Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Why Good People Need To Combat Racism

Photo Credit: miss_millions
Chris Lahr recounts a telling personal experience on how he encountered prejudice on a simple trip to pick up a few postal packages:
"The sign on the front desk said that the proper I.D. was required. I showed the attendee my driver’s license and they proceeded to the warehouse in hunt for our packages. While we waited to the side, the next person in line (a young white man) handed his I.D. to the employee and stated that he was in the process of getting a new I.D. with his new address on it. The worker shrugged her shoulders and went on the hunt for his package.

Soon after our packages arrived, the third person in line (an African American man) showed his I.D. to a worker. The worker stated to the African American gentleman that she could not get his package because the address on his I.D. did not match the address on the package! Initially I did not know what was going because I was glued to the coverage of the Katrina tragedy on the TV behind the desk.
But as soon as the customer started showing a little anger, everyone took notice. In the midst of taking our packages to the van, things got heated between the customer and the worker; security was called. It should be noted that the African American man was able to describe exactly what was in the package (by the way, I had no idea what was in my packages), yet they still said that he would have to go home and get other proof of identification (which meant he would have to take public transportation to the other side of Philadelphia to get it).

It wasn’t until I began to reflect on the situation that I realized what had happened… The white man behind me and I had no problem getting our packages even though our addresses did not match the address on the box!! Yet the African American gentleman was forced to take public transportation back across town to find another form of I.D. There I was walking along in la la land, oblivious to the struggles of another human being. Did I stop and say something? Did I offer the man a ride across town? No, but I did get my packages.
So what can brown do for you, as the UPS slogan states? Well if you have white skin and the wrong I.D. they will be very accommodating, but if your skin is brown you better have the proper I.D. or you will need to take an extra trip across town. Looking back at this situation I see that I failed through my silence. I have played the scenario in my mind many times over since then and I can only hope that next time, I will move beyond silence to action. So what, if I’m a nice person or “I’m not the one who denied the man his package,” I was silent and I benefited from a system of advantage based on race. If we want to see real change in our society, the silence of the good people must stop."
To read Lahr's complete post please click here.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Lecrae: I Am Second

Photo Credit: Andrea Kirkley
Lecrae Moore is now a best-selling rap artist but that hasn't always been the case. As a child growing up in Texas, his heroes were those that lived the "Thug Life." But as a college student, he was invited to a gathering sponsored by our ministry, The Impact Conference, and his life was forever changed.

Check out this video in which Lecrae tells his story and the difference that Jesus Christ has made in his life.

Lecrae so beautifully displays why I do what I do. I believe that God can take anybody, no matter how messed up or sinful they may be, and dramatically change their life. He did it in my life, He did it in Lecrae's... and He can do it in yours.  Few of us will become music artists, professional athletes or politicians but every life matters to God.  My life matters and so does yours.  Make your life count for eternity.

To see more "I Am Second" videos and hear about the difference that Christ has made in the lives of other public figures, please click here.

Monday, September 26, 2011

California Couple Fined For Home Bible Study Group

Photo Credit: jamelah
From Christianity Today:
"Chuck and Stephanie Fromm, who have been hosting Bible studies and other gatherings in their home since 1994, were cited for violating a municipal code which requires a conditional use permit (CUP) for religious, fraternal, or nonprofit organizations that meet in residential areas. The Fromms were fined twice for a total of $300. When they appealed to the city, they were informed that the violations would be upheld and that any future meetings without a CUP would face a fine of $500 each.

The code in question prohibits such groups of three or more people meeting without a CUP, said Chuck Fromm, who is the former president of Maranatha! Music and co-founder and editor of Worship Leader magazine.

"The law says any nonprofit or fraternal organization," he said. "If I'm having five guys over to watch Sunday football every week, that's a regular meeting of three or more people that would require a [CUP]. Now, have they cited anybody for that? No, they're citing a religious meeting."

The Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), who is now representing the Fromms, plans to fight to have the city apologize to the Fromms and refund their money, PJI president Brad Dacus said. The organization also hopes to have the policy revised.

"No family in America should ever have to worry about a local government fining them simply for meeting with their friends and family in their own home to read the Bible or pray together," Dacus said. "The city is demanding that this family has to pay money to the city in order not even to have a Bible study, but in order just to seek permission from the city to be able to have a Bible study. That is totalitarian, it is a clear breach of fundamental civil liberties, and we at [PJI] intend to halt it in its tracks."
To read the complete CT article please click here.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Why Your Calling From God Matters

Photo Credit: reegmo
From Ruth Haley Barton on "calling":
"In our day it may seem almost archaic to talk about the idea of calling. Tilden Edwards wisely observes, "Calling is a much abused word today. In the church it can be little more than a pious euphemism for doing what we feel like doing. Such abuse is brought to celebration in the secular culture, when doing what we feel like doing, attained by any way we feel like doing it, seems often to be what lies behind 'career development.'

However, the biblical idea of calling is not easily dismissed. Its meaning is richly layered. In its simplest and most straightforward meaning, the verb to call refers to the capacity living creatures have to call out to one another, to stay connected, to communicate something of importance. Even at this most basic level the dynamic of calling is profound, because it reminds us that calling is first of all highly relational: it has to do with one being (God) reaching out and establishing connection with another (us). It is an interpersonal connection and communication that is initiated by God and thus demands our attention and our response even as a basic courtesy.

In the Old Testament, the idea of calling goes beyond this most basic meaning to include the idea of naming something into being. In his book The Call, Os Guinness writes, "Such decisive, creative naming is a form of making...Calling is not only a matter of being and doing what we are but also of becoming what we are not yet but are called by God to be."

In the New Testament, the idea of calling is almost synonymous with salvation and the life of faith itself. We are saved from being who we are not and called to be who we are. God calls us first and foremost to belong to him, but our secondary calling is to answer God's personal address to us. It is to say yes to his summons to serve him in a particular way to a particular point in history. To say yes to our calling is one more step in the journey of faith which involves a glad, joyful self-surrender. It is living in the awareness that the most wonderful thing in the world is to be completely given over to a loving God."
Have you said "yes" to God's call on your life?

(Quote taken from Ruth Haley Barton's book, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry)

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Death Penalty: Is It Just?

Photo Credit: buschap
Did you know that although African Americans make up approximately half of all homicides victims in this country, only 15% of those who receive the death penalty received their penalty after being accused of killing a black person? On the other hand, over 3/4 of those executed in death penalty cases received their punishment as a result of killing a white person. Why the discrepancy?

The recent execution of Troy Davis, an African American who was convicted of killing a police officer over twenty years ago, has shed light once again on the apparent inequities of our criminal justice system, especially as it pertains to the death penalty. For many in the African American community, the case of Davis, whom many believe to be wrongly convicted, demonstrates that our courts place a higher value on the life of white people more so than black people. I do not know if Troy Davis was innocent or if he deserved to die. But there is enough evidence concerning how the death penalty is applied to cause us to consider our stance on this important issue. Joel Dreyfuss comments:
"Our uneasiness about fairness in America helps explain why Troy Davis became such an obsession in the African-American community, to the bewilderment, if not outright annoyance, of some of our nonblack neighbors. As the hours ticked down, it seemed that all of black America was glued to their televisions, computers, mobile phones and iPads, as if watching a perverse 2011 version of a Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling bout.

But in this case we were not waiting for our black champion to knock out the German and prove our worth to America. We wanted reassurance that the fundamental precept of reasonable doubt would apply to Troy Davis, a black man, and, by extension, to the rest of us.

Yes, black America still lives on the brink of fear. For all the progress we have made, dues we have paid, degrees we have acquired and presidencies we have won, we can all recite the story of the father, son, daughter or niece who has gone from citizen to suspect in an instant -- the son frisked, the cousin shoved against the car, the uncle badly beaten -- and, more often than should be, the nephew convicted of a crime he didn't commit or, worse, shot dead by the police.

Most Americans long ago grew bored with the statistics verifying that African Americans are more likely than whites to encounter the power of the state and to be more severely treated -- in arrests, in charges, in sentencing or, yes, the death penalty. As Sherrilyn Ifill points out in her column for The Root, the racial disparities in imposing the death penalty were proved long ago, but the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 1986 that the race gap was not unconstitutional. If you are far more likely to be condemned to death for killing a white man, how can there not be a constitutional issue?

It is now clear to us that the election of Barack Obama has not miraculously transformed the standing of African Americans. For those of us who have long believed that race was far more important as a signal of political status than as a genetic marker, Troy Davis reminds us that there are American citizens -- and then there are African-American citizens."
On a personal level, I do not believe the death penalty is inherently unethical when dealing with the punishment of those that have taken the life of another (Genesis 9:6). But as has been proven time and again within the American justice system, the death penalty, as it is carried out within the United States, is inherently biased when consideration is given to the ethnicity of victims, the race of their accused killers and the financial resources that the accused have at their disposal.

Along with the increased use of DNA evidence in criminal cases, there have been multiple examples of those on death row who were let go because they had been wrongly convicted. Unless we have a system that fairly treats both victims and the accused fairly, regardless of race or class, then I will continue to remain opposed to the use of lethal punishment for those accused of the crime of murder. Allowing the guilty to go free is wrong but so is killing innocent people because they happen to have brown skin or don't have enough money to properly defend themselves in court.

To read the complete article by Joel Dreyfuss on please click here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Marriages Between African Americans & Whites Increase

Photo Credit: Jelle Druyts
From USA Today:
"Black-white marriages are on the rise, a sign that those racial barriers are slowly eroding, but they still lag far behind the rate of mixed-race marriages between whites and other minorities.

"It does suggest that the social distance between the two groups has narrowed," says Zhenchao Qian, a sociology professor at Ohio State University and lead author of a new study on interracial marriages. "The racial boundary is blurred, but it is still there."

The study also found that the share of Hispanic newlyweds who married non-Hispanic whites grew slightly since 1980, but at a slower rate this decade than in previous years.

The share of Asians who married whites dropped. One explanation: Immigration has broadened the pool of potential spouses of the same race and ethnicity. "If the immigration population had not increased, we would have seen more interracial marriages," Qian says.

The study, published in the October edition of the Journal of Marriage and Family, finds that in 2008, 10.7% of blacks who married in the past year married whites, compared with 3% in 1980.

Blacks who have completed higher levels of education are more likely to marry whites because they have a greater chance of interacting with them in school, the workplace and neighborhoods where they live — a fact that has been true for other groups for a while but not for blacks, Qian says.

"This doesn't imply that we've moved into a post-racial society," says Daniel Lichter, director of the Cornell Population Center and study co-author. "Even though there's been a rapid increase (in black-white unions), it's still very low."

Almost 34% of Asians who were recently wed in 2008 married whites, and 28% of Hispanics married whites who are not Hispanic.

"Blacks are still the least assimilated," says Roderick Harrison, a demographer at Howard University and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington. "It does suggest that the divide in this country remains between blacks and everybody else."
To read the complete article please click here.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Are Big Families More Fun?

My brood of six
It used to be that larger families were the norm. My father's family had six boys. My mom's had three boys and two girls. My wife's mother's family had ten children. But the average family today has 2.1 children.

Families like mine that have more than the national average can seem like a bit of an oddity. On numerous occasions when out in public, we've gotten comments like, "Are those all yours?" or "I don't know how you do it." Which I find kinda funny, 'cause it's not like we're the Duggars or something. Yes, we're outnumbered but that's why God created zone defenses.

The Orlando Sentinel recently examined the pros and cons of big families:
"At a time when our fascination with big families is at a peak and, perhaps not coincidentally, family size is at one of its lowest points — women are having, on average, 2.1 kids — we asked an expert and two large-family moms to help us separate myth from reality: What are the pluses of big families? The minuses? What's the bottom line?

Large families are very diverse, but some frequently mentioned pluses include built-in playmates for your kids, more chances for kids to interact with children of different ages and, well, call it the Pitt factor: fun, joy, general merriment.

On the minus side are fewer resources — whether time or money — per child, less alone time for parents and more noise.

Mary Ostyn, the mother of 10 kids, six adopted, and the author of "A Sane Woman's Guide to Raising a Large Family" (Gibbs Smith), says she sometimes wishes she had the time and money to enroll her kids in more extracurricular activities.

"None of our kids are going to be world-class gymnasts, but they're going to know how to work hard, to help out, to share and to take care of people younger than themselves," she says. "It comes down to this awesome community that a large family is: For their whole lives, they're going to have this group of people that really understands them."

Psychologists have always assumed that siblings are good for you, because they provide so much support, says Joe Rodgers, a professor of psychology at the University of Oklahoma. But are two, three or four siblings better — or worse — than one?

"The answer is fairly controversial — and fascinating as well," Rodgers says.

On one side are researchers who believe parental resources such as time and money are split among offspring, with children in bigger families getting smaller pieces of the pie.

On the other side are researchers such as Rodgers, who say that's an overly simplistic way of looking at family dynamics; often parents are very good at engaging more than one kid at a time.

"There are all sorts of things, from mealtimes, to vacations, to carpooling, where parents are not dividing up the resources among children, but rather multiplying those resources across children," says Rodgers."
When my wife and I first talked about the number of children we'd like to have, we decided that two, or possibly three would be good. God has blessed us with four. And we wouldn't want it any or way. But that is not to say that smaller families cannot also be great experiences for children. For example, my wife was an only child and I think she turned out alright.

God leads families in different ways. For some, it's not in God's plans for them to have any children. For others, He may want them to have ten children. However big or small each family ends up being, it's important to be grateful for what God has given us and to demonstrate that gratefulness through lives of obedience to Him.

It is true that our children may not get a whole lot when it comes in the way of material things.  As missionaries on a meager salary, our children understand that they are simply not going to be able to have all the things that their friends have.  But we hope that we love them well enough that when they look back on their childhood that they will remember a loving family and not dwell on the temporal stuff they didn't get.

For me, I've come to realize the blessing that children are and I'm thankful that the Lord has entrusted us with four of them. Having a bigger family means less time for self and more sacrifice. In order to make our family work, we have to often put the needs of others above our own and learn how to love unconditionally and forgive quickly.  There are many challenges we face but as I often tell our kids, life before them was quieter, cleaner...and not nearly as fun.

To read the complete Sentinel article please click here.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Pat Robertson, Marriage, Divorce & The Gospel

Photo Credit: mags20_eb
While on a short-term mission project to Virginia Beach a number of years ago, my wife and I got to know a woman that had what is probably one of the most stressful jobs in America. She was the spokesperson for Pat Robertson. Upon learning what she did for living, I commented that there was probably never a dull moment for her. Her response? "You don't know the half of it."

I'm not sure if our friend is still in that job but Robertson is still making comments that keep his aides on their toes. On a recent episode of his show "The 700 Club," Robertson surprised many when answering a viewer's question about whether it was morally justifiable for a person to divorce a spouse that is stricken with Alzheimer's disease. He said this:
"That is a terribly hard thing," Robertson said. "I hate Alzheimer's. It is one of the most awful things because here is a loved one—this is the woman or man that you have loved for 20, 30, 40 years. And suddenly that person is gone. They're gone. They are gone. So, what he says basically is correct. But I know it sounds cruel, but if he's going to do something he should divorce her and start all over again. But to make sure she has custodial care and somebody looking after her."

Co-host Terry Meeuwsen asked Pat, "But isn't that the vow that we take when we marry someone? That it’s For better or for worse. For richer or poorer?"

Robertson said that the viewer's friend could obey this vow of "death till you part" because the disease was a "kind of death." Robertson said he would understand if someone started another relationship out of a need for companionship.

Robertson gave the example of a friend who faithfully visited his wife every day even though she could not remember his visits to illustrate the difficulty of caring for someone with the disease."
Needless to say, Robertson's response is disappointing. Unfortunately, I've come to expect him to make public proclamations about sensitive topics from time-to-time that are hurtful and not grounded in Scripture. Russell Moore offers a response in a manner much better than I ever could. Moore comments:
"Marriage, the Scripture tells us, is an icon of something deeper, more ancient, more mysterious. The marriage union is a sign, the Apostle Paul announces, of the mystery of Christ and his church (Eph. 5). The husband, then, is to love his wife “as Christ loved the church” (Eph. 5:25). This love is defined not as the hormonal surge of romance but as a self-sacrificial crucifixion of self. The husband pictures Christ when he loves his wife by giving himself up for her.

At the arrest of Christ, his Bride, the church, forgot who she was, and denied who he was. He didn’t divorce her. He didn’t leave.

The Bride of Christ fled his side, and went back to their old ways of life. When Jesus came to them after the resurrection, the church was about the very thing they were doing when Jesus found them in the first place: out on the boats with their nets. Jesus didn’t leave. He stood by his words, stood by his Bride, even to the Place of the Skull, and beyond.

A woman or a man with Alzheimer’s can’t do anything for you. There’s no romance, no sex, no partnership, not even companionship. That’s just the point. Because marriage is a Christ/church icon, a man loves his wife as his own flesh. He cannot sever her off from him simply because she isn’t “useful” anymore.

...It’s easy to teach couples to put the “spark” back in their marriages, to put the “sizzle” back in their sex lives. You can still worship the self and want all that. But that’s not what love is. Love is fidelity with a cross on your back. Love is drowning in your own blood. Love is screaming, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”

Sadly, many of our neighbors assume that when they hear the parade of cartoon characters we allow to speak for us, that they are hearing the gospel. They assume that when they see the giggling evangelist on the television screen, that they see Jesus. They assume that when they see the stadium political rallies to “take back America for Christ,” that they see Jesus. But Jesus isn’t there.

Jesus tells us he is present in the weak, the vulnerable, the useless. He is there in the least of these (Matt. 25:31-46). Somewhere out there right now, a man is wiping the drool from an 85 year-old woman who flinches because she think he’s a stranger. No television cameras are around. No politicians are seeking a meeting with them.

But the gospel is there. Jesus is there."
For a more appropriate Christian response on how to respond to a spouse with Alzheimer's, look to the example of Robertson McQuilkin. Randy Alcorn tells the story of how this Bible college president resigned his post in order to care for his Alzheimer's ridden wife, Muriel. McQuilkin's posture to his sick wife was not one of abandonment, but to stay and care for her. His attitude demonstrates what marriage is truly about:
"I never think about “what if.” I don’t think “what if” is in God’s vocabulary. So I don’t even think about what I might be doing instead of changing her diaper or what I might be doing instead of spending two hours feeding her. It’s the grace of God, I’m sure."
Marriage paints the picture of how God feels about us. He is committed to us for good or for bad, in richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. He will always remain faithful to us no matter what condition we find ourselves in. I'm grateful to have a God that doesn't divorce me in the times I don't have much to offer.

To read Russell Moore's complete post please click here and to read Randy Alcorn's full post please click here.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Why Discipleship & Mission Must Go Together

Photo Credit: openg
Mike Breen explores why Christian mission must be accompanied by deep discipleship:
" has to be said: God did not design us to do Kingdom mission outside of the scope of intentional, biblical discipleship and if we don’t see that, we’re fooling ourselves. Mission is under the umbrella of discipleship as it is one of the many things that Jesus taught his disciples to do well. But it wasn’t done in a vacuum outside of knowing God and being shaped by that relationship, where a constant refinement of their character was happening alongside of their continued skill development (which included mission).

The truth about discipleship is that it’s never hip and it’s never in style…it’s the call to come and die; a “long obedience in the same direction.” While the “missional” conversation is imbued with the energy and vitality that comes with kingdom work, it seems to be missing some of the hallmark reality that those of us who have lived it over time have come to expect: Mission is messy. It’s humbling. There’s often no glory in it. It’s for the long haul. And it’s completely unsustainable without discipleship.

This is the crux of it: The reason the missional movement may fail is because most people/communities in the Western church are pretty bad at making disciples. Without a plan for making disciples (and a plan that works), any missional thing you launch will be completely unsustainable. Think about it this way: Sending people out to do mission is to send them out to a war zone. Discipleship is not only the boot camp to train them for the front lines, but the hospital when they get wounded and the off-duty time they need to rest and recuperate. When we don’t disciple people the way Jesus and the New Testament talked about, we are sending them out without armor, weapons or training. This is mass carnage waiting to happen. How can we be surprised that people burn out, quit and never want to return to the missional life (or the church)? How can we not expect people will feel used and abused?"
To read Breen's complete post please click here.

(h/t to Bryan Loritts via Eric Mason for the link.)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Which U.S. Colleges Have The Largest Enrollments?

Photo Credit: kevinbondelli
According to an analysis of the U.S. Education Department Data by The Chronicle of Higher Education, the following four-year college campuses have the largest enrollments in the United States:
1. Arizona State University (Tempe, AZ)
2. Ohio State University (Columbus, OH)
3. University of Central Florida (Orlando, FL)
4. University of Minnesota (Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN)
5. University of Texas (Austin, TX)
6. University of Florida (Gainesville, FL)
7. Texas A&M University (College Station, TX)
8. Michigan State University (East Lansing, MI)
9. University of Washington (Seattle, WA)
10. Penn State University (University Park, PA)
11. University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign, IL)
12. New York University (New York, NY)
13. Indiana University (Bloomington, IN)
14. University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI)
15. University of Wisconsin (Madison, WI)
For more detailed information about today's college students visit The Chronicle of Higher Education website here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

2011 Demographics for U.S. College Students

Photo Credit: Bard College at Simon's Rock
According to recent statistics, the nation's college students are growing in number and continue to become more diverse. Taken from the most recent edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education Almanac and using statistics from the 2009 school year, the following numbers contain some interesting facts concerning the current make-up of college students in the United States:
*There are over 20.5 million college students in the U.S. today.

* Of those 20.5 million students, over 38% are American ethnic minorities and international students studying in the U.S.

* Within the state of California alone, there are nearly 2.8 million students (an amazing 13% of the country's total). Of these students, nearly 1.7 million are American ethnic minorities or international students.

*Texas has nearly 1.5 million students in the state, including nearly half a million Hispanics and almost 200,000 African American students.

* Close to 1.3 million students attend college in the state of New York (primarily due to New York City). Over half a million of them are American ethnic minorities or international students.

* The number of Native American students is over 200,000.

* Asian Americans now number 1.3 million students.

* African Americans continue to be the largest ethnic minority represented on our campuses at nearly 3 million.

* Hispanics/Latinos are the fastest growing demographic and now total over to 2.5 million students.

* There are over 800,000 international students currently studying in the U.S.

* Students of European descent are still in the overall majority with 12.7 million.
What does this all mean? The college campuses of the United States are becoming more diverse, the coasts are rapidly growing and our cities are home to many of the nation's students. In order to reach these students, campus ministries like those that I work with need to adopt new approaches that will effectively reach students of color, those that speak a primary language other than English and those in our major cities. The world is here. How will we respond?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Gospel and 9/11

Photo Credit: Beverly & Pack
In recognition of the tenth anniversary of the tragedies of 9/11/01, Russell Moore offers a perspective on how we can find the gospel in the midst of the horrific events that occurred that day.

Moore says:
"The full force of the trauma from events like September 11 doesn't come from contemplating the violence done to strangers or even "the nation." Only when we envision ourselves and our loved ones on the scene, as children transplant themselves into nightmare stories, does the severity hit home. We imagine hearing those jihadists screaming prayers as the plane plummets from the sky, or being trapped in a smoke-filled stairwell, or leaping from a window in terror. The phenomenon here is precisely what causes us to flinch when we see blood on the pavement after a car accident. We are reminded of what scares us, of what could happen to us, too.

And so it is with the gospel. The story of Jesus records a persistent strain of denial in the life of Simon Peter. Virtually every time Jesus speaks of his impending execution, Peter insists that such trauma will never happen on his watch (Matt. 16:22; John 13:37). Of course, this not only suggests Peter's empathy with his teacher. It also demonstrates the apostle's refusal to face up to his fear that he might be tempted to protect his own skin.

Though he doesn't unveil it all at once, Jesus refuses to shield Peter from the awful truth. In one of the Bible's most pitiful narratives (John 13:36-38), Peter ostentatiously promises to protect the Messiah from harm. "I will lay down my life for you," he blusters.

Jesus responds: "Really? You're going to fight for me? Before the rooster crows, you will deny you even know me—not once but three times."

Jesus revisits the trauma on Peter. When the rooster crows, Jesus happens to be passing by, and he looks at his friend, prompting Peter to cry bitterly (Luke 22:60-62). Even in the famous restoration of Peter, after Jesus' resurrection, Jesus seems eager to remind Peter of his previous denial. He questions his disciple's love three times. He meets with him around a charcoal fire (John 21:9), precisely the setting of the denial itself (John 18:18).

Then Jesus presses the trauma further. What Peter fears most—the shame and torture of crucifixion—is exactly what Jesus assures him will happen. He will stretch out his hands and be led where he doesn't want to go (John 21:18). Peter will have the kingdom he so longs for—with all of its glory and peace—but his immediate future is skull-shaped."
To read the rest of his article entitled, "The Gospel at Ground Zero" please click here.

Friday, September 09, 2011

How Steve Jobs Influenced Our Culture

Photo Credit: acaben
Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, Inc., surprised industry insiders when he resigned last month as Apple's CEO. His departure has led many to reflect on the influence that his innovations like the iPod and iPad have had on our culture and the role that Jobs has played in changing the manner in which we live.

USA Today comments:
"Steve Jobs' decision to step down as Apple's CEO has spurred a wave of tributes that border on eulogy. But maybe such a dramatic reaction is understandable considering that what Jobs created with Apple wasn't simply technological change, but often a cultural revolution.

"The difference between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, two giant innovators, is that Jobs had an aesthetic sense with which he created objects of desire," says Paul Saffo, a longtime Silicon Valley technology forecaster. "Whether it was the first Macintosh or the latest iPad, every Apple hit promised, and delivered, a life-changing experience."

What makes Jobs even more remarkable is that he used his fiery, uncompromising vision to revolutionize not just tech toys, but also the way we assess animation, advertising and even the in-store experience.

"You'd have to go back to the 1940s and Walt Disney to find a CEO who's had as big an impact on culture as Jobs," says Peter Sealey, former chief marketing officer of Columbia Pictures and an adviser to tech firms. "Maybe it's a stretch to compare him with (Leonardo) Da Vinci, but he was just that good."
Quite simply, Steve Jobs dreamed of a future in which technology played a role that none of could have imagined. How we use our phones, how we obtain and listen to music, the role that computers play in our lives and how we gather and share information has all been formed by Steve Jobs. His influence cannot be underestimated. His creativity demonstrated what is possible when people invent new ways of doing things in order to bring a different reality into view.  He didn't just change technology...he changed how we live.

To read the complete USA Today article please click here.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

How Many People Make Up The Average U.S. Church?

Photo Credit: J. Stephen Conn
When it comes to the size of churches within the United States, most attention is placed on mega-churches (typically defined as congregations of over 2,000 members). But for the average American church-goer, it is probably assumed that their faith community is much smaller compared to other churches. However, this might not always be the case.

"The median church in the U.S. has 75 regular participants in worship on Sunday mornings, according to the National Congregations Study. Notice that researchers measured the median church size — the point at which half the churches are smaller and half the churches are larger — rather than the average (186 attenders reported by the USCLS survey), which is larger due to the influence of very large churches.

But while the United States has a large number of very small churches, most people attend larger churches. The National Congregations Study estimated that the smaller churches draw only 11 percent of those who attend worship. Meanwhile, 50 percent of churchgoers attended the largest 10% of congregations (350 regular participants and up).

Want to know more? Check the websites for the National Congregations Study at The US Congregational Life Survey (USCLS) website has statistics about congregations by religious traditions at"
Of American Protestant churches, there are 177,000 churches comprised of less than 100 members. There are 40 churches of over 10,000 members. Most Protestant church-goers (approximately 25 million Americans according to this research) attend churches made up of between 100 and 500 members

To read the complete Get Religion post please click here.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

When Worship Makes An Idol

Photo Credit: o!d
From Ronnie Martin:
"The sticky, tricky question is this: What happens when the worship leader is the one being worshiped? It’s a valid question when you consider the influential position that many celebrity worship stars are in when their job consists of providing hit songs to churches around the world for mass consumption. When you add in the fact that many church buildings are designed to rival concert hall settings, complete with a dizzying array of sound, screens, lights, fog, and conceptual stage props, it’s easy to understand why a modern worship leader may start relishing his time in the spotlight.

Not surprisingly, the Bible warns us against things like arrogance (Rom. 12:3) and selfish ambition (James 3:16), both of which can result from the many embellishments available to promote worship services in the 21st century. Instead, we are admonished to encourage and build one another up (1 Thes. 5:11) through the message of Christ “dwelling richly among us” (Col. 3:16). Worship is always going to be as good or bad as the person or object it’s worshiping, but the direction of true worship should always start and end with the gospel. While churches continue to battle incessantly over the direction of the sound, style, instruments, clothing, hymns, and volume, the REAL conversation that needs to happen is whether the message of God’s Word is being communicated to the people of God to sing praises to God in spirit and in truth. When we get that right, the details will follow more naturally, because nobody’s going to be that concerned with whether Johnny’s wearing skinny jeans, has a faux hawk, or plays a Telecaster. We’ll always be directionally challenged when we’re not looking directly at Christ."
To read the complete article entitled "Where Rock Stars Go To Die" by Ted Kluck and Ronnie Martin please click here.

(h/t to Justin Taylor)

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

The Victorious River

Photo Credit: mikecogh
From Oswald Chamber's classic devotional, My Utmost For His Highest:
"A river is victoriously persistent, overcoming all barriers. For a while it goes steadily on its course, but then comes to an obstacle. And for a while it is blocked, yet it soon makes a pathway around the obstacle. Or a river will drop out of sight for miles, only later to emerge again even broader and greater than ever. Do you see God using the lives of others, but an obstacle has come into your life and you do not seem to be of any use to God? Then keep paying attention to the Source, and God will either take you around the obstacle or remove it. The river of the Spirit of God overcomes all obstacles. Never focus your eyes on the obstacle or the difficulty. The obstacle will be a matter of total indifference to the river that will flow steadily through you if you will simply remember to stay focused on the Source. Never allow anything to come between you and Jesus Christ— not emotion nor experience— nothing must keep you from the one great sovereign Source."

Monday, September 05, 2011

When Leaders Lose Their Soul

Photo Credit: Entrer dans le reve
From Ruth Haley Barton's book, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry:
"These days (and maybe every day) there is real tension between what the human soul needs in order to be truly well and what life in leadership encourages and even requires. There is the tension between being and doing, community and cause, truth-telling and putting the right spin on things. There is the tension between the time it takes to love people and the need for expediency. There is the tension between the need for measurable goals and the difficulty of measuring that which is ultimately immeasurable by anyone but God himself.

There is the tension between the need for organizational hierarchy with all the power dynamics this creates and the mutuality and interdependence of life in community to which we as Christians are called. There is the tension between knowing how to "work the system" and entering into trustworthy relationships characterized by trust and a commitment to one another's well-being. There is the tension between the need for an easy discipleship process through which we can efficiently herd lots of people and the patient, plodding and ultimately mysterious nature of the spiritual transformation process. And then there is the challenge of knowing how to speak of these things in fruitful ways in the very inside places of power without becoming polarized in our relationships with one another.

...The temptation to compromise basic Christian values -- love, community, truth-telling, confession and reconciliation, silent listening and waiting on God for discernment -- for the sake of expedience is very great. In a high performance culture (both secular and religious), holding to deep spiritual values in the face of the pressure to perform -- whether performance is measured by numbers, new buildings or the latest innovation -- is one of the greatest challenges of spiritual leadership."

Friday, September 02, 2011

He's A God Of Second Chances

Photo Credit: SamPac
"For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." ~ Jesus

Did you know that you are never beyond the reach of God's love? No matter what you've done or how you've messed up, I believe my God to be the God of second chances.

The video here illustrates this point. Carlos Whittaker, who is a worship leader and well-known blogger, was recently recording a music video for his song, God of Second Chances. While recording the video, a homeless man named Danny sat down beside him and joined the song. I'll let you watch the rest.

God hasn't given up on you, so don't you ever give up on Him.

(h/t to John Hursh for the link)