Monday, December 17, 2007

An interesting movie that is expected out in 2008

I'm a fan of Don Miller's writing and would recommend his book Blue Like Jazz. Now he has announce that they are about ready to start filming a movie based on the themes of that book. It will be interesting to see how well they pull that off. Blue Like Jazz is a collection of essays written in a post-modern mindset. There are a bunch of interesting vignettes and personal stories in the book, but it isn't a cohesive story at all. Miller explains that the movie will try to maintain the same theme as the book, but is in no way a retelling of the book.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

False Maturity

I'm creating a message for Grace Point that I will be giving on December 30 as part of a family worship service. The theme that I'm working on is Maintaining a child-like faith while growing in maturity. This theme has caused me to consider what real Christian maturity must look like. As a result, I've been digging through the scriptures (focusing on the Book of Matthew) looking at false examples of maturity. That is, people who thought that they and their actions epitomized mature faith, but who Jesus specifically rebuked for missing the mark.

I'm not sure exactly how I'm going to use this yet, but here is a table of my discovery so far.

“Religious” claim



We lean on our fathers’ faith

Matthew 3:7

God can raise up followers from nothing, no need for heritage

Righteousness will earn credit toward the Kingdom

Matthew 5:19

Righteousness alone is not enough

Keep the right company

Matthew 9:11

Jesus’ gift is for the sinner not the righteous

To follow rules perfectly

Matthew 12:1-13

They forget to show love to others

Demand to see signs

Matthew 12:38

Miss the most obvious signs written in the scriptures

Hold rigidly to traditions

Matthew 15:1

Traditions often substitute for what God really wants

Debate the finest points of the law

Matthew 19:3

They miss the bigger points of God’s Grace

Use the law as a test of spirituality

Matthew 22:34

They miss that the goal of the Law is to help people to be close to God

Unfortunately, I think that too many Christians today struggle with these same problems of false maturity.

While most evangelicals wouldn't lean on the faith of their fathers as the Pharisees did in 3:7, we do tend to uphold time as a measure of Christian maturity. "Oh, he's been a Christian for years. He'll be a good leader." Over time many will grow in maturity, but as a measure alone there are many who find a comfort zone and never grow, or grow very little in many years. Further, we will elevate people who come from a "good Christian family" equating their upbringing to the development of their faith.

Again few evangelicals will assume that works will create a door to heaven, but we aren't above looking at works for a measure of value in our churches. "That family gives more money to the church than anyone else. Should they have more say on this issue?" We often also focus on the surface response of people. In my work I know many children who have excellent behavior when their parents are around, but take mom and dad out of the picture and you can see some clear spiritual flaws. Unfortunately, too many evangelical leaders focus on discipline in teaching parents to raise their children. This discipline often leads to a surface/works-based religiosity.

On the issue of company (i.e., friends), I'd suggest many evangelicals are stuck using this false measure of maturity. "I'm just glad that most of my daughter's friends are church girls." To assure that church people keep the right company, we make sure that most of our evenings and weekends are spent in church event or at least with other Christians. We even take our families to Christian camps in the summer because we need to make sure that everyone that we hang around is Christian. Not always, but too often, Christians choose to homeschool or send their children to Christian schools because they are afraid that their children might make friends with non-Christians.

Of course rules play an important role in the contemporary Christian sense of religion. Yes God does set some clear standards in His Law, but some of these rules are strange too like, "he can't be a Christian; He's not even Republican." I've heard this one a most recently of a presidential candidate with a strong testimony. Or how about, "That person isn't growing in his faith since she's not bringing her Bible with her to church on Sunday." How many other rules have we developed that are not a part of God's Law which when summarized is simply to love God and love others.

Tradition is an issue that often divides evangelical churches, particularly when it comes to music or "worship" styles. Unfortunately, I still hear people on both sides of the music isle upholding traditions that have little to do with commands that Christ taught. Most of these traditions have to do with methods that we use for worshiping or discipling. My main pet peeve is that we equate the hour plus that we meet in a large auditorium (aka. The Sanctuary) as our time of worship for the week. More precisely, we equate the time that we are singing as our worship time. And in regards to discipleship, it amazes me when I hear that a church would evaluate the level of discipleship going on in a church based on the number of people that show up for a Sunday school class that is often fact based and seldom challenges its members to reach out in service to others.

Doctrine is important, but I wonder if evangelicals haven't been led to believe that main issues are important that really aren't. The doctrine of the timing of Jesus return comes to mind as an issue that is made important beyond the scope of the Scriptures. An other issue might be exactly how and how long it took God to create the world (sorry, the universe) also comes to mind.

Finally, evangelical will use the law as a test of spirituality. "He doesn't drink; he must be spiritual." "She said a dirty word; she must not be." The problem here is that our measuring sticks may have appropriate roots, but we make the branches of them the measure, not the firmly planted roots. I mean, for example, while drinking in excess can be a sign of a spiritual problem, we are incline to label anyone whose had a drink in the last (you determine the time) as an unspiritual person.

It seems to me that the Christian church in the U.S. is struggling as much with understanding real maturity as the Pharisees of Jesus' day. I would hope that after 2000 years of being the church, we would be better at applying the words of Jesus to our community and our lives.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

A Balance Perspective on the Golden Compass

Few have not heard the controvery that surrounds the movie The Golden Compass. Here is a well written piece found on Walt Mueller's the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding website. I suggest all parents would do well to check the CPYU site on occation or subscibe to Walt's e-newsletter. I've included the quote from cultural analyst John Seel below, but be sure to read the whole letter by Walt Mueller. I've empasised with green text some key points.

One senses a tipping point, assertive atheism has found its voice. Several years ago Dartmouth University professor Walter Sinnot-Armstrong wrote an article in their alumni magazine entitled, "Can You Believe It?" in which he called for atheists to breakout of their self-imposed silence and to take up the mantle of "evangelistic" atheism. He wrote, "Outside the classes, most atheists feel little to be gained by broadcasting their beliefs. Theists won't listen, and atheists don't need to listen. This defeatist attitude means that evangelicals get away with spouting harmful nonsense." Many have risen to his challenge. The bookstores and magazines are filled with anti-God and anti-religion diatribes.

It was only a matter of time before imaginative literature aimed at children took up this theme. The film, The Golden Compass, opened in December and is based on the first book in Philip Pullman's trilogy, His Dark Materials. In an interview in the Washington Post, Pullman candidly remarked, "I'm trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief.” Pullman has also been outspoken about his desire to undercut The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.

The most powerful aspect of culture is the way it shapes our moral imagination. As Einstein observed, "Imagination is more important than knowledge." Books and films such as The Golden Compass are opportunities for important discussions with our children about truth and the nature of reality. We need not be defensive or udgmental. God's truth will prevail. All that is at risk is casual Christianity and unreflective belief. Assertive atheism can be a good thing, if it encourages us to become serious seekers of truth. Many will simply use such films to justify their rebellious attitudes toward authority. That shouldn’t surprise us. More important than blaming atheists for what they think and write is to acknowledge the failure of Christian believers to provide a thoughtful, winsome, and life-affirming alternative in our culture. This is the challenge of our time.

It is the proper role of the Follower of Christ to do good, not to fear and to protest. Let these words be your guide and your comfort.
Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. "Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened." But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit.
--1 Peter 3:13-18 (NIV)

Rember also, that media will not bring about the end of Christ's mission and the Gospel will continue to be spread.

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
--Matthew 16:18 (NIV)

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Grace Point Staff prayer day reflection

I know it has been a while since I last posted, and this isn't the most meaningful of posts. Still I want to keep to my practice of posting my reflections of the staff quarterly prayer day.


My time today was spent in reflection on the state of my soul. It was about repentance for the sins that dominate my life. I have many and my heart is burdened by them all. Still there are some sins that dominate my ministry making it less effective than it should be.

First, I admit that I struggle with the same sin as the Church of Ephesus in Rev. 2:1-7. They were guilty of giving up the burning passion of their first love, Jesus. N. T. Wright demonstrates in Simply Christian that worship, when true, is much like one reacts to a rock star. I remember having that passion toward God and his word once, but it is diminished now.

My next sin is that of judgmentalism. Looking at my brother, I am inclined to see his sin before my own. His vision is clouded by that tiny little speck I'm sure. Don't bother me with the log that I'm dealing with.

My last sin, connected to my second, is hypocrisy. I believe in several noble missions that I challenge others to support but do nothing about them personally. I must make my life mission congruent with my actions. Most note worthy is the issues of poverty and aides.

I am sorry for my sins and pray the God will help me to overcome them.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

What are you living for?

I haven't posted since this summer. Things have been busy. I've had ideas to post, but, because things are so busy, I have forgotten them before I could get them in the blog. Anyhow, Julie (a friend from church) told me on Sunday that she was reading my blog over the summer and I needed to post more. So, when I had an idea this morning, I was convicted to post it.

As I've said, I've been busy lately. Busy with a lot of church stuff much of which is short-term as our church runs without a permanent lead pastor. I've also been read and staying up way too late watching the Colorado Rockies breeze their way through the playoffs. Everyone is busy around me all the time. I'm not going to say that my busyness is more righteous than everyone else, but there are a lot of people doing a lot of things that don't seem too important to me.

This morning I was driving to the church when I caught the Peter Gabriel song Solisbury Hill. I love the song, but admit I have no idea what Gabriel was writing about. Some suggest that it is about faith in Jesus. I doubt that. I'm just not sure that he has that kind of testimony. Still, Peter Gabriel isn't a prophet and the song is not scripture so I'm going to pretend that Gabriel is giving his testimony in this song. If he is, it's awesome.

My favorite part comes right at the end. Throughout the song the line "grab your things, I've come to take you home" is repeated, but at the end it changes noticeably. I think that it is meaningful how it changes. Throughout the song there is an excitement about going home, but the excitement isn't so great that the character want to forget the things that might be left behind. It's kind of like you're waiting for a bus that finally arrives so you stop, pick your things up and get on the bus. There is relief in the arrival of the bus, but your things still matter.

In the last line of Solsbury Hill, Gabriel sings, "Hey, I said, you can keep my things, they've come to take me home." WOW! I can only imagine that this is how I'll feel when Christ comes to take me home. All my stuff that I didn't want to forget will now become meaningless. I'll I want to do is go home.

I've been reading a lot lately too. I've just finish two Don Miller books, Blue Like Jazz and Searching for God Knows What. I've greatly enjoyed Miller's perspective, and when I heard that last line of Solsbury Hill, my mind was draw to a chapter in Blue Like Jazz, the one where Miller introduces Andrew the Protester. Andrew the Protester has a philosophy that it isn't what you'll die for that matters; rather it is what you will live for. In other words, dieing is easy. Not really, but it is easy to say you'll die for something when nothing is threatening you. It is hard to really turn your life around and live for something. No one is going to do that unless they actually believe in the cause or the person or whatever.

I've been busy lately. Busy like everyone else in my community. Most of them are busy trying to get ahead in life, or to help their children get ahead. I don't believe in that. I believe in something else. What do I believe in? I'd like to say I believe in God and serving Him and all that, but I think I need to stop and reflect on the things I've been busy doing, then I'll know what I really believe in.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Summary of September 2007 prayer day

This is an interesting time in our church and in my life. We have a great amount of change going on with the exit of our long time pastor, Dave Ridder. What does God want me to do during this time? It seems that I have so little control over the path that the church will take and over the direction of my own ministry.

After contemplating this question in prayer, I've discovered once again that God's plan for me isn't real complicated. No, in fact, it is just as simple as always. God wants me "to live justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly" (Micah 6:8) with Him.

I need to let God be in charge!

I can see through this that thee are 3 main mistakes that the religious make in their religiosity. First, they seek information instead of obedience (walk humbly).

Next, the religious substitute symbols for actions of faith (live justly). Often this is a substitution of my tradition in place of an action that someone else my require. It is law over grace.

Finally, the religious will seek routine instead of empathy (love mercy). Rather that taking the time and energy to feel and reveal true empathy the religious person will categorize situations a try to meet all needs will a ceremony rather than by actually reaching out to the hurting person. This is truly an act of laziness, as well as an response to our inability to meet all the needs before us. When the later is true we demonstrate a lack of either faith that God can work or a lack of humility that God is capable without me.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

For parents...

In case you're worried about what's going to become of the younger generation, it's going to grow up and start worrying about the younger generation.
- Roger Allen

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Briefs: Key points of sabbatical trip conversations

Prairie Lake Church executive pastor, Chris Rygh: Growth will require unity of staff and leadership and mobilizing volunteers. With out volunteer leadership, a church cannot afford to support growth.

Latigo Ranch owner and former missionary to Waordoni tribe in Ecuador, Jim Yost: Children today are laking purpose. They are impatient to have all the stuff and experience of the older generation, but haven't an understanding of what they want to achieve. Alway do what you are called to do, and love doing it. Reward will come as a secondary consequence in it on time and is better if not the objective of one's activity.

Don and Heather Stone, former senior pastor and wife at Sonrise Baptist Church in West Valley City, Utah: The real test of a parent's success is how children (adult children) respond to adversity. If they can maintain joy in extreme suffering they will succeed.

Denver Seminary professor, Larry Lindquist: In staff changes to be to rushed or too locked into a particular structure. Serve the church with honest vigilance, but the current change isn't forever and may open new doors to the Lord's leading.

Mission Hills Church executive pastor, Byron Johns: The relationship between the senior and executive pastors are the key to their working relationship. Build trust in all things. The role of the x-pastor is to ask the who, what, when, and why questions every step of planning.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Memory of the past

While hanging with the family, we rediscovered this poem that my brother wrote in high school.

Ode to a Smushed Frog on the Highway
By Mike Johnson

Oh little frog hit by a truck
Went hopping one day, and forgot to duck
The truck's bumper hit his head
He suffers no more because now he is dead.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

One wild ride, one joyful child

What's the difference between a fairy tale and a rancher's story? One starts off "Once upon a time" the other "I swear this is true." -Jim Yost

I swear this is true. My daughters and I headed out on a all day ride with 3 wranglers and 3 other riders. About 40 minutes into the ride as we passed Red Dirt Reservoir, the lead wrangler jumped us up to a lope, when we heard some yelling from the back of the line. Stopping my horse I turned around to hear Moriah ask, "who is it, Dad? Who is it? Is it Elie?"

My heart dropped when I realized it was Elie. Worse yet, I realized that fact at the moment that I saw her tumbled to the ground and lied in a heap. I turned my horse and broke the line to get down to her. It took a while as Alonso wasn't exactly the kind of horse that one would take to a fire, but I made it and dismounted reaching Elie a few seconds after the trailing wrangler reached her. Konnie was already checking Elie out and to my joy she was alert and able to move her body parts. Her complaint was that her wrists hurt. She also had an obvious scrape on the face as she had obviously landed on her head as well.

After checking her over real well we realized that Elie wasn't going to have the strength to hold the reins to return to the ranch, much less complete the remaining 5 hours of riding, so the wranglers radioed the ranch for a truck to pick her up. They could make the pick up about 1/4 mile from our location we would only have to walk her to that point. Though woozy, Elie was able to make the walk and her head seemed to clear a little along the way.

Needless to say, I cut my ride short and returned to ranch. There I found Elie patched up, and doing well, but beat up, with tow sore wrists and extremely sleepy. She and I made the 20 drive down the Kremmling to visit the 4 bed emergency room. X-rays confirmed two slightly fractured wrists and the doctor acknowledged a minor concussion. No major treatment would be necessary, but Elie's riding for the week would be over.

Ironically, we choose the ranch vacation because Elie loves horses so much. So it would seem that this would be the end of our vacation fun. However, I am often amazed at how God works in a child and how mature my daughters are becoming. Instead of complaining, Elie put her injuries aside and found ways to enjoy the ranch in other ways. Yes, she was sad to miss out on the rides, but she found her way into the hearts of the ranch staff. She spent one day working in the ranch kitchen while the rest of us learned to round up cattle. Some might think, "how can KP be a positive experience?", still Elie made it really special. When I asked her later was her favorite part of the ranch experience was, she proclaimed the day in the kitchen.

Every good thing requires risk. The experience of riding a horse in the mountain certainly has risk. By it's very nature, risk means something can go wrong. When that happens, people can react in different ways: swear never to face the risk again, complain and wonder why it happened to them, or pick up what they have and make the best of the situation. This may be a minor event compared to other things that may have happened, but, still, I'm pleased that Elie took the highest road possible.

Ranchers for a week

The Johnson family is about as suburban as we would like to admit, but that is why dude ranches exist. Last week we spent about the best week of vacation anyone could have while suffering two broken bones and a concussion.

The ranch,, is an incredible ranch with great scenery, wonderful staff and enjoyable horses. Prior to our week, Elie and Moriah were the most experience riders in the family having both taken riding lessons for a period of time. I have participated on on overnight men's trip, but didn't know much about riding a horse. Stef hadn't had much experience on a horse, but, all in all, we found that our lack of experience didn't keep the Johnsons from enjoying the ranch experience. The wranglers where great teachers and the other activities and food made the week a wonderfully restful vacation for all of us.

Beyond the typical rides, learning to throw a lasso and crack a whip, and the extremely tasty food, my favorite part of Latigo Ranch was the people. I was alway cheered by the kitchen staff and their smiling faces. I enjoyed chatting with the cowboy type wranglers who led the trail rides. But the most memorable individuals where the owners, Jim and Kathie Yost and Randy and Lisa George. Particularly, I spent a good amount of time talking with Jim Yost, who, with Kathie, lived 10 years as a missionary in Ecuador. Jim Yost was the first man to spend a night in a Waorani tribe village. The Waorani Indian were a violent tribe that were made known to Americans through the story of Jim and Elizabeth Elliot and the movie The End of the Spear.

Jim, now a full-time rancher and part-time anthropologist, looks every bit the part of a cowboy. He told stories like a cowboy, with a straight face and dry humor. His understanding of people was amazing and I'm hoping to use much of a conversation that he had with Stef and I in development of my Successful Parenting seminars that I'm working on.

While Jim is a cowboy, he's also a very loving and sensitive man. This was evident as we experienced some of the harder events that a dude ranch may produce. I'll write more about the experience in my next entry, but, briefly, I'll say that Elie was thrown from her horse and suffered two broken arms and a minor concussion. Elie is in good shape now, and recovering, but the event disturbed Jim visibly. Elie's fall was scary, but the reaction of Jim and the response of his staff helped our family to continue to enjoy the week, even calling it the best vacation of our lives.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

two thirds of a road trip, part 1 PA to IA

The Johnson family has been on a road trip through the mid-west and west for about 21 days. This is the first chance that I've had to sit and type up something about the trip so I'll give a quick run down of everything that we've experienced.

First, two long non-eventful days of travel from home to Stef home town of Waterloo IA have taught us two things. First, our girls now that they are 12 and 14 are much better travelers than they used to be and Little House on the Prairie First Season DVDs can be good entertainment for the car ride. The second thing we learned was, when in Ohio, $20 extra dollars spent on a hotel room, just might have been a better deal than staying the the Fleebag Inn. When we invested the extra $'s in a Nebraska hotel, we discovered the difference.

Our stay in Waterloo brought great opportunities to chance to catch up with Stef's father and brother. We enjoyed our time, but the girls had few opportunities to hang out with anyone their age. But I had a great time helping my father-in-law work on his 1949 Olds.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Review of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck

What was the difference between Michael Jordan and John McEnroe? Why do some people see only failure in themselves and others while other people can see only potential? Why are even positive labels in schools an ultimate hindrance for the individuals who receive them? Dr. Carol S. Dweck of Stanford University says that both positive and negative labels come from the same mindset as held by those who see failure in all and people like John McEnroe, who become caught up in the reasons that others are holding them back. Dwecks research is outlined in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Random House, New York: 2006).

Dr. Dweck has discovered two mindsets that affect the success of individuals, one for the better and one for the worse. The open mindset reward effort over achievement. It recognized each individual, whether it be on the sports field, in the family or in academic study based on their own personal goals and how hard they work at conquering those goals. The open mindset goals would be effort based, not based on meeting standards or receive accolades.

The closed mindset, on the other hand, creates standards for all people to meet, such as test scores or trophy counts. Those who quickly achieve those standards are labeled smart or athletic or well behaved. Those who struggle to meet standards are label academically challenged, or nonathletic or a behavioral problem.

Who do the labels hurt? According to Dr. Dweck, labels hurt everyone. Those who are labeled unable are hurt as well as those who are told that they are specially gifted to meet the standard. Why? The "unables" are hurt because they are in a sense told, they will never match up to the "ables". The "ables" are hurt because they will identify themselves according to the things that they are supposed to do well. Once they fail at those things one of two reactions will result. The first reaction is self-defeating. They will have to redefine themselves. When they were once good at the activity, they will now have to admit they are not good. The second reaction is more defensive. Rather than admitting their own failure, they will blame others for their poor showing.

Dweck identifies the bigger problem with the second group. Once a child is placed in a special group they tend to develop an attitude that everything should come naturally. They stop working as had a development which set them up for eventual failure. The failure is very difficult to take because it is tied to their identity.

As a result, Dweck argues against the creation of such programs as gifted and talented classes or special sports leagues because they are used to rate natural ability rather than extraordinary effort. Likewise, she advocates against harsh punishments for failure of meeting standards, including some behavioral standards.

From a Christian point of view I can see many benefits in teaching an open mindset. Still I see some portions of this work that Christians would tend to object to. First, Dweck's anti-corporal punishment bent has long been a beef of many Christians after all doesn't the Bible say "spare the rod and spoil the child?" There is a point that Dweck can push this issue too far, still as a children's pastor I have see that too often punishment, in general, and more particularly corporal punishment are dealt too quickly to specific groups of people. To often parents want to see their children all living to a standard of behavior thus punishing any behavior that doesn't meet that standard. To offend I see parents labeling their own children as behavior problems and miss the growth moment and value that these children bring to the world, the family and the church. While I don't advocate never applying corporal punishment, some parents result to it too quickly and for the wrong issues.

Many Christians may also balk at the idea of eliminating the gifted types of programs. I don't know of any Biblical reason for this, but many conservative Christians demand that we stratify children, assume that stratification is based on hard work, and fear that unifying the children in academic and athletic programs is a slide to socialism. I don't thing this is the case. Unfortunately, most academic, artistic and athletic programs base their grouping, not on individual effort, but on early signs of "ability". We create these programs way too early in the lives of the children and measure things that are not consistent with how much work an individual will be willing to put into developing. I've seen children as early as 6 years old be placed on special athletic teams because they are a head taller than others. This isn't the exception unfortunately. This is the truth behind how these decisions are made.

I don't think that Dweck takes personal bent out of development decisions all together, and we do need to consider how each child is specially designed. Eventually, children who are good in math need a math program that can help them develop, but not at the expense of those who are more or less average. Eventually, children will need different athletic fields to address their sports development, but not based on early detection of "natural abilities" (often read physical development). Rather, children who want to play baseball day-in and day-out should have a field so they aren't bored or frustrated with those that show up once a week just for fun.

Moreover, I think Christians can find some usual guidance in this book, particularly with regard to spiritual development. The closed mindset is going to look at a specific quality that a child has to determine their value. Too often, in the church, we do this by rating how well a child is behaved while the adults teach or pray, how many verses they can memorize, or how many friends they bring to our church programs. This ignores that some may sit quietly through the prayer time while their minds drift off, while others wiggle and squirm as the try to process the value of prayer. We rejoice when Johnny finished all his verse memorization long before the rest, but need to investigate what value Johnny received from those verses. Or we get frustrated when Sally fails to recite any verses word perfect, but miss the attempt that she makes.

In general, we need to look at the whole person in spiritual development, not the surface. We need to move beyond labeling children as good or bad and work to make all of them better.

Another thing to keep in mind is that spiritual development is often affected by the athletic, artistic and academic labels we give children. These labels will often make children feel that they are good without considering their spiritual growth. More organically, often receiving the honors to be in these special programs or on special teams restricts them for the time they need to work on spiritual matters. Moreover, it creates a pressure for all families to work harder to make sure that their children receive these honors, at the expense of spirituality.

One last interesting side point that I gained from Dweck's book has little to do with the text. The point comes in the title of two sections. One is titled, "Parents (and Teachers): Messages About Success and Failure;" the next is titled, "Teachers (and Parents): What Makes a Great Teacher (or Parent)?" These tell of Dweck's wise view of parents. That is, their role is to teach their children well. The Bible makes it clear that the parent is the primary teach of a child. If parents rely on the the teachers to do the job the child will not be properly prepared. When parents take seriously their role as teacher and learn about how to to the tasks involved, children will have the best resources they need for achieving all the God as in store for them.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Review of Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert

Happiness is an elusive thing. Not that it is difficult to find happiness, but it is difficult to define and pin point what brings happiness. Daniel Gilbert in Stumbling on Happiness (Vintage Books, 2005) make as case that, as the title indicates, it is very difficult to predict what will bring happiness into the life of an individual. Even when something has brought happiness to a person in the past, a later attempt at finding the joy may not come with the same results.

Happiness is dependent on many factors. Every person will find differing amounts of pleasure in different stimuli. Ever stimulus will have a different affect on a given individual depending on other factors. One might remember an event as more or less pleasurable long after the event has passed than when they were experiencing the event.

In the end, Gilbert proposes that there is only one marginal way to predict what will bring happiness. He proposes that when options arise, an individual can look to others who are currently more advanced in experiencing event and see to what level they feel they are happy. This he admits is a marginal predictor of personal happiness, but best option available.

I chose to read this book because of an interesting interview I had heard with Gilbert. I'm not sure that the book lived up to my expectation; It didn't bring to me the happiness that I predicted. Actually, my disappointment is less about happiness and more about utility. I'm not sure what to do with all the data that he provides in Stumbling. I'm not sure that his conclusion bring any great value to me or to those that I would love to teach on this subject. Really, his main point is that you don't know what will make you happy, until you are happy, is difficult to do anything with.

Further, as I set out to do this project, I was less concerned with what would make people happy for a moment, but with what kind of life long choices cause people to reflect back and say, "I've lived a joy-filled life." If you trust Gilbert, nobody can really do that without misrepresenting there own experiences.

However, maybe that is the point that I can take away from this book. If we seek temporary happiness, we may ore may not be happy in the longterm. We need to look beyond the products and activities that promise to make us happy, and choose to look forward to the greater things in life as God is our guide to true joyfulness.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Update on Sabbatical

I have promised regular updates on my sabbatical, but I have been slow to add any articles. I part, that's because I don't want to write anything without fully thinking it through. In part, I have felt that part of my sabbatical is to rest the mind, and with all I'm doing and reading, my mind hasn't felt ready to write. I will change this trend though over the next couple weeks. I start this week by writing reports on two books that I've read: Mindset by Dr. Carol S. Dweck and Stumbling on Happiness by Dr. Daniel Gilbert. In brief, Mindset has proven to be a good read, while not always taking a position that I will always agree with. On the other hand, Stumbling on to Happiness was less than helpful for me and takes an odd position on to what happiness is and how to find it in one's life (as the title implies).

Over the last couple weeks, I've been working on other projects too. This week, I will finish up a long lacrosse season as coach of the 3rd out of 3 teams. I've enjoyed the girls, grades 7 and 8, but struggled with drawing a full team which has created an odd team dynamic. I have been working on and hope to finish editing a video project which is part of my sixth grade daughters graduation from elementary school. Also, I've been a part of several meeting around the realignment of the staff at Grace Point. Some of these meeting are directly related to a project that I desired to tackle during this time, but some have been the kind that pull me out of the sabbatical mode and back into church work. Later I'll share why they have been important enough to do that.

Check back over the next few days. I promise those two book reports and I'm hoping to do some reflective writing as well.

Friday, May 11, 2007

A different definition of success

"Success is not no violence." [emphasis added]
George W Bush
May 2, 2007

Monday, May 07, 2007

What does the Bible say about success? Part 1

2 Timothy 1 gives an outline of Paul's success formula. There are three parts to it:
  1. Courageous enthusiasm (v. 1-7)
  2. Shameless suffering (v. 8-12)
  3. Spiritual loyalty (v. 13-18)
Paul was admonishing Timothy to be enthusiastic about the Gospel even when it meant facing persecution. If Christians are to be successful in their own lives, the Gospel must be core to the message of their lives and must go before their own pride.

Paul suffered greatly in his life and in his ministry. Suffering included being locked in chain, torture, loss of rights, and--worst of all--abandonment from people he called friends. It really seems to me that the abandonment hurt Paul the most. He longed throughout this letter for his friend Timothy to hurry to be by his side. While this suffering was difficult for Paul, it was through suffering that Paul found success in his ministry. Paul wore suffering for the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a badge of honor.

Enthusiasm and suffering were not, in themselves, guarantees of success. Paul added one more key principle that connect the first two. That is spiritual loyalty. It does no good to be a flash in the pan with enthusiasm. If is needless suffering if one only gives in to the things of this world in the end. One must through all things maintain a solid sense of loyalty to the message of the Gospel and to following the ministry that the Spirit lay before each person. It is in this that Christians find success.

Notice that Paul is hurt most by those that abandoned him for the things of this world. In chapter 4, he mentions by name Demus, who left him for nothing more that to pursue the "things of this world." How often to we as American parents encourage our children to put the things of this world ahead of spiritual matters?

About a year ago, I probed a bunch of church leaders about this. I asked two questions: "Have you ever told your children that they could not go to a church function because their school work was not done?" and "Have you ever told your children to put off doing schoolwork because your children needed to focus on a spiritual issue?" To the first question, nearly ever person in the room raised their hands. Nobody raised their hand on the second question. Now in reality, there are some things that are based on a time-table and must be done in a certain sequence. Homework is often this sort of thing, while going to youth group offers much greater flexibility.

Still the answer to the second question bothers me more. There are certain spiritual windows that open only for a short while. I wonder how many Christian parents really take advantage of those windows. It seems to me that we are so afraid of loosing the worldly advantages that come with good grades, or we fear the trouble that we will receive when confronted by a teacher who has not spiritual concern for our children. In short, we teach our children to abandon spiritual things, for the advantages of worldly things.

Enthusiasm, suffering and loyalty must go together in teaching our children. We can't teach them to be enthusiastic alone and expect that they will be loyal to the Lord in the end. If we want our children to succeed, we must teach them to be so loyal to their faith that suffering will most definitely be a part of their lives. After all, good grade in school, may gain them admittance to an excellent University for four years; however, loyalty to God has eternal implications. Moreover, if their gpa falls from a 3.8 to a 3.1, there will still be many good Universities willing to continue the academic training of your child. However, there is only one Eternity worthy of pursuit. That is the eternity with God that comes through faith and loyalty to Him.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Sabbatical Introduction

As of the first of May, I'm starting a sabbatical from my normal duties as a Pastor of Children and Family Ministries at Grace Point. During the months of May, June and July, I won't be running a children's ministry. Rather I'll be doing special projects on two different issues: one family related and one on church staff structure.

For the family ministry project, I'll be read and researching on the question of "What should parents do to help their children succeed in life?" Of course, I'll be looking at this from several angles. First, I'll be studying the scriptures to see how God views success. Next, I'll review literature to discover what works and what doesn't work regarding raising spiritually, academically and financially successful children. This information will be analyzed against the theology of success to create a guide for parents who want the most for their children.

Also, I'll be reporting in on a family trip I'm taking in June and July. The trip will include 5000 miles of driving across about 2/3rds of the country. We are visiting friend, family and many beautiful locations. A week at a ranch in Colorado is among the exciting things that we have to look forward to.

I'm going to use this space to publish weekly findings on both projects. Please feel free to check back regularly. I hope all the information is helpful to you and your family plus some fun reflections on a long trip.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Warren Buffett on success

In a recent CNBC report on Billionaire Warren Buffet, the interviewer asked Buffet, "What advice would you give someone to help them know when they have succeeded?"

Buffet replied: "When you have people around you that you love."

The reporter wasn't satisfied with this answer and dug in deeper obviously looking for a quantitative means of defining success. She said, "Uh, this is a CNBC audience. Help them to understand success."

Buffet thought only for a second and said, "Doing what you love and doing it well. I've never found someone how was doing that that didn't consider himself a success."

If the 2nd riches man in the world can discover that success has not quantitative measure, should not we all begin living toward goals of success that are based on people, fulfillment and spirituality.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Snow Crevasse

As I lie in bed tonight, I had a memory of my college days when a bunch of guys got together to go skiing. Crested Butte had offered a free day for Western State students so it was the perfect opportunity for those of us who were neither good skiers nor interested in pushing the edge of the envelop.

Not being a skier, I had borrowed some equipment for the day. In addition to my rented skis and polls, I had a pair of goggle that didn't quite work right. I made them work for the better part of the day, but on one rather long run, I can remember them fogging up a bit. Perhaps I had a little snow on the inside of them. I don't remember exactly what the issue was, but the bottom half of each lens had fogged over. But since the group was moving, I chose to wait to clean them off. That was a mistake.

On this particular run there were 4 or 5 of us skiing together. I was skiing toward the front of the pack just behind one of my friends. Through my half fogged glasses, I saw him pull to the side of the groomed slope and stop, I assumed to wait for the others. This would be a good opportunity for me to clean my lenses, so I made a broad turn to stop next to him. And I would have too, but I didn't notice that he stopped as a point right next to a 10 drop into a crevasse, and the crevasse wasn't perfectly parallel to the ski run. I jotted out a bit, and I fell straight in; down ten feet into many multiple feet of soft powder.

Of course, the landing was soft and I wasn't the least bit hurt. But I was stuck. After step I made into the snow pulled powder down on top of me. Every time I reached up, the powder collapsed and I end up in the same spot, on the bottom of the stream bed.

Since I was 19 and a college student, and my friends were all in the same situation, this memory is a good one. I can remember laughing hysterically as I worked to make it out of the hole. I can remember my friends (now all 4 or 5 of them) looking down on me and getting the biggest kick out of my situation. In a way it was a blast. Although slightly embarrassed, I didn't mind their cracks and laughter, because it was a funny situation. Still, as I stood at the bottom, there was a growing urgency in my mind about getting out of this pit. I was stuck, and nothing I could do was working.

It took a few minutes, I can't really say how long, but the guys up top eventually made a chain and worked together to get me out. I can tell you, I was never more happy to be the point of so many jokes.

Why was I thinking of this story? Because in many ways, I feel like I'm at the bottom of that crevasse again. I'm having a good time and the people I'm with are enjoying the situation. I'm not saying people are laughing at me, but they are enjoying benefit from my predicament none the less. I'm not in physical peril, not stuck physically, and not here because of clumsy skiing, but I am beginning to wonder if I'm not stuck because of poor vision.

See, I'm in a ministry that in many ways I love. I work with children and I love the children. I'm good with children and they like me back. If I have a problem with this ministry, it is that they job has grown to a point where I can't do it alone, but few will join me as I need them to join me. Some have even gone so far as to say they can't join me because they don't think they can do the job in the same way that I do it.

I'm climbing, but with each step up, the powdery ground collapses and leaves me back where I started. I've added a lot of staff to my programs. Many quality people have joined in that matter, but every year I'm a few short of what the volunteers need to feel they are effective. So, at the end of a term, I have great turnover.

I've added a great program format that could be effective at reaching the children. But, every year, because most of my volunteers were raised in the old style Sunday School, I get pressure to redesign the program to match what they grew up with.

I'm climbing, but I can't reach the top. Because of my personality and popularity with the children, I've noticed more and more that the adults don't take me seriously as a trained and ordained pastor. In 10 years as a pastor, I've average fewer than 1 or 2 people coming to me seeking input on leadership issue. I counsel formally only about 2 people per year. I have baptized a good number of children, but only 3 people older than 12, including a good friend who didn't even think that it might be part of my ministry and desire to baptize him. I've performed 0 funeral and 0 wedding which leaves this 10 year veteran in the ministry with no experience in special services. Of course, I'm not too excited about doing either weddings or funerals, but there is an expectation that pastors do both. Beyond that, I've only lead one service on Sunday morning, but that wasn't even called preaching. It was the "Children's Ministry Focus Sunday" and I was just giving little thoughts for people to think about.

Rather than going on and seeming gloomier than I am. I'll stop. In fact, in general, I'm not gloomy about my ministry. I feel quite happy most days and I think I've help others to feel welcome and joyful on many occasions. My issue isn't gloominess. It is feeling like my situation will ever change. I'm stuck in a hole, digging to climb out, and going nowhere fast. And even though I enjoy my work, I'm beginning to feel a little weary and anxious about what it is going to take for me to get me out of the crevasse.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Sabbatical links

here are some links with interesting things that i should look at as part of my sabbatical research project on creating successful children.

Crossroads Community Church in Cincinnati has some interesting stuff in their November 2006 sermon series, Keeping up with the Jones.

Similar is Rob Bell's series Calling all Peacemakers from Dec. 2006.

Daniel Gilbert is not a Christian author, but I'm interested in his evaluation of happiness as he as delivered in Stumbling on Happiness.

I'm really interested in looking at the idea of contentment. The question is, does someone have to reach a professional position or earn a certain amount of money in order to be content? I will look what the scriptures say about contentment, but I also want to examine the lives of people who have been successful in different ways.

By the way, it may already be evident that I'm beginning with a presupposition that true success equals true joy in life. In other words, if a person is a billionaire but unhappy with his position, he has not succeeded at life. Or if a person is elected president, but begrudingly does the job, she has not succeeded.

I'm hopping to post more as I prepare for the sabbatical from May thru July. I'll certainly post come that time as I plan on using this site to organize my thoughts.