Tuesday, December 20, 2005

What does a Spiritual Movement Look Like?

Since Steve Douglass became the president of Campus Crusade for Christ a few years ago, there has been a phrase that he has used frequently to describe the role that CCC plays in partnering with local churches and ministries. It encapsulates what we're are trusting God for and how He might use our lives. It is this:
"Spiritual movements everywhere so that everyone knows someone who truly follows Jesus"
Mr. Douglass goes on to say this,
"When the phrase "movements everywhere" was given, it was in the context of a movement of spiritual multiplication. In other words, this movement is when a small group of true followers of Jesus band together to win, build, and send in the power of the Holy Spirit. Individually, and as a group, they "own" the Great Commission and, as a result, gladly volunteer their time. They are intrinsically motivated and intentionally in doing ministry - not needing ongoing motivation by staff members"
Doesn't that get you excited? To dream that every single person on the planet would have at least one person in their life that is radically committed to following Christ and sharing His love with others is pretty exciting. That idea greatly motivates me to want to look around to see where God is working and to join Him in His work. But, practically speaking, what do these spiritual movements look like? How does this play out in a neighborhood, in a family, on a campus or in a church? I have one example to share...

Though I grew up in a solid church and in a Christian home, it wasn't until my sophomore year at Central Michigan University that I began to really follow Jesus. I think a significant reason that I grew so tremendously in my faith (and, subsequently, led to what I've been doing with my life) was my encounter with a movement of believers that were radically committed to following Jesus. I can vividly remember the first time I encountered this group of individuals. It was at a meeting called "College Life" and there were eight people in the room (and three were tuning their guitars for the meeting). There wasn't a whole lot of people there, but things were different about these people and it made me want to spend more time with them.

What I experienced with this group of people was just not something that I had previously been a part of with people my age. There was sincere love for one another, a real commitment to prayer, and a vision to tell others about Jesus. Though the numbers were not large (there were only about 25 students involved by the time I graduated), there was a deep and abiding commitment to following Jesus.

My involvement with these individuals deepened and I began to realize I was participating in a real movement. We gathered several times a week at 7 a.m. to pray for our campus and world (which is not easy to do in sub-freezing Michigan winters). We consistently shared our faith in Christ with our peers. We were a part of one-on-one and small group discipleship. And in the three years I was involved with CCC at CMU, we had 14 students participate in ten-week summer mission projects. Considering we only had around 20 students involved each year, that's not too shabby.

But the true effectiveness of this movement can be measured by what happened after we graduated. The movement did triple in size in the subsequent years after I left, but look at how God is using us now. Dan is reaching out to college students in Detroit; Andy, Gina and Wendy are planting a church in Grand Rapids; Matt is ministering to soldiers in Germany; Lorena is sharing God's love with children in Ecuador; Laurie is leading youth at a new church in New Zealand; Tracy is telling students about Jesus in a communist country in Asia; I help to launch spiritual movements among ethnic students across the U.S.; and there are many others that went before me and came after me who are leading in their churches, families and communities.

You see, it doesn't take hundreds of people for God to do something special (Remember, Jesus started with only twelve). At CMU, we didn't even have any full-time staff working with us. Just a staff coach and a couple of volunteers. All that it takes is a small group of believers, filled with the Holy Spirit, who trust God to use them to touch the world. I think that's what we did during my time at CMU. I really don't think any of us were that gifted or special. We were just naive enough to take God at His Word and ask Him to give us a broader vision than the little town and cities that we grew up in. And He did.

What I experienced is what so many young people are crying out for today. They're tired of being entertained. They want to experience authenticity and a God who is personally involved in their lives. They're not going to be convinced of the Christian faith by someone giving them a book on apologetics. The question they're asking is, "Does it make a difference?!?! They're shouting, "Show me by your life that Jesus is real!"

I'm grateful that I have been able to be part of movements of people that want to see Jesus real in their lives and to see Him come alive in the lives of others. We define a movement as 5 people filled with the Holy Spirit passionate about reaching a specific group of people for Christ. I trust that if you're not part of this type of movement right now that God will lead you to others that have similar passions. And the world won't be the same because of it.

George Barna Cites Current Religious Trends

After studying the results of interviews with thousands of people conducted by his company during the past 12 months, best-selling author and internationally respected researcher George Barna described what he felt were the eight most significant religious trends identified in his firm’s studies. The California-based author of nearly 40 books about spirituality and morality in America listed four trends related to local churches and four trends concerning the spiritual lives of the American people. Read the full story here.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Member Culture or Missionary Culture?

I've been doing a lot of reading recently on organic and spontaneous growth among the churches and ministries of the world and it has me thinking a lot about the state of the American church. If we're honest with ourselves, we can probably say that it doesn't seem as though some of our well-intentioned efforts are really making much of a difference in our communities. Though we have huge churches in every major city of America, how many of us can honestly say that those communities look radically different than if those churches weren't present?

It seems that one of the reasons that this may be so is that we have created a country club environment in many of our churches. Now don't get me wrong, there are many solid churches that are doing some great things. But wouldn't we have to agree that most of the activities that our churches sponsor are really for those that are members of our "club?" Do our prayer requests primarily involve those already in the church or those outside of it? Does our giving to the church primarily go to activities within the church walls or outside the church walls? Not only that, but do most of the activities happen within the church's walls or outside in the community?

It seems that our members pay their dues, show up to club meetings when convenient and expect certain services to be provided to them. If we don't like the music played in the services, the color of the carpet in the foyer (foyer - a word we only use in the club), or if the club chairman (pastor) doesn't wear a tie, we just pick up our stuff and go find another club. We (and I include myself here) tend to think about what our preferences are rather than what might be most effective in reach our communities and our campuses.

Reggie McNeal, in his book The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church, outlines the difference between having a "Member Culture" vs. having a "Missionary Culture" within a ministry. He mentions six key resources for spiritual leaders (prayer, people, time, money, facilities, and technology) and how a membership culture and a missionary culture would view these differently. [For my purposes, I've replaced church or movement with "club" to emphasize the point.]

Member - prays for current members and "club" needs
Missionary - prays for the unchurched and outreach efforts

Member - recruits other members into "club" activities
Missionary - deploys others into the community

Member - finds time for "club" activities
Missionary - creates time for the expression of the ministry's mission

Member - raises money for "club" activities
Missionary - channels money to mission initiatives

Member - maintains the clubhouse
Missionary - seeks ways to move out into the community

Member - supports the "club's" existing ministries
Missionary - creates ministry opportunities in the world.

It's good to examine where are energies are being expended and who it is that we're really ministering to. It's seems like we erect these big, beautiful buildings out in the suburbs and shout to people that aren't listening, "Come join us -- we're really cool!" Maybe we should change our approach to go where the people are, meet them where they're at, and truly minister to their needs. We might actually have to do ministry outside of our church's four walls and instead of expecting people to come to us, maybe we need to go to them. That means have more Bible studies in Starbucks. It means doing more baptisms at the beach. It means service projects in needy communities (and not expecting people without cars to drive half an hour to hear about Jesus). It's the approach that Jesus took and I'm sure that He would honor our faithfulness in doing the same.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Campus Crusade segment on "Good Morning America"

ABC's morning show, Good Morning America, is going to be having a segment tomorrow morning, Tuesday, December 6th, entitled "Keeping the Faith on Campus." The story revolves around a student who is brought up in a church-going family, but struggles with the temptations of college life. After finding the party scene lacking in fulfillment, she recommits to her faith.

The piece will feature some practical do's and don'ts for parents. There will be footage of the student at her sorority house, at a Bible study, at church and a Campus Crusade weekly meeting. In addition, a Campus Crusade staff member will be interviewed about our ministry.

So check out Good Morning America tomorrow morning or tape it if you'll be at work. You can check your local channel listings for time and channel.

Update: You can read the transcript of this broadcast here.

Monday, November 28, 2005

A Crisis in Church Leadership

I recently received a newsletter from a ministerial association that I'm a member of that contained some startling statistics. Compiled from sources like Focus on the Family, Ministries Today, Charisma Magazine, Christianity Today and others, these numbers present an unsettling reality for many of our churches and its pastors.
  • 1,500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their church.
  • 4,000 new churches are planted each year; over 7,000 churches close each year.
  • 50% of pastors' marriages will end in divorce.
  • 80% of pastors surveyed spend less than 15 minutes each day in prayer
  • 70% said the only time they spend studying the Word is when they are preparing their sermon.
  • 38% said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.
  • 33% of those surveyed look at pornography on-line more than once a month.
  • 80% of pastors' spouses feel their spouse is overworked.
  • 90% said the hardest thing about ministry is dealing with uncooperative people.
  • 80% of pastors' spouses wish their spouse would choose another profession.

I don't know about you, but these numbers concern me greatly. There could be any number of reasons why these realities are present, but I would like to offer one perspective. Oftentimes, there can be an overemphasis in Christian circles placed on outward gifts or abilities. As a result, those that are gifted orators, have natural leadership abilities, or are blessed with a good singing voice get encouraged at a young age to pursue vocational ministry. At times there seems to be little focus placed on their inward, spiritual development and Christ-like qualities like servanthood, humility and sacrifice are de-emphasized.

More important than anything else, the Christian worker must have a strong personal walk with Christ. They need to spend daily time in the Word, have a vital prayer life, have others hold them accountable and deal with their sin on a moment-by-moment basis. When these critical disciplines are not present, the slide into spiritual compromise comes swiftly. When we place higher importance on our competence in ministry rather than the character within, we open ourselves to pride, self-importance and self-reliance.

I've met too many young people that have been placed into significant leadership positions within their church without anyone ever discussing with them their personal development and growth. As one who evaluates applicants wishing to join our ministry full-time, I frequently have conversations with young adults who have significant areas of sin in their lives that their pastors and spiritual leaders do not know about. The sad reality is that if the numbers listed above are true, many of these pastors deal with these same issues.

Quite frankly, the ministry I work with places little importance on how well a new applicant can share their faith, preach the Word or lead a Bible study. As long as they're open to learning how to do these things, they can easily be learned through proper training. But an individual that lacks character or that places little importance on their spiritual walk and personal development...that's much harder to teach. Too many of us have a relationship with our ministry instead of a relationship with God and we set ourselves up for failure and disqualification from ministry.

All of us in vocational Christian ministry are vulnerable to any of the issues listed above. It is only through God's grace and our obedience to walk by faith in Him that we can walk with God for a lifetime. May I encourage you right now to pray for your pastor and that God would continue to soften his/her heart and that their relationship with Jesus would be the utmost priority in their lives. Pray that they would deal with the sin in their lives on a regular basis and that God would surround them with people that would encourage and strengthen them.

In fact, why don't you take a moment right now to send an e-mail or write a note to your pastor to them know how much you appreciate them and that you're praying for them? I know they'll appreciate it and hopefully it will help them to stay in ministry for the long-haul instead of becoming another statistic.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

A Thanksgiving Message

My childhood memories of Thanksgiving are pleasant ones. I think of my family -- aunts and uncles and cousins -- all cramming into my grandparents little house. I think of succulent turkey, Stovetop stuffing, pecan pie, my Gramma's deviled eggs, and my Grandpa's French onion soup. I think of the Detroit Lions, our hometown team, getting to play on national t.v. so that everyone in the country could see how pathetic they were.

The pleasant aromas wafting from the kitchen and the laughter experienced as family jokes are shared are common to many of us when we think of Thanksgiving. But when you get down to it, what is Thanksgiving about? Is it really just about turkey and watching the Lions blow a fourth quarter lead? Or is it something more? What are we really giving thanks for and, more importantly, to whom is that thanks directed?

Just last night I watched a little bit of the American Music Awards. As is common practice at many awards shows, many of the winners gave thanks to God "who made it all possible." And just what did He make possible? For them to shake their booty in videos watched by pre-teens on MTV and BET? For them to make millions of dollars so that they can buy homes and cars and jewelry while many live below the poverty line? When we give thanks to God, shouldn't there also be something in our lives that reflects that thanksgiving? Or is it really just enough to give thanks verbally though we live our lives any which way we choose?

II Corinthians 9:10-12 has this to say about thanksgiving:

"Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God's people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God."
Did you catch what it says there? When we are generous towards others we are also expressing our thanks to God. Admittedly, it can be hard to show God that we're grateful for all he has done for us. Afterall, we can't see Him and He really doesn't need anything we can give. So, is a short prayer before a gluttonous feast the fourth Thursday of each November really enough? How can we really demonstrate to God our thanks to Him?

I think that II Corinthians 9:12 gives us the key. By being generous towards others -- through our time, our talents and our treasures -- we are showing our thanks to God. I think that God takes great joy when we serve others in His name. It could be leaving a nice tip for a waitress that is having a rough day. It could be serving your spouse or roommate by cleaning up the house when they're not expecting it. Or maybe you take the initiative to share with a friend how they can know God in a personal way.

I'm fairly convinced that God is most pleased with us when we demonstrate our thanks to Him through our service to others. I just don't think that He is that impressed with our public thanks to Him when our private lives are full of selfishness and greed. Our true thanks to Him is displayed through a life of selflessness and humility (see Philippians 2:1-13).

In light of all that God has done for us, let's seek to demonstrate our gratefulness this Thanksgiving through serving others. Extend some grace to that cousin that usually gets on your nerves. Give a few bucks to that uncle that's just getting back on his feet. Help your Gramma out in the kitchen. And you can help me out by praying for a Lions win...they certainly can use it :)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

What to do with Harry Potter?

The new Harry Potter movie, Goblet of Fire, opens this Friday and the release of yet another Potter movie has once again stirred the debate of what Christians are to do with this literary and cinematic success. As one who has read each of the Potter books and seen each of the movies, I'd like to offer a perspective on it.

As Christians, there are a couple roads that we can take when it comes to secular literature, films and music. One way is to make the choice to have nothing to do with these mediums and engage in activities like book burnings, picket lines outside theatres, and steamroll CD's. And then we can create our own little Christian subculture where we produce our own overtly Christian products. Realistically, burning books has never seemed to attract the non-Christian to consider Christ and oftentimes our Christian movies have not produced the quality product that people have come to expect. Just because it says Jesus doesn't necessarily make it good. If dialogue is cheesy, the acting is bad and the plot stinks, people are not going to see it.

The second road we take is to seek to redeem the culture by being salt & light (see Matthew 5:14-16). I am more inclined to pursue this route. Instead of letting the world create quality books, movies and music and then throwing rocks at those that produce them after they've become popular, why don't we create books and movies and music that is better than what the world offers? Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ, C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia series and Switchfoot's The Beautiful Letdown are some examples of Christians that have produced wonderful works of art that non-Christians have enjoyed and been challenged by.

So...what do we do with J.K. Rowling's mega-popular Harry Potter series? First, please don't comment on what's in the book if you haven't read it. I've heard too many folks speak with absolute certainty about whether the Potter books would be good to read when they don't even know a Muggle from a Mudblood or can't tell you the difference between Quidditch and Dumbledore. The fact is many kids have found a new interest in reading as a result of these books. This is a good thing. There are themes of good vs. evil, love over hate, sacrifice, bravery, etc. that are strewn throughout these books. We can take these Christian themes and discuss them with our children. It's good to stand up to injustice. It's good to be courageous for what is right. Sacrificial love is worthy to live out. However, when there are things that we don't want our kids to think is alright (e.g. lying to get ourselves out of jams), we can discuss these things with them and share why it's wrong.

As Christians, we need to realize that films are our modern parables. Films have the power to affect how we see history and current realities. This is not going to change anytime soon. Instead of just producing cheesy Christian movies, why don't we have more godly Christians who write, produce, direct and act from a Christian worldview? We can take popular films to discuss Christian themes of love, forgiveness and redemption. The Matrix, The Green Mile, and Cider House Rules are some examples of movies that can used to platform a dialogue with non-Christian friends about faith.

Lastly, let's be sure to also back movies like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which will be coming out December 9th. As Christians, we can vote with our wallets to support quality movies that are family friendly that contain biblical themes. I think by being aware of what is being discussed in popular culture will help us in using popular movies, books and music to share Christ with others. And by encouraging Hollywood, publishers, and record companies to produce products that are done with excellence AND with quality themes, we will continue to see more and more popular forms of entertainment that can be used for God's glory.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Please comment...

Friday, November 11, 2005

Pat Robertson speaks up once again

Once again televangelist Pat Robertson has offered his opinion on a controversial subject. Robertson was troubled by those in Dover, Pennsylvania who voted out members of their school board who favored teaching "intelligent design" in their public schools. Robertson even went as far as to warn the residents there that a natural disaster may occur as a result of this vote.

Robertson is known for his outspoken opinions and this comment is not unlike others that he has made in the past. When making pronouncements such as these, one must be careful, though. In a world where sin is rampant and disregard for God's laws is commonplace, who are we to say where and when God's judgment may fall? There are always going to be those that claim that certain natural disasters are God's judgment, particularly when those disasters hit people that they don't care for or that they disagree with.

I would encourage all of us to first examine our own hearts and the sin that lurks within there. We have all done enough to offend God personally for His judgment to be directed towards us. And if it weren't for His grace, then this would certainly be the case. When making claims to know the mind of God or speak for God (as Robertson seems to do quite often) we are treading on very thin ice. God did not comment directly on the people of Dover, PA or the people of New Orleans in His Word. Therefore, we should be hesitant to make blanket statements about things that our finite minds do not fully comprehend.

When Pat Robertson (and others like him) make comments like this, the unbelieving world entrenches its mindset of Christians as narrow-minded and naive. While Robertson is certainly entitled to his opinion, why does he feel it necessary to continue to make comments like this to a listening world? Does he honestly feel that commenting on this will bring those far from God closer to God? I trust that he will use greater judgment in the future in what he chooses to publicly proclaim and will choose to comment on those matters that enhance dialogue with non-Christians, as opposed to pushing them away.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Why does the word "Evangelical" threaten so many people in our culture?

I just finished reading a great article on Christianity Today's website by Philip Yancey where he details some conversations that he's had with some non-Christian friends of his. I appreciate his insights on the current state of American culture in regard to peoples' view of evangelical Christians, and as a result, Jesus.

Yancey references a quote by C.S. Lewis:

"I remembered a remark by Lewis, who drew a distinction between communicating with a society that hears the gospel for the first time and one that has embraced and then largely rejected it. A person must court a virgin differently than a divorcée, said Lewis. One welcomes the charming words; the other needs a demonstration of love to overcome inbuilt skepticism."

And this is where our society stands. Having once beem a nation where most people embraced biblical values and a Christian worldview, many are now threatened not so much by God Himself, but by those of us that represent Him to the world at large. In many ways, we evangelicals have become much more known for what we hate, than for the One we love. How sad...

You can read the rest of Yancey's article here.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Quality Time

Yesterday was a bustling day for my family. I had several meetings at the office and Lori also had a meeting at Lake Hart. In addition, she was making preparations for Brennan's sixth birthday today. As has been our custom since getting married, Lori and I like to have a weekly "date night" where we're able to go out at least once a week and just spend some time together. The plan for last night was for us to go out to a Chinese restaurant that Lori had chosen. Of course, things seldom work out as we have planned...

I was late getting home since I was at the downtown office and left later than I normally do. I barely got home before Lori had time to pick up our babysitter, Amanda. On the way to pickup Amanda, Lori had to pick something up that was forgotten at a friends house earlier in the day. This probably wouldn't have been a big deal, but Amanda's house can be difficult to find and Lori ended up getting lost on the way. So, finally at about 7:30, Lori got back and we were able to go out for our "relaxing" dinner after our not so relaxing day.

Because of the lateness of the hour (and because I hadn't had lunch), I was pretty hungry. We decided to forgo the Chinese place that was about 25 minutes away and go to a closer restaurant that we had a coupon for. After much searching, we finally found the place that the restaurant was supposed to be. There was a sign and everything! We were like, "Yeah, we found it and it's only 8:15!" But, alas, the restaurant had been shut down (gotta remember to call ahead for new places -- this isn't the first time this has happened to us :)

So, being the big spender that I am and wanting to treat my wife well, I decided on the most logical place that I could think of -- Taco Bell! And over chalupas and nachos, we shared about our day and how we're doing in life. And you know what, that was just fine with me. I really didn't care what we were doing as long as I was getting to hang with Lori. Sure, it's nice to do some real creative things sometimes or do things that are really special, but mostly, I just like to spend time with my wife. We don't really have to "do anything" for it to be fun. Just being in her presence is enough for me because I love her more than any other human being.

You know what? I think our relationship with God is very similar. I think God appreciates when we dress up nice to go to church or make a big deal to attend a conference, but my hunch is that He mostly just likes to hang with us. He enjoys when we take time out of a busy day to get away from other distractions and just spend some time talking with him. Or to just spend some time reading His love letter to us (the Bible) and learning more about Him. Just as Lori and I set a weekly time to be alone and spend time together, I think it's even more important for us to prioritize our regular times of meeting with God. And no matter what we're doing, if it's with our heavenly Father, I think we can consider it quality time.

Monday, October 31, 2005

To Watch or Not to Watch

A favorite pastime of mine is going to the movie theatre and watching movies at home with my family. It's always disappointing, though, to go to or rent a highly recommended movie only to find it filled with excessive violence, gratuitous sex or nudity, or bad language. A website that I stumbled across several years ago to help with this problem is Christian Spotlight on Entertainment.

What I like about this site is that it provides both a moviemaking quality rating and a moral rating on the movie without being overly preachy. It also provides a general review and lets you know what may be objectionable from a Christian perspective. In addition, viewers can list their own reviews to help give you insights on what they liked/disliked about the movie.

Newly released movies typically have a review on the site by its opening weekend so that you can read up on it the weekend it comes out. By going to this site before watching a movie, it has helped me stay clear of those that I really wouldn't want to waste my time and money on. So check it out at http://christiananswers.net/spotlight/home.html.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Halloween: Trick or Treat?

As a child growing up in the seventies and eighties, I don't recall the increasingly common view today in Christian circles that we should have nothing to do with Halloween. When I was a kid, the only family I remember that didn't participate in Halloween was a very strict Catholic family that lived across the street from us and we all thought they were weirdos. We rather enjoyed knocking on their door all night (knowing that, though the lights were off, they were home).

I do respect Christian families that choose not to participate in Halloween at all (mine is not one of them), but I wonder if there is a different perspective on it. Here's a thought provoking article that I read several years ago in CCM Magazine by a favorite writer of mine, John Fischer...

What will you do this Halloween? Fearing the worst on an evening many Christians believe celebrates the wiles of the devil, some will choose to have no part in the traditional neighborhood trick-or-treating that accompanies the 31st of October formerly known as All Hallow’s Eve.

This boycott of neighborhood dress-up and doorbell ringing is relatively new on the Christian scene, at least in my experience. As a child in an evangelical Christian home, I was right in there with all the other gremlins and witches on our block trying to scare as many Snickers bars as I could out of our neighbors’ stashes and into my bulging pillow case. And you can be sure that every home on my block was always duly prepared to be scared by us.

The anti-Halloween movement among Christians didn’t catch my attention until after my own kids had outgrown this annual neighborhood siege. So you can imagine the shock and surprise on the face of the pastor’s wife who came up to me after a talk on Christian worldview I gave last November and wanted to know what I did with my children on Halloween. When I told her I helped them into their costumes, put on a monkey mask, turned up “Ghostbusters” on the stereo, and hit the streets with the express purpose of scaring all the neighborhood ghosts and goblins before they scared me, her face turned white. Apparently what was okay for my parents in 1958 and me and my wife in 1988 was no longer acceptable Christian behavior in 1998.

The more acceptable Christian thing to do on Halloween now is to close up the house and have an alternative party for our kids at church. This is usually around a harvest or a biblical character theme--no ghosts or goblins allowed. Though I understand how this safer alternative came to be, I wonder whether a blanket boycott is the only way to handle this controversial holiday. Is this just one more time when we Christians isolate ourselves from culture for religious reasons apparent only to us? Have we really thought through what our dark houses are saying to the rest of the block? While we’re off having our alternative party, I can hear the neighborhood kids shuffling by our house, saying, “Don’t go there, they don’t give anything.” Is this what we want to be known for in the community--a dark house on the one night you can be guaranteed neighbors will visit?

My kids are older now but when they were little, Halloween in the Massachusetts town they grew up in was nothing short of an informal neighborhood progressive party. I’d start out with my immediate neighbor and his kids and then run into other parents standing outside other houses. Soon we were a small crowd making our way up and down the street while tired little feet slogged through the fallen leaves of October. By the time the kids had filled their bags, I had been in and out of a number of homes, met people I never knew, started some relationships and renewed others. Meanwhile my wife was home dumping huge handfuls of candy into open bags, raving over costumes, inviting kids to come back and visit whenever they wanted, and entertaining other parents that I missed. It was a major community event and opened many doors for fruitful relationships we were able to continue the rest of the year.

Not to diminish the reality of spiritual warfare--something to be taken seriously by all believers--but the last day of October is not a spiritual battle any more than any other day. If Satan comes out on Halloween, he doesn’t go back into hiding the next morning. Whether the origins of Halloween are pagan or otherwise, what we have today is a culture-wide event that glorifies pretending more than the underworld. It’s actually one holiday that adults haven’t taken over--the one time kids get to “be” whatever they want to be. Our participation--or lack thereof--in such a popular, cultural event is only indicative of our ability to have a good time with silliness, not a measure of our standing in a fight between good and evil. If Satan wins anything on this day, he may win more through the darkened homes of Christians than anything else.

The truth is, Christians never have anything to fear--on this night or any other--or God is not God and His promises are not true. What we should be concerned about is a retreat from our homes, when, more than any other time, it’s important to be there with our lights on and a bowl full of treats near the door. If there is a darkness on Halloween night, I, for one, am going to at least make sure that it will not be on my block, at my house.

(NOTE: For an interesting slant on Halloween origins, John recommends checking out http://www.drbilly.com/shed/halloween.)

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Myth of Being Colorblind

I've often heard it said from well-meaning individuals that they are "colorblind." The reality is that we live in an extremely race-conscious society in the United States. I honestly don't think it's possible for an individual to escape the legacy of race that has been passed down throughout our country's history and not be affected by it in some way. Many people may claim to be colorblind, but once their daughter brings home an African American date or they get lost in another part of town that is made up of those different than them, the "colorblindness" quickly fades to the back as their personal prejudices bubble to the surface.

In my experiences, I've found that there are two sorts of colorblindness that people refer to -- one of these is good, the other...not so much. First, there's the notion of being able to see beyond someone's race or ethnicity in order to treat them with fairness, justice and equality. This is a good thing. This is what Martin Luther King, Jr. Referred to in his "I Have a Dream" speech when he envisioned the day that his children "will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." To treat individuals as individuals and not mistreat them based on stereotypes or racist notions is something that we should all strive for.

Secondly, there's the mindset of colorblindness where people claim to not notice someone's skin color. These are typically the same people who proudly proclaim that "there's only one race -- the human race -- and that's all I see." Because racism is seen as such a horrible sin in our culture, many white people do everything they can to distance themselves from any accusations of racism. Thus, the comments of "one of my best friends is black" or "I don't have a racist bone in my body" become the punchline lines for jokes in our ethnic communities because they hear these lines so often. It amazes me that evangelicals that firmly believe in the sinfulness of man, and can readily admit their own struggles with pride, lust, greed or jealously, cannot acknowledge even the remotest possibility that they may have personal prejudices towards ethnic minority groups.

The reality is that America has a wicked and atrocious history when it comes to race. Racism is an unfortunate part of our country's history...and it continues into today. Though we've made many strides, racism is certainly not a thing of the past. To assume that we have grown up in a country that has a history like ours and feel that we remain untouched by it personally is both delusional and naive.

Because of our history, white people can struggle with a superiority complex and those of ethnic minority groups can suffer from self-hatred. When a white person claims to be colorblind, that can be interpreted as wanting others to lose their distinctiveness and just become like them. This is why I don't like America being referred to as a melting pot. I much rather prefer to view America as a stew. You see, a stew is a dish with distinct ingredients that each have their own flavor. But when you put all these ingredients together, it tastes better. But a carrot is still a carrot; a piece of beef doesn't become an onion. Each ingredient retains its own qualities.

So, instead of us attempting to be "colorblind", we need to learn to do two things. First, we need to recognize, celebrate and esteem the diversity in our cultures. By not ignoring our differences, but by embracing them, we can appreciate one another's backgrounds and values. God made our people groups uniquely different and the ability to appreciate those different than us is a wonderful thing.

Second, while celebrating our cultures, we need to acknowledge that people are individuals and not assume that just because some is of a certain ethnicity that we can predict behavior or "pigeonhole" them based on stereotypes. Not all black people like hip-hop; not all Asians are proficient in karate; and Lord knows, I don't like country music. We can appreciate and value the differences between our cultures, yet still allow individuals be who God made them uniquely to be.

This combination of celebrating diversity and allowing people to be themselves can move us forward in helping to share the love of God with millions of people that need to meet the One who made them.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Starbucks stirs things up with a God quote on cups

The influence of Pastor Rick Warren in the broader culture continues to grow...

By Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA TODAY, October 19, 2005
Coffee drinkers could get a spiritual jolt with their java in the spring when Starbucks begins putting a God-filled quote from the Rev. Rick Warren, author of the mega-selling The Purpose-Driven Life, on its cups. It will be the first mention of God in the company's provocative quote campaign, The Way I See It. In 2005, Starbucks is printing 63 quotes from writers, scientists, musicians, athletes, politicians and cultural critics on cups for company-run and licensed locations to carry on the coffeehouse tradition of conversation and debate.
Some mention "faith in the human spirit," but none is overtly religious. Last month, Baylor University pulled Starbucks cups after objections to a quote from writer Armistead Maupin saying that "life is too damn short" to hide being gay. Warren says the idea of a grande pitch for God as creator came to him after seeing a Starbucks quote on evolution from paleontologist Louise Leakey. Because Starbucks solicited customer contributions for 2006, Warren sent his in. On Tuesday, Starbucks spokeswoman Sanja Gould confirmed that it would be used.
The cups carry a disclaimer that the opinions "do not necessarily reflect the views of Starbucks." But a few companies plant clues to Christianity in their wrappings, music or signs precisely because the owners are believers. In-N-Out Burger, the California-based fast-food chain, has included tiny notations for Bible verses in some of its burger and drink packaging since Richard Snyder, son of the founders, called for it in 1987. "He told me, 'It's just something I want to do,' " company spokesman Carl Van Fleet says. After Snyder's death in 1993, "the family felt strongly about keeping this just as he had done it" at its 196 outlets in California, Arizona and Nevada. The Bible book and verse in minuscule type "are so subtle most of our customers never notice."
One who did: Don Chang, the deeply religious founder of clothing chains Forever 21 and XXI. Five years ago, the clothier copied In-N-Out by stamping the Bible book, chapter and verse notation John 3:16 on the bottom of his stores' shopping bags: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."It's "evidence of faith," corporate spokesman Larry Meyer says.
Other owners making a faith statement in the secular marketplace include David Green, whose craft chain Hobby Lobby plays only Christian contemporary music in its 362 stores, and S. Truett Cathy, who advertises that Chick-fil-A sandwich shops nationwide are closed on Sundays to free employees to focus on faith and family." Americans are more accepting of overt religiosity these days, and corporations are good at figuring out how to do it with a light touch, one that's not going to scare off unbelievers," says sociologist David Halle, director of the LeRoy Neiman Center for the Study of American Society and Culture at the University of California-Los Angeles.
Alaska Airlines has put baseball-card-size prayer cards on hot-meal trays for 30years "just to differentiate us from the competition," spokeswoman Amanda Tobin says. "Compliments have always far outweighed complaints."

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Reaching out to someone who needs Christ starts in our own hearts

Here's some great thoughts from Michael Brown*, campus director at Bowling Green in Ohio

"Evangelism is 90 percent about becoming the right person and only 10 percent about knowing what to say. It's not about what you do; it's about the kind of person you are. This became clear to me a few years ago when our Campus Crusade for Christ chapter at Bowling Green State University in Ohio decided to make some changes in the way we reached out to our campus.

As a staff team, we became persuaded that a vibrant ministry must flow from real compassion and strong affection for the people we were reaching. It must flow from sincere love, in the most powerful sense of the word. But we realized that we had been training students in evangelism before they had a heart of compassion. We were trying to get them to do something they simply didn't want to do.

Matthew 9:36 tells us how Jesus viewed the lost: "Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd." Jesus realized they were unable to help themselves or to remedy their situation. He felt compassion. How often, when thinking about the lost, do we find ourselves with emotions other than compassion, like judgment, disgust, annoyance and even pride? At Bowling Green, we needed to first admit we were not moved for the lost like God is moved. We needed to admit, "I'm racist. I'm judgmental. I'm hard-hearted. I'm aloof."

When first a staff member with Campus Crusade, I worked at the University of Kansas, and my ministry assignment was to focus on Ellsworth Hall. To get to this particular residence hall each day, I had to walk by Hashinger Hall, another dorm on campus. You could smell marijuana coming from the windows, and some of the guys had their fingernails painted black. It was a seriously countercultural kind of place. As I would walk by the sights and sounds of that "other world," I kept my eyes glued to the sidewalk.

Then I started to think, If Jesus were to show up on campus, where would He go? Not Ellsworth, where everyone dressed like me and acted the same. He would probably show up at Hashinger Hall. So I began to interact with the Hashinger students. I created a questionnaire, asking questions like "What is the most annoying thing about Christians?" and "If there were one thing you could change about Christianity, what would it be?" I quickly discovered that most of the students' barriers to becoming Christians were not about God; their problem was with cultural Christianity.

I began to realize that I needed to see people as God sees them. This required a fresh surrendering to God, admitting I was sometimes self-absorbed. I needed to come to grips with my own insecurities, letting God change me from the inside out. Before I could effectively reach out to the lost, God needed first to reach into my heart. Jesus said, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick" (Matthew 9:12). Jesus died on the cross not to help Christians get better, but to save the lost.

If your phone rang right now and you learned that someone you love—your best friend, your brother or your child—has come up missing, what would you do? Everything would stop. Priorities and plans would instantly be altered. We would go—because somebody we cared about is lost, and everything must be done to find them. Now. Because we care.

Every day we meet people who are spiritually lost, but we don't respond to them with even half this emotion or urgency. Here's a lesson I've learned the hard way: I always speak about what I most care about. I always do what I most want to do. I always find time to eat, I never miss watching The West Wing, and I spend time with my wife and kids. If my heart is moved for something, I will do it, and I will always do it.

If Christ is our heart's passion, His name will simply fall off our lips. Could it be that we don't reach out to lost people not because of time, training or missed opportunity, but simply because we don't care enough? At Bowling Green, when we realized students didn't have a heart of compassion, we switched things around. We taught students to build friendships and get up close with the lost. We asked every student leader in our movement to become a student leader somewhere else on campus. We began to immerse ourselves into the university culture and build relationships in places like the social-justice groups, the gay community and the student government. As a result, the Christian students gained hearts of compassion and came back begging for more evangelism and ministry training.

We also redesigned our weekly meeting, making it more for the spiritually curious than for Christians. Today, the student-body president and vice president come, along with members of more than 100 different student organizations and cultures from across campus—many being individuals who would consider themselves agnostic and atheist. The university administration considers us one of the most diverse groups on campus.

We began by learning how to relate to people, understanding where they are coming from—their backgrounds, their relationships, their choices. It starts with asking good questions. For example, try talking to every person you encounter. Say hello, then see how far you can go, if it's natural. Practice interacting with people; when they talk with you about anything, draw them out. Take them deeper. As we ask questions, we will find common ground in all the areas where we agree. Then we share our lives. In this postmodern era, there is nothing more powerful and meaningful than investing relational energy and opening up your life.

Evangelism is as much a process as it is an event. In his book Finding Common Ground Tim Downs says, "To cultivate the soil takes time ... I have a conversation here ... I ask a pointed question there. I break a stereotype along the way. With everyone I meet, I am cultivating the soil and improving the climate for spiritual growth." A few months ago, after our weekly meeting, the president of a fraternity came up to me. Several of us with Campus Crusade had been hanging out with this guy for two years, and he'd always been a self-proclaimed agnostic. Then he came up to me and said, "I'm ready." At first, I wasn't even sure what he was talking about.

He wanted to become a Christian, and we prayed with him that night. Being real and being intentional about evangelism is a hard road to travel. But it's either that or stay where we are and quietly pass from this life to the next, without ever really living. Once your heart has been broken for that one lost friend, once you have cried over the helplessness and desperation of someone you get really close to, you can't shake that sense of feeling God's heart. My being evangelistic is not about feeling spiritual, significant or successful. It is always about what the lost need to know and understand. It is about their transformation, not mine. It is about the gospel message, not my fancy illustrations. It is about Christ, not me."

*This article was written with Becky Hill

I love how the team at BG has been willing to examine their own hearts and their motivations for reaching the lost. Many times, the reason we don't share our faith with those unlike us is not for lack of training. It may just be because we just really don't care enough about the souls of those men and women. Our challenge is to reach out into those places that are uneasy and uncomfortable so that the lost can find Jesus.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Vine and the branches

I was out in my yard the other day doing some much needed weeding around the house. My oldest son, Brennan, came out to join me in the humid Orlando climate. While weeding underneath a bush, Brennan noticed a group of leaves in the bush that were dark brown instead of the bright green that all the other leaves were. He asked why those leaves were brown and the others were green.

I showed him how the branch that those leaves were on had somehow broken away from the rest of the bush. I explained that in order for the leaves to stay green, the branch they were on had to be connected to the main vine of the bush so that all the nutrients and water coming up through the vine could go through the branch and into the leaves.

This branch was totally dependent upon the main vine to get it's food and water. Once it wasn't connected to that vine any longer, it had shriveled up and died. The brown dead leaves demonstrated that there was no longer any fruit being produced on that branch.

I then shared with Brennan what Jesus said in John 15, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." In order to see spiritual fruit produced in our lives, we must stay connected to the main vine (Jesus). When we allow Him to feed and nourish us, we will see much fruit in our lives and through our lives. That's a good lesson for a five-year old to hear ... or an adult like you or me.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

A Better Cure Than Abortion

An opinion on William Bennett's remark on blacks, abortion and crime...

A Better Cure Than Abortion
By William Raspberry
The Washington Post
Monday, October 10, 2005

"You know by now what William Bennett said: "You could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down." What you may not have figured out is what your reaction to his statement should be. You could demand that the former education secretary and drug "czar" apologize, be fired by the radio station on which he made the remark and be ridden out of town on a rail. You could say: "What a wonderful solution to crime. Let's do it -- oops, I forgot, I'm opposed to abortion."

You could call for an end to the hypocrisy, noting that Bennett made crystal clear -- even as he was delivering his awful words -- that he was not recommending any such "impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible" action, only making a rhetorical point on quite another matter. You could challenge the underlying premise that blacks commit a disproportionate amount of the nation's crime -- which is what the Justice Policy Institute is trying to do. Jason Ziedenberg, the institute's executive director, has been making a number of points: among them that blacks are more likely than whites to end up in prison for the same offenses and that, holding constant such factors as education, employment and family structure, blacks are no more criminally disposed than whites.

Or you could tell a story.

I'd like to tell a story. Some years ago, South Africa's game managers had to figure out what to do about the elephant herd at Kruger National Park. The herd was growing well beyond the ability of the park to sustain it. The two-phase solution: transport some of the herd to the Pilanesberg game park and kill off some of those that were too big to transport. And so they did. A dozen years later, several of the transported young males (now teenagers) started attacking Pilanesberg's herd of white rhinos, an endangered species. They used their trunks to throw sticks at the rhinos, chased them over long hours and great distances, and stomped to death a tenth of the herd -- all for no discernible reason.

Park managers decided they had no choice but to kill some of the worst juvenile offenders. They had killed five of them when someone came up with another bright idea: Bring in some of the mature males from Kruger -- there was by then the technology to transport the larger animals -- and hope that the bigger, stronger males could bring the adolescents under control.To the delight of the park officials, it worked. The big bulls, quickly establishing the natural hierarchy, became the dominant sexual partners of the females, and the reduction in sexual activity among the juveniles lowered their soaring testosterone levels and reduced their violent behavior.

The new discipline, it turned out, was not just a matter of size intimidation. The young bulls actually started following the Big Daddies around, enjoying the association with the adults, yielding to their authority and learning from them proper elephant conduct. The assaults on the white rhinos ended abruptly. There's no more point in denying Bennett's implication that black youngsters are more likely than their white counterparts to commit crimes than in denying the dismaying behavior of those adolescent elephants.

Here's the point: For reasons arguably as benign as those that led to the tragedy of Pilanesberg, America's black inner cities have been denuded of their adult men. It started, in my memory, in the 1960s with the enforcement of the man-in-the-house rule, whereby welfare payments were cut off if investigators could establish that an adult able-bodied male (whether or not he was employed) lived in the household. And the de-manizing went completely out of control with the introduction of absurdly long and mandatory sentences for crack cocaine offenses and the implementation of such judge-proof policies as the three-strikes-and-you're-out rule.

The result is that huge numbers of black men are being taken out of their communities -- overwhelmingly for nonviolent offenses -- and the effect of their absence is at least as powerful as with the South African elephants. Except now we know. Social scientists across the political spectrum tell us that father absence is a stronger predictor of criminal behavior than family income, education -- or (Bill Bennett, take note) race.

And while individual youngsters can manage life without father reasonably well in many cases, few are able to come unscathed through fatherless communities . Americans are right to be worried about crime. But we'd better learn from the elephants' tale and take care that the cure doesn't exacerbate the very problem we're trying to solve."

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Evangelicals Tilting Left?

The following article, Evangelicals Tilting Left?, was in this morning's edition of The Orlando Sentinel. It shares some interesting history on the involvement of evangelicals in issues of social justice and provides an interesting challenge as the Campus Ministry moves forward with "Good News/Good Deeds" proclamation of the gospel.  Here's a highlight from David Stienmetz's piece:
Unlike most African-American evangelicals, who are politically liberal and form a core constituency of the Democratic Party, white evangelicals, especially in the South, have a more complex relationship to their Democratic past. Some changed their voting habits, but not their registration, while others eventually bolted. After trying to woo them back, many discouraged Democratic politicians concluded that the cause was hopeless. Evangelical is a synonym for right-wing.

The situation on the ground, however, is a good deal more confused. In addition to evangelicals who are convinced Republicans (like George W. Bush) or equally convinced Democrats (like Jimmy Carter), there is a third group harder to describe. Rick Warren, pastor of the 45,000-member Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., calls them "reluctant Republicans."

"Reluctant Republicans" are evangelicals who find no welcome in the Democratic Party for pro-life people like them. They are therefore Republicans by default. Yet on a wide range of social issues, these evangelicals hold positions that often find a more natural base of support among Democrats.

"Reluctant Republicans" worry about racial reconciliation in America (starting with but not limited to the churches), about global warming and stewardship of the natural resources of the planet, about the AIDS pandemic (especially in Africa) and the growing problem of AIDS orphans, about world hunger and the breathtaking poverty in which the majority of the world's population lives.

Evangelicals who want to take action on these issues have slowly realized that theological orthodoxy is not at odds with social reform, but demands it. The gospel is about justice as well as about mercy. The old dichotomy that for so long divided a personal gospel from a social one was false from the start and corrupt in its implementation.

Which means that it may be time for non-evangelicals to abandon some cherished assumptions about evangelicals as monolithically right-wing. Evangelicals are too large and diverse and changing a group to be safely reckoned in any party's hip pocket.
To read the complete article click here.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Influence of Culture on Ministry

Last night I watched a program on PBS dealing with the O.J. Simpson trial. It's now been ten years since that trial ended, but what it revealed to us about race in America cannot be forgotten. It sometimes takes incidents like the Simpson verdict or the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to remind us that not all Americans view things the same way. Why is it that most African Americans cheered the O.J. verdict, while most white Americans were disgusted? Why do many African Americans feel that the slow response in New Orleans has to do with race, while many white people think that race has nothing to do with it?

Whether we personally feel that O.J. was guilty or not or whether race played a role in the slow response to Katrina is not the most pressing question for us. We need to realize that the perspective of the white, evangelical community do not always coincide with those in the black community. The question for those of us that are white and are seeking to reach out to those in the black community is this: Are we willing to set aside our personal viewpoints that don't necessarily come from Scriptures in order to reach the lost?

Our views on hip-hop, George W. Bush, affirmative action, the police, capitalism, etc. may be very different than the lost people we're seeking to reach. Will we stay true to the gospel message that Jesus lived, died, was buried and rose again so that we could have eternal life? Or will we insist on ostracizing the lost because of our political preferences or our views of the American justice system? This is one of the unique challenges of ministering cross-culturally in the United States. We were born here. We have lived here most (if not, all) or lives and we bring with us very strong opinions on this country and how things should be done and how people should act.

When I go as a missionary to a country like Albania, I'm pretty indifferent to Albanian people and their culture. I really don't know much about them one way or another. I learn as I go. However....when I'm a white American ministering to black Americans, I'm not coming in with a clean slate. I carry past experiences, prejudices, stereotypes, and an array of fears. And, oftentimes, the people I'm seeking to reach also carry experiences, prejudices, stereotypes, and an array of fears with them.

I guess what we have to ask ourselves is if we're going to ask the lost to overcome their fears in order to hear the gospel or if I'm going to trust God to overcome my fears so that they can hear it?

Friday, September 30, 2005

Church Planting Movements

I just finished reading the pamphlet, Church Planting Movements, that all of our U.S. staff received out at CSU. The book advocates a style of launching movements that involves rapid, exponential growth that results in seeing massive numbers of people coming to faith in Christ. What I found intriguing about the book was some of the common traits that existed in successful Church Planting Movements (CPM) all over the world.

What first stood out was the emphasis on prayer. And this isn't "say some grace before dinner prayer." It seems that the believers involved in these movements are committed to deep, spiritual intercession for the communities that they are seeking to reach. They recognize the spiritual battle they are entering into when seeking to take new ground that the enemy has occupied for centuries.

Secondly, there's a deep commitment to ministering in the "heart language" of the people they're seeking to reach, or simply, contextualization. When we as missionaries fail to connect with the heart of a people group and do not value what they value, our ministry efforts will often fall flat. It is extremely rare that individuals will set aside their culture in order to hear the gospel. Aspects of a culture such as style of dress, music, humor, oral traditions, communication styles, etc. all contribute to cultural differences that need to be given attention in order to effectively reach a people group.

A third thing that I noticed was that the really effective CPM's did not rely on professional clergy or on-going outside funding to accomplish their mission. There is a huge reliance on lay leaders and an intentional involvement of new believers in the life of the church. In some cases, non-believers are becoming active members of the church community before they even come to faith. They are a partof the life of the church before coming to faith, but once they do come to Christ, they're already leading. One elderly man in India planted 42 churches in one year! He didn't know any better!

Many of the principles contained in this booklet apply to us in the Campus Ministry. A deeper commitment to prayer is needed. We need to understand that we are not all the same culturally and that a commitment to ministering in the heart language of the people were trying to reach is a non-negotiable. Lastly, we shortchange our student leaders when we deprive them of opportunities to lead. As I heard it said recently, we have 18 and 19 year olds leading troops of young men into battle in Iraq, but we can't trust them to lead a spiritual movement?

Let's trust God to blow our socks off in the coming years as the number of movements, numbers of student coming to Christ, and laborers being sent to the field absolutely dwarf anything we've seen before