has come.  Who is to say that if our government does manage to pass a financial plan that will save our economy in the short term that in the future our country’s finances will be managed more responsibly?  That would be the voters, both in who we select and in our persistence in following the issues, staying informed, and keeping those who represent us accountable.  This will require education on behalf of the American public–we’ll have to create spaces in our communities–be they local government, church communities, PTAs, Rotary, etc.–where people can have discussions regarding how government works and exactly what is happening in Washington.  When I watched President Bush’s initial television address, I remarked to my wife, “You have to be educated in basic economics to understand what he is saying.  How many people can track with him regarding these basic economic principles, particularly when a staggering number of American’s cannot even manage their own finances?”

In other news, I’d recommend tuning in to the Vice Presidential Debate tonight.  This piece on the debate from the LA Times was interesting.  This quote really struck me:

Also discouraging for the McCain camp must be the finding of a new Marist Poll, described by the Swamp’s same Silva. It reveals that while a plurality (45%) expect Biden to perform better in the debate and a majority (61%) expect him to show a greater understanding of issues, compared to Palin’s 36% and 28%, nearly two out of three expect Palin to come across as more likeable, compared to Biden’s measly 23% anticipated likeability. (emphasis mine)

What disturbs me most about this poll is that I have yet to gain enough faith in the voter to believe that “likeability” is not one of the most significant factors in our image-driven culture.  As Winston Churchill once remarked, “The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.”  I’m not quite that skeptical, but I might be close.

I still need to watch the whole of the Presidential Debate which took place last Friday, though I’ve read plenty of reviews and know not much of note took place.

At this stage in the game, I’m still measuring the candidates and assessing their strategy, plan, and vision for our country.  As I’ve said, I want to cast an informed vote that takes into account the content of the candidates words in written and in spoken form.  I’m also working hard to try to understand where we as a country currently stand, which is quite difficult considering that state of our media.  

If you have a thought, opinion, or question concerning the candidates and the upcoming election, weigh in, write a blog post, and further the discussion.  I’m game for talk of politics.

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