Thursday, May 31, 2012

How One Evangelical Church Is Reaching Out To The Gay Community

Photo Credit: Royal Oak
Missionary Church
While driving with my twelve-year-old son to church early one Sunday morning a few weeks, I noticed a large billboard next to a major road that had caught his eye. The billboard was touting "Gay Days", an annual event here in Orlando where Disney and a number of other businesses sponsor events tailored for the gay and lesbian community.

I asked my son if he knew what "gay" meant and why there were two men on the billboard together. He understood what it implied and this led into what I thought was a healthy conversation (which was really not all that awkward considering that we had had "the talk" some time ago) and I explained to him how we should respond as Christians to people like those on the billboard.

We discussed that even if we don't understand the choices of others or don't necessarily agree with their lifestyles that we should still respect others and not tease, make fun of or be mean to them. I told him that there may be people we know that are gay, even if won't don't realize it. As a Christian, I believe that God's Word instructs me to stand up for the ridiculed and the marginalized and to demonstrate His love to all those He brings across our path.

With the recent vote in North Carolina and President Obama's comments on gay marriage, as well as the widespread media coverage of cringe-worthy comments from some members of the clergy, the topics of homosexuality and gay rights are very much at the forefront of the national dialogue. Although there are some Christian ministers that continue to build barriers between people of faith and the gay community, I know of at least one church that is intentionally reaching out to gays and lesbians in a loving and creative manner.

Royal Oak Missionary Church (ROMC), led by Pastor Bill Barnwell and located just outside of Detroit, is dear to my heart in so many ways. Not only is it the church that nurtured my wife in her youth and eventually sent her out as a missionary, but it is also the place where Lori and I became husband and wife. Many dear friends of ours are members of ROMC and I couldn't be prouder of what they are doing this weekend.

The church is putting on a play entitled "Masks" that will address topics like marital infidelity and homosexuality, with proceeds from the play going to a non-profit organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention to gay and lesbian youth and those struggling with their sexual identity.

The Daily Tribune shares about the play:
"If a church proclaims itself as pro-life, the members should care about gay teenagers who are at risk of committing suicide. 
That’s what the Rev. Bill Barnwell of Warren believes. He is practicing what he preaches with his evangelical congregation at Royal Oak Missionary Church, 411 E. 11 Mile Road. 
Barnwell’s play called “Masks” opens next week at the church and 80 percent of the proceeds from ticket sales and advertising will go to The Trevor Project. Even before the curtain rises June 1, the church has raised about $6,000 for the nonprofit group that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth.  
“I attribute the fundraising success so far to people in the church just really catching the vision for saving young lives and seeing the value in reaching out a hand of friendship and love to the LGBT community and letting them know that their lives matter,” said Barnwell, calling his congregation brave. The central theme of his three-act play is that secrecy breeds dysfunction in any relationship. Barnwell intertwined two major plots in the script with a closeted gay youth pastor driven to despair after years of torment and a prominent, successful married couple struggling with infidelity and their teenagers’ sexually related angst. 
While some pastors are going on record as saying that they wish we could just get rid of all gay people, I'm thankful there are others like Bill Barnwell that are willing to take faith risks and face the scorn of their own community so that gays and lesbians can find life in Christ. If we as Christians say we are pro-life, we need to be pro-life for everyone. We don't have to agree with people to esteem them as image bearers of God and I'm grateful that a church that I am so close to is doing just that.

If you live in the Detroit-area and would like to see the play this weekend, please visit here for ticket information.

Monday, May 21, 2012

25 Books That Have Changed My Life

Photo Credit: sarah_browning
"A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting." ~ Henry David Thoreau

One of the greatest gifts that I received as a child was a love of reading. I hope I've passed that love onto my children and to those that I have had the privilege of leading over the years. Books contain the potential to inspire, challenge, convict, educate, entertain and even change us when we apply what we've learned.

By far, the book that has changed my life the most is the Holy Bible. After that, there are countless others that have changed the way I view God, myself, others and the world in which we live.

I was once advised that when you find an author whose words resonate deep within your soul by penning the thoughts and feelings you've had but couldn't describe, then try to read everything that person has ever written. With writers like Brennan Manning, Elisabeth Elliot or Randy Alcorn, I've attempted to do just that.

But so that certain authors don't take up most of the spots on the list below, I'm only citing each author once. Here are 25 books that have changed my life (in alphabetical order):
1.  The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You by John C. Maxwell 
2.  Abba's Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging by Brennan Manning 
3.  The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X & Alex Haley
4.  Born Again by Charles W. Colson 
5.  Breaking Down Walls: A Model for Reconciliation in an Age of Racial Strife by Glen Kehrein & Raleigh Washington 
6.  Changes That Heal by Henry Cloud 
7.  Come Help Change The World by Bill Bright 
8.  Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist by John Piper 
9.  Disciplines Of A Godly Man by R. Kent Hughes 
10. Dominion by Randy Alcorn 
11. Eternal Security - Can You Be Sure? by Charles Stanley 
12. Every Man's Battle: Winning the War on Sexual Temptation One Victory at a Time by Stephen Arterburn, Fred Stoeker and Mike Yorkey 
13. From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans by John Hope Franklin

14. Just As I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham by Billy Graham 
15. Knowing God by J. I. Packer 
16. Let Prayer Change Your Life by Becky Tirabassi 
17. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis 
18. More Than A Carpenter by Josh McDowell 
19. My Utmost For His Highest by Oswald Chambers 
20. Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald 
21. Roaring Lambs: A Gentle Plan to Radically Change Your World by Bob Briner
22. Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot by Elisabeth Elliot
23. The Forgotten Trinity: Rediscovering the Heart of Christian Belief by James R. White 
24. The Master Plan Of Evangelism by Robert E. Coleman 
25. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Without these books I would not be the person I am so I am indebted to the authors who wrote them. Hopefully my listing them might inspire you to check out some of the books that I've found helpful in my own journey.

What books have changed you?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Ethnic Minorities Now The Majority of U.S. Births

Photo Credit: alles-schlumpf
From USA Today:
"More than half of all babies born last year were members of minority groups, the first time in U.S. history. It's a sign of how swiftly the USA is becoming a nation of younger minorities and older whites. 
Hispanics, blacks, Asians and other minorities in 2011 accounted for 50.4% of births, 49.7% of all children under 5 and slightly more than half of the 4 million kids under 1, the Census Bureau reports today. 
The nation's growing diversity has huge implications for education, economics and politics. "Children are in the vanguard of this transition," says Kenneth Johnson, a demographer at the University of New Hampshire's Carsey Institute. 
In all, minorities had 5.9% fewer babies last year than in 2010, but births among non-Hispanic whites fell even more, down 10.1%, Johnson says. A key reason: A greater share of the minority population is of child-bearing age. 
The new report offers a broad picture of where and how the nation is changing. One telling sign: vast differences in the median age — the mid-point of all ages — of racial and ethnic groups. For Hispanics, the USA's largest minority group, the median age is 27.6. For whites who are not Hispanic, it's 42.3. Blacks (30.9) and Asians (33.2) are in between."
To read the complete article please click here.

Monday, May 07, 2012

How Will The Next Generation Be Known?

Photo Credit: San Jose Library
My parents' generation is known as the Baby Boomers. I'm a member of Generation X. Those that came after me are called the Millennials. But how will my children's generation be referred?

From USA Today:
"But exactly what do you call a generation of techno-junkies? How about Generation Wii — after the wildly popular home video game console? Or, perhaps, the iGeneration — with a wink and nod to Apple's iPod and iPhone? Both are in the running. So are a bunch of other tech-drenched monikers, including Gen Tech, Digital Natives and, of course, Net Gen.

"Everyone wants to be the first to come up with the name," says Cheryl Russell, dubbed the goddess of demography at New Strategist Publications, who is one of several with claims to have coined the term iGeneration, which she says she created three years ago. "It's cool — and you gain credibility."

The more important question: What does one generation have to gain — or lose — from the name with which it's tagged? Certainly, no one wants to be linked to a generation of deadbeats or lowlifes. Little wonder those names have never risen to the top of any generational list. None officially dubbed Pathetic Generation — at least, not yet. But some might call Gen Z — a term still in-the-running for the next generation — rather off-putting. If Boomers felt a sense of common strength, Millennials may have felt a sense of shared destination. Ultimately, a generational name reflects its hope or pessimism. 
"Generational labels don't always reflect reality," says psychology professor and generational writer Jean Twenge. "Often, they reflect the hopes of what people want a generation to be."
The world that my children is growing up in is much different than the reality in which I was raised. Technology plays a much more important role as access to information and the ability to communicate much more readily has dramatically affected our lifestyles and choices. In addition, the increasing ethnic diversity and religious pluralism greatly influences how we view our world and those different from ourselves.

My hope for my children (and those of their generation) is that they are able to leverage technology to make a difference in the world and not merely for vain pursuits. My desire is that the diversity that surrounds them would enable them to relate to others in a more compassionate manner than those of us of earlier eras often have.

My dream is that they would become known as a generation of people that selflessly give of themselves so that others would be able to find a life that can't be attained merely through advanced technology or fancy gadgets. It is a life that is discovered through an encounter with our Creator. And all of the things that this next generation will be known for -- a strong sense of community,  a desire for service to others, technological adeptness -- can be used for God's glory. That brings me great hope -- no matter what they may end up being called.