Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Educating Our Children

I was home in the afternoon a couple weeks ago and I flipped to the Dr. Phil show. The topic of the the day was parents who choose to "unschool" their children. What is unschooling, you ask? In a nutshell, it is when children are not a part of any formalized schooling and the child themselves are able to set the direction of what they want to study (or not study) and how much (or how little) they'll spend on a topic.

This an offshoot of the homeschooling movement that has become quite common among Christians in recent years. A major difference between these two movements, however, is that parents are typically the ones that teach the courses and set the curriculum for the children that are homeschooled.

Whether we choose to homeschool our kids, put them in private or public schools, or let them watch Barney videos all day, it does beg the question of what is the right (and best) choice for our kids? This is a topic that I have wanted to write on for quite some time, but I have balked at it because it seems to be a pretty heated subject in the circles I run in. In fact, I have a very good friend who is on the staff of a large church that is not allowed to homeschool his children because it has become such a divisive issue that all the church's staff have to public school their kids.

I have a number of friends that have chosen to take their children out of the public schools and either place them in a private Christian institution or school them at home themselves. Let me say that I believe it is each parent's choice how they want to parent and raise their kids and that God has entrusted them as stewards with that responsibility. I respect my friends decisions in this matter and trust that they know what is best for their children and their family.

However... I do wonder sometimes what the reasons and motivations to not place a child in the public schools are. Because, honestly, a lot of the reasons that I hear for why parents do not have their kids in the public schools concern me. I increasingly see a "bunker mentality" among my fellow Christians in which we want to separate ourselves and our families from anything in "the world" so that we can raise godly little Christians just like us.

Lori and I have made the decision to place our kids in public schools (two of them are currently school age) and we don't regret it at all. Do they have the Bible taught in school? No, they don't. And, frankly, that doesn't bother me the least bit. As Christian parents, it is mine and Lori's responsibility to teach our children God's Word. We don't leave that up to a pastor, a Sunday school teacher or a school teacher. It is our job. Anyone else that helps to contribute in that regard is just icing on the cake.

I have a firm conviction that of all the influences in a child's life (i.e. the media, their friends, their school, their church, etc.), I think the influence of their parents is the greatest. That doesn't mean that those other factors don't affect them, but I think the parent is the one that holds the greatest influence. So even though they may see, hear or be taught things at school that we may not agree with, I am not that worried about it. Because we talk with them every day about what they're learning at school and seek to impart spiritual wisdom to them as the Bible instructs us as parents to do.

Furthermore, we don't expect that the few hours they spend in direct spiritual instruction with others (Sunday School and AWANA) will "do the job." It helps and we're appreciative of those adults that teach them, but it merely supplements what they learn at home. That is one thing that I do appreciate about homeshool parents -- the direct and active role that they take in the education and spiritual formation of their children. But I am bothered by the insinuation that some make that we are somehow bad parents because we have our kids in the public schools.

In the circles that we run in, this whole issue seems to be one that some don't feel there is much gray area with. If you don't see things their way, then you're wrong. And that applies to all of us (home schoolers, private schoolers and public schoolers). We Christians tend to be evangelistic about many things other than the gospel and this area seems to be one of them.

Lori and I were both education majors in college and are, therefore, qualified to teach our children at home, but we do not have the desire to do so. One of the primary reasons is that we want our kids to interact with and become friends with kids that are not like them. That includes socio-economic status, ethnicity and religion. We feel that placing our kids in the public schools is a great way for them to learn that not everybody grows up in a nice little Christian family and that they're learning at a young age to not get weirded out by those different them.

And beyond our choices for our young children, I think this subject is even more relevant for our young adults that we send off to college. There seems to be a belief that sending off our kids to Christian colleges will somehow help them grow in their faith and that to send them off to a state school means that they will instantly become drunkards, prostitutes and absolutely forsake God. While there probably is some truth to either of this viewpoints, I do have a caution with it.

The real issue here is the heart. If I have shepherded my child well and they have made themselves available for God to work in their life, then it doesn't matter what college they go to -- they can grow in their faith and God can use them in the lives of others. After 15 years of experience with college students, I've found that most young people that grew up in the church have a very shallow personal faith and understanding of Christianity. Many of them simply learned the rules to follow and how to play "the church game." While it may appear that all these Christian college kids have a strong faith, I don't necessarily think that's always the case. Maybe they're just extending the game for a few more years. Now stick with me here...If I have to require an adult (and that's what 18-22 year olds are) to attend chapel services and place curfews on them, how internalized is their faith really?

This certainly doesn't mean that Christian kids that go to state schools are somehow more spiritual. But it also doesn't mean that they love Jesus less. Again, the issue is the heart. They can grow in their faith at Christian school or a state school. Contrary to popular belief, the Holy Spirit resides at either of those places. And for some kids that want to go into ministry, I think one of the best things that they can do is to go to a state school. For a child that is homeschooled through junior high, goes to a private Christian high school and then attends a Bible college, how realistic is it that they would be able to relate to, understand and connect with non-Christians when they've hardly ever met any their whole lives?!

I have a friend that's a pastor and we were talking about this topic over lunch one time and this is what he had to say, "I know a lot of people that work with your organization (CCC). They are godly people, they live by faith and their hearts burn for evangelism. But one of the things that I find really odd is that a primary area in which they can reach out to non-Christians -- the public schools -- many have chosen to remove their children from that environment. I'm not judging them for this. I just find it odd."

I also have that same question. And I'm not judging either. Some friends that have made the choice to not public school their kids have really valid reasons. But for those of us that think the public schools are going to "hell in a hand basket," do we really think they'll improve if we as parents remove ourselves from the PTA, stop meeting with teachers and administrators and have a mass exodus of our children. As I've heard it said by someone (and I can't remember the source): "I'd rather shine in the darkness than shine in the light."

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Monday, November 06, 2006

Supporting Our Veterans

There is widespread opinion across America regarding our current military involvement in Iraq. Whatever your view on the war in Iraq is, there is one thing that I think we all can agree on -- that is the support and care for the brave men and women that put their lives on the line because our government has asked them to. You can help to ensure that our veterans receive the proper medical attention that they have earned. Please read the information below which has been distributed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and sign the petition if so led...

"Veterans Day is quickly approaching and already over 1 million troops have served in the current war on terror. More than 2,600 of these brave men and women have been killed and over 20,000 have been injured in the line of duty. Despite these great sacrifices, Congress recently tried to slash the budget for the VA’s traumatic brain injury care centers that many or our wounded troops depend on.

Our veterans should not have to fight for the high quality healthcare they’ve earned. That’s why the VFW is launching Healthcare for Our Heroes, a month-long Veterans Day campaign to demand full funding of veterans’ healthcare and benefits.

Join the campaign today by signing the Healthcare for Our Heroes Petition to Congress. Congress needs to know that anything short of fully funded healthcare and benefits for our veterans is unacceptable. Especially when VA claims backlogs have reached a record high of over 800,000! Those claims represent hundreds of thousands of veterans and their families who are waiting for their healthcare and benefits they need to survive. These are real people who did their duty for our country. But, unfortunately, the country is not holding up its end of the bargain... Let us honor the men and women who’ve served our country by calling on Congress to fully fund healthcare and benefits for our veterans.

Our goal is to gather 20,000 Healthcare for Our Heroes Petition signatures to deliver to Congress by November 11th, Veterans Day. Thank you for supporting our troops and veterans."

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Tuesday, October 31, 2006


I think the three greatest days in the life of a kid are Christmas, their birthday and Halloween. Of course, for a children that places their faith in Christ, the day of salvation is the greatest day in their whole life -- but rarely does a little one understand this. What they do understand is presents and candy.

My previous post presents my view on Halloween. I do not think that we should celebrate the evil and dark aspects of the holiday, but I do like letting my kids dress up, roam the neighborhood and get tons of candy that I can steal from them when they're sleeping. My dad used to raid every one of my Reese's Peanut Butter Cups as soon as we got home from trick-or-treating when I was a kid (Me - "Hey, why are you doing that?" Dad - "Um...because I'm the dad"). And, as a good son should do, I am passing on the family tradition as I just scarfed down a few of my kids Snickers bars.

I know that Christians hold different views on what to do with Halloween and I respect the different perspectives. Halloween has come to us in its present form by drawing from many different elements of history -- both sacred and secular -- just as other holidays like Christmas and Easter have done. There are some positive elements to it, and, unfortunately, many that glorify and celebrate death and the occult. But like many aspects of society, we can seek to redeem the good from what appears to be evil. Lori and I have decided that we are not going to hole our kids up in the house or at church on the one day throughout the year that everyone goes to each other's houses and talks to their neighbors. Our kids are not going to dress up as witches and goblins and skeletons, but positive heroes like The Incredible Hulk, a cowgirl and...ahem...Darth Vader.

I think that Halloween is one way that we can engage the culture through the building of relationships and not setting up yet another form of Christian isolation from those we're seeking to reach. For those that choose not to participate or do something at their church, that is fine by me. I respect their reasons. But I really don't have time to debate that right now. I have some Skittles and Hershey bars to swipe...

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Lessons From the Amish

I happened to be home in the afternoon a couple of weeks ago and turned on Oprah. She was describing her car trip with her best friend Gayle, which I guess you know plenty about it if you watch the show, but this was the first I had seen of it. One of their stops was an Amish community in Ohio and they talked with a young married couple about their life, especially in light of the recent shootings among the Amish in a Pennsylvania town.

It was a pretty interesting interview. Not only were Gayle and Oprah pretty surprised that they were well aware of who Oprah was and knew that 50 cent was more than just half a dollar, but they were visibly impressed with the emphasis that the Amish put on reading. They don't use many of the modern conveniences that many of us have as part of our daily lives, but they read a lot and that is how they learn about the outside world. The gentlemen said that it's not like they have something against progress and technology. They just think that the reliance on technology can distract from the importance of faith and family.

The guy pointed out that so many of these things that are so important to us and that are supposed to make our lives so much easier actually do just the opposite. He went on to say that their lives are very simple and relaxed and the people in the "real world" are the ones running around busy and stressed out. Think about it...are our lives really simpler than those 100 years ago? Of course, we probably smell better and medical advances help us to live longer, but I don't think anyone could argue that our lives are easier or that our families are fundamentally better off.

One of the reasons why the Amish have been so shocked by the shootings in Pennsylvania is because nothing like that ever really happens to them. I'm sure that this may vary from different parts of the country where they are located, but the couple that Oprah was talking with stated some pretty startling facts about their lifestyles. They said that divorce was non-existent among their people; that they knew of no one personally that had committed adultery; that most of them don't date until they turn 18 and, even then, physical interaction was limited until marriage.

This is what seemed to get Oprah and Gayle... that the people in their community actually wait until marriage to have sex! The absurdity of it! Gayle stated that a lot of people she knows would have a really difficult time having sex with only one person over the course of their life. The Amish lady responded that she couldn't imagine ever having sex with multiple people. Ole Gayle didn't have much of an answer for that.

Why is it that we mock and put down a group of people that virtually never sees divorce, has strong family ties and doesn't have many of the problems of broader society? Because they don't use computers or drive cars? Why do we look down upon them as simplistic and backward? To be fair, they do have their problems. Their separatist attitude doesn't seem to mesh with Jesus' instructions in Matthew 28, they do seem to have a works based salvation mentality and some do partake in worldly pleasures during rumspringa.

But if I'm honest with myself, I admire the lifestyle of the Amish. What would it be like to not have the clamor of traffic, the loud echoes from a T.V., or 70 e-mails waiting to be returned each day? Might I hear more from God if I didn't treat him like a microwave giving me my food in thirty seconds or less. I don't see the rush, rush, rush and busyness of our society slowing down anytime soon. Maybe we need to be intentional to step back, eliminate the distractions and return to a simpler lifestyle. I'd write more, but I've got to go check my e-mail...

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Blogging on the Web

A local columnist by the name of Linda Shrieves recently interviewed me for an article on blogging that was featured in today's edition of The Orlando Sentinel. You can read the full article here (you'll need to jump to page two of the article to read my part). I had recently written a post on the new season of Survivor and sent along a link of this post to one of my favorite writers for the Sentinel, Tammy Carter. She read my article and introduced me to Ms. Shrieves since she was doing a story on Orlando bloggers. It still amazes me how the internet has given us all the ability to communicate our thoughts to the world.

Here's some interesting facts that the Sentinel article points out:
  • 12 million American adults keep a blog and 54 percent of them are under 30.
  • 57 million Americans read blogs.
  • 60 percent of bloggers are white; 11 percent are African American; 19 percent are English-speaking Hispanics.
  • 37 percent of bloggers cite "my life and experiences" as the primary topic of their blog; 11 percent focus their blogs on politics and government.
  • 52 percent of bloggers say they blog mostly for themselves, not an audience. About one-third of bloggers say they blog primarily for their audience.

I got introduced to the blogging world a little over a year ago and I really enjoy not only posting my own thoughts, but I get a lot from reading others' thoughts also. Check out my "Blogroll" at the Crocker Chronicle to look at some of the blogs I read on a regular basis. The internet has given us the ability to communicate what's on our mind without having to publish a book or get a job writing for a newspaper. Of course, this does mean a lack of accountability in people having to back up their sources and stating the veracity of their assertions, but I like the "give and take" of posting thoughts, starting a dialogue and challenging thinking. If you think if you've got something to say, why don't you start your own blog? C'mon, join the fun...

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Friday, October 13, 2006

The Top 50 Books That Have Shaped Evangelicals

Christianity Today recently listed their Top 50 Books that have shaped evangelical Christians. The books with an "*" next to the number are those that I have already read. Some introductory comments and explanation of the selection process can be found here. I'd love to hear your comments on any books that you think should/should not have been included...

50. Revivalism and Social Reform - Timothy L. Smith. The new evangelicals were rightly wary of the liberal "social gospel." Yet they knew Jesus called them to serve the oppressed. Historian Timothy L. Smith destroyed the myth of the "heavenly minded" evangelical and helped us remember our history of personal and social holiness.

*49. Knowledge of the Holy- A. W. Tozer. The Christian and Missionary Alliance pastor and mystic invited us behind the curtain and into God's presence.

48. The Hiding Place - Corrie ten Boom with John and Elizabeth Sherrill. The staple conundrum of late-night ethics discussions in Christian college dorms—Do you lie if the Nazis knock on your door asking for the Jews you are hiding?—was a question ten Boom lived.

47. The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?- F. F. Bruce. Yes, they are. And it took F. F. Bruce only 120 tiny pages to show it.

46. Out of the Saltshaker and into the World - Rebecca Manley Pippert. "Christians and non-Christians have something in common," author Rebecca Pippert noted. "We're both uptight about evangelism." Out of the Saltshaker helped generations of fearful students (and other would-be evangelists) to loosen up.

45. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind - Mark A. Noll. Few people have accused evangelicalism of being an intellectual movement—but now we feel bad about it, at least.

44. The Gospel of the Kingdom- George Eldon Ladd. Ladd's work called a generation of evangelicals to a higher level of scholarship, and his "already-but-not yet" take on God's kingdom influenced charismatic theologians and cessationists alike.

*43. Operation World - Patrick Johnstone. The who, where, what, why, when, and how many of unreached peoples.

*42. The Purpose-Driven Life - Rick Warren. A recommended resource to have on hand when faced with a home intruder (a la Ashley Smith) or when seeking to turn around an African nation (a la Rwanda).

*41. Born Again - Charles W. Colson. As we now know, the metamorphosis of a Nixon administration crook into a prison evangelist wasn't just a phase.

*40. Darwin on Trial - Phillip E. Johnson. This Berkeley law professor's takedown of scientific naturalism launched Intelligent Design and gained creationists a level of public attention they hadn't enjoyed since the Scopes trial.

*39. Desiring God - John Piper. Who expected a Calvinist Baptist to redeem hedonism for Christ?

38. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society - Lesslie Newbigin. "A profound rethinking of missions in a pluralist context," says Wheaton College English professor Alan Jacobs, who nominated the tome.

*37. God's Smuggler - Brother Andrew with John and Elizabeth Sherrill. Brother Andrew's autobiography "instilled in me a concern for the persecuted church and ignited courage in my heart to serve those who suffer for Jesus," writes Charisma's editor J. Lee Grady.

*36. Left Behind - Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. The book launched a series that launched a marketing empire that launched a new set of rules for Christian fiction. The series spent a total of 300 weeks—nearly as long as the Tribulation it dramatized—on The New York Times's bestseller list.

35. The Stork Is Dead - Charlie W. Shedd. Shedd published his sex advice for teens in 1968 and got evangelicals talking about the topic four years before The Joy of Sex was published.

*34. This Present Darkness - Frank E. Peretti. InterVarsity Press editor Al Hsu says Peretti's horror thriller "challenged evangelicals to take spiritual warfare and the supernatural seriously." Maybe, in some cases, too seriously.

33. The Late Great Planet Earth - Hal Lindsey with C. C. Carlson. In the beginning—before the Left Behind series was a sparkle in the cash registers of religious booksellers—there was The Late Great Planet Earth. It's hard to imagine that Jenkins and LaHaye would have sold 43 million copies of their bestsellers if Lindsey hadn't first sold 15 million copies of his dispensationalist hit.

*32. The Cross and the Switchblade - David Wilkerson with John and Elizabeth Sherrill. Amazing things started happening when, in 1958, a country preacher arrived—Bible in hand and Holy Spirit in heart—in the ghettos of New York City. Christian Retailing reports that "more than 50 million copies are in print in 40-plus languages of the book that gave birth to the ministry of Teen Challenge."

31. The Next Christendom - Philip Jenkins. The Penn State professor confronted North American Christians with the shocking truth that they were not the center of the universe.

*30. Roaring Lambs - Robert Briner. Back in the early '90s, when engaging the culture wasn't the "in" thing to do, Roaring Lambs inspired countless Christian artists to become artists who are Christians.

*29. Dare to Discipline - James Dobson. In the permissive '70s, Dobson did what he still does best—calling us to focus on the family.

*28. The Act of Marriage - Tim and Beverly LaHaye. The explicit marriage manual told men how to satisfy their wives. "Fundies in their undies," joked religion scholar Martin E. Marty.

27. Christy - Catherine Marshall. A privileged city girl finds faith and a husband in rural Appalachia—sounds like a TV series to us.

*26. Know Why You Believe - Paul E. Little. Now we do.

*25. Boundaries - Henry Cloud and John Townsend. Sometimes, it's good to say no. This, in a nutshell, is the message that some ministry-weary Christians still need to hear.

24. The Meaning of Persons - Paul Tournier. Swiss physician Paul Tournier awakened us to the deep interconnectedness of the physical, the emotional, and the spiritual.

23. All We're Meant to Be - Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Nancy A. Hardesty. Scanzoni and Hardesty outlined what would later blossom into evangelical feminism. For better or for worse, no evangelical marriage or institution has been able to ignore the ideas in this book.

22. The Genesis Flood - Henry M. Morris and John C. Whitcomb. In 1961, hydraulic engineer Henry M. Morris and biblical scholar John C. Whitcomb infused young-earth creationism with new energy. They argued that the biblical deluge could explain fossils and geological layers.

*21. The Master Plan of Evangelism - Robert Emerson Coleman. Using Jesus' methods, Coleman showed the intimate, indispensable relationship between evangelism and discipleship.

20. A Wrinkle In Time - Madeleine L'Engle. Madeleine L'Engle told CT that when she tried to be a Christian with her "mind only," she ceased to believe. But then she realized that God was a storyteller. Her 1962 classic modeled the power of imagination to energize belief.

19.The Cost of Discipleship - Dietrich Bonhoeffer. "Although cheap grace has entered into the common vocabulary of evangelicals," says theologian Roger Olson, "the full weight of Bonhoeffer's exploration of true Christian discipleship has yet to be borne by many of us." Translated into English in 1949, Bonhoeffer's classic remains a devastating critique of comfortable Christianity.

18. The Divine Conspiracy - Dallas Willard. With this call to discipleship, "Willard joins the line of Thomas a Kempis, Luther, Fenelon, Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, Zinzendorf, Wesley, Frank Laubach, Dorothy Day, and other master apprentices of Jesus," wrote Books and Culture editor John Wilson in a review, praising the University of Southern California professor's "philosophical depth" and "penetrating understanding of Scripture."

*17. What's So Amazing About Grace? - Philip Yancey. With trademark self-deprecation, Yancey wrote: "Grace comes free of charge to people who do not deserve it, and I am one of those people. I think back to who I was—resentful, wound tight with anger, a single hardened link in a long chain of ungrace learned from family and church. Now I am trying in my own small way to pipe the tune of grace. I do so because I know … that any pang of healing or forgiveness or goodness I have ever felt comes solely from the grace of God."

16. Basic Christianity - John Stott. The slim volume "has introduced more people to Christ than any book I know other than the Bible," says author James Sire.

15. The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism - F. H. Henry. Henry's call to cultural engagement seems unremarkable today. That's because we took his advice to "pursue the enemy, in politics, in economics, in science, in ethics."

*14. Let Justice Roll Down - John M. Perkins. The civil rights activist got white Christians thinking about his three-pronged solution to America's systemic race problem: relocation, reconciliation, and redistribution.

*13. Evidence That Demands a Verdict - Josh McDowell. Who says faith is only for the heart and not the head? Not Josh McDowell.

12. Power Evangelism - John Wimber with Kevin Springer. Lifestyle evangelism is great, but signs and wonders are spectacular.

*11. Celebration of Discipline - Richard J. Foster. It "opened the door for many evangelicals to intentionally practice spiritual disciplines and find a connection with the church throughout history," writes Phyllis Alsdurf, professor of journalism at Bethel College.

10. Evangelism Explosion - D. James Kennedy. This more than any other book ("The Four Spiritual Laws" is a pamphlet) gave evangelicals a systematic way to share their faith. It made the question, "If you were to die tonight, do you know for sure that you would go to heaven?" standard evangelistic fare.

*9. Through Gates of Splendor - Elisabeth Elliot. The account of the martyrdom of five young missionaries at the hands of a feared "Stone Age" tribe in Ecuador helped launch a generation of cross-cultural evangelists into the world's hard places. Author Jerry B. Jenkins told CT, "The story left me feeling spiritually slain."

8. Managing Your Time - Ted W. Engstrom. Evangelicals have historically been entrepreneurs and mystics, so we have run into much personal burnout and organizational chaos. With this book, Ted W. Engstrom gave evangelical leaders permission to organize their ministries rationally and efficiently.

7. Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger - Ronald J. Sider. "God is on the side of the poor!" Sider writes. To neglect them is to neglect the gospel.

*6. The Living Bible - Kenneth N. Taylor. One of the first in a wave of easy-to-read, modern English versions of the Bible, Kenneth N. Taylor's Living Bible came out in 1971, complete with its signature green cover. Book design has come a long way since then.

*5. Knowing God - J. I. Packer. Packer was magisterial in substance, but adopted the tone of a fellow traveler. He convinced us that the study of God "is the most practical project anyone can engage in."

4. The God Who Is There - Francis A. Schaeffer. "This book, and its companion volumes, accomplished something startling and necessary: It made intellectual history a vital part of the evangelical mental landscape, opening up the worlds particularly of art and philosophy to a subculture that was suspicious and ignorant of both," writes John Stackhouse, professor of theology and culture at Regent College.

*3. Mere Christianity - C. S. Lewis. Anyone who has read this far into the list doesn't need any explanation about why Lewis's work of apologetics placed this high—right?

2. Understanding Church Growth - Donald Anderson McGavran. Although evangelicals have always been enamored with large and growing numbers (e.g., the Great Awakenings), it was Donald McGavran who gave us phrases such as "church growth" and "the homogeneous unit principle" and who made the endeavor a "science." Today, every pastor in North America has a decided opinion about whether or how much he or she buys into church-growth principles.

1. Prayer: Conversing With God - Rosalind Rinker. In the 1950s, evangelical prayer was characterized by Elizabethan wouldsts and shouldsts. Prayer meetings were often little more than a series of formal prayer speeches. Then Rosalind Rinker taught us something revolutionary: Prayer is a conversation with God. The idea took hold, sometimes too much (e.g., "Lord, we just really wanna …"). But today evangelicals assume that casual, colloquial, intimate prayer is the most authentic way to pray.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Troubles of T.O.

The continuing saga of Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens has taken a weird turn this week. If you aren't familiar with all the details of what has happened recently, you can catch up here. It seems that on Tuesday night, T.O. took too many painkillers that he had been given to help with his broken hand. Whether he did so intentionally or by accident is what the debate is about.

Terrell insists that it was an accident, but the police report seems to indicate that it was a suicide attempt. I can't really say whether it was intentional or not. I don't know the man, nor all the circumstances surrounding the event. But I can say that I would not be surprised at all if Owens had, in fact, tried to take his own life.

Why would I say something like that? Even if you've only been a casual observer of the NFL in recent years, you know that Terrell Owens has been the most talked about player in the league. From his clash with teammates and coaches in San Francisco to his short and full-of-controversy run to the Super Bowl in Philadelphia, T.O. made headlines all the time. Why? Because he is a tremendous talent and arguably the best wide receiver in football. And now with his off-season signing with the Cowboys, the intensity has increased. Because he is so good, people care what is going on with him. And because people pay attention, he milks it for all its worth.

Like a five-year old that acts up to get attention from a distracted parent, Owens continues to do the out-of-the-ordinary in order to keep the attention of the media and the public. His stunts have become legendary -- self-adulation on the Dallas Cowboys star, pulling the Sharpie out of his sock on Monday Night Football, grabbing the pom poms from a cheerleader, doing shirtless sit-ups during a press conference at his home, and on and on.

When T.O. pulls one of his stunts, many football fans see a selfish, self-absorbed millionaire athlete that demonstrates the worst of professional athletics. What I see is a scared little boy that was raised by a harsh grandmother that would hardly let him out of the house and a little kid that was made fun of by classmates because of his dark skin. His antics are a cry for attention, affirmation and love. The only reason anybody cares is because he catches passes and scores touchdowns.

The great tragedy is that there are millions of little "T.O.'s" growing up in America today that are not getting the affection that a child needs. For those that aren't able to run a 4.3 40 or dunk a basketball, there is no one to help in their development. So they look to a gang or to multiple sexual partners or to working for some local hood slingin' rock (that's drug dealing, for the uneducated). If what happened with Terrell was genuinely a suicide attempt, it wasn't really that. It was a cry for help. He just wants to be loved. To put it bluntly, the man needs Jesus. I know that he has a friendship with Deion Sanders, who became a Christian several years ago himself. Hopefully, Deion (or someone else) will share the hope and love that is found in Christ.

His publicist, Kim Etheredge, had this brilliant take on why he couldn't have attempted to take his life:

"Terrell has 25 million reasons why he should be alive," Etheredge said."
She was alluding to his contract with the Cowboys. As any intelligent person knows, money does not buy happiness nor does it give us a reason to live. I hope Terrell will learn that soon.

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Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Office

Lori and I got introduced to NBC's hilarious comedy, The Office, this past year. The show's dry and sarcastic sense of humor leaves us laughing during each episode. Here's a compilation of some funny clips from the show, mostly of a misguided "Diversity Day" training at the office...

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Survivor's Social Experiment

A favorite television show of mine, CBS's Survivor, has entered into unchartered territory in the land of reality television. For the first time in its thirteen seasons, the tribes have been divided by racial lines. There are twenty contestants overall, with five initially on each tribe. The tribes are comprised of Asian Americans, African Americans, Caucasian Americans, and Hispanic Americans. With its decision to divide the tribes based on race, CBS and the show's mastermind, Mark Burnett, have caused quite a firestorm of opinons and judgments from the general public and from mainstream media.

As a longtime watcher of Survivor (Lori and I have religiously watched every season), I have always been aware of the lack of American ethnic minorities on the show. The average season has 16 or 18 contestants with about two African Americans, one Hispanic or Asian American and the rest are white. I have never heard anyone in the mainstream media bemoan this reality. Ethnic minority participants on the show have always had to adjust to the white majority every season and this seems to be okay to many people. There have been a number of tribes that have been exclusively white on the show, but because this was done "unintentionally" it is often ignored. I think it's pretty cool that there is finally a very diverse cast on the show. There have never been more than a couple African Americans in any given season and there have hardly been any Asian or Hispanic contestants at all!

Now that a season is actually made up of 75% of people of color, the mainstream media doesn't like it. Many feel that somehow this will contribute to stereotypes regarding the various ethnic groups. I'm sorry, but Survivor has been doing this for years. The lazy black man, the argumentative black woman, the hot-tempered Hispanic woman, the close-minded Christian...these are all stereotypes that have been demonstrated on Survivor. I think that people actually being on a tribe with people of similar backgrounds will help with how other people on the show view them. They won't be misunderstood as much, will not have to be defending their perspective or values all the time and won't feel that they are "representing their people" as much to fellow tribesmates.

However, the reality is that people do talk and act differently among their own people than how they act around others of different ethnicities. White people tend to think that how we act in any setting is normal and that other cultures are somehow weird or different. So when you have a handful of Asians or blacks being televised with their guard down, the general public may hear things that they typically wouldn't. Without proper context this can lead to wrong assumptions or stereotypes and this does concern me. "White America" may unfairly judge some of the people on the show because they've never interacted with ethnic minorities when they aren't in the minority. Trust me... all of us act differently when we are with those of the same culture than when we are around those of a different cultural background.

Any time segregation exists nowadays, people rise up in anger. But there is a major difference between forced segregation and that of choice. For instance, back in the day of Jim Crow, African Americans were not allowed by law to go to certain schools, churches or certain public places. Some restaurants had signs that said "No dogs or Mexicans." This is obviously bad. But when, for example, a Korean American wants to go to a Korean-speaking church, an African American wants to attend a historically black college, or a Cuban American wants to live in a predominately Hispanic neighborhood, then I don't see a problem with this. The reason is because people of other ethnicities can still go to that church, attend that college or live in that neighborhood if they so choose. Some complain about historically black colleges, for example. But if a white person wants to attend one of these institutions, they can. No one will stop them.

Whether people want to admit it or not, we still live in a very segregated society. Eleven o'clock on Sunday morning is not the most segregated hour of the week. Every day is. Most Americans still live in neighborhoods with people that look like them, attend churches of people that talk like them and go to schools where they are the majority. This season of Survivor is merely reflecting the reality that people of color don't have to operate in white dominated settings. I, for one, I'm looking forward to seeing how the white contestants on the show do once the tribes merge and they have to adjust to being in the minority. It should be fun to watch.

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Friday, September 08, 2006

Why God Created Culture

As part of the hermeneutics and homiletics seminary classes I took this summer, I had the privilege of spending four weeks pouring over a single passage of Scripture - Genesis 11:1-9. The account of the Tower of Babel is told in this passage and I studied it thoroughly. As part of my class assignments, I wrote a paper dealing with the textual, literary and historical contexts of this portion of Scripture and I also prepared a Bible study on it and gave a message. We had the option of selecting from four different passages and I had a couple of primary reasons why I selected this one. First, we were required to find the Fallen Condition Focus in our passage (that is, the common fallen trait that we as contemporary readers share with those in the original audience) and how Jesus answers this condition. I thought it would be a challenge to choose an Old Testament passage where Christ isn't explicitly mentioned. Second, the Tower of Babel deals with culture, primarily language, and different people groups. Since this area impacts my ministry directly, I thought it would be good to learn more about Babel.

One of the biggest things that I learned from the passage is that those that argue that culture is bad and resulted from God's judgment at Babel are misguided. Actually, God had given clear instructions to Noah and his sons after the flood that they were to "multiply and fill the earth." God did not command them to stay in one place, but instructed them to fill the earth. They disobeyed at Babel. They gathered together, sought to make a name for themselves and make themselves bigger than God. He confused their languages and scattered them over the face of the earth.

God's plan from the very beginning has always been to make his name known throughout the whole earth. While it might appear that culture and language differences may ultimately make this too difficult, this is not true. Not only has God blessed each of our own cultures with uniqueness that can bless others, but he uses our differences for his glory. You see, he scattered the people and confused their language at Babel, but he used the differences in languages and culture for his own glory later on in Scripture (e.g. look at Acts 2:1-12) and will use these differences for his glory in our future (Revelation 7:9-10). God uses our cultures to speed up his plans and depend on him more frequently.

I came across this great article the other day that talks about some of these very things. The article is written by Orlando Crespo, the director of LeFe, the Hispanic ministry of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Not only does his commentary on the Tower of Babel coincide with what I have learned about it, but his perspective of culture in the Body of Christ is quite valuable.

I sat in a discussion not too long ago with some church leaders and they talked about their desire to be a more diverse church. One of the men in the room mentioned how he wanted to be welcoming enough so that ethnic minorities could see themselves becoming "one of us." I believe that his heart was in the right place in that what he really wanted to say was that those that weren't white could make this church their church home. But I hope that this church never tries to turn their members of color into "one of us" -- middle-class, white suburbanites.

Any church or ministry that truly desires to be diverse needs to acknowledge, recognize and value our cultural differences. It means that people can be themselves, their values can be respected and embraced, and that they aren't expected to become like someone else in order to hear the gospel or participate as a member of the Body of Christ. How God intends us to function is to bring our whole selves to the table -- the good and the bad -- and learn to work together for his glory. It's what I Corinthians 12 is all about. When we get to the point that we can appreciate the gifts of others, have a proper perspective on our own gifts and learn how it all meshes together, then I think we're getting closer to the heart of God.

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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Who Am I To Judge?

A couple of recent news events has brought to my attention how easily it is to judge others when certain aspects of their lives become public. The most obvious high-profile example is from a few weeks ago when Mel Gibson's had a little run-in with some police officers. His drunken rant after being pulled over made headlines for days after it happened and has led many of us to determine, even when we don't know the man, whether he is anti-semitic or just an overall jerk.

Most recently the case of CNN reporter Kyra Phillips has been a hot topic in the news. While a video clip of President Bush commenting on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina was playing, Phillips made a little trip to the ladies room. Unfortunately for her, her microphone was still live and her conversation with a friend in the bathroom was broadcast to millions of viewers. Though her comments about her husband were positive, she did have some disparging things to say about her sister-in-law. We see things like this happen to Phillips or Gibson and we ask ourselves, "How could they do things like that!?"

I frequently find myself in the position of judge over others while engaging in one of my favorite pastimes -- reality TV. Whether it is a competition-based show or cameras following families around, I often find that I am judging how others act. I judge how they look, their intelligence, their discipline, their ability to get along with others, whether they are nice to people, whether they say stupid stuff, how they do their hair, what kind of morals they have and the list goes on and on. If I'm honest with myself, I think one of the reasons I enjoy watching reality TV or even picking up a People magazine from time to time to read the latest celebrity gossip is so that I can feel better about myself. Maybe if others' lives are so messed up and they act so stupid, then maybe I'm not so bad. My smug self-righteousness kicks in and I feel "better than" those I watch on T.V. or read about magazines.

But I have to wonder that if I were a famous movie star or professional athlete or even a well-known preacher if my actions would hold up under public scrutiny. What if my every word was put into print or captured on video for all to see? What if there were cameras throughout my house recording every time I was impatient with my kids or didn't serve my wife? What if I was on a reality show and you saw that I don't always act like a "professional" Christian should? Would you look at me as less than you or would you see my humanity?

I don't think that wrong behavior needs to be winked at or that we need to turn a blind eye to sinful actions. But remember what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount,
"Do not judge or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."
If the police wrote a report up everytime I said mean and hateful things about someone different than me or a microphone picked up my casual comments when my guard was down, I may think twice before passing judgment on others. Jesus told us that we would be judged with the same measure that we judge others. And God's standard for judgment is different than ours for:
"The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, bu the Lord looks at the heart." ~ I Samuel 16:7b
Since we can't really look into the hearts of others, we probably need to be careful about rushing to judgment. We can hold others to a high standard, but we should remember that the same standard that we put upon them will be put upon us. We can judge others for their cursing, but God will judge us for our gossip (they both deal with the tongue). We can judge others for their sexual immorality, but God will judge us for our gluttony (they both deal with the body). We can judge others for their racism, but God will judge us for our Pharisaism (both deal with pride). All of our sin deals with the heart and only Jesus can change that. We can want others to conform to how we think they should act, but God only transforms the human heart.

"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."
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Sunday, August 13, 2006

Another Visit to New Orleans

I was able to spend a couple of days in New Orleans this past week with the Campus Crusade staff team and interns that have moved there recently in order to minister to the students of the city. My trip had some unexpected happenings since I left on Thursday morning, shortly after the terrorist threat in London caused the security at airports everywhere to get stepped up. It's amazing how worked up people can get over not being able to take their toothpaste and hand lotion with them!

My flight out of Orlando actually wasn't too bad, but my return flight connected in Miami and that didn't go so well. Not only was our flight delayed for an hour because it was late getting there, but after having boarded and being seated on the plane for about a half-hour, we were told that maintenance could not repair a blockage in the airplane lavatory. My guess is it wasn't a tube of toothpaste that was blocking up the toilet. So we had to de-board and get on another plane. I was supposed to get home at 10:30 p.m. Friday and ended up getting back after 2 a.m. Saturday. But I was grateful to be home.

Back to the New Orleans trip... Having not had a Campus Crusade staff team in the city for quite sometime, a group of brave souls have committed to give at least a year of their lives to help rebuild the city and rebuild the lives of its residents. One of the neat things about the New Orleans team is that is really two teams in one. There is a seven person campus team that will ministering to the students in New Orleans and then there is an eleven person intern relief team that will be primarily helping to gut houses and meet the physical needs of residents throughout the area. I think this is a great demonstration of Good News and Good Deeds working hand-in-hand.

I had visited them to do some training with the team as they prepare for the school year to begin. The makeup of the team is predominately white, so we talked about some of the issues they will encounter in doing cross-cultural ministry in the predominately African American environments that they'd be working in and how to practically live out racial reconciliation. I appreciated their openness to examine what can often be painful issues to discuss and their willingness to examine and prepare their own hearts. I truly admire the commitment of these missionaries to leave their homes and families to live among the residents of New Orleans. Even with the uncertainty of whether future hurricanes may hit the city again, they have willingly moved to New Orleans to be the hands and feet of Christ to those who are looking for hope.

I was encouraged by the progress that is happening in New Orleans. Even since my last visit in May, I am beginning to see improvement. There is work going on everywhere and it's obvious that there are more people that have moved back into the city. More and more businesses are re-opened, although not all of them have. At the end of the training with the team, we had planned to go to a local soul food restaurant of one of the interns, Antonio, who is a recent graduate of Xavier University. However, all the restaurants that he knew of were still closed. We eventually found a great restaurant where we all had a great lunch together. I had some fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, cornbread, fried okra and some sweet tea.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with our staff and interns and ask you to continue to pray for them and the people of New Orleans. For most of us, Hurricane Katrina is a distant memory and we go on about our lives in a normal fashion. But for the people of New Orleans, Katrina is still very much a reality and many are still seeking to rebuild their lives. I'm sure that they would appreciate your faithful prayers.

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

MySpace for Christians?

Just read this piece from Vanessa Mendenhall, in USA Today's Generation Next blog. The blog examines the interests, views and opinions of America's 42 million 16-25 year olds and can be very insightful for those of us that are youth pastors and campus ministers. Check out this article on Christian networking communities:

"The media world has been abuzz this year over the predatory risks facing teens on social-networking sites, such as MySpace and Facebook - prompting Gen-Y U radio hosts to refer to MySpace (in jest) as the “Gateway to Molestation.” A Monday story in the Los Angeles Times suggests that September will bring a new round of online sexual-predator legislation. But what if social-networking sites open not only the fiery gates of hell, but also the gates of heaven?

In the rather niche world of Christian television programming, teens can choose to watch Christian reality shows and Christ-inspired animation, or Christian hip-hop and rock music videos. So it was only logical that the wildly popular framework of personal profiles and user-generated content would be brought into the fold. On, a site sponsored by the Trinity Broadcasting Network, teens are “working together to save a generation.” How? By building personal profiles, networking online and blogging about their battles to convert the “unchurched” and avoid corrosive music and media.

On this new MySpace-esque site, friends are known as “Trench-mates,” comments are “Battle Shouts” and one’s notebook is a “Battle Cry Blog.” Yet, despite this deft
harnessing of teen-popular technology, many of the “Warrior Disciplines” and “Battle Tactics” suggested by the site point toward a distrust of technology. For instance, two declarations that users are encouraged to make include: “I will commit to only using my computer for God’s glory” and “I will commit to spending time in the Word before I watch TV or go on line.”

Browsing the profiles, one also notices that many members write their own “Warrior Disciplines.” In Virginia Beach, Va., Gideon, an African-American Battle Cry user made the commitment that “me and the Holy Spirit will pray with at least one youth every day.” A Caucasian teen who goes by the screen name SuperDog87 in Picayune, Miss., rewrote the suggested commitment to declare: “I will be intentional about using my technology gadgets to further my personal Battle Cry and His cause.” A girl in Dallas going by the screen name ChurchPunk89, however, adopted a suggested Warrior Discipline, saying, “I will recommit to be submissive to my parents.” So far the site boasts 61,109 Battle Cry Coalition members …”and growing.”


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Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Purpose of the Church

I have been thinking a lot recently about what a church is and what it means to be the Church. The Church is the worldwide body of believers, whereas the church is the local expression of that body. Both hold significance and both are important. John Piper has said that "missions exists because worship does not." Think about that for a second... The goal of the church is not necessarily evangelism (although that is a big part of it), but it is worship. We all "do church" in different ways. Some of us meet in old buildings with ministers who wear robes and sing from hymnals and this is church. Some of us meet in rented schools and have pastors that don't wear ties and this is church. And a growing number of people meet with a small number of others in their homes for prayer, Bible reading and expression of the gospel. And this is church.
I think so much of how we define church has to do with what we were brought up with. Unfortunately, some of what we use as a definition of what constitutes a real church has much more to do with tradition than biblical authority. There are people who say that people have to dress up to make it church. Others think a pipe organ makes it a church. Many people think that an ordained minister has to be leading the way or it's not really church. Or maybe that the fellowship has to be part of an "official" denomination. Funny, but Scripture doesn't place any of these requirements on what makes a church a church.
What Scripture seems to indicate is that when members of Christ's body gather together (Jesus said when two or more are gathered) then God is in their midst. So a church is not a building. It is people who love Jesus and mutually commit to follow Him. Our aim as the Church is to worship Almighty God and introduce others to our great Creator so that they can worship Him as well. Church does not exist to be a social club. Church does not exist as a place for us to make business connections. Church does not exist so that we can push our political viewpoints tax-free.
Church exists for us to meet with God, to meet with His people and to have a place to invite others to do the same. It's troubling to see when God's house (whether that's a church building, a schoolroom, a rec room, a living room or a coffeehouse) is defiled by using it for reasons other than worship. I came across this article recently and what I read really bothered me. While I have no problem with megachurches in general, large churches can see a subtle slip into creating a good show for people rather than creating a true environment of worship. Of course, small churches can fall into the same trap (they're just not affecting as many people). And to bring it closer to home, the ministry that I'm apart of, Campus Crusade, can also go down this road as we can spend way too much time, energy, and money on trying to have the best band, the sharpest videos and the funniest skits at our weekly meetings while forgetting what our real purpose is.
Please read the article and let me know your thoughts on whether you think this example is what you think the church should be. I have been fortunate to have been part of some great church communities and I'd appreciate hearing your examples also of churches that you've been a part of that have done a good job of living out our primary calling.

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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Childhood Memories, Baseball & Being a Dad

Last night Lori and I had the privilege in participating in a significant rite of passage for children -- their first major league baseball game! We were able to take Brennan and Leah over to St. Petersburg to see the Detroit Tigers take on the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. We left Jason with some friends for the evening because, though we love him dearly, we didn't think that our little two year old would sit still through a nine inning baseball game. It was probably a wise decision. We had a great time (even though the Tigers lost 7-3) and it was quite fulfilling to know that our kids were having a fun time.

The role of being a parent is not always an easy one. Though there are thousands of books written on the topic of parenting and there are always people willing to offer their advice on parenting, you always wonder if the job you're doing as a dad (or a mom) is good enough. Are you messing your kids up for the rest of their life? Are your bad habits and sin patterns rubbing off on your little ones, inevitably scarring them for life? You also ask yourself, "What kind of memories am I helping to make for my children?"

Fortunately, I think we made some good memories with Brennan and Leah last night. Even though they are only six and five years old, respectively, chances are that they will remember this evening for the rest of their lives. It was their very first major league baseball game. They probably won't forget it. They'll remember getting to see the players in person that up until that point they had only been able to see on T.V. They'll remember the hot dogs and cotton candy. Brennan will remember anxiously waiting in his seat with his ball glove on for a foul ball to come our way (sorry it didn't happen, buddy). And Leah will remember her favorite part of the game being the "Kissing Cam." That's when the Jumbotron shows kissing couples at the game. Five years old and the girl is already a hopeless romantic.

But most of all, I hope that our kids will remember spending time with their mom and dad doing something fun. I hope Brennan remembers us sitting in our seats and me explaining the intricacies of the game, like why a pitcher tries to pick-off a runner or why Dmitri Young could afford to lose some weight so that he can make the stretch at first base. I think of the many young boys that don't get the chance to go to a ball game with their dad because he's not in their lives. How sad.

I'm thankful that I have positive memories of time with my dad going to ball games at Tiger Stadium when I was a kid. Of getting hot dogs with a slap of mustard on 'em and munching on some Cracker Jacks. Of sitting in obstructed view seats at the old stadium. Of watching my favorites Trammell and Whitaker turn another double play or Lance Parrish hitting a home run. Is there anything more American than a father and son taking in a baseball game together? I hope that in the many memories that will form in my children's minds through the course of their years, I hope that the memory of last night will be as good as the memory that I will have of it.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Can our Politics Get in the Way of the Gospel?

The new church plant that Lori and I are a part of here in Orlando, Lake Baldwin Church, is seeking to create what our pastor, Mike Tilley, calls a "gospel culture." This means that the gospel is not only for non-Christians, but it is also for those of us that are already believers in Christ. Once we initially place our faith in Christ for the forgiveness of our sins does not mean that we no longer need the gospel. The good news of Jesus should permeate our lives everyday. We are still sinners in need of a Savior -- just because the penalty of those sins has been forgiven does not mean we still don't need to experience the forgiveness of Christ.

Our church is currently going through Tim Keller's study on Galatians in order to help create this gospel culture (Lori is posting each week on that Sunday's lesson. Check out her most recent post here). One of the problems of the early church, which the book of Galatians so adequately addresses, was that some Jewish believers in Christ were expecting Gentiles who had come to Christ to become like them. That is, they were to become culturally Jewish. They were adding to the gospel and expecting these new Gentile converts to adhere to the Law. They were expecting them to believe and practice things that the gospel doesn't require.

Just like the early believers 2,000 years ago, we struggle with the same temptation to add to the gospel in order for people to become like us. Just a few weeks ago during some roundtable discussions after our Sunday morning service, we were having a conversation about what it is that we tend to add to the gospel in someone being a true believer in Christ. One of the gentlemen in my group, shared that he felt that if someone voted for a particular candidate (I won't mention the person here) that he would really question the sincerity of their faith. I was a bit taken aback as the facilitator of this discussion with this comment since...I had voted for the very individual that he mentioned.

Since this guy was being vulnerable with this admission, I didn't feel compelled to let him know that I had voted for the very person that he didn't like. But how do you think this made me feel? I'm leading this group and I'm sitting next to a guy that is fine with me now, but if I were to share with him my voting record, he would struggle with whether I was a Christian or not. Hearing his comment gave me an opportunity to live out this gospel culture that we emphasize -- for people to be real, to share their true feelings and not be judged for it. He shared how he really felt and I didn't need to blast him for it.

But do you ever feel the same way? Do you question someone's faith if they voted for George W. Bush? Or do you wonder about their spiritual walk if they voted for John Kerry? The funny thing is, I have a pretty diverse readership of this blog -- there are people that voted for both of these individuals and I don't question their spiritual maturity either way. Personally, I have trouble subscribing to the platform of either of the two major political parties in America because there are elements of both parties that I like and things that I don't like. You can read a previous post that I wrote on the separation of church and state here.

No matter what our political views may be, I think that it's essential that we do not add to or take away from the gospel due to our political preferences. America is very polarized right now when it comes to politics and we need to be wise about how we express our political viewpoints when around others. Because evangelical Christians are so perceived as being aligned with the right wing of the Republican party, a non-believer that is truly interested in learning more about Christ may shut off a person if their political opinions supersede their commitment to share the unadulterated gospel. Is it worth it to put that political bumper sticker on our minivan knowing that if our church parking lot is full of vehicles with the same stickers that some seekers may turn right around and never enter in?

Wes Haddaway, a pastor in Iowa, recently wrote an article addressing this all-important topic here. Why don't you take a moment to read it and I've love to hear your thoughts on it. We certainly need to be involved with the issues that are most on God's heart and do so in a way that does not hinder the spreading of His kingdom.

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Friday, July 21, 2006

Rocky Balboa (Rocky 6)

Yes, it is true. There actually is another Rocky movie coming out. The title is simply, "Rocky Balboa." Even though Sylvester Stallone is like 87 years old, ole Rocky will be fighting for the championship once again. I absolutely love Rockys I-IV, but V was a serious drop-off. I guess the sixth installment has to be an improvement from V, but this does seem a bit ridiculous. Of course, I will have to see it! I wonder how it'll turn out?

Here's the trailer...

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Changing a Culture

A year ago I attended a seminar that Dr. Henry Cloud was giving on parenting. Dr. Cloud has been tremendously influential in our ministry in helping our staff and students to understand how people grow in grace and truth over time and in areas like boundaries, adulthood, and in bonding with one another. During the question & answer time of the seminar, one of those in attendance (this was at a Campus Crusade staff conference) expressed frustration with some of the peer pressure she feels in raising her kids. As missionaries, there are certain expectations that are put upon us (either explicitly or implicitly) by churches, supporters and even other missionaries in how we choose to raise our children.

Within Campus Crusade I've seen this take place in areas like which schooling option we choose for our kids, what food we eat, how we dress, who we vote for and where we go to church. The particular pressure that this parent felt was for her children to also join the staff of Campus Crusade when they became adults. She felt like parents whose children also joined CCC staff were more favorably looked upon than those whose kids didn't. The vibe she was feeling was that you had done a good job raising your kids if they went into vocational ministry and that you were somehow a poor parent if they selected a "secular" profession.

Dr. Cloud's answer was quite intriguing. He essentially said that if that is in fact true as part of Crusade culture (and he wasn't certain that it was), then it was each of our responsibility to change our culture. As someone that is very familiar with our ministry, he admitted that although there are many positive values in "Crusade culture", there are some attitudes that he sees as potentially unhealthy. So if there is something that is a part of our culture that is not healthy, we need to confront it when it arises. If enough people address these issues as they arise and intentionally address them before they become part of the culture, then you will, in effect, change the culture.

I encountered one of these situations the other day when I felt impressed by God to help in changing our culture. For over 40 years, the Campus Ministry in the U.S. had operated under a single paradigm in regard to staff placement -- having a full staff team on a single campus. In the early nineties, this led us to have around 180-200 ministries throughout the country with about 9,000 students involved. In 1992, we made a major shift in our thinking and introduced the concept of catalytic ministry -- that is, instead of staff just being focused on a single campus, they could take on a scope of a whole city, state or states. By continuing to have our staffed campus strategy in place and adding to it a catalytic philosophy (as well as ethnic student and worldwide partnerships emphasized), we now are on approximately 1,300 campuses with over 55,000 students involved. To God be the glory!

With that all being said, even though we have changed our paradigm in how our staff work, there still exists a certain bias with our ministry. That bias is that staffed campus ministry is really the superior strategy and all others are a little bit less than ideal or, at worst, "not effective." One indicator of this bias is the terminology that some of our staff use when a staffed campus location transitions to a catalytic location -- that is, that there will no longer be a full-time staff team on that campus, but it will be student and volunteer led with full-time staff coaching and resourcing those leaders. When this shift happens, I have oftentimes heard it being referred to as "shutting down the campus" or "closing down the ministry."

Do you see the bias contained in that choice of wording?! It is assumed that this ministry is now somehow "less than" or even being shut down because students are now leading it instead of professional missionaries. Nothing could be further from the truth! Anyway, I was sitting in on a lecture this week when a national director within CCC used that phrase -- "they shut the ministry down" -- when describing a campus that was transitioning to a catalytic location. After letting his choice of wording sink in, I was reminded of Dr. Cloud's challenge to "change the culture." But different thoughts went through my head -- Was I being too sensitive? He didn't really mean anything by it, did He? Who am I to confront him?

Though a bit nervous about this, I felt I needed to bring it to this individual's attention. After his lecture was over, I approached him and introduced myself. I then proceeded to explain to him how his use of that phrase might be received negatively by some of our staff and what that terminology implies. I sought to be gracious with him and to his credit, he received my rebuke very humbly and graciously. He admitted that that probably isn't the best choice of words and that he would consider that in the future.

I could have very easily let this go, but when people continue to say or do things that offend others and nobody has the guts to bring this to their attention, then it will only result in frustration and discord. So often as Christians, instead of going to a person that does something that bothers us, we just talk about it to our friends. The problem doesn't get resolved, the person continues to commit this error over and over again and we sit back and watch it happen. I love the quote from Gandhi that addresses this, "Be the change you wish to see in the world." In order to change our culture, we need to stand up and change it. Not in a demanding, rude or arrogant way, but in graciousness we need to confront the injustice around us.

I also want to say that I put tremendous value on our staffed campus ministries. Many, many people have come to Christ over the years through this strategy and many people have been discipled and equipped for ministry as a result. Even as our ministry continues to grow and expand and focus on getting to those students and campuses that we've traditionally neglected, I hope that our staffed campuses continue to thrive and do what they do best -- winning, building and sending for God's glory. But we need to value everyone's contribution to the Great Commission and not look down upon those that have a different calling or place in the ministry. We are all part of the same family, yet we have different roles. Let's never forget that.

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Friday, July 14, 2006

Update on the Epic Project

I just received the following e-mail from Grace Yao & Adam Go, the directors of the Epic summer project in Hawaii. In case you are not aware, Epic is our ministry for Asian American college students. It seems that God is doing some great things in the hearts of students on the project this summer. Read on...

"The word ohana in Hawaiian means family in an extended sense. It emphasizes that family and friends are bound together and members must cooperate and remember one another. This past Sunday during our project “ohana” time, we experienced a true ohana when God show up and took the relationships on our project to a deeper level.

It began when we were asked to sit down in a large circle and share an emotion that we had been feeling during the week. Words such as lonely, isolated, homesick, awed & challenged were uttered from students’ mouths. Then one of the youngest female students on the project got up to share but began nervously laughing, giggling, curling up in the chair behind her, hiding her face in her hands. She was encouraged to speak, but it took what seemed like the longest time for her to express that what she had been feeling was inadequacy. Swallowed up by her emotions, she began to cry and other students came around her giving her hugs
and tissues.

This opened things up so that one of the next girls who shared, mentioned that she was hurt because she had gotten wind of other project students gossiping about her. She said she viewed us as an “ohana”, but yet she felt betrayed and backstabbed. What happened next was not only powerful but also truly beautiful. Time was opened up for anyone to share if they had a part in this, so one male student confessed that though he may not have deliberately taken part of the gossiping, he knew it was going on and hadn’t come to the girl’s defense. He asked for forgiveness for not protecting her as a brother and also not edifying her with his words.

Another student asked for forgiveness of this girl and another guy for talking about the both of them behind their backs and being part of this offense. We bowed our heads to pray and the male student who was offended got up and walked across the room to other student and gave him a huge hug that may have lasted 5 minutes straight. They both wept and something in the air broke. Students and staff were so moved that after we prayed everyone was hugging, crying, and putting their arms around one another for a long time. As one student commented later that night, God did something to open things up in the ohana and softened our hardened hearts. Coming from Asian families where many don’t experience environments of open communication and affirmation, we praise God for leading in His spirit to show us what true forgiveness and grace looks like in a community of believers!

As we step into the week where students are taking over staff roles, Adam and I are confident that when staff leave next Tuesday, these students will really take what we’ve started here to the next level. We had a huge celebration on Monday as we praised God for all that He’s been doing here through the project and then simulated a basketball lineup with music pumping and announced leadership roles for every student as they ran through the tunnel of people who were hi-fivin’ and cheering them on! The room was totally electric!

Our student Project Directors team consists of two guys (Sam Park from UC Davis and Jacob Kim from George Mason) and one girl (Amanda Sham from Penn State). It is especially exciting to see two Asian American guys lead as passivity amongst AA men has been so much a hindrance in times past. Please pray for this triad as they begin to move into leading this project. They are nervous and anxious but also challenged and excited for what is to come. Pray that they may be unified in one spirit and in one mind and heart. Please also pray that the transition of leadership roles for our 26 students will go smoothly.

In addition to the “student takeover” (as we’re calling it), students are launching local movements on campuses this week and continuing to lead people to Christ...daily. Epic students are bold, faithful, and connecting with many Hawaiian locals as they launch movements across the island. Thank you friends, for your support and encouragement as the sleeping giant continues to awaken!"

Press on in prayers,
Grace Yao & Adam Go

What is happening on the Epic project demonstrates what it can look like when Christian students walk in humility, live in community and trust God to reach others through them. It's so exciting to think of how God can use young people when they simply trust Him and walk by faith! Campus Crusade has students all over the world right now on summer projects just like the one in Hawaii. Please take a moment to pray for these students right now that God would produce personal growth in them and fruitfulness in their ministries.

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Thursday, July 06, 2006

Thoughts from John Piper

My assignment for this summer is to take four different seminary classes here in Orlando. Though the work is hard and the days are long, I am really enjoying my classes. I am just wrapping up my Hermeneutics (Biblical Interpretation) and Old Testament Survey classes and will begin Homiletics (Biblical Communication) and Systematic Theology next week. For my Biblical Interpretation class, we have been reading John Piper's book, Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, as a sort of devotional text each day.

My class meets in a large lecture hall and listens to a 45-50 minute lecture on that day's topic and then we break up into smaller workshop groups where we seek to immediately put into practice the skills we've just learned. It is in this smaller setting that we are covering Piper's book. As important as it is to have proper theology and doctrine and understanding of the Bible, it is most important that we love Jesus deeply. This small book helps us to get our hearts right each morning.

There are a number of Piper's thoughts that have especially struck me, so I've decided to list them here. This is just a selection of some great quotes from the book:
  • "When we see with our spiritual eyes, we see the truth and beauty and value of Jesus Christ for what they really are. Thus a blind person today may see Christ more clearly than many who have eyes."

  • "The deepest longing of the human heart is to know and enjoy the glory of God. We were made for this."

  • "Christ does not exist in order to make much of us. We exist in order to enjoy making more of him."

  • "Jesus himself - and all that God is for us in him - is our great reward, nothing less. Salvation is not mainly the forgiveness of sins, but mainly the fellowship of Jesus. Forgiveness gets everything out of the way so this can happen."

  • "Even if we are impressed with the scholarship of man and the achievements of scientific knowledge, let us not play the fool by trumpeting the wonder of these tiny chirps while ignoring the thunderclap of Christ's omniscience."

  • "Life is too short, too precious, too painful to waste on worldly bubbles that burst. Heaven is too great, hell is too horrible, eternity is too long that we should putter around on the porch of eternity."

  • "If Christ obliterated all devils and demons now (which he could do), his sheer power would be seen as glorious, but his superior beauty and worth would not shine as brightly as when humans renounce the promises of Satan and take pleasure in the greater glory of Christ."

  • "Satan is a defeated foe. He is disarmed. Christ has triumphed over him, not by putting him out of existence, but by letting him live and watch millions of saints find forgiveness for their sins and turn their back on Satan because of the greater glory of the grace of Christ."

  • "The glory of Jesus Christ is that he is always out of synch with the world and therefore always relevant for the world. If he fit nicely, he would be of little use. The effort to remake the Jesus of the Bible so that he fits the spirit of one generation makes him feeble in another. Better to let him be what he is, because it is often the offensive side of Jesus that we need most."

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