Monday, December 21, 2009

How to improve your adolescent's grades by one letter in just 15 minutes

Give them more sleep.

Ashley Merryman demonstrates that more sleep will improve your adolescent's grades, make them happier people and make them safer drivers. So when are parents going to start pushing school boards to adjust the school calendar? Maybe it should be a priority.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Myth of Christmas: Immaculate Conception

I believe in the birth of Jesus as it is told in the Bible. I believe that it was miraculous and that he was born of a virgin. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, however, is pure myth. Many people mistake these two doctrines. I just heard a well-educated and prominant Christian author/speaker make this mistake.

The Immaculate Conception doesn't refer to how Jesus came onto this earth. It is about Mary's birth. Particularly, it is the belief that Mary came into this world without original sin, or without a sin nature for that matter. This is not a biblically defensible doctrine.

As you think about the truths of the coming of our Savior, consider the misconceptions that are often spread this time of year. Can you think of any others?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Is the Christian Religion a Myth. Review of Greg Boyd's book

Greg Boyd isn't the kind of pastor who says the things you'd expect pastors to say. No, he calls them as he sees them and The Myth of a Christian Religion: Loosing Your Religion maintains his MO. Of course, if you pick this book up knowing the title and didn't figure that this would be a different look at our faith, you didn't read the title.

Boyd's thesis is that Jesus didn't come to start a religion, but he came to start a revolutions. (Again, plain in the title.) A religion is too institutional, too people centered for what Jesus came to do. He didn't come to create more ritual. He came to be counter-cultural.

The revolution is against so many bad habits that people fall into. Interestingly, they are the same bad habits that many/most American Christians have: Idolatry of stuff; Judgmentalism; Individualism; Gaining power through military action. He adds issues like sex and secularism. By secularism, in contrast to so many Christians, he isn't attacking the secular world for being secular. Rather he is frustrated with Christians who live dualistic lives of sacred and secular.

Boyd's voice is important for the American Church to hear. We need more people pointing the misconceived values that have become standard in our churches and personal practices. He makes some bold statements. Bold statements will make some people uncomfortable, and he's certainly not perfect in his analysis, but this discomfort may be the Spirit prompting the reader to reconsider things that we often take as true without recent contemplation.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Review of The Divine Commodity by Skye Jethani

The Divine Commodity by Leadership Journal editor Skye Jethani (Zondervan: 2009) is a green vegetable book, not a dessert book. It doesn't taste good, but it is good for you. You won't be happy that you read it, but you'll be better off. Skye Jethani will challenge your comfortable way of doing church. He will push you to consider your faith more than your religious out workings. He destroyed any chance I had of enjoying Christmas like in the feel-good way it has always been.  Jethani does all this using a wonderful comparison of the church and van Gogh paintings. It's a creative, well-written book, and as such a easy book to read. It's not an easy book to consume.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Should we celebrate Advent (or Christmas)

Note: I originally posted this as a response to a blog by Mark Roberts. He wrote on the question Is Advent Biblical? I would suggest that you read his post. He writes very well. I decided to re-post my response on my blog because I think it explains well why I'm not all keen on this season, Advent as well as Christmas.

Whether Advent is biblical, is not my concern. Certainly, it is based in the very biblical goals that you ask us to consider. All things, including Advent, and for that matter Christmas, are permissible.

However, I wonder how beneficial it is for the church to celebrate this season. I include Christmas as we currently celebrate it, particularly by demanding that the money takers take our money in the most religious was.

This whole season is a distraction. I don't know of a single family in my church that will spend more time focused on the elements of Advent that you talk about as good, instead use the Advent season to focus on material things. Celebrating Advent as a church encourages Open Season for materialism.

I say this as one who as a pastor to children. There is almost no way to spend Advent focused on Jesus. Advent, by its nature, focuses on the minor things of the scriptures, not the coming of the Savior. Sure Jesus is the consistent thread of the Advent season, but he because a minor player as we spend the month focus on Mary and donkeys, Joseph, Wise Men and Angels. Camels usually take a bigger role that Jesus. Even Jesus is caricature during this season. We talk a lot about a baby, but our link to the Jesus that died for our sins is usually lost in making Jesus God's gift to us. It is true that Jesus is a gift to us, but the way it plays out in the way we do Advent and Christmas is that Jesus is just another gift like the many we will rush out to buy after our worship service.

Sure Advent is permissible. There are many noble reasons for celebrating the season. Unfortunately, Advent and Christmas are not beneficial. Sure, you can name the half dozen people you know that turned to Christ in this season, but consider how many turn away from him and turn toward minor issues of faith or toward worldly matters.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Are you making your kids want to live with you forever?

It may be that your lifestyle is stunting the maturity of your children in such a way that they won't have the drive to move out of your home. A recent article in Psychology Today says that the trend for children to live with their parents later is attributable to our affluent lifestyle. Stephen Mason writes
It means that the tide of hormones that hits pubescent kids, the tide that causes them to want to fly from the nest provided by their parents, has been greatly attenuated by the economics of America in the 21st Century. The rights of passage and the periods of apprenticeship that have always been a part of the teen years and of growing up, have been largely replaced by an additional decade of utter dependence.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

With jetlag, returning home brings contemplation

We're home.

We were all awake by 5am this morning.

Writing might be interesting because my mind is already shutting down for the day.

But I have a lot to think about after our wonderful trip to Italy.

First, pray for these things:
  • Our family has a busy first week back. Pray for strength, focus and alertness as we get back on schedule.
  • Pray for Tim and Jacki as the weakening dollar makes funds tighter.
  • Pray for Il Faro in Naples, the Bible School students and Il Faro in Turin as they contemplate the message I brought about youth and family ministry.
  • Pray for Richard, a man I met on the plane from Rome. We had a deep discussion that open a door to the Gospel. He never thought that the Christian religion was anything other than the judgment he sees in the News. Pray that he will be bombarded with others who share that Christ's message is one of love.
What am I contemplating?
  • How can we at Grace Point learn from the mentoring and youth in ministry in Naples?
  • How can I be more active in discipling young believers?
  • If we lived in a house that only had heat on for one short period over 10 days, can we cut back our energy use in our home?
  • After spending 10 days contemplating the Italian culture, do I really know the Bucks County USA culture?
  • Is it OK for me to wear the scarf with a heart on it in the US just because I saw a couple men in Italy wearing it?
Thanks for all our love, support and prayers.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Praying for Italy

Dear friends,
We continue to have a wonderful visit here in Italy. Yesterday, for Thanksgiving, we ate Kebabs. Not exactly a traditional, American Thanksgiving meal, but we were standing on the streets of Rome while we ate.

Rome was beautiful and amazing. Our tour was more of a overview of the sites in the city, but it was meaningful none the less.  Visiting the Basilica of St. Peter was meaningful as we saw statue after statue of one Saint or the other, only to find the statue of Jesus tucked in the corner. It reminded me of how easy it can be to tuck Jesus into the corner of my ministry lifting up my own work or the work of people I admire. I can easily get distracted with all the other things that I want to honor. But Jesus is the one most deserving on honor.

Please continue to pray for us. The next three nights I will be speaking to different groups. Tonight and Sunday to church leaders from many local church. Saturday night, I'll speak to the youth of many of those churches. Pray for great boldness. The culture needs the message that I bring about all people doing their part for the Kingdom. They have a Pope/Godfather way of looking at ministry here, but they are one the verge of overcoming it. Pray also for clarity in my words and for Tim as he translates.

Please take a moment to catch up with us at my blog and Stef blog.  We've both updated since Tuesday.

God bless you all. We miss you.
Steve (for the whole family)

Developing a light in the darkness

Once upon the time, Rome was the headquarters of the church in the Western world. While it still is the center of Catholicism, the message of Christ is, at best, marginalized in this culture. This is a postmodern nation. The Catholic Church is a part of the culture, but that does not equate to faith in Christ. Italy is by most measure a dark world.

The good news is that Christ has not abandoned Italy. He loves these people and is working to bring salvation to them. I am excited about the work that God is doing through a humble church called Il Faro. Il Faro is the project for two American missionaries, Tim Monahan and Tim Faulkner. The leadership doesn't stop with the missionaries. There are also 3 volunteer Italian pastors leading this team with a plan to turn the senior leadership over to a well qualified man named Luigi.

What amazes me about Il Faro is that they represent 3 clear cultural groups (Italian, American, African), yet they are in all ways (excluding language) unified in purpose and in worship. When I walked into the church service, I witnessed a beautiful mix of Americans (predominately service men, women and families) and Neapolitan Italians with a few African immigrants, all in one room worshiping together. Music and style tastes are put aside. All songs are sung in a blend of English and Italian, one line in one language repeated in the other.

It's beautiful to hear someone pray to our Lord in an unknown language. It always reminds me that our God is greater than any culture. The leadership team at Il Faro knows this fact and have used the greatness of God and his singular mission of reaching the world as a centerpiece to draw the church together. The members all know this common mission. The leaders constantly challenge them to live the mission. As a result, they are, in all reality, one church.

Speaking with Tim Faulkner this morning, he reminds me that this is a result, a direct result, of the work of Grace Point. Through our support, our prayer and much wise counsel, Grace Point has helped to unify this church. The two Tim's and the other pastors are all very different in their mix of personalities and gifts, and that mix is a benefit for this church.

I have visited other churches this week. They are all different and all being used one way or another for delivering God's Word to the Italian people, but none as effectively as Il Faro in Naples. I hope that the people of Grace Point know the value of their work. It isn't in creating a big project or by counting the number of professions of faith that come from a outreach event. The value of this church and our participation in it is our long-term commitment to strong leadership, wise counsel and prayer.

Il Faro is a light to Naples. Grace Point is a part of providing that light to the darkness of this community. God is working through all of us.

Praise God. And Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Update for our friends

Dear praying friends,

Thanks for your support. Some of you were not getting our updates. Here's a quick note to remind you to check out our American Thanksgiving in Italy Facebook page and my blog

We'll do more later, but our internet service is spotty, so we do what we can.

Please pray for Jacki who is still struggling with pain.

God bless you all,

A quick story about how God works

At the Naples (Italy) soccer game on Sunday, we sat down next to an Italian man who hear us speaking in English. He was excited to practice his English on us and did a great job. He shared a bit about the game and the Naples team in particular. It's not unusual for Italians to want to practice English with an American.

The unusual thing about this story is that while Stefanie and I talked to this man, an young man the row behind him overheard us. He said to Stefanie, "Excuse me. Are you American? I overheard you talking."

It turns out this young man, Ryan, is a 17-year-old exchange student from North or Scranton, a town only minutes away from Tim's parents. What are the chances of us running into each other in a city of millions and a stadium of 70,000?

We hope to have Ryan to our Thanksgiving dinner later this week. Pray that this will be another door of ministry for the Faulkners and the Johnson.

Monday, November 23, 2009

One weekend down

Dear friends,
Today is Monday and we made it through a crazy weekend. Crazy but wonderful. We are reunited in Naples. Today is a bit of a down day for us as Tim and I have time to work at the church while the ladies are at the Faulkner home doing schoolwork and cleaning up a bit. Yesterday was a good day of worship at Il Faro. God is doing great things here.

Please continue to pray for us. I'm finding myself a little tired but still very excited about our work here. The people are a delight.

Pray also for:
  • Giacoma, a bible school student, who is in the hospital after some sort of negative food reaction. Tim and I will be meeting her at the hospital and connecting her with a ride back to the school in Rome. Rome is about 2 hours from Naples.
  • Pray for Jacki. She has been in a good amount of pain since we've been here. She will have some test today. Pray for healing.
  • Strength and rest for our family. It was a busy weekend and we are tired. At least we slept well last night.

Praise God for:
  • Strength so far.
  • A wonderful worship time in the Faulkners bi-cultural church (Il Faro). It is amazing to hear people pray in multiple languages reminding us that God is omni-cultural.
  • Insight into a well-led, on-fire church, Il Faro. They are few and far between in Italy.
Thank you for your prayer.


Sunday, November 01, 2009

My attempt at a rainy-day tragic poem

The Tragedy of the Weather Cycle

I opened up my window to see
Many, many faces smiling back at me

So many face out there
I'd yet to brush my hair

Embarrassment quickly faded
To and feeling much more jaded

As i realized happy faces
Where just rain drops

In the game against rain and sun
Brightness has yet to make a run

No warmth from the heavenly glow
Only wetness from head to toe

Those smiles seemed more like sneers
As the drop looked much like tears

But I have this consolation
Is soon it will be sunny and 32-degrees

Thursday, October 15, 2009

There's blessing in being single or being married

I hear someone speak about Proverbs 18:22 on a popular Christian, family radio show. I was taken aback. I know that the family is valued by this particular show, but I actually haven't listened to it for years because of their propensity to idolize elements of the family. The particular commentator said that it is the parents' job to encourage their adult sons to find a wife as soon as possible. She used Proverbs 18:22 as her rational. Of course, the shows host agreed.

I'm fearful that it is very possible to abuse Proverbs 18:22. Yes, it says that finding a wife is a good thing. Yes, it says their is favor of the Lord in finding a wife. And I'd agree, there is favor and blessing in a wife.

On the other hand, this by no means is a command for parents or the church to encourage people to marry. Compared that idea with 1 Corinthians 7:8. In that verse, Paul clearly reverses the challenge saying if you are unmarried, you are better off to stay unmarried unless (v. 9) you cannot control yourself. Self control is as much a with the favor of the Lord as finding a wife. Singleness is as much a blessing as marriage. If your adult child does not pursue a marriage partner, rejoice and help them to use their singleness as a way of being free to serve the Lord with their whole life.

There are a lot of Christian broadcasters on the airwaves with a very narrow way of looking at the Scriptures. They are narrow because they value certain things. I'd challenge parents to look at the Bible in its entirety. With out and eye to the fullness of Scripture, values can become idols.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The problem with pendulums and the lessons we get from them

[Note: this may be the most technical post I've ever written. It is also pretty long.  I'm sorry about that. But the good news is that it has picture!]

I've heard a bit about pendulums lately. That is, the pendulum of philosophic argumentation. Most recently
Stef shared a blog post about the movie Lord, Save Us from Your Followers. The post was titled, Ken Davis & the Law of the Pendulum by Greg Sponberg. Rather than writing about the movie, I was to discuss the problem with the Law of the Pendulum.

First, some background on the Law would show us that in history, philosophic arguments tend to swing from one extreme to the other. Particularly in this discussion the swing is from Truth to Grace. These swings are as a result of a culture that puts too much weight on one side, then a counter culture forcing the issue the other way. So, in the case of Truth verses Grace, the Western church is often seen as moving out of a time when truth was held too strongly and God's grace under-emphasized.  Of course, not everyone agrees with this perception, but people like Ken Davis do. So they begin emphasizing grace. And of course, the reaction of the pro-truth crowd is that the pro-grace people give up on truth. Naturally, there is a counter reaction to the first reaction and the pendulum begins swinging.

For a physical pendulum to work, it must swing from one side to the other without outside force. Gravity is the only force at work, theoretically. And as Sponberg points out in his blog, the swing is ever decreesing. That is true because there are more forces than just gravity, namely air friction is causing the pendulum to slow down. This is true for a physical pendulum.

The problem is, it isn't necessarily true for the philosophic pendulum which is of course a metaphor, and all metaphors have their limitations.

Here's what I see as the problem. A natural pendulum has a point of equilibrium. Demonstrated in this picture, that equilibrium is when gravity holds it steady at point C. For our philosophic pendulum, this might be named absolute truth, the point of perfect agreement with Truth or with God.

The problem occurs when the a misunderstanding moves a culture to an extreme position. That's demonstrated by the swing to R2 in this diagram. For the sake of argument, let's say that R2 is those who feel they have to uphold truth at all costs.

Naturally, the reaction against that philosophy, is those who believe they have to uphold Grace at all cost. The are represented by L2 on this diagram. The seem very far apart and they are. It would be natural for people to want to expell much energy fighting against the pull of R2 if you hold L2 position and visa versa.

The truth is, few people ever end up in the world of the L2 or R2. In the Christian debate of Truth and Grace, almost all Christians I know of believe in both. Therefore, they are more accurately portrayed by the position of L1 and R1.

Here's the problem. No matter where any person or group is on the swing of the pendulum, it is the perception of that person or group, to assume that they are holding to the truth, or that they are holding to the C position.  Because of that, it seem that any pull away from the C position is a pull to the extreme of another position. More reasonably, most people aren't advocates of any position, but seeking the truth, the C of whatever it is we are thinking about. Where we feel tension is when our culture (our church/our society/our family) has settled on an extreme position we may desire to move from that position, but at that point even the centralist argument is going to feel like the pendulum is swinging hard. And the truth is, the pull to a centralist position will create in itself a momentum to the opposite direction. This will be uncomfortable. People will be yelling about the slippery slope of this or of that. There will be accusations of pendulumating the issue.

Here's the good thing. When a natural pendulum is stuck (say the grandfather clock has something jammed up against it), it takes a force to begin the pendulum';s movement again. It is only through that force that the swing can again work itself toward the point of equilibrium.

So our lesson in this long and technical post is that when we are faced with philosophic arguments that challenge our perceptions or our cultural norms, rather than labeling them bad from the onset, consider how they are helping us to find the final point of equilibrium. In the end, God is the force of gravity that will pull us all the the center eventually.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Parents, when it comes to preparing for college, Relax!

Tim Clydesdale, a sociology professor at the College of NJ who has spoken to parents at our church, sent me this article today. It is great and deserves notice by parents.

In the article Jay Matthews of the Washington Post echos a statement that Clydesdale made at Grace Point last May. That is, the quality of school you attend doesn't greatly predict your future. The implication for parents and school administrators should be relax. I've had way too many discussions with parents about what they are putting their children through in order to get them to the best college. Pushing them into the highest level courses, extra tutoring when they struggle to get A's in those classes, adding multiple demanding extra curricular, and many other tricks that they thing will help to build their child's resume. None of these things is wrong in moderation and in the right manner, but what I witness is too many youth who are over stressed and, worse yet, have their identity wrapped up in their success.

I followed Mr. Matthews' example and thought of a few people that I've greatly admired over the last 15 years and looked up their colleges. In my list are people I've worked for, studied under, enjoyed their music, recognized their accomplishment as overcomers, read their books and follow their blogs.  The colleges represented on this list are as follows (in particular order): 2 at Michigan, Friends University, California San Diego, Reed College, Stanford, Wheaton and Augustana. Of those, two did not receive degrees. One only audited classes and another left to start his career.

So my challenge to parents, as well as school leaders, is to help children understand their real value. Ultimately that is in a relationship to Jesus Christ, but even within that relationship you children, all of them, have something unique that they need to develop. A university may be a part of that, but not likely the tell-tale part of what they can accomplish. Education is important, but education can come in so many different ways. Build a great relationship with your children. Help them to develop other relationships with mentors who will provide guidance. Provide for your children opportunities to experience things bigger or different than them. Foster their spirits. These will help your children to succeed much more than stretching them to a point that they end up in schools that don't really help them in the end.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Community, Gospel and the Word: a Review of Total Church

I found Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis (Crossway Books, 2008) to be a wonderful and challenging book. There are some aspects of theology that I would disagree with Chester and Timmis. But that might be the reason I've been so challenged to contemplate how this book should impact my life.

Chester and Timmis are the co-founders of the Crowded House in Sheffield, UK. The are proponents of smaller, more intimate church communities developed predominately through church planting.

I really respect the belief that the church is at its core Gospel Centered and Community Centered. (Although I do wish they would have found a better way to word that because you really can't have two centers.) What I took out of this book is that with everything that we do in the church or in our lives (which are really the same thing if you are to follow Jesus) should be considered with respect to missionality, truth in the Word and how it relates to the community of God. I appreciate the movement away from the individualistic mindset of modern evangelistic church toward a theology of community.

I'm not sure I would connect this theology as tightly with Calvinism as they do. They do this implicitly, not in any direct statement. More by quoting Calvin as the authority in key arguments. In the end, it seems to me to be closer to a heritage of the anabaptist. I'd suggest contemplating this alongside Stanley Grenz Theology and the Community of God.

As a result of reading this book, I'm doing more research on the theology of community as developed by Grenz, William Klein and the Crowded House. Also, I will be challenging my church staff to re-consider the theology of all of our church programs and visional work. My goal would be to assure that we are developing as a Gospel community ourselves.

I would also love to see our next step moving toward planting. How exciting would that be.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Beware the great danger of the suburbs

Did you notice the great danger in your suburban neighborhood?  Dave Gibbon has.  I've been concerned for some time about this danger.

The suburban enclaves with their middle class citizens and well- manicured lawns, gates, and guards protecting our Orwellian lifestyle and toys, Starbucks a few minutes apart from each busy intersection, and boasting some of the best schools in the country may actually be the most dangerous locations to live. Okay, we may not have the high murder counts or robberies, but I wonder if the suburbs have become breeding grounds for the accessible and shallow thrills of drugs and alcohol abuse, extravagant parties and proms, and mere facades of happiness and the American Dream. Just ask your local city drug dealer about his primary consumers. . . suburban teenagers and college students.

Okay, I’m not a researcher, but my gut impression from my travels and intersection with youth in the major cities of the world as well as the suburbs and rural communities is that they are all equally dangerous but just in different ways.

The dangers of the suburbs entail the lack of imagination (where do you find real art museums, innovative music venues and creative opportunities to explore nature. Sure there are exceptions but it’s not the norm); materialism; greed; isolation behind cookie-cutter neighborhoods and homogeneous clubs and churches; boredom: apathy; the fascination with the relevant more than the real; a love affair with popularity more than loving the poor; and a thirst for excitement superficially satisfied in the Friday night party. This takes precedence over a dangerous ride with God on the frontlines of His movement.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Nostalgia: grapes and baseball

I had one of those nostalgic moments this morning while looking in the fridge. I saw grapes. They were kind of old, squishing and small. I like grapes, but I like them only when they are plump and juicy.

When I saw the grapes my mind drifted back to a summer's day while I was in seminary. I loved the experience of living on campus. I guess I'm just a social kind of guy. The particular day that I'm think about, we had some wonderful grapes that I was eating out in the campus court yard. A fellow student came by eating another kind of grape. Mine were large with purple skins and white fruit. His looked like mine on the outsides, but the insides were midnight black. I don't know if I ever found grapes like those again.

I think this moment popped into my head because as I checked my Facebook this morning another seminary friend had posted something about missing Cubs games. He lives in New Zealand. Apparently, it's hard to watch baseball down there. I imagine so. I had just watched the Phillies whoop up on Cubs last night. Go Phillies! I've never been to a Cubs game and never really been to Chicago. He did his undergrad studies there.

I'd never been to a Cubs game, but just watching a Cubs game in that beautiful stadium called Wrigley Field can make a man nostalgic. What a sport! What a stadium!

Nostalgia is a good thing.  It helps us to reflect. It helps us to feel better about who we are. It's a good thing, but it has its limitations. You can't go back. Nostalgia isn't a reason to make major decisions. It will trick your mind. Those grapes were good, but I know those days are gone. I'm sure that Wrigley is a great place to spend the afternoon, but it just that and offers little more to life.

I skipped the grapes this morning. Just didn't think they'd stack up against my memory. I also suggest to my friend watching mlb online. It would cost a few pennies, but a lot less than a trip form Cambridge to Chicago. The Cubs are blowing it again anyhow.

Come to think of it. The Cubs blowing the season is in fact nostalgia.

I do miss those days though. I miss those guys.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Down Hill

Seth Godin has another blog post that made me think.  Actually, I've meant to post on this topic for some time.  I think about it nearly every time on out for a walk. It may surprise you now when you look at my body shape, but when I was younger I ran competitively.  I didn't really like running, but I liked the challenge of getting better at something.  Along the way, two wise men taught me how to run hills, which is good, because I lived in Colorado at the time.

Early in my running career, my father told me never to quit on the uphill.  He said it's too easy to do that.  A lot of people do that because that's when it hurts the most.  But if you don't quit, you have the ability to pass the most competitors. 

My high school cross country coach also taught me about hill running.  He taught me to use short powerful steps going up hill, and long loose strides going down.  He also said that the last 10% of this hill was the point to really make a move.  Yes it hurt the most, but as the hill rounds to level, the extra work the runner puts in will turn to speed and the competition will loose heart.

My cross country team was excellent at running the hilly courses.  Not because it hurt less for us, but because we were more ready for the uphill stretches, and we used that to our psychological advantage.

Godin talks about bike riding on hills.  The work is done on the uphill.  Down hill is limited by gravity and safety concerns.  The only way to pass a competitor going down hill is to coast better than the other guy.  You can learn some tricks to do that, but ticks only help so much.  You can beet the pack going uphill by using strength, conditioning, strategy and psychology.

Another thing that I learned to do on the downhill run was to look ahead and prepare for the next hill.  Size it up.  Learn which points you can push and how much juice you need to hold in reserve for the top.  If you get caught up in how fast you're going down the hill, you will be surprised when you realize the slope changes.

I think this is all applicable to life and leadership.  We have slopes in our path. In order to get to a down hill period, you have to have an uphill.  You have to work. What are you hills in life right now?

Is it the economy? A lost job? Don't think about quitting.  Find creative ways that you can put more time into the things your best at.  Remember, Microsoft and Apple both began at a time when the economy was down.

I'd love to hear what your hills are right now.  Maybe you're on a down hill.  That's good to.  What are you doing to get ready for the next climb?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Good tool for Bible blogging

If you blog and include Bible references on occation, you need the tool that I just added.  Look what it did to my post with the most Bible references.  The tool is RefTagger Bible Reference Pop-Up by Logos.  To add the tool was just a matter of adding the following code just before my last tag.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Growth of a moment

I was reading Seth Godin's blog this morning.  He's talking about the growth of a movement. Guy #3 is his post title. This video demonstrates the Guy #3 principle.

I'm usually the dork at the beginning or one who runs in later.  I need more Guy #3 in my life.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Life After Home Audio

Sunday Evening we had the pleasure to host Dr. Tim Clydesdale at Grace Point.  Tim, author of The First Year Out and professor of sociology at the College of New Jersey, came to share his research on the experience of first year college student. I had the pleasure of interviewing him.  The event was records and is available on the Grace Point website .

Listen now .

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Just call me....?

I was thinking about my name the other day.  Steve Johnson.  It's a great name.  Almost nobody misspells it.  There are a few who get confused.  "Is Steve spelled with a 'V' or a 'PH'?"  "Johnson is that with an 'O', an 'E', or an 'I'?"  (Yes there have been a few in my life who would think my last name was "Johnsin".

My name is a good name.  I know hundreds of thousands of moms and dads have agreed with that in the past 50 years.  They gave it to there children.

Skye Jathani had an interesting blog today about weird names. He says that with the election of Barak Obama weird names are suddenly in style.  That's what got me to reflecting back to the day I was thinking about my name.  Not only is "Steve Johnson" not weird, there are times that I think my identity is lost in my name.

Try it, Google your name (chances are you've done that before). When I good "Steve Johnson" including the quotes, Google returns over 800,000 hits.  I gave up really quickly any idea of digging down to see how many of those actually refer to me, but I'll venture to say it is very few.

Google "Skye Jathani" and you'll find about 8000 hits, 3 pages in, all relate to the same guy.

So, my idea was that maybe I should change my name.  I already have for my blog using my childhood nickname "Deets".  Maybe I should start using that more often.  It kind of has a cool differentness to it, don't you think?

Then I started thinking, my name doesn't really give me any identity as far as my heritage goes.  Johnson can be Swedish, English, Scottish or Icelandic.  I asked my dad which it was once.  He said one day he as his grandmother what grandpa Johnson was.  Her response..."He was a skunk."  That's not really helpful in giving me a positive cultural identity.

I don't know much of my heritage, but I do know that my maternal grandfather immigrated from the Basque Country of Spain.  The Basque culture is really unique.  Of course, Grandpa Bruner, as I learned to call him, had change his name to something more common in his youth.  I guess he didn't want to stand out with the name Ascargorta.

So here was my thought, I could use Deets as my name, but I could inject it with a bit of Basque heritage.  In the Basque language (which is very different than Spanish), there is a common use of "tx" in spelling certain words.  You know how sometimes and 'x' can sound like a 'z'.  Deetx would be a really unique name and spelling.  Don't you think?  Of course, as much as I understand the Basque language, that would be pronounced deech.  And deech isn't really Basque at all.

Anyway, this is a long winded way of saying, I could change my name, but I'm still the same me.  God knows me as a unique common name can't hide that.  In Christ, my name has already been changed, from Steve Johnson to Steve Johnson God's Son.  That is my heritage.  It may be common, or it may be weird, but it is me.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Perfect love, fear and risk

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
1 John 4:18

If my ministry is ruled by fear, then it is not formed by God's love.  I admit, too often, I do what I do because I don't want to loose what I have.  But, I have nothing accept the life that is given me be God and in Christ.  Therefore, if I act in love, I can risk everything.  I should be willing to risk everything!

What has fear kept you from risking today?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Thoughts on Salvation: the Coin

Could it be that salvation is a coin with two clear sides?

If all you ever think about is the salvation of individual souls, you will be happy every time the coin lands on heads. But when it lands on tails, you will be frustrated.

If all you ever think about is the salvation of culture, then you will be please with tails and frustrated with heads.

Does not God's Word place the individual and culture side-by-side?
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Are you afraid?

We live in a time with a lot of people giving us many reasons to be afraid--Swine Flu, the economy, the national debt, terrorism, war in Iraq, war in Afghanistan, pirates from Somalia, tax hikes, earth quakes, floods, tornado, etc.  The Weather Channel runs a series call, It Could Happen Tomorrow.  The History Channel is running series on Gangs and UFO.

I hear that there is a new term for the obsession of such fears.  It's called pessimism porn.  Chicken Little was addicted to it.  I think I have problem too since my two favorite TV shows are Lost and Jericho.  Of course, I'll never know how Jericho ended since they pulled it off the air, but I'm watching season 1 on reruns right now.  Lost plays on fears that the whole world can be in jeopardy from a number of different people or sources.  Maybe most of our TV shows do the same sort of things.

That's not new either, look at any 1950s sci-fi movie.  Nuclear disasters were the reason for so many things to be afraid.

Here, though, is a list of verses that I think will help you when these things become scare.  I think every parent needs to review these verses whenever they are overwhelmed by the things that could go wrong in the life of their children.  Before and after you watch the news, pull a couple of these verses out.  They should help to set your mind at ease.

Gen 15:1
Gen 21:17
Gen 26:24
Gen 46:3
Exod 14:13
Exod 20:20
Num 14:9
Num 21:34
Deut 1:17
Deut 1:21
Deut 1:29
Deut 3:2
Deut 3:22
Deut 7:18
Deut 18:22
Deut 20:1
Deut 31:6
Deut 31:8
Josh 8:1
Josh 10:8
Josh 10:25
Josh 11:6
Judg 6:23
1 Sam 12:20
2 Kings 1:15
2 Kings 19:6
2 Kings 25:24
1 Chron 22:13
1 Chron 28:20
2 Chron 20:15
2 Chron 20:17
2 Chron 32:7
Isa 10:24
Isa 37:6
Isa 40:9
Isa 41:14
Isa 43:5
Isa 44:2
Isa 44:8
Isa 54:4
Jer 1:8
Jer 40:9
Jer 42:11
Ezek 2:6
Ezek 3:9
Dan 10:12
Dan 10:19
Zech 8:13
Zech 8:15
Matt 1:20
Matt 10:26
Matt 10:28
Matt 28:5
Matt 28:10
Luke 1:13
Luke 1:30
Luke 2:10
Luke 12:4
Luke 12:32
John 12:15
John 14:27
Acts 18:9
Acts 27:24
Rev 1:17
Rev 2:10

Do you think your circumstances are really worse that all these folks?  If not, then I think God's message to you is the same.  Do not be afraid.  Have faith.  He is able.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Things to never tell a child: #5 You're better safe than sorry

I don't think parents too often actually sit a child down and tell them that you're better safe than sorry. I can remember hearing this in the past, as in during my childhood, but I don't think it was a message given by my parents. It was probably something I picked up in my 1.5 years of Cub Scouts or with the ultraconservative Jr. High football coach who bravely lead my team to a zero win season. "Better safe than sorry, Men."

Here's the thing, while I don't have evidence that parents use these words when talking to their children, I do think that Christian parents and the churches of America teach this all the time.

That's why we live in the suburbs by the way. That's why we pay high house prices to live in school districts that are free of the riff raff, gangs and drugs of the inner-city.

In my children's high schools each child is allow 1.5 electives in their course schedule. One day in two they have either gym or health. The other day they can learn art or philosophy or music or something. Now they have another option to take those courses if they desire, but few do. Why? Because you'll be better safe than sorry. Therefore, every school administer, teacher and course book recommends that they take at least 3 years of foreign language.

Now I'm not against foreign languages. I wish I would have learned more. But I can tell you, those courses I took in high school didn't teach me one lick how to communicate to people of other languages. I don't think my kids will be better off either. Both of them are taking German anyhow. The fact is, everyone I've ever known who I'd need to talk to who spoke German, spoke English too.

I'm not against learning German. I'm against the better safe than sorry mentality that directs artistic kids or kids with a scientific bent into the same course schedule. "Why?" I asked the school counselor once. "Because you never know if you are going to apply for a school that demands 3 or 4 years of foreign language for applicants." Hmm. I looked it up, and very few schools actually make that demand. Very few.

Now the church lives this way too. People lived that way in Jesus' day. He called them Pharisees and teachers of the Law. These were people who were so afraid of breaking the Law of God that they made their own laws to protect it.

We do similar things in a different way. We expect that our children should go to college because otherwise there will be closed doors. We send them on safe mission trips to safe regions of the world so that they can have a good experience. We work extra hours in our jobs because we want our kids to have every economic advantage. We tell them to be good strong Christians, but don't act weird. Make sure that you fit into the church group. No weird clothes or strange music that people don't get. We offer program after program so that no child (or adult) will feel left out. We offer services with every kinds of music so that everyone feels they have a place.

Why? Because, we’re better safe than sorry. Don't burn any bridges.

I'm not sure that Jesus lived this way. He burned bridges. Not every bridge, but the safe ones. Not the bridges to the marginalized, but the bridges to the mainstream. He didn't mind making those "religious" people feel left out.

He wasn't safe. No, his behavior cost him his life.

That's drastic. Do we want to put our children in a place where their lives will be in danger? Of course not, but their lives will be shallow unless we allow them to push those limit.

Stef showed me a video this morning where Francis Chan gave a silly analogy of Christians as gymnasts who plays it safe . It’s silly because no Olympic gymnast would cling to a balance beam like he does in this video. In the same way, Christians can't cling to their faith in such a safe way as to not risk "loosing" it. It's God's job to protect the hearts of our children. The Holy Spirit is responsible for working these things into their hearts. All we can do as parents is teach our children is teach to trust, or teach them to fear.

I hope that I'm teaching my children to trust God. That's faith. Fear is a lack of faith. To not have faith is to be an unbeliever. I hope my kids are learning to be believers.

Bono has a line on U2's latest album, No Line on the Horizon. He says, "Stop helping God across the street like a little old lady." It took me a bit to understand this line, but he's talking about being religious folks who are trying to make religion safe rather than a matter of faith.

So, I want parents, teachers and mentors to consider this. Are you helping God across the street or are you helping the children in your life to develop a faith that allows for real risk? If you are then stop!  Take them out of the "better safe than sorry classes and help them to discover faith by trial.

Faith isn’t safe, but, in the end, faith is the only real thing we can have. In the end to live a safe life is to be sorry if we don’t allow our children to develop this real, active faith that is not afraid.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Which is more freedom?

I've been listening to the latest Mars Hill Audio with Ken Meyer.  If you are a heady person and like to think about complicated things, I recommend this mp3 subscription,  If not your going to think it sounds too much like NPR and will turn it off.

This quarter's journal features some discussions about freedom, particularly with respect to free market or economic issues, but they say you can only understand economic freedom in light of theology. (This post isn't about economics in any way.  It's about relationship.)

Here's my illustration and question. This morning after riding my exercise bike I took a 5 minute cool-down walk down the block.  Caspian (my pooch) knows when my bike ride is coming to an end.  He usually shows up at peddleside when my timer beeps or my peddling slows.

He knows that I take him on this walk.  I'll take him without a leash.

I take him because I know he needs the walk as much as I do before he's locked in his crate for the day.  I don't use a leash because I'm tire and don't feel like looking for one for a five minute walk.  Besides, most of the neighbors are off at work or school.  There's little chance of running across another dog walker.

This is what I was thinking this morning.

When I walk him without a leash, because I know that I'm violating my HOA rules, I demand that he heal the whole time.  He must walk a foot or two from my left leg.  If he starts to move ahead or is distracted by a fun smell, I immediately give him a "hey" or a quick foot tap to remind him that he has to be close.  He's getting pretty go at this because he loves walking with me.

If I were to go for a walk in the middle of the day, or a little longer of a walk, I'd put him on lead.  He likes that too.  On command, he'll even jump up an stick his nose into his Gentle Leader because his knows what that means and that means a fun walk.  We have a long leash.  I think it's 12-feet long.  When we walk, I let him use all 12 plus as long as there aren't any cars, small children or white fluffy dogs that he loves soooooo much.  He can smell every smell and pee on every bush or cable box.  What fun for a dog!

So, my question.  Which one affords him more freedom?  He he free when he has the ability to run off but stays close because of his respect for me?  Or is he free when he's allowed to do pretty much what ever he wants as long as I can pull him back by the leash?

Which picture is paints your relationship with God?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Review: Outliers by Malcom Gladwell/iPhone Kindle App.

I just finished reading my first Kindle book.  I don't have a Kindle, but I used the iPhone App.

In brief, I liked reading on my iPhone.  It moved really well, I always had the book with me, and I didn't have any trouble with seeing the book at all.  The down side was that I couldn't tap on the notes links at all.  I got to one or two after tap-tap-tap-tap, but a few notes I just gave up on reading after tapping a good number of times.   I'll tell you I read this book much, much faster than I would have read the typical 320 page book.  That length book usually takes me 3 to 4 times longer with starts and stops.  I was challenged to read this without any long delays.  Speaks well for both the Kindle App and for Outliers.

As for the book.  Malcom Gladwell outlines a compelling thesis in Outliers.  I gather that his main point is that success doesn't just happen, and that there aren't some people who are born to succeed. Rather, success is a matter of many key factors lining up just right.  Birthdate, opportunities to practice a trade, timing of swinging economic trends and regional/people-group culture a play a part in defining those who have succeeded in great measure.

Gladwell caught my attention in the first chapter as he spoke about birth timing.  I've noticed this before.  As students work through schools and through sports, those who are the oldest in their class year succeed at a higher rate than the younger.  Success is in some measure determined by timing of your birth.

Gladwell goes on to show other ways that highly successful people have benefited from things outside their control.  Of course, the true outliers always took advantage of the opportunities that they are given.

As Gladwell pulls the information together, he proposes that in order to make more people successful, they need opportunities.  I think that is simple enough.  Unfortunately, I'm not sure that studying outliers is at all a way that we can help more people succeed.  Outliers are just that, outliers.  That means they are the rare few who succeed far beyond anyone else.  The Beatles are outliers, but can't realistically develop a system that will make every disadvantaged, hopeful musician into the next Super band.  If we develop that system, everyone will be that good, presumably, thus they won't be that special.  The true outliers will rise up in some other way.

My next complaint with Outliers is that I am concerned by the measure of success in the end.  I've heard this measure being used time and time again.  That is, I think that Gladwell seemed to indicate that if we found the things that each culture did well and helped all other cultures to assimilate those aspects, then every culture will be more successful.

It work in Korean Air as the learned to fly like Americans.  It seems to be working in some inner-city schools, the KIPP schools, as they assimilate educational principles of the rice cultures (Japan, China, South Korea, Singapore, etc.).

First, while I'm sure that we don't want Korean pilots to fly more airplanes into hillsides, and we don't want a math illiterate American culture, I'm not sure that we can define success by saying that every culture should have super success in math or what ever else some cultures may have.  Why does this concern me? While I respect the achievements of many Asian people that I know, I'm not sure that academic success is really a measure of success at all.  I thought Gladwell made that point early on in the book.  My concern is that of many Asians who have stressed academics, I've found that many are miserable in their pursuit of that success.  Japan's exceedingly high suicide rate evidences this fact as 36 out of 1000 men commit suicide every year and 14 of 1000 women do.  There are other nations as high or higher, but they all seem to be nations of economic stress, particularly those who are struggling to find their way out of their communistic background.

Another problem I have with this rice culture as measure of success, is that I'm not sure it is creating many more true outliers.  For example, you have to go to #16 on the list of Forbes' Riches People list to find someone from the rice culture.  Further, I only find 3 rice-culture members on in the top 50.  Again, I don't think we should measure cultural success by the riches people list, or by any outliers, but it seems to me that Gladwell sets the stage for that assumption to be made.

I think we would be good to look at this book in a positive light.  We learned from it that success requires a hand from interested people along the way.  Let's extend that hand whenever we can.  We've learned that our background, our culture provides areas of strengths and weaknesses.  Let's celebrate our strengths and diversity.  I don't think we need to have a world economy where every culture bleeds into one.  Let's aim for one that realized the beauty of diversity.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Things to never tell a child: #4 Grandma will be waiting for us in heaven

This is a difficult one.  It comes out when people are grieving.  They miss Grandma.  They're longing for a chance to talk to her one more time.  But don't say it to a child.  A child thinks in concrete terms and if you paint heave to look like Grandma's house, their image of and purpose for heaven will fall short of that which God has in store.

I don't like too talk too much about heaven.  Heaven is out there.  We talk about it all the time.  Our hope is that some day we will all live together in heaven.

Or is it?

Our hope is that we can please God.  Our reward is that God will bring us into his presence.  Grandma is a wonderful part of our life on earth, but our reward isn't about recreating our relationships from earth in a new place.  The afterlife is about God.  (Actually, this life is about God, too.)  At any rate, it is not good for children to miss that point and the central point of this life or the next.

Of course, when I use Grandma in this post, it could just as easily be any person of a dear relationship.

Don't think that we should not assume that Grandma will be in heaven.  That's possible as far as we mean by heaven in the presence of God for eternity.  In that picture, Grandma may visit us.  But we can't assume that.  The thing is, we don't really know what the afterlife has in store for us.  We know a bit about it, but we don't know much.

What do we know?
We know that God will be the center of it.
We know that it is a city which implies that there will be people there--lots of people.
We know that there will be other spiritual creatures there.
We know that our Lord is preparing a place for us--and he's coming back to take us there.
We know that there will be no death or pain or crying.
We know that it is a reward for those who are righteous in Christ.

Instead of painting a false or assumed picture for a child, help them to understand the known things of the afterlife.  Tell him that Jesus loves Grandma very much and she is happy with him.  Some day we can be there to.

I hope that we get to see Grandma in heaven.  What a special reunion it would be.  But, as special as it may be, I just might run right by Grandma on my way to the King.  I hope Grandma isn't offended. If she's thinking about it at all, she'll probably be happier for my reunion with my Savior.

I don't know what that will be like, but I know that this life and the next is about God first.  God's arms will be and are open, waiting for me.

I can't wait.  But I will wait.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Things to never tell a child: #3 Prayer Works

Does God answer prayer?  Absolutely! So why shouldn't you tell children that prayer works?  

Because prayer isn't a tool for us to get what we want.   Prayer is prayer not a Internet order form, not a 1-800 number to God Services, not an line to the help desk in the sky.

Prayer is a human's relational connect to the Creator.  It's about listening to God as much as (arguably more so) a way of petitioning God.  

I know the Bible says Ask and it will be given to you and with prayer and petition make your requests known to God.  In that light, we should know that God wants us to make requests and, in context, when we ask for holiness, God will give it to us.  But these verses don't paint a pragmatic use of a get what you want service.  

Look at the Ask, Seek, Knock passage in Matthew 7:7-12.  The passage is sandwich between a passage on not judging others and the narrow gate to God.  It isn't about God's willingness to give us whatever we want.  It is about God's desire to give us holiness and is desire for us to ask for that.  The only way to interpret this passage differently is to look at these things as unconnected thoughts.  But they are connected.

Likewise, Philippians 4:6 does say make your request known to God, but the only promise is that God's peace will guard are hearts.  Again, in times of trouble, God is offering us holiness, not our desired result.

So what's wrong with telling a child that prayer works?  It's wrong because from a human perspective, often prayer doesn't work.  Many times people, godly people with good intentions and solid faith, don't get what they hope for when the pray.  Paul didn't! The Apostle prayed many time for the thorn in his flesh to be taken away (2 Corinthians 12:7-8).  I don't know that it ever was.  Why wasn't it taken?  Because, Paul concluded, it was a messenger for Paul to understand God's grace, a messenger for Paul to become more holy.

If you tell a child that prayer works and they pray for a puppy, they expect a puppy.  If the puppy doesn't come, the God either doesn't care or isn't capable.  What if the desire is less selfish? If a child prays for his mother to be healed of cancer and the cancer doesn't go away, again God is either uncaring or incapable.  Many many times prayer does not work.

Don't tell a child that prayer works, rather tell them the value of prayer as a relational tool.  Tell of the wonder of being able to talk to or listen to God, the maker of all things.  Make prayer a matter of wonder in the eyes of children.  Don't cause a child to stumble in his faith by misrepresenting prayer, but give them the excitement to be in the presence of God and the hope of realizing ever increasing holiness in his life.  But even then, let a child know that sometimes when we pray, God doesn't seem as close as we want, but that doesn't mean he's not their.  Our feelings can hide the truth also.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Things to never tell a child: #2 God will make you happy

"I'm in right up right down right happy all the time"
What a crock! I'm not happy all the time. I doubt seriously that you're happy all the time. Actually we are likely happy less than half of the time.

Most of are lives are spent just existing. Happiness is fleeting.  Anyone who says that change when you "ask Jesus into your heart" is just wrong. A fruit of the Spirit is joy. Joy and happiness are synonyms. Rather than giving a theological argument about the difference between the two, I propose that God gives neither--At least
on the short term.

Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. Fruit is a long work in progress--not a switch. The problem with telling children that the should be happy all the time is that it just won't prove to be true. Everyone has down times in their lives. Many good godly people suffer from depression even.

If you tell someone that they should be happy all the time you telling them that when the don't fell happy something is a lie. They can either believe they feeling, thus distrusting God or God's ability. Or they can distrust their emotions. I've heard many well meaning Sunday School teachers teach the second. "Emotions are untrustworthy." they say.

The danger with this is that emotions are real and real is trustworthy. Over time a person will either become mentally ill from stuffing their emotions or they will choose to disbelieve God.

Allow your children the best chances to discover the truth about God and about the difficulties that exist I'm this world. Teach them that it is ok-even good-to feel sad. God gives them those emotions for a reason. Never let them believe that they should be happy all the time.

Note: I'm trying something new today by sending this remotely. Pardon typos more than usual. I'll try to clean it up later.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Things to never tell a child: #1 The church is God's house

Never teach a child that the church is God's house.
I hear this one when parent (usually) want their child to know that they should be on their best behavior. Other times it is give as a reason to be excited about going to church services or programs.  It usually works only for the youngest children or as part of a threat.

When I hear people talking about not running in the house of God, I get a picture of a God who is snooty.  You know, that old, proper grandparent type person who has you sit on the edge of the couch because the comfortable looking chair is too precious to actually sit on.

Never tell your children that the building that the people of God meet in is God's house.  The Church is God's people, his Bride.  The church is not a building.  The building that the people of God meet in is not his house.  God is everywhere.  If you teach your children that the building, the church, is God's house and deserves special rules, you also teach them that those rules don't apply at home, at school, in the park, or at the local mall. It teaches that there are places and times to be holy and places and times that that's not important.

I want my children to be holy always.  I know that they aren't going to be that way, but my hope is that they will be holy 24/7.  I want God and pleasing God to be the motivation wherever they are.

The Temple was called the House of God in the Old Testament, but the church building is not the Temple.  The Church is the people of God, called out in his holiness to be holy.  The Temple is the people of God.  So why you should never say of the building that it is God's house, the truth is the Church (people) are the Temple of God and we are God's house to live holy no matter where we are.  Teach your children to be holy at all time but not with threats of messing up the house of some snooty God.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Banning Jargon

A governing council in the UK has banned the use of jargon and cliches.  Interesting idea.  In light of my last post on listening prayer, Still Listening, I wonder what the typical Christian prayer time would sound like if we banned words and phrases like "we just", "dear God", "please bless", "if it's your will", etc.

What are some other jargon words that we use in prayer?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Culture and Faith in the Twitter world

I just did a Twitter Search on the words "culture" and "faith".  Interesting results. I think you can see Andy Crouch's postures come out so clearly.  Here are a few of the Tweets and, in green, my thoughts on which Posture is represented.  You can hear about these in Andy's talk at Grace Point on March 15.

4hardystarbucks northpark...absorbing culture sharing faith   Consume

jrminkel"in the U.S. the default for culture is a blind faith in science, rather than a war on science."  Condemn

AndyGroenink@jasonmitchener 6 page assignment on case study of reaching another culture, I picked the Muslim faith  Critic 

heathrAnd yes Tom u can be Jewish and gay. Maybe not the Jewish your parents get, but your faith is yours + yr culture is big enough for u!   Consume

cjcasciottawas interviewed by MTV about faith and American Idol. I hope I got the point across that the church should create culture, not copy it    Create

sumapriapusWatchmen: This is why conservatives have a tough problem today. The pop culture undermines faith, family and freedom.    Condemn/Critic

brandonrae[ HIP-HOP ] [ PANACEA ] [ STARLITE ] [ Enjoy, and have faith in theculture that I love ] ♫   Consume

I didn't see copy there although on person talked about how Christians should not copy culture.  The rest were all there.  I'd love to hear your analysis of these tweets.  Maybe you could search again and see if they all still show up.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Still Listening

I'm still listening.  Listening to God during prayer and worship rather than speaking. 

I don't know that I can say that listening has come with any great breakthroughs.  Nothing obvious but a few things have come out. 

I've learned that I can always listen to God more.
      I've learned that I can listen to people more.
            I've learned that more people can listen to God more.

It's still too easy for me to tell God what I want.  Yeah, I'm not speaking out, but I still sit in want hoping that God willl give me what I want.

People are speaking to me constantly.  I don't alway hear what they say.  Listening to God is important.  Listening to people is important too.

While I'm listening I've learned that much, maybe most, of what we say is jargon.  We use the same prayer phrases over and over again. 
            "Dear God..."
                   "We just......"
               "Please bless......"
             "If it is in your will......"
  These phrase may represent those things that we most need to convey to God, but I doubt it.  These things represent the lingo that we feel free to use in public. 

I use those words too.

I hope that I continue to learn more.  More ways to listen to God.  More ways to speak with him intimately.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Every dad of a daughter, young or old, needs to read this

I remember these days.  I was in seminary studying on my couch and breaking to play Barbies, talk about squirpers (don't ask) or reading while my hair was pulled until hair clips and bows stayed put.  I'm miss these days.

White as Snow

This new U2 album is beautiful.  I can't believe how wonderful the song White As Snow is.  U2's website describes this song about the dying soldier as he reflects over his life.  It isn't at all a typical U2 song.  Bono sings differently; it's quiet and reflective; and the melody line is based on the Christmas staple Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel. I think that is significant because the Christ imagery in the song is obvious to me.

Throughout the song there is reference to the lamb that is white as snow.  There is a talk of a divine love and a need for forgiveness.  Of course, the subject has strayed form that love and found a loss of forgiveness, but there seems to be a longing to get back to that lamb.
Once I knew there was a love divine
Then came a time I thought it knew me not
Who can forgive forgiveness where forgiveness is not
Only the lamb as white as snow
Interestingly, it seems that the death scene is also a scene of life and baptism, all be it, an unpleasant one.
And the water, it was icy
As it washed over me
I get the feeling that the mortally wounded soldier has found the lamb and now reflects on the state of people. I feel that all people are looking for the lamb. Some to become white as snow, but most to devourer it.  This sentiment comes in the last verse where he closes the song by wishing that everyone could be white as snow.

As boys we would go hunting in the woods
To sleep the night shooting out the stars
Now the wolves are every passing stranger
Every face we cannot know
If only a heart could be as white as snow
If only a heart could be as white as snow
In many ways I think the band reveal a new discovery in this song.  They've long included anti-war sentiments in their music, and this song continues those sentiments.  Now they demonstrate the humanness of the fighting man and the burning desire of the soldier not to kill his enemy, but to see his enemy turn holy--A longing that all men and women would seek peace.

Of course, that peace can only come with the return of Emmanuel. Come Emmanuel!

Saturday, March 07, 2009

March listening

What beautiful weather we are having today.  As part of my listening exercise, I just spent a few minutes listening as the grill warms up.  Here is what I heard...

A kid screaming while playing about a block away.
   My daughter making some whining noise as she watched Harry Potter 20 feet through the back door.
       The sound track of Harry Potter about 10 feet from her.
     I bunch of black birds cackling as the flutter around about 15 to 30 feet up in the trees.
   A jet hundreds of feet above my head approaching the Trenton Airport.
My dog peeing two feet away.

No messages from God in that, but for the welcoming of spring and the joy of a day off.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Praying with eyes and ears wide open

Recently, I posted that I was going to experiment with praying without words.  Actually, I have now begun the experiment with the goal of making me more open to hearing and seeing God in my prayer life.  Having read in Ecclesiastes that a fool opens his mouth in worship, I began a period of keeping my mouth closed during prayer.  That means I am not speaking prayer, not actively entertaining verbal thoughts while I pray.  That doesn't mean I'm not thinking.  I am.  I mean that I'm not speaking words to God in my brain.  I'm using my mind and my ears to listen to what God has for me.

At about the same time, I did a word study in the Bible for "pray" and "eye".  I was curious, does the Bible ever tell us to close our eyes during prayer.  You know what? It doesn't.  In fact, in 7 out of 8 occurrences of "pray" and "eye" in the scriptures, the passage is actually connected with opening eyes or looking with eyes.  (In the 8th passage eyes and prayer are not directly connected.) Of course, in most of these passages the one praying was asking God to open His eyes, but at that same time, I was thinking, why do we insist on closing our eyes?

I understand that there is the practical reason that we might be distracted with our eyes open.  True, but I find that I can be distracted (or asleep) with my eyes closed.  If the pray-er is asking God to look, why wouldn't the pray-er want to be looking was well.

So, as a second part of my experiment, for the month of March, I'm trying to learn to keep my eyes open while I pray.  This month, I'm going to pray with my eyes and ears wide open for God's message through me. I believe I will experience this.  I think it may come in corporate prayer as I hear and see the hearts of others pouring out. I think it may come in private prayer as I see God's glory working in the world around me.  And really, I am prepared for it to come any way God brings his message to me.

Do I believe that people are wrong for speaking and closing their eyes while the pray? No.  I may go back to doing that again when March is over.  I just think I've gotten into a habit of speaking to God words he already knows in ways that I've never considered. I'm trying to retrain myself. That's all.

What have I learned in the first week? I've learned that it is really hard to break habits and it is awkward to do around others when my practices are so habitual.  I can't wait for God to show me something more.  And he will because God is an extrovert waiting to talk to every person.

Andy Crouch coming to Grace Point in 10 days

Andy Crouch, award winning author of Culture Making , is coming to Grace Point on March 15 at 6pm.  For more information and to register for this free discussion on Making Culture Makers visit the event page.

Grace Point is located at 592 Washington Crossing Road, Newtown, PA 18940.

Monday, March 02, 2009

The First Year Out

I just finished reading The First Year Out  by Tim Clydesdale .  Clydesdale is a sociology professor at the College of New Jersey.  This book is the result of a research project he had completed with high school graduates.  He meet the subjects while in their senior year at a New Jersey high school and followed them through the first year after graduations.

This book represents wonderful research in an important area. It tends to read a bit like a research book, I guess, since that's what it is. Not really ready for a mom or dad to pick up as they prepare for jr. to go off to college. Still, I really like the information Clydesdale presents. His implications for parents may have made the whole book worthwhile for me...(reworded)

  1. parents should partner with their children in the post-high school planning process.
  2. look beyond college. The career that follows will be a much bigger part of their life and the "best" college isn't always what is right for the right career path.
    1. many children need a year off to evaluate what is right. Give it too them. I particularly like the idea of volunteering. In the church, I could come up with a million ways to make that worthwhile.
  3. While parents are partners in the planning process, the child must make the final call. No more, "mom wants me to be a ____, so I'm going to be."

That's good advice for students. I wish Clydesdale would have given better help for the church. I'll be working on trying to apply what he deems a spiritual lockbox and how we can help students avoid setting their faith aside for a period after high school.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Can I pray without words?

I've been working on Eccliesiaties the last couple weeks.  This is the first time I've gone through it in a while and, again, I want to thank the people of the Bible Postcast for bringing me back to this book of great wisdom.  Today I'm awed by the wisdom of the first few verses of Chapter 5.  We forget about being silent before the Lord and I'm not sure we know how to do it well, neither in prayer or in worship.  Too often it becomes a way of seperating us from the rest of the community of God.  You know those times that a worship leader will say, "Close your eyes and imagine that it is just you and God here in this room."  I despise that.  I don't come to worship with a community in order to pretend that the community is not there.

No matter how we are to worship and pray in silence, Solomon reminds us that we are better to approach the throne silently.

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.
 Clearly my dear brothers and sisters of evangelical practices don't come to listen but to speak.  Neither in worship or in prayer.  How many times have I been in a prayer group that spent 30 minutes talking about all the hopes, fears and wishes of the people and friends of people in the room, then after talking about those things everyone closes their eyes and in a "prayerful attitude" talk about those things again?  The intention is good, a desire to see God's hand moving among themselves and those that they mention.  Unfortunately, the desires of fools is also pure.  It is the fool's knowledge of reality that is lacking.

I don't know what are corporate prayer times and worship would look like if we come together to listen, but I know that I am going to make an attempt to do so.  For the next 4 weeks, in prayer times and in worship, I'm going to put my energy, my mind to listening.  Not to others, but to God.  Not to the god in my own head, but to God as he works among the people of my church.

I wonder if you will join me?  Does this make you uncomfortable?  Does it seem too mystical? It does to me in a way, but I'm not sure what else to do with this passage.

Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Is busyness a Christian value?

Is busyness a Christian virtue?

How about industriousness?  

How about hard work?

Is idleness a sin? 

What make idleness idleness?  How long must one not be industrious before they are idle?

These are some questions that arose for me this morning as I listened to the Bible Podcast from the good people at .  The passage today was from Ecclesiastes 4.  I particularly keyed into verses 5 and 6.

4:5 The fool folds his hands and does no work, 
so he has nothing to eat but his own flesh. 
4:6 Better is one handful with some rest
than two hands full of toil and chasing the wind.

Obviously, doing nothing is foolish for very practical reasons.  You will run out of food.  But notice that the opposite of doing nothing (sloth) is not busyness.  Busyness is called "chasing the wind" which is also foolishness.

It is better to strive today for what you need today.  It is better to take a rest as rests are needed.  

I'm assuming that most people reading this fall into two camps.  I know some people read blogs for escape.  It's OK to escape for a period of rest from the toil of the world, but if you are deep into blogs all day and otherwise unproductive, perhaps you have are a fool with folded hands.

On the other hand, I'd bet more people that I encounter in the blog-o-sphere are like the people I have around me all day.  People striving to get one step ahead.  People networking and building toward a "better future."  People chasing their next goal or their next dream.  People seeking a greater influence or a greater profit.  People chasing after the wind.  

Being industriousness is not a sin, but busily buzzing from one opportunity to the next is foolishness.  

Seeking what good God has for you today is the only reasonable use of your day.  That means finding not the work that pays the best, but the work that you are best created to do.  It means having relationships with people with a purpose beyond what can he or she do to help me get ahead.  It means enjoying the things that God has already given you whether those things be your family, your friends, you stuff or your work.

In what ways have you been chasing after the wind?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Reflextion: God is not an introvert

In order to get to really know what an introvert is thinking, you have to work really hard, ask all the right questions and hope that the introvert is willing to open the door of their heart wide enough that you can peek in.

I think that's how I've seen God.  Maybe it is the old man on a cloud image of God that leads me to think that prayer is about me asking and saying the right things, then straining to hear a quick word or two from God, then maybe I'll understand a bit about his will.  But, now, I don't think that's true.

God is an extrovert.  He gets his enjoyment out of people, talking to them, telling them about his experience, his emotions, his burning desires. 

If you don't know what an extrovert is thinking, it could be that you've either closed your ears to them or you misunderstand them.  Perhaps you see them as too flighty or self absorbed.  But if you think this, you may be missing the fact that they really just want to communicate  and demonstrate love to everyone.

Let God be an extrovert and I think you'll understand more about his desire to show love to you.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What I'm working on

Here is a graphical representation of the creative thing I'm working on during the winter months.

Wordle: Yogurt

Keep checking back. There is more about this coming.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Hibernation and X Games

It's the middle of Winter now, January 26, a week before Punxsutawney Phil annually informs us that winter will go on, and so often for 6 more week.  The holidays have passed and all the joy of those things has become irrelevant.

It seems I have two options at this time.  Succumb to the strong call to retreat into my home and hibernate.  The television seasons are all gearing up to help me with that options.  I caught Lost last week and can't wait for next Wednesday.

However, while scanning the TV channels this week, I noticed that the annual Winter Games are on.  Snow
boarders and skiers doing ridiculous tricks for points, but even when the loose by falling on their heads they get up pumped because of the adrenaline rush they produced.

I realize that this winter season gives me two options.  Hibernate and do little of anything or seek incredible weather related thrills by becoming an audacious snowboarder.

Since the snow stinks in my area and my knees don't work as they should, maybe I need to find other ways to seek my thrills so I'm going to use this Winter to start something new.  I'm going to try to do something and gather people together in a way that I've never seen before.  I'm going to be creative in doing so.  And I just might dream up the details to this new, exciting thing while watching the X Games in my PJs.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

What's better boring or WOW?

Seth Godin's blog this morning accuses me (the reader) of being boring.  Boring is doing the safe thing.  In some ways, I'm not real boring.  I challenge the status quo.  But in other ways, I am boring.  I don't want my status quo messed up.  I like my life.  I like to go home sit on my lazy boy and flip channels. 

Godin's post reminds me of a quote from Stef's current favorite TV show.  Duff, the Ace of Cakes, says, "They may say "Wow! That sucks." But at least they'll say, 'Wow.'"

Boring things/boring people are safe.  Nothing new means expected outcome.  Excitement isn't predictable.  So, here are my questions: Do you prefer boring friends or exciting friends?  Do you prefer a boring boss or and exciting boss?  Would you prefer a boring or exciting economic cycle?

I don't think you can have boring excitement.  You also can't have a safe unknown.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Honoring God's Name

I spoke at Grace Point a couple weeks ago.  It's taken me a while to get this up because my computer hasn't been handling video the way I'd like, but here is a YouTube video to demonstrate the slides that Greg Schwartz created for me.  I think they're pretty cool! How often have you seen comic books used in church?   The service was a once a year family--kids with parents--service.  I thought the kids might appreciate these images more than fill-in-the-blank PowerPoint slides.

The talk was almost three times longer than the video. If you'd like to listen to the full message you can get the mp3 at Grace Point's website.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

New Year Predictions 2009

Happy New Year to all.  I pray that you will find 2009 fulfilling.

I thought I'd make my predictions for the coming year.  Some are more obvious than others.  I don't think I get too ostentatious. 

  • The economy will go up and it will go down, especially as we measure it according to the sock market.  In the end there will be a push to find another economic barometer because the stock market will be seen as too artificial.  
  • We'll have a new president; he'll be a minority, the first ever in the White House; Conservative Christian leaders will not be happy with him, but many other Christian leaders will consider his first months in a positive light.
  • The Obamas will get a dog as they move into the White House.  It will be a mutt (sort of). 
  • The Eagles will not win the Super Bowl.  Some fans will continue to call for Reid's head.  Others will call for a change of quarterback.  Neither will happen before the 2009 season.
  • Phillies fans will boo at least one of the World Series heroes before the end of the first home game.  The Phillies will not repeat as World Series champs.
  • There will not be a civil war that fragments the US, but some tensions will rise.
  • Microsoft will not have a Y2K10 issue, but they will make news sometime in the year for a major attack on their operating system.
  • Gas prices will go back up this summer but not to the $4 mark of last summer.
  • In Iraq, the US withdraw will be behind schedule at the end of 2009.  The Military will point to an escalation of insurgents uprisings as the reason.
  • It will be cold in the winter and hot in the summer and everyone will claim climate is the cause for it seeming hotter than it used to be or colder than it used to be.  At least one hurricane will strike the US and people will again focus on how much climate change has increased the chance of the event happening.
  • Captain Phil will return the the Cornela Marie.  His sons will rip him off, he'll get angry and say bleeeeep a lot, then in the end he'll tell them he's so proud of their progress on the boat.
  • Jack will get the gang back together to search for the Island, but they won't find it this season.  Or they will find it, but they won't find their friends on the Island.
  • I'll continue to love my wife and she'll continue to be a better writer than me.  My girls will continue to amaze me.  We'll continue to wish we had more money, but, in reality, will be happy we don't have everything we want.