Friday, October 12, 2007

He's Dead Jim

Sorry... this alternate blog site is dead. Use it or lose it, and nobody's using it.

But the real blog lives on:

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Just As I Am (all 6 verses)

Personally, I’m not satisfied with the traditional invitation song. I think that there are better ways to give people a chance to respond to a message.

But I’d like to hear your thoughts. Here’s a couple of questions: Do you think that the traditional “come down front” invitation song is the best way to let people respond to a sermon? If not, do you have any suggestions as to what might be better?

Monday, September 17, 2007

We interrupt this regularly scheduled blog to bring you this special announcement…

I haven’t been mixing in my ministry stuff on this blog, but I decided to make an exception. We just revamped our website, and I wanted to invite you to take a look. Take a moment to listen to a video or two and read some of the stuff there. Then let me know what you think.

Of course, I’d appreciate it if you’d pass the site address on to others. Thanks!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Swimming in other waters

I started my last post with a saying that I’ve found useful: “The fish doesn’t know that he’s wet.” It captures the idea that we are surrounded by a culture, and because it surrounds us, it’s hard for us to be aware of its effects. In that last post, I raised the question of how the church can objectively deal with questions about the Christian and the military while living in a militarized society.

Let me offer a short role playing exercise to aid in the process. Admittedly, I’m going to choose rather extreme examples; I think we need to look at contexts that are very different from our own.

So, here goes. Imagine that you’re a parent. Your 18-year-old son comes to you and tells you that he wants to join the military. How do you think you would react if…

  1. You live in the second century. You’ve seen the Roman military used to round up Christians in times of persecution. The current emperor tolerates Christianity, so there is no persecution at present. Now your son wants to join the military.

  2. You live in Germany. Your grandfather fought for the Kaiser, your father for Hitler. You were forced to serve in the military under the Communists in East Germany, guarding the Berlin Wall to make sure that no one escaped. Now your son wants to join the military.

  3. You live in Latin America. You lived through the time of the “dirty war,” when thousands who opposed the government disappeared at the hands of the secret police and the military. Now your son wants to join the military.

  4. You live in Nigeria, one of thousands of Christians in that African nation. The U.S. has declared that Nigeria is aiding terrorists and is planning to intervene. Your son wants to join the military to defend his country.

  5. You live in Kentucky in 1861. The men from your congregation have divided, some joining the Union, some joining the Confederacy. Now your son wants to join the military, taking up arms against people he grew up going to church with.

Maybe five fish bowls will be enough to start with. Swim in those waters a bit before wrestling anew with the question of Christians and the military.

Monday, September 03, 2007

The church in a militarized society

The fish doesn’t know that he’s wet.

“Can a man who served in a war be considered for elder since he might have killed?” Question asked in Piedras Negras, Mexico, during a training session on elders

“Can a Christian be a policeman?” Question asked in C√≥rdoba, Argentina

This post isn’t about the answer to those questions. (Patrick Mead { } has been doing an interesting study on the question of whether or not a Christian may kill.) This post is about whether or not we ask these kinds of questions. Does living in a militarized society shape our views of Christian life? The obvious, easy answer is yes, but I’m not into obvious, easy answers.

Most countries have some sort of military. In many countries, military service is obligatory. Most who serve in the armed forces around the world will never be involved in combat activities; their military will never be used to fight. That’s not true in this country. For decades, our military has been almost constantly in action, so much so that we take it for granted. The use of force to accomplish goals is a given.

Rather than snap decisions about being pacifists or being pro-military, we need to learn to try and step out of our culture, step out of our current situation, step out of the emotionalism, and look hard at what Scripture has to say. It’s not easy. But it’s necessary. On every issue.

So to start with, give me suggestions on how we, the fish, take a look at things from a non-fish point of view. How do we step out of the water to look at the world around us? Don’t give me the answers yet to war, pacifism, self-protection, etc. Tell me about the process. How do we escape the cage of culture?

I’m going to be traveling a lot in the next few weeks, but I’ll try and stay with this study, stay with this discussion.

Friday, August 24, 2007

A both/and mission trip

Something happened to missions in the church. I don’t know if it’s a symptom or a cause (probably both), but you see it in our mission trips. When we returned from Argentina, I was soon invited to go on a mission trip to Mexico. It wasn’t until it was almost time to go that I realized that the whole trip was going to be about building houses. That’s all the kids would do. Very limited interaction with the local members. Almost no interaction with outsiders. No sharing their faith verbally (I’m trying to choose my words carefully).

We have a generation, or seemingly several generations, that gives little importance to verbal proclamation of the gospel. Yes, we preach with our actions. I know the phrase “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one.” But honestly, people need both. Samuel Shoemaker, instrumental in the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous, wrote: “A good life can testify to the belief in some kind of Higher Power… I do not know any mere example that can quite tell people that we believe God spoke in Christ to all men forever, or that Christ is His incarnate Son, or that the cross saves you and me from sin, or that the Resurrection is the crowning article of faith for us Christians.” (Extraordinary Living for Ordinary Men, p. 71) We live out the gospel, but it takes our words to explain it.

I work for Herald of Truth, a non-profit that does mass media ministry around the world. A few years ago, the leaders of our group toyed with the idea of becoming a relief organization. Why? Because it’s easy to raise money for relief. Show people a picture of a hungry child, and they’ll give you money. Talk about wanting to take that child’s family the message that will transform them and their people forever, and people yawn. After the tsunami in 2005, money poured in to help that area. A missionary to that area sighed and said, “Why can’t we even raise a fraction of that for Bibles?”

When we tell our kids that they are going to do missions, then the only tool we train them to use is a hammer, we are affecting their idea of evangelism for the rest of their life. Why not create opportunities for our kids to share their faith through their actions and their words? Must it be either or?

In college, I went on a 5-day mission trip to Hartford, Connecticut. We worked in a soup kitchen. Volunteered with retarded kids. But we also canvassed a neighborhood, inviting people to a seminar at the newly planted church in that area. It can be done.

Let’s recapture missions in the church. Let’s teach our people about evangelism. Let’s turn our mission trips back into mission trips.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Curse of Knowledge

When I’m reading an interesting book, I drive my wife crazy by quoting bits and snatches to her (this is just one weapon, of course, in my drive-my-wife-crazy repertoire). Lately I’ve been doing it with the book Made to Stick.

Find this book. Read this book. Anyone who shares ideas with other people could benefit from reading this book.

One concept used throughout the book is the concept of The Curse of Knowledge. The authors illustrate this problem in the following excerpt:

In 1990, Elizabeth Newton earned a Ph.D. in psychology at Stanford by studying a simple game in which she assigned people to one of two roles: "tappers" or "listeners." Tappers received a list of twenty-five well-known songs, such as "Happy Birthday to You" and "The StarSpangled Banner." Each tapper was asked to pick a song and tap out the rhythm to a listener (by knocking on a table). The listener's job was to guess the song, based on the rhythm being tapped. (By the way, this experiment is fun to try at home if there's a good "listener" candidate nearby.)
The listener's job in this game is quite difficult. Over the course of Newton's experiment, 120 songs were tapped out. Listeners guessed only 2.5 percent of the songs: 3 out of 120.
But here's what made the result worthy of a dissertation in psychology. Before the listeners guessed the name of the song, Newton asked the tappers to predict the odds that the listeners would guess correctly. They predicted that the odds were 50 percent. The tappers got their message across 1 time in 40, but they thought they were getting their message across 1 time in 2. Why?
When a tapper taps, she is hearing the song in her head. Go ahead and try it for yourself — tap out "The Star-Spangled Banner." It's impossible to avoid hearing the tune in your head. Meanwhile, the listeners can't hear that tune — all they can hear is a bunch of disconnected taps, like a kind of bizarre Morse Code.

There are lots of good points in this book, but this one jumped out at me. It’s so hard to put ourselves in the shoes of those who don’t know what we know. Have you ever tried to explain the gospel to someone who knew nothing about the Bible? Have you ever tried to tell the message of salvation without using church words?

Sometimes I think we’re preaching “Amazing Grace,” but the world hears “Happy Birthday.”