Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A video from some of my students in Indiana State Prison

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LsHNCXtvgqo

This is a video taken during a service in Michigan City at the prison. Many of the people in the video were from my class that I taught last year.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A weekend of rain

With more rain coming down this weekend in the northwest Indiana area than any other time in 150 years it made for quite a bit of trouble. While inside a grocery store on sunday the loudspeaker came on and the announcement was "whoever has the red s-10 truck in the employee parking lot please move it or else you are going to be unable to get into it."
There was a story that summed up this weekend was in our local newspaper www.nwitimes.com was about a school teacher, his dad trying to save a boy from a rain filled area. Fortunately the boy was alive and taken to the hospital, unfortunately the teacher and his dad died in the rescue effort. Although I do not know anything about these men personally I do know that when weighing options in life they had made their decisions a long time before they tried to save this boy.
As we order priorities in life where do we put others? I went to a prayer breakfast this morning with Lloyd Ogilive (former senate chaplain) as the keynote speaker. He shared how when praying for new senator's he would pray that they would put God first, family second, nation third, and last on the list personal ambitions. How would life change if we contiunually live this way? Whether we have the influence of the those in the U.S. Senate or just those in our immediate family we all have an ability to put serve and sacrifice for others.
As we can only imagine what is going to happen with the American financial situation, where are our priorities and where do we have our agendas? The answers to tough questions like this seem to get easier when we have previously arranged our priorities and realized that putting self ambition first is not going to be the answer.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A determined runner

This past weekend Valparaiso celebrated it's most famous alumni Orville Redenbacker with it's popcorn festival. Like many other small Indiana town festivals it mixes some part of it's heritage. Valpraiso not only has a parade, venders, food, a balloon launch but it also has a 5 mile race and it's marquee event called the lil' kernal race.
From general estimates anywhere from 300-500 kids ages 2-9 race down Valparaiso mainstreet in age groups and heats of 20-25.The 7-9 race 300 yards, 4-6 200 yards and then 2-3 100 yards. It is a run in front of family,friends, valpoites, and those who wanted to stake their claims out for the parade.
Ayden had run in the this event once before we had held out Kyle and Ellyse due to not knowing how they would handle it. This year we decided to sign them all up to run. Although Kyle is 8 we thought it best if he just ran the 200 yards with Ellyse. We had no idea how he would do, we thought worse case scenerio he would trip, fall, and be bloody the rest of the day.
When it was the 6 year olds time to shine, Jill pushed through the crowds to get Ellyse and Kyle into position. They reached the starting line with every other parent in northwest indiana who thought their child is going to be the next Usain Bolt. There were racer helpers who would escort the kids to the finish line and Jill asked one of them to occompany Kyle. The race started out and all the kids darted down the road. All the kids that is but Kyle. He tried to run as fast as his legs would take him, but he doesn't move to well because of the muscle Dystrophy. Soon it was very evident that this was going to take a while. When he was a quarter of the way to through the course Ellyse and the rest of the kids finished. Kyle was very determined to finish, although his legs are not strong his will made up for it. As he labored the remaining 150 yards a couple of other helpers joined in encouraging him to finish. I thnk there was very little doubt in Kyle's mind that he couldn't finish. As he neared the finishing line Jill's uncle told the announcer that the little boy's name on the course was Kyle. He began cheering on the loudspeaker for Kyle and immediately the throughs of people gathered began to follow.
As they were cheering his name a huge smile came across Kyle's face and with all the energy he could muster he ran the remaining 25 yards as fast as his legs would carry him.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Do I really miss people?

In taking my daughter to school I encounter a girl who attends the church gathering that I am apart of. I had talked to her last Sunday and realized she was not in attendance yesterday. My first thought today when I saw her was to say I missed you at our church service yesterday. Then I began processing it in my head, did I really miss her? Would I have talked to her? If I tell her I miss her will the expectations be different next time she comes to the gathering?
In general Christians make a lot of empty promises to other people in their church communities. I am sure this happens to us in other places of the world but I personally notice it quite a bit in the Christian community. We are quick to ask someone how he or she is doing, or say nice little sayings like God is in control, or we are praying for you. The question is not do we actually care, because I know deep down most of us have hearts that deeply care about others. The problem is most of us as human’s want to fix the problem. Christian clich√©’s are great; every time there is a problem in my life I have many well-meaning people who send me the same clich√©’s. Is there anything wrong with this? No, this is our best attempt to speak on God’s behalf and give others peace. In thinking about the words Jesus gave to hurting people most of them were much more practical than religious fluff. I am sorry the last words in the world I want to hear when my mother in law was diagnosed with cancer, or Kyle with MD is “it’s God’s will.” It is taking all I can to make it through this and I am envisioning God crying with me but when I hear the word’s it’s God’s will I am visualizing a God sitting in heaven with His arms folded saying buck up and deal with it.
When was the last time when someone in the Christian community just sat and cried with you when you were going through a struggle? When was the last you asked someone how they were doing you sat and listened without giving advice? When was the last time someone came up and started talking about how they had a goiter removed, boils, and some strange fungus when we listened and didn’t run away? So going back to this girl who I encountered today I would love to tell her we missed her at church, but I have to ask myself the question am I ready for a persons expectations to change? Am I ready for a person to expect that people will ask “how are you?” and then listen for an answer? Are our churches ready for these types of expectations or we content with fluff answers and little compassion.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Personal update

Personal Update
I like to write about concepts than about my personal life, but I would like to share an update what has been going on with Jill and I over the past month.
A change has been in the making since August 1, that day Jill’s mom was diagnosed with stage 3-breast cancer. This was out of the blue and totally unexpected. With me driving three times a week to Goshen we decided that this was not going to work with Jill needing and wanting to spend more time with her mom.
It was bittersweet leaving Goshen. This had never worked out the way we had planned, we had not sold our house. The pastor who I had felt a connection with had left. Even with all that there had been many people who I had grown close to. August 24 was my last Sunday there. Now to what next ? I had thought a lot about what to do, I really wanted to stay in ministry but I wanted something that was in the valpo area and also that was flexible enough to allow Jill to spend as much time as possible with her mom. In a complete working out of many factors and God answering prayers. I was contacted by a pastor from Jill’s home church, this pastor is also the former president of Taylor while I attended. They had a interm opening for a campus pastor for a emerging generation video venue service. After a couple conversations I realized this is what I was praying for, something that was flexible but yet also doing something I am passionate about. It works for this time and I still have no idea what the future will hold but I believe God has worked out all these circumstances. I have written in the past about feeling like not even having the same puzzle pieces but now it seems to have all come together and that is a huge answer to prayer.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Maslow and the church

In the 1950s renown psychologist Abraham Maslow boiled down volumes of research into a list of needs and desires that people try to fulfill:

Transendence: help others realize their potential.
Self actualization: realize our own potential, self-fulfillment, peak experience.
Aesthetic: symmetry, order, beauty, balance
Learning: know, understand, and mentally connect
Esteem: achieve, be competent, gain approval, independence, status
Belonging: love, family, friends, affection
Security: protection, safety, stability
Physical: hunger, thirst, bodily comfort

These were first shown as a hierocracy with filling each need in an order, starting with physical and as we have each need met we move until we fulfill our transendence need. Subsequent research has shown that it isn’t so much a hierocracy but rather having these needs met simultaneously.

Let’s say that Maslow was right in diagnosing the basic human needs and that these 8 cover the majority of our worries and fears. Let’s say that no matter what the culture is we humans have the same core needs. It may look different in context but basically we are all the same with our plight as humans.

I was reminded of Maslow recently in reading through made to stick by Chip and Dan Heath and started thinking of how this would apply to Christianity and the church.

I have read many books on outreach and evangelism in the church, in thinking back over these readings I have read many on the church filling one of the specific aspects. Such as the need to belong or for meeting the physical need. Is it possible for a church to be cognizant of fulfilling each of these aspects? There are individual churches that may be real good at one or two of these while neglecting others. Maybe churches should only focus on or two of these.

Are we happy and content with the types of people who come or are involved with our churches? I have talked to many pastors who are trying to reach a different age group or niche group. The most common age group of people they are trying to reach is the 20/30 something family. The question is, is the church even coming close to meeting the felt need of this age group? Being in this age group I would say the number one need is someone to watch and protect my children. We went to a church that there two rooms of children church one for anyone under two and the other for ages 3-6th grade. My kids were frightened and didn’t want to go back because they were with much older kids.
Or churches that don’t have a strong musical base, is it because they don’t embrace the aesthetics’?

The question is, was Maslow right with his evaluation about people? If we were to look at the life of Jesus and the way he recruited people he used many of these needs to draw them in. The interesting part of American Christianity is that we have thought the draw for so long to Christianity has been the fear of hell. Yes, there are some people who want the thought of eternal security. This may be why the churches are filled with same types of people, those who want safety. What about the rest of us, what about those who want to have their adventure quota filled? What about those who want to invest in others? There was a place in Jesus life for those who had these other needs and I believe there is a place in the church for them also, but we need to challenge and present Christianity in away that is more appealing than join so you can escape hell.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Is the American church relevant?

Yes the word relevant has been overused and this topic may have been dissected from every which way of late but I hope to add to the conversation with this peace.
It is always exciting being part of an organization that is being talked about and respected in circles that are outside the inner circle. It was exciting to me to see Rick Warren do the talk with both Obama and McCain a couple weeks ago on national television. Warren having the ability to pull off the first joint meeting was amazing. That a pastor would have the influence to do this is great. Yes we may not want Rick Warren as the spokesman for the American church but if the general American people see him as someone credible than there can be hope for us.
When was the last time other than someone in our circle of Christian friends and church members cared what went on in our churches? When was the last time someone other than the Christians in the community came to church because of our clever church signs or read the religious pages of the newspapers? I am sure it occasionally happens but does this get the attention of the community as a whole.
Yes the churches have begun to do a lot more with national and worldwide crises. There has been some great press with hurricane Katrina, and other tragedies. Does the community care when we have Bible School, if we have a guest speaker, or having a church wide picnic? All of these are done in the name of evangelism. I feel I can speak as somewhat of an expert on this topic because I have been to hundreds of these events. The vast majority of these do not attract anyone other Christians. Why? Is it because we are doing events that we enjoy not what the community as a whole cares about? Do we even know what would be relevant to people who are not like us?
I have heard many ministries and churches who want to reach Valpo University. I always ask what are you going to do? Start a Bible study, offer to pick up college kids in vans, put up fliers in the union, or have a Christian radio show at the station. Nothing wrong with any of these ideas, it will attract the Christians. In order to reach anyone who is either a dechurched or unchurched student these ideas are probably not going to work. What if the plan was to deliver pizza to every dorm room with a person from the church delivering it saying “hey we are from such and such church and we wanted you to know we cared about you, here is is our email address and if you have anything you need please contact us.” Would this cost money? Yes, would it be worth it, yes if we are trying to reach the unchurched or dechurched.
Going back to my neighbors who I have enjoyed spending time with, what do they do on Sunday mornings? Mow their lawns. Why do they do this on Sunday mornings? Is it because this is the only time they can do it because they work 6 days a week to support their families? If they are like us their schedules are just as crazy as the rest of us and they have their times maxed out. If I expect them to come to church how can I lighten their load? Can I volunteer to watch their kids, or mow their lawns?
I believe we are in the middle of relevance we have huge potential of being relevant but it is going to work and sacrifice on our part. Spirituality doesn’t always mean sitting in our houses and churches praying and reading our Bible.

Monday, August 25, 2008

What does it mean to be different?

After my last post I had many comments and opinions. They run the spectrum of agreement and disagreement. I am sure this is a much more important topic to us in the American church than anywhere else.
Let me preface anything I say from here on by saying because of my current position I am refraining from alcohol.
Alcohol is just a small tip of the ice berg of the relationship Christians have with the cultural and those around us who are not of the same belief as us.
Last night I spent time with my neighbors and one of the neighbors hasn’t spent to much time around me much. He goes to church but I have no idea what his commitment is to his faith. As the other neighbors were drinking and shooting the breeze, this new neighbor was different than the rest. He still drank, smoked, and cussed but every once a while he would throw a religious phrase into the conversation. He was trying to impress me in some way but it was very disingenuous and strange. I was trying to figure out why he found the need to act this way? Is this what we have taught in church? Have we really never reached into the core of the problems but rather just tried to give people ways of covering up deeper problems by giving them clever phrases?
Is smoking, drinking, or cussing any of my neighbors biggest problems? Absolutely not, every single one of them have kids, wives, and families they worry about. Last night we talked at length about how we “deal” with wives. How we are embarrassed if our kids act up at restraints or get in trouble at school.
I think our biggest problems as Christians we can never get to core issues with non-Christians because we can never get over small surface issues. We can never get to the core problems of sexuality because we are so hung up in the acts of it. Last week I ran into one of my former youth group members and she introduced me to her girlfriend.
Immediately the people I was with started snickering and criticizing as soon as she left. My heart hurt for this girl, no I don’t agree with her life choices, but what is really going on in her life? Is the biggest issue that she chooses to be with a girl rather than a boy? Probably not, her biggest issue maybe the hurt that led her to this decision. Homosexuality in my mind is a surface issue rather than the root problem.
If I want to be different I am going to work hard at having the fruit of the spirit evident in my life and try patiently with dealing with others. Anybody can criticize, complain, boycott, or picket. It is a whole lot harder if we decide to get involved and be the light.Remember alcohol, smoking or whatever is just a coping mechanism to deal with the stress of the world. Biting my fingernails is one coping mechanism and it might not be looked down on as much but it still isn’t extremely healthy.

Friday, August 22, 2008

To drink or not to drink?

Why is alcohal such a big deal in the American church? Actually I know and came from a dry house. We never had alcohal in the house and I remember looking down on other people from our church who did drink. It is frowned on in many evangelical circles, and I have never really drank because of working with teens and being an example. I have been re evaluating my stance and my attitude toward this subject. In my reasoning previous it was always with the thought of avoiding the appearance of evil. Is alcohal evil? Of course the abuse of alcohal is evil, but so is the abuse of money, over eating, and many other issues that us American Christian's are good at.
I was having a conversation recently with a pastor friend of mine and we were talking about reaching our neighbors and into our neighborhoods. The question of alcohal came up, my neighbors stand in our neighborhoods on a nightly basis and drink beer. I have turned them down everytime they asked. Of course in my self righteous stance I am doing the right thing. The quesion is am I doing the right thing? As my conversation with this pastor progressed he told how he had done the same thing with his neighbors in a previous neighborhood, after the third time someone had asked if he wanted a beer, before he could answer one of his other neighbors said"no he is too good for our beer."
I have been thinking a lot about this since this conversation. If my neighbor brought me some food that they had slaved over and wanted me to eat it would I stick up my nose and say that smells funny or I am too good to eat your food? I am not going to just use this as a justification to drink? No but I am thinking that the general attitude of turning down beer from our neighbors may be a way of us giving the attidue and the air that we are better than them. The problem is we may actually think we are.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Observations from a people watcher.

I was able to do one of my favorite activities last night, I went to a baseball game. In trying to count the games I have been to in the last five years it has been over 20. The reason I enjoy baseball games so much is not for the game itself but rather the people I meet and observe. In New York last month when I went to Yankee stadium a twenty something introduced himself as "steriod man" and he was a fellow Red Sox fan and said that if anyone messed with me he would take care of me.
I have shared in earlier blogs about the type of people I meet in stadiums and the type of conversations that happen. Last year in Cleveland I was invited to a strip club (which I turned down) and as a way of insulting us red sox fans chest hair was thrown at us. Is this normal behaivor or an excuse for too much alcohal? Last night the question was brought back up in my mind. Does alcohal just bring to light who we really are or does it impare our judgements?
I was sitting next to my brother in law and this twenty something blonde sat next to us in the isle we were sitting in. She was a red sox fan and tried making small talk with my brother in law and me. She was a little annoying and not someone that I wanted to spend the whole night having a conversation with so I partially ignored her. There were four guys in front of us who were from Boston on business who were in the their late twenties early thirties. I had overheard one mention something about being married early in the game, but that didn't seem to matter as the night went on and their interest in the blonde became more evident. As the beer kept coming the conversations got stronger I was wondering where this would go. It went to phone numbers being exchanged and plans to meet up at a bar. Why?
Observing human behaivor is very interesting. Do we all desire theforbidden aspects of life? Do any of us have the possibility of doing something life damaging on a regular basis?
As Christians I have this fear that many deny that these possibilities even exsist. I am going to be honest and say I know that I have the possibility of doing something that may ruin my life. Is this something that I ever want to happen? Absolutely not and I am going to do everything in my power not to. Unfortunately I have heard and seen to many stories of people who thought they were invincible and who ended up broken. This is so sad and I dont ever want to see anyone else go through this.
How is this story going to end for the married man? It is sad to think of all the people he may hurt beause of his decisions.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Patience and Perseverence

I want immediate success, if not time is wasting and off to the next venture. In recent weeks I have been reminded and been working on the art of perseverence. In reading a book on Cal Ripken and some of the keys to his longevity in the game of baseball he shares his keys to life. His first key is perseverence, and fighting through all the time he wanted to give up. One of the aspects that really hit me was that he would practice longer than anyone else. He would always be the last one to leave the field. It has been said about many great athletes that they were excellent in the area of perseverence. I am not so good being someone who perseveres.
This morning Seth Godin's blog(http://sethgodin.typepad.com/) talks about perseverence and patience. The easy part is coming up with an idea and even spending a week on an idea. The hard part is seeing ideas through to success. In watching the olympics this week I think it would be great to be an olympian. Then the reality of the sacrifice and commitment comes in. Do I want to spent the next four years perfecting my badmitton skills? Do I want to run every day and only focus on badmitton?
One of my problems and always has been is the desire to do many things and have new adventures. I am working on the whole focusing aspect of life and trying to persevere at a few things than trying and starting many things.
This is what I am trying to work on today, tomorrow, and the rest of my life.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Over looked leadership article

A friend of mine from college recently sent me a link from leadershipjournal.net, I want to share it because it resinated with my thinking
http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2008/002/7.32.html

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Made to stick

I have struggled over the past few months with reading. I have started a few books but have not had the dedication or determination to finish them. One of the books that I started reading and have recently picked back up is "Made to stick" by dan heath. This book was not written with pastors specifically in mind but there is a lot of information that could really be of help.
The basic premise of the book is what message are you getting out? Whether someone is a teacher,salesman, pastor, or whatever we all have a message that we are trying to get out. The question is is our message getting to our audience? Is our message delivered in such a way that people are desiring to learn more about what we say? Is our message said in such a way that people are digging for themselves even more than what we are giving them?
Unfortunately I have been in so many church services that do not have a plan or a specific theme for the day. It may have an overarching theme of God or God's love but not something that we could summerize in a sentence. In Bible school as a kid I always remember that their was one specific Bible verse and every thing about that day focused on the lesson that the Bible verse taught. It was focused on teaching one principle. Unfortunately we have listened and possibly preached sermons that afterwards we have may left scratching our heads about was the point of that. As the great line from Billy Madison said "Mr. Madison, what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I've ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response was there anything that could even be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it." Is this what more people are thinking when they leave a service ? I highly value pastors and I think that the message we have is so important and I think sometimes we don't realize the importance of how we say it is.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

My church isn't deep enough for me

This was a comment that a 20 something told me when he was describing his church during a conversation at the fair last week. This isn’t the first time I have heard this comment nor will it be the last. What does the comment really mean? Is it the lack of knowledge that a church or pastor has? Is it the void of the charismatic aspect of a particular service? Or is it lack of challenge or high expectations of its members?
As I conversed with this young gentleman to find out exactly what he meant his problem was the lack of charismatic elements in his church service. This conversation sparked my own thinking of mainline churches and even seeker sensitive services. The church isn’t deep enough seems to be a criticism that is leveled against these types of churches. There is an argument that can be made that a church is not responsible for each person’s spiritual growth. Which I agree with but I do think that the church can facilitate growth and can create environments where people can change.
Have these types of churches become safe to the point of their own detriment? Is safety a word that needs to describe the church? Yes in the context of children, but in the context of the way we are presented the Christian lifestyle probably not.
When one is looking for adventure, a dangerous lifestyle, or a life-changing mission does one look to Christianity or the church to help fulfill this goal? For those who have these types of goals in life the New Testament church would be a great place for them to fit into. Where would they fit now? I recently had a friend who helped smuggle Bibles into a communist country as part of a group of about 7. What if churches began to offer missions trips that offered the chance to change the world but had the possibility of prison or death what would happen? Our churches would begin to change the type of people who felt comfortable there. Our memberships may go down, but the dedication may go way up.

Friday, July 25, 2008

What do kids know?

What do kids know?

My kids make me laugh and amaze me on a regular basis. I took the three of them to a softball game last night and they were asking all sorts of questions about the umpire, for some reason Kyle asked if he could bump the umpire? Ellyse points to the umpire and says who is the old man in the blue?
They have also been asking different spiritual questions of late, I was listening to a pastor one day this week driving to Goshen and he was talking about the Luke 17 passage where Jesus gives warning to those who cause children to stumble. This pastor had a little different take on this passage than most. Most pastors who have talked about this as an issue of sin and us teaching correct theology. Which there is probably a lot of truth for this. What about our teaching about faith and trusting in God? It seems that kids have a much better grasp on this than us adult do. Are we going to be held responsible for trying and teach our kids that we can be self reliant and to be able to do things on our own?
I think that kids may be the better teachers on this subject than us adults are. Yesterday Jill and Kyle were having a discussion in the kitchen and we have a magnet with Jesus on it on the frig. Kyle asked a question about Jesus and Jill was explaining who Jesus was and how he died and saved us from death. We never know how kids will respond to conversations like this we have a formula that we think they will follow but they never do. Kyle’s response to this conversation shocked me, he looked at Jill and said Jesus is saving my muscles. We haven’t had many discussions about muscular dystrophy with him and I don’t really know how much he knows about the disease. He does know one thin though that Jesus can heal his muscles. Kids sometimes don’t need as much from us as we need from them.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

new york city missions trip video

This was made by Jeff Chupp.

video

Thursday, July 17, 2008

New York City Trip

I have mixed feelings about missions trips. On the one hand they are expensive, seem to do little to the culture we go into, and a little touristy. The flip side is what happens to the people who go on these trips.
Last week we had our trip to New York City. The question was asked the first night we were there “what do you want God to do on this trip?” My first thought was to get through this week. In a lot of ways we had already accomplished the goal we had gotten these kids to come here. This group of kid’s only months earlier had been scared to death to go Christmas caroling in our church neighborhood. So when the question was asked what do you want God to do? I was trying to be realistic; we knew that we were going to be serving at a soup kitchen, ministering to homeless, prayer walks, and prayer booths. I was trying to think what is possible; if they just participate I will feel this is an accomplishment.
Complaining is a defense mechanism, when we are fearful of the unknown we tend to criticize and make excuses to not participate or avoid the new event. Complaining is a big issue on missions trips for the teens and the leaders alike. As the leader I try and prepare myself as best I can for this attack. If I just allow the complaining to be the focal point we will all leave the trip exactly as we came and not allow ourselves to be changed.
So when we first arrived in New York the complaining stared, the rooms were cramped and hot. We had driven a long way (we did see a dead bear on the side of the road in Penn) and we were starting to get on each other’s nerves. The biggest issue on the trip was the no cell phone during ministry time rule. That is the one I had been preparing them for. I didn’t know if they could handle that one or not. The first night we had a little gripe session and it was challenged to them that if they were going to get something out of this trip that we don’t grumble and complain. To everyone in the groups credit the grumbling and complaining was almost non-existent through the trip.
The group exceeded even my best-case scenarios. The first day we had some change of plans because of too many people at the mission, the group leader asked if we would be willing to pray and pass out fliers with people on the streets. This was our first real test if we could not grumble and complain if we could make it by this then we would be fine. The group passed with flying colors. One of the teen boys came up to me half way through the day beaming and shared how he had made a girl cry. I wanted to know why this was a good thing, he then shared how he had asked her about her life and she was so moved when he asked her to pray that she started crying. I couldn’t believe how quick these kids jumped into to serve and love on people. It was this same story every day of the trip. Teens and adults coming up and sharing how they had prayed and talked to people. I was amazed at what God did in each and everyone of their lives.
We were at a prayer booth one of the days and I was with a teen who has never prayed out loud in the time I have been here and isn’t the most outgoing person. We were standing by the prayer booth when this older woman who had problems with her eyesight approached us. She wanted prayer that God would heal her. I asked if I could pray with her and she looked at the teen I was with and said I want him to pray for me. He then said a simple prayer of healing on this woman’s eyes. I was crying because I could not believe how much God had worked in this teens life to even be willing to do this. Seeing and hearing each teen talk about what God did in them will be a moment that I will never forget, hearing passion where there use to be apathy, courage where there use to be fear, love were there use to be indifference, and faith where there use to be doubt. We may not have changed New York, but New York changed us.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Circumstances

I was shaken back to reality during sunday school last sunday. We have been studying Genesis over the past months and this week we read through the chapter of Joseph and his landing in prison. I had to ask myself docircumstances make a person? I know I sometimes think if I wasn't in this position/situation in life than I could accomplish this or I could do that. As I was talking to the teens I began realizing that as much as I hate my circumstances, these circumstances have nothing to do with my being able to accomplish anything.
In thinking over my last two months I would say that this has been the most stressful time I have ever been through. Between commuting an 1 1/2, the pastor leaving, my house mess, and Kyle starting the process to begin steriods I have felt overwhelmed, discouraged beyond words, and pretty angry. It is my heartfelt prayer that this chapter of my life get over quickly.
In focusing on all the externals it is very easy for me to distiguish between who I am and the circumstances around. Will life be different when the circumstances change? Reality is I am still the same person just like Joseph.
He was the same person when he was in the house of pottopher as he was when he was in prison. This is a sharp dose of reality. I have little to no clue what the future holds for me. It wouldn't suprise me if I became an aflec salesman any more than it would suprise me if I stayed at St Marks or if I found a job in Valpo. But, these are all exteriors, rather the question is are any of these going to change the person that I am? I hope that I have the faith and trust that God does know what is going on, but I also have the responsibilty to continue being willing to grow into who God wants me to be. It is really not fun being in this position or answering the question what are you going to do? I can honestly answer I don't know, but I can answer I am working on being who God wants me to be in the meantime.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

How are we going to get to New York?

I never thought my life would be this affected by the rising costs of gas. With all my crazy commuting back and forth between goshen my gas costs are close to 25% of my income. I had friend joke with me the other day well you are going to be breaking even by the time the prices come to a close. Which hopefully won't happen. I have no idea who else it is effecting but personally it is effecting me. This is just a crazy situation but not as much of a headache as trying to find trnasportation to New York City this summer.
I wouldn't have thought getting to New York would be the toughest part of this mission trip planning. I was quoted $8,000 + a drivers hotel room for the week by a bus company, I was told that enterprise does not allow their vehicles from here to be driven to the city. Amtrack would be an interesting alternative but when I did my research the cost was lower but it goes from elkhart to cleveland to pittsburgh to washington dc to philadelphia to new york city. A fun filled 36 hours of being on a train each way. Granted there would be many stories to tell from that trip. Greyhound may be the best option. It only takes 26 hours again the stories from a greyhound bus is going to be unbelievable. We even checked into flying the price was do able about $250 per person. Then I started looking at the times and it said 11 hours from take off to getting down at JFk. After looking at the itinerary I found that it goes from south bend to chicago to cinncinati and then to New York. I guess that is do able all except transportation while in the city.
There has to be some unconventional way of thinking about this this problem adnd finding a solution. Maybe we could get on fed ex plane or a farmer needs 24 people to help him get pigs across the country,an amish family may have relatives in the new york area we could hitch a ride on a buggy or a prison bus has extra room. There has to be a cheaper way to get from here to New York. That is my mission and I would love any ideas or help. I am thinking boat may be the cheapest.
How is the price of gas changing your life?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Update on Kyle

I haven't talked alot about Kyle and his MD (muscular dystrophy) for the past few years. It is a tough topic for me to talk about and in some ways have tried to push it out of my mind for as much as I can.
Jill took Kyle to the doctor today. This is one of those appointments we have been dreading for the past few years. Our appointments up until this point had been filled with he is doing well at this point, he is stable and not going downhill. Today we knew that the doctor would be suggesting him start on his steriod medication. That was nt a suprise, I guess in my mind what was a suprise was that Kyle also has osteo perosis (?) and an enlarged part of the heart from overwork. Both of these are not uncommon in md patients, but it is hard because we can start seeing the deteriation we have been dreading for the past few years. I think the hardest part has been well meaning people tell us he looks fine, we think this isn't really going to happen. Well we wish it really wasn't going to happen and I believe God can heal him but if that doesn't happen reality says his body and inner organs are going to deteriate in front of us.
As hard as all the crazy things have been in the last year, these trials may only be preparing us for each of the coming trials we will have.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

We can vanquish fear

We can vanquish fear
I love the "Office" it is really the only show I watch on tv, other than all my bravo reality shows. In one episode Dwight decides to take Ryan on a sales call. Well Dwight first takes him to his beet farm for a lesson. In this lesson he brings Ryan into this barn and tells Ryan that in order to vanquish fear he needs to wrestle his cousin Mose who has fear written on his shirt. Ryan does not want any part of this so Dwight just suggests that he jump into this casket that is sitting in the back. If you don't follow the show this scenes is funny like most episodes.
What do we do to vanquish fear? If I am like anyone else I don't want to face up to my fears , I would rather manage them and try to skirt the issue until I am on my death bed. It is to painful and even when we come clean about the fear then we have a responsibility to change.
I spoke about David and Goliath last week in church and I did the childrens sermon on fear. So I asked all the little rascels what they were afraid of? Since I asked them what they were afraid I thought it was only appropriate to share one my many fears. I wanted it to be more tangible than lonliness, the future, or dead by termites. I told them snakes, which I hate. There is this one little boy who is the incarnation of the Crocodile hunter he has brought all sorts of crazy animals into the church including some florescent lizards, and some small furry australian rodent. I think he may have the reptile section of a zoo in his bedroom. When he heard I was scared of snakes he wanted to do something about it his mother told me.
He came to visit my in my office yesterday and he brought me a small garter snake I can handle it,and i thought this over. Well little did I know that around the corner from my office was a python that he had. So without me seeing he traded the garter snake for a python and then turned around and this 4 ft long pythoin was staring me down. I about jumped out of my chair.
This little boy is about 4 and he was telling me all about his pet python named stripes. He was trying to convince me that the snake wouldn't hurt me and I didn't have anything to be afraid off.
How do we vanquish fear? I think it is easier to deal with it when we are young because we still believe that things can change. I believe as we get older we settle for what life is and don't think to much about the hope that it will change.
I loved the little boy with the python, and his determination and desire to help me get over my fear of snakes and I just might with his help

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

"great" ideas

Some great church promotional gimmicks
With the time I have spent in Goshen I have been able to come up with some "great" ideas. It really is amazing how many warped ideas I can come up when given the time.
Feel free to use these ideas they are great:
1. Sell your imaginary friends on ebay- You have spent enough time with them, it is time for a change but for you and them. They need the time and the freedom to explore other parts of the world. You are confing them and clipping their wings. if you are over 30 the time has come to part with them, please let me help you. I may be the first one to tell you this but you have to let go.
2. Popsicyle night- We did this the other night at youth group. What is better than a cottage cheese popsiclye. I will tell you what might be- pickle juice, oatmeal, or relish. Mac and cheese not so good. But you can not beat spam and cheese on a frozen stick. Watch ebay for the recipe for spaghetti and meatball pops. It is going to be the newest fad. Next week is slushies and shakes. What is better than tunafish mixed with ice cream. Yum yum.
3. A car wash- this may not sound like a new idea but here is the catch. We are auctioning off car washes on line to any one in contential us. Say there is extremely dirty car in topeka kansas that the owner would want just the right group of teens to wash. he can buy our services. It will be the newest youth group ad. Combine two great events road trips and car washes. It will be a huge money raiser. oh wait it costs money to get to Topeka kansas.
4. Make your own youth group cologne- This idea came after a group of teens threw a bottle of axe body spray, italian dressing, and kerosane into a bon fire. The fragrance is to die for. It will be on the shelves of your local dollar store soon.
Being in Goshen isn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Do we stop learning?

How many of us read and expand our brains? If we read do we read materials that support what we already believe? Are we constantly trying to defend our own belief systems that we don’t even know if we believe because it is true or because it is a tradition. I am scared to think of this concept in the realm of Christianity and the church.
Pagan Christianity? has just been hammering at me over the last few weeks. It is one of the first books in a while that has challenged my thinking to the point of really reexaming some of my practices and certain beliefs I have about the church.
I don’t want to give examples because that isn’t point, the point is are we so dogmatic on how we live out our Christian walk that even faced with evidence against how we live we ignore it. Do we honestly believe that we are living out the purest form of following Jesus? If we don’t believe we are living it out, then we may need to examine our lives and see what we what sacred cows we are holding onto stronger than our actual faith in God.
Is our faith stronger in our traditions than in God? I think asking this question may have gotten Jesus killed. What traditions were the religous people at the time of Jesus practicing that Jesus questioned? Was it their pious attitudes, was it their pride in how much money that had given, was it their holier than thou attitudes over the lost and hurting.
What did Jesus lift up as stories for us to emulate? Was it the story of the good samaratan, was it the women at the well, was it zacheus, was it the children, was it the sheep and the goats? What does it look like for us to be the church on both and individual level and a corporate level?
Maybe we do not know because it would be so foreign to us if it was right in front of us. Is the church meant to be the group of people who attend each sunday morning out of ritual and duty and extremely upset if someone messes with their tradition of where they sit or the order of the service? Then they critique the pastor not by what God has done in the service but by the length and eloquence that the message is brought.
Maybe we all need to reaxime the way we view both our church corporatly and individually and see if it matches up to what the new testement describes the church to be

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Church members for life?

Tonight I had the opportunity to hear an expert in the Amish culture speak about the Amish communities response to the school shooting two years ago. This scholar from Goshen College co-authored a book titled “Amish Grace.” An amazing story from a group of people that I can learn from, I wrote a blog last year titled “Long live the Amish.” I have a great deal of respect and admiration for this community of people.
One of the topics that was dealt with in this scholars speech was the Amish as a community and not as individuals. The Amish as a community forgave the man’s family who administered this act of violence. In order to be part of this community he individual has to make a pledge and promise they are going to embrace this for life. This is a promise that comes with heavy consequences such as being shunned if broken.
How would this change our culture if we made a vow like this? Could you imagine how much less church splits and church shopping would happen ? Yes there are some downsides to this such as being so ingrained and so inward focus, but the community and family atmosphere that would be built would be so great.
If we were to start incorporating some of the values that the Amish have in their churches we would probably see greater fruit from relationships. I think many times don’t invest fully into relationships with others in a church setting because we are afraid of hurt and rejection or because it isn’t worth the effort. We can be somewhere else if we get our feelings hurt or if there is something newer at another church.
We are losing out on the relationships God has intended us to have. I know I have. stated that I am unsure of what is going to happen when our new pastor comes into town. The reality is it doesn’t matter. I have grown so close in such a short period of time to a core group here in Goshen, that I really couldn’t imagine life without them.
Isn’t that what a large aspect of church is all about? Finding people to do life with and working through struggles together, it is so hard to find this and we should fight a lot more than we do to keep it.
Another aspect of Amish culture this scholar said tonight was that the Amish were surprised when they went to visit the family of the man who killed their children, and no one else was there to support the family of the killer. (He committed suicide during the rampage) The Amish take care of those who are widowed and hurting. For those who are widowed they visit them every Sunday for a year after their loss. They don’t even have a full time pastor to ensure this happening. They understand and care enough about each other is just a way of life.
That is just the way Amish do it, when asked why they forgave the killer their response was that is who we are. We decided a long time ago this was the response we were going to have and we were ready for it.
There are many horrible aspects of being an Amish but they sure have a lot for us middle class American Christians to learn about caring for each other.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Gang leader for a day

In my spare time this week I have been reading Gang leader for a day. It is about a sciocologist who spends many years in the Robert Taylor Homes in the ghetto of Chicago. It is a fascinating tale of how the people of the inner city live. There is as much bribery, payments for protection, and coruption as you would hear of in an eastern bloc country. All of this going on in the midst of an American city.
It was a very intriguing story, one that many of us growing up in middle class America are not aware of. Is the problem we face one of lack of resources? Are the reason people live like this because there isn’t enough in America and the world to go around? Or is it the fact that some hord all the resources and leave the rest of the world to fend for themselves.
This theme of hording resources seems to be a common theme of my life of late. In Sunday school yesterday we read Genesis 26 as we are reading through Genesis and the hording issue in this chapter is water. There was enough water to go around but people were jealous and started filling each others wells up and trying to make issues for the others. I watched the movie Blood Diamond on saturday. An unbelievable story of what the westerns world’s greed and the problems it causes along the way.
I am more and more sad we as Americans carry themselves. Unfortunately I see so much more of a similarities between our version of Christianity and the things Jesus proclaimed against.
In the first chapter of Pagan Christianity? The amount of money spent on church buildings is astronomical. Think of what would happen even if some of that money was used not only to tell others about Jesus but to take care of the needy people of this world.
It is much more tangible to show a building for someone to give money but is this really what God had in mind with His church? We have all of these church buildings across the country and we have people visit them at most twice or three times a week to worship God. And we have millions of people on this earth who are suffering and dieing, is this obedience? How are we going to be judged individually by God about our resources. If we have a job that pays more than $1 a day than we are in the wealthiest 33% of the world. Money is not the issue why there are so many in and out of this country hurting and dying. It is because we as Christians think it is much more of a spiritual act to build huge buildings to tell God how much we love and care for Him. I am sure God will definitely give us some credit for doing this.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Life is like a box of puzzle pieces

I am at a place of life where very little about my life makes sense. In the use of an analogy I feel like I have a box of puzzle pieces from about 10 different puzzles. It doesn’t make any sense nor can the pieces be assembled in a way that actually makes anything.
It has been a rough four months with me commuting from Valpo to Goshen without our house selling. There have been two factors that have made this a little easier: those are my parents had a house that they had bought that they weren’t living in and the other is that the pastor and I have gotten along great and had been working on different projects and I felt worked real well together.
Last week my parents moved in (planned) and the pastor announced he was leaving (unplanned). Now I have a house in valpo, sleeping on the floor of my parents house in Goshen, and the unknown fact of who is going to take over at the church. None of these pieces fit together at all. I am just a little bit frustrated. Not at any person, but rather at the situations.
I am not going to begin speculating at what the future holds because I have no idea of anything. There is a pretty good chance I will not stay at the church after the pastor leaves. There is just something about doing ministry with people you have chemistry and a natural vision with and if that isn’t there or either side than it doesn’t do much good to stay. Ministry is hard enough as it and it is ten times worse when you are doing it in a unhealthy team situation.Is my house not selling for a reason? I am very much a control freak when it comes to my future and situations that I am in. Of course this is God’s way of having me develop trust but I have to say it isn’t funny any more. I hate living in limbo without knowing what is going to happen next. I feel like I have lived this way since I left Real Life over 2 years ago. This doesn’t make any sense and I can echo the sentiments of a girl in a youth group meeting I had many years ago whose prayer request was for a friend who had std and her response was and she is not happy about it. I am really not happy about this whole situation. I just wish my puzzle pieces were from the same puzzle.

Friday, February 29, 2008

The middle men

I watched American Gangster the other night. The storyline was unbelievable. It was a great American business story of success, of course it was an illegal business and the illegal parts came out in the movie. The reason this man became rich was he cut out the middle man and bought drugs straight from Asia. I think there is a lesson about being the middle man that the church needs to understand.
With the advent of the internet many professions are dropping by the way side, who still goes into a physical vidoe store? Does anyone still use a travel agent? We use the internet as much as a real estate agents advice in our quest to find a house? Many professions are changing because the middle man is not needed anymore. We can find and do things for ourselves that only 10 years ago we paid "professionals" to do it for us.
Has the church been the middle man in normal peoples knowledge and quest for God? In the old testemant the high priest was the middle man, when Jesus came he broke down this barrier. In the early Christian period scribes would be the most educated in reading the scripture and people would listen to them. In our current society the pastor has been the one with the most knowledge and we have listened to his educated opinions and interpretations on scriptures each and every sunday morning. Now whatever passage the pastor talks about we can do a quick internet search and find more about the subject than what the pastor could possibly cover in a 45 minute talk. So if the church's main purpose is for educating about God and how to have a relationship with God, it may be that people are going elsewhere because they can find more information.
Of course there is always going to be the need to educate but the in this current culture we live in this need isn't as high as in the past. Why would someone want to be involved in a church that preaching isn't as good as someone he can download? Why would I get out of bed to dialogue with people I can do the same with online? Why would I listen to music that I can to listen to to the same praise and worship chorus 50 different ways other places?
The problem may be that we have tried to market church in a way with resources they can get anywhere else. I drove by a billboard that church was using to promote their newest message series. It said sick of the same old bull try our church. I think the whole church clothes thing is overplayed. Who are these ads trying to reach.People who have tried some other church and had to dress up and listen to some sermon that they have heard before. Why in the world are we are encouraging church shoppers? Are these the real reasons people pick churches and if it is no wonder American Christianty is so shallow.
What is so appealling of other faiths or religons? Lets just imagine a mosque promoting themselves with a great music, casual dress, and 5 ways to improveyour sex life. Why have we dumbed ourselves down so much that Christianity is a laughing stock.
I don't think churches are the middle man, but I think that we need to get back to being on that passionate mission that Jesus told his disciples to be on.
I am in the midst of Pagan Christianity? by Frank Viola and George Barna. A indepth look at traditions of the church and it is a very challenging read. It justs seems that we as humans don't seem to break our cycles. just one quick little tidbit from the book. It asked the question why do churches have steeples? A greeat research question, and I will just say that the book draws parrellels between steeples and the tower of babel and we know how much God loved the people at Babel.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Does Memorization = Maturity?

In Going Big by Bill Easum he makes a couple of statements that provoked thought in me over the last 24 hours. He said something along the lines of "for so long Christians have thought that memorization equaled spiritual maturity but the reality is that action is the final result.
How do we define some one who is Spiritually mature? Do we put on pedistals those who have great knowledge and can quote many Bible verses?
Bible knowledge is important and memorization is also a good ting but these are not the end. These are a means to help us get to the end of action. Doing whatever God has called us to.
Is ushering or serving coffee on a sunday morning what God calls us to? These are important or a church service to function but is this what action is? Yes there needs to be people that are willing to serve anywhere for anything but is this the end results? Is this is what we are striving to make out of people? What are our stories that we are able to tell? What is going to last after we are gone? Is there anything about God working through us that is going to last even a couple of weeks? Are there stories of God working that can last generations? Are there stories of people who decided they wanted to put this Christianity into action and amazing things happened? I love stories of friends of mine who moved to las vegas to plant a church, or one of my other youth pastor friends is moving to England to go to seminary and work in a local church there. People that God is leading that want to be a part of it.
If you would like to be a part of an ongoing dialogue of reading thought provoking books and dialoging about them. Put your email address in a post comment and I will send you a link to a discussion group we have started. There are many of us who sick of what is going on in the American church. I have tried to leave it but I think there is too much potential to stay away from it. I think that we can begin to install some of this passion and excitement that Jesus gave those in the book of acts. With the resources at our disposal we can bring vision that can change both the country and our world.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Building the Church of our dreams

Our church leadership has been dialoguing about how we can become the church of our dreams. Is this a concept that many of us have thought about? Are there too many problems and issues that we don't even think this is a possibility? As I have been thinking and dreaming about what the church of my dreams would consist of I have been thinking about people and their spare time.
How do people spend their spare time? relaxing, doing something meaningful, or doing something to escape reality. There may be the thought who has spare time. Being involved in and with the church in our spare time is probably not going to enter into most people's mind when we think of ways to spend our spare time.
In the church of my dreams it is not about the facilities or the great preaching or the music but rather it is a change in the mindset of people.
I have had the priviledge in youth ministry to see kids who think church is a viable place to spend their free time. What would happen if the people of the church were worried that if they missed a gathering that God may show up and do something special? Have we ever been a part of that?
That is the church of my dreams. A place were people get so excited about following Jesus that there are stories every week of amazing proportions. I am sure I can go to churches I have visited 5 years ago who have the exact same people sitting in the exact same rows. What does this say about God and us as followers?
I love the show the office.One of the reasons I love the show so much is the bonding that takes place in each and every one of the episodes through some strange and bizarre situation. How bonded is our churches? Maybe it is time to do something as a group to bond together. I talked to a friend of mine yesterday and her dad leads groups through Michigan City Prison. Imagine how much of a bonding experience it would be to take a group of people from your church through a tour of a maximum security prision meet and talk to an inmate about life.
So those are some of the mindsets that would be involved in the church of my dreams.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

What vision are we giving people?

I am in the midst of reading "Banker to the Poor" by Muhammad Yunus. Incredible story and I would highly recommend reading it. It also has a component that makes me extremely sad. Yunus had a great desire to change the culture in Bangladesh, and in thinking about what he could do, so he started a bank and lended money to the poor. He was the one who started the micro-lending craze. The sad part about this book is that one person can change the world. Yunus has done just this with his concepts that many mainstream people dismissed, his ideas has turned around not only Bangladesh but also many other places in the world.
So as Christians and people that are involved in church what message are we giving people? Are we giving them the same message Yunus has given people? He not only came up with a way a plan he acted on it. Yunus was a economics professor at a college. He used many of his former students to help with his bank.
Why is the church largely void of late teens- twenty somethings? Maybe our churches here in America are not very compelling. Maybe the radical visionarries are more intriqued by what can happen outside of the walls of the church. Is it a compliment to say the church is a safe place to be at and go to? If there was a visionary from that twnetysomething age group how would our churches treat them? If someone came into our church that wanted to become a missionary not to the foreign mission field but to the churches neighborhood how would the church respond?
What exactly makes a church healthy? Is it great attendence on sunday? Is it people joining a small group? Is it people giving up addictions? Those are all part of health. But is our life really the process of elimanting things from our lives and not adding anything in return? I am under the presupposition that we are all created to do something in life, and if our churches are just here to make sure we are safe and pure than I don't think we will be successful. If we don't give people a vision that we can change the world and are going to, then why would we be following Christ? Was Christ's vision for the church one of safety? I haven't read anywhere in the New Testament the desire for our churches to be full of people to warm seats. If we are not going to give people a vision to give their lives for then why are we suprised that the church in America is declining?

Friday, February 15, 2008

God sized dreams

Are we underestimating what can be accomplished through us in this life? Are we playing it safe and taking the same path that many others have taken? Are we expecting different results yet we continually take the same actions?
I am in the midst of reading "Go Big" By Bill Easum. It is a thought provoking read in some senses because we have abilities and power given by God for us to make a difference. The reality of it is many times we don't have the guts or courage to do it.
What should be normal Christian behaivor? If we just safely go to church or serve in a church without creating waves or pushing people to follow God fully is this obedience? Is what people like Jim Elliot and Nate Saint are those extraordinary followers of Christ or were they just people who were willing to obey God?
I love when the question is asked does God still preform miracles? One side of this question may be how often do we even do anything that even puts God in a position to perform a miracle. I am not suggesting testing God but yet at the same time if the Bible is full of stories of "normal" Christians then most of us myself included way below the "normal" mark.
We have not because we ask not. Can this Bible verse be interpreted in the context of vision and does God want us to ask for more vision and to be greater influencers in the world?
Does God bless us when we do ask? I don't know if this is true 100% of the time. I have an interesting story that happened to me while on the plane back from Florida last week. I arrived at the airport in Orlando at 1:30 in the afternoon. My flight was suppose to leave at 4 and I was to be in South Bend at 12 pm. It was going to be a long day but because of weather it became crazy. My plane was delayed but I was able to get assigned to an earlier flight. I ended up flying out of Orlando at 4:30 while in the air over Muncie Indiana we recieved word that we couldn't land at O'Hare after circling Indiana for 3 hours we finally had to land in Indianapolis to refuel. We were not allowed to get off the plane and had to sit on the tarmac until we recieved word we could land. I was joking with some of the guys around me that we should call and order a pizza. It would be pretty entertaining for a pizza guy to try and come through security. I mentioned my idea to a steward and he stopped and asked me if I was hungry? I was and he told me he had something for me. In a minute he brought me this huge salad with blackened chicken on it. I have no idea where it came from but I do know that there were many people around me not happy. This guy passed by my seat and said how come you got first class service? I asked for pizza and ended up with a salad. Are we not accomplishing as much for God as we could because we do not ask?
I preached this week on Nehemiah and the concept was that incrementally we can make a difference and a change. Sometimes it happens slow but it is through these small steps we can make change happen. The subject came for a thought of act like an ant. An Ant builds an anthill through hundreds of ants carrying one piece of sand at a time to build an anthill.
A verse occured to me in the study that I thought a lot about. It is in Matt 17: The verse says if we have the faith of a mustard seed we can move a mountain. I had always thought of this passage meaning change would happen instantanous, and the mountain would just disappear. But what if this change that happens piece of sand by piece of sand. What if this change happens because God gives us a shovel and the mountain moves one shovel full at a time?
Maybe the reason we don't dream God sized dreams is because the change that happens too slowly for us.
The story of Jim Elliot, Nate Saint and the others illustrate this, we have no idea the impact our lives are going to have long after we are gone. When we are willing to go forward God is going to give us some kind of assignment that may change the course of history. The problem may be that God doesn't have enough volunteers.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Who are we really tithing to?

While at the conference in Orlando last week I heard a pretty sobering statistics. 90% of money used in the average church is used for administration costs. Administration costs include payment of and on the building, staff, and office supplies.
Let us think about this for a minute. 90% of money tithed is used to maintain what is currently happening in the American church. If we were being greatly successful than this wouldn’t be a bad thing, but is this where the church in America is at? Are we seeing great successes and seeing things change? Maybe individual churches but as a whole denominations have been seeing the decrease in both attendance and giving go steadily down. Overall the church in America is marinating at best.
If the church was a company that we were going to invest in would it be a smart investment? How can a church be successful? If the definition is the passage is in Acts 2 then probably not. One of the important aspects of this passage it says that more were added to their numbers daily. How many churches are growing to their numbers daily? I think if the church had a growth than a 100 people from last year to this it would be extraordinary.
Another aspect of the Acts 2 church was that no one had need. If the church is successful what are the needy around us saying about us? There is something I have wanted to say since reading Freakonimcs but I am not that political but I am going to say it anyways. If the church is not going to go out of its way and help the poor and needy around vote democratic because at least the government will help the people out.
Are the changes we make in the church and the money that is spent really going to help add to the numbers of the people in the church and helping the poor? If it is just maintaining I think we may be in some trouble.
I have thought about this a lot and the best analogy I have heard used is that a church service is like a business meeting where we get motivated, informed, and equipped to do our work the rest of the week. This is a very important part of our faith and week. Is this all the church is good for? Churches spend so much time and money on the business meeting that we don’t spend any time on the business itself.
I am saddened when I see the needs all around us, both the spiritual and the physical. I believe that the church is the change agent for God to use on the earth.Would we give to a mission organization that used 90% of its money for administration?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

I am kinda of in awe

I am kinda in awe
I haven't written in awhile. It is isn't because nothing is going on rather it is because I feel part of an out of control movement.
This out of control movement has begun taking over my life. This desire that I have shared about in the past to be part of helping the world and the community I live in has begun to get more supporters.
In sharing my ebay vision dream with others dreams are becoming realities. I have begun to assemble like minded people to form a board. I am meeting with a group on monday to continue to flesh out the legalities in the mean time let me share some of the parts I am excited about.
1. I met with the head of the boys and girls club of goshen last week. I asked them what this organization loosly named HOPE Corp. could do for them? He responded with on half days because of their funding from the government they dont get any financial support to serve lunches at their clubs. For $500 we are going to buy lunch for 300 kids on good friday.
2. Pastor Phil of the love church and I had a good conversation last thursday. I spent a couple of hours with him and he shared how he has just finished writing a book that is coming out April 18. It is titled something along the lines of "God loves the poor." He is so excited about. If you would like to read it I will buy it for you.
3. In suffering for Jesus in florida this week I am attending a conference that Shane Claiborne is at and I had the priviledge to talk with him this morning. He gave me contact information for the head of his financial department and we are going to see if we can colaberate on some projects.
4. Ok this is my best moment of the week and possibly the year. I sold this women in Hollywood Ca some glass doves on ebay. She sent me an email and asked if I could keep down the plastic peanuts and other non plastic material. She wanted to make sure she could recycle. I wrote her back and thanked her for caring about others and that the money she spent to buy the birds was being used to help people in our community and the world out. We got a notification this morning that she gave a $10 donation to our paypal account. I am not so much amazed at the but rather that she gave at all.
I am excited and if you would like to be involved in helping us make a difference please join us.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Church Marketing

Whether we would like to admit it or not we market God and the church.The question is how? That isn't an intentional part of most churches. Our church spent $0 in intentional advertising. How do churches market themselves.
How many churches have marquees out in front of their churches? This is probably the place that they can talk to more "non churched people" than any other venue. What comes to mind when we see most of those signs? It is either a clever little saying or sermon title for the most part. I don't have a cure all for what would be a good thing on a church sign.
Marketing a church is very different than marketing a product we have to remember we aren't selling people some junk. Although it would be fun to put on a church sign. "Tickets to heaven 1/2 price this week only." I think there may be some double takes from people driving down the road.
Since we aren't trying to sell people a product what are we doing? In essence we are trying to tell/show people that the life we are offering is better than the alternatives they are currently trying. What would happen to them if they dared to step into the building? What would happen if they came to one of our services? Would anything be different in their lives? Would they know they were cared for, would they know that there are people that genuinely want whats best for them? Would they be challenged and inspired to change?
Churches are very interested in growing and wanting new people to come. I just don't think we are very good in knowing how to present it. If it isn't using fear/yelling on the street tactics we are at a loss.
Hear are my two cents on this issue.
1. I think in general non churched people have preconcived notions about what church and church people are like. I don't think these are 100% true but if this is their personal opinion arguing with them is not going to work.
I think we need to show them different. What does our lifestyle say about following Christ? There are two different areas that tell alot about Jesus. How are we dealing with the sins of comission and the sins of omission?
We are very consious of the sins of comission. These are the sins of our lifestyle. This is hammered on quite a bit in churches. How is our life a reflection of Jesus' morality?
The sins of omission are just as important. How are we bringing Jesus' hope into the world? Are we purposefully bringing restoration into peoples lives both in our sphere of influence and our influence around the world?
The way our life reflects both of those is a direct reflection on both Jesus and the church. Yes we are not going to be perfect but if you are someone no wants to be like than our churches will continue to shrink.

2. What does the church offer that is going to help me?
This a question all of us ask in one way or another. We as humans are very selfish, and every thing revolves around me since the day I was born.
So this question is a very important to answer. How are we going to meet needs of unchurched people?
Last night I was in a meeting and we were talking about having a booth at our county fair. In the past the church has done water give aways with the church logo on the side of their water bottles. Other churches started doing that and we as a group were asking the question of how can we meet physical needs at the fair?
One of the groups we specifically want to target is young families. As we were sitting in the meeting I had this strenge thought of how we could meet some of their needs. What if we bought a huge amount of diapers and put a St Marks sticker on the front of each diaper and then gave them away throughout the fair.
As a parent of three children who have just gotten out of the diaper stage, I realize how much money is spent on diapers. I also know the time spent putting diapers on a child where the st marks logo would be a reminder of a church that cares about these peoples needs. There are other aspects of this idea that need to be worked out.
If we are going to meet needs we need to do it because we care not so we can hope that they will join the church so they can give money.
We are in the live changing, bringing hope to people business.
3. Is what these church people believe important enough for me to invest time ,energy, and money into the cause?
Is our churches vision big enough? Are we dreaming God sized dreams? Is the church declining because there isn't enough churches that believe that God put them here for a reason? Would the disciples been willing to give their lives if they had been told to just sit in Jerusalem for the rest of their lives and just tell people about Jesus who walked in their doors? Just a question.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Stories of Teamwork

Is there stories of team work that emerge from church settings? There are many books written about the desire for the church community working together but I hear very few stories of how team work happens to accomplish a feat greater than the sum of its parts.
This is a generalization but when something great is accomplished a leader will step forward and either intentionally or unintentionally will get the credit and accolaides. Christianity still holds the lone ranger persona when we view pastors and church leaders. A pastor will either start a church from scratch or will change a dying congregation into something magnificiant. We assume that others helped in the process but where are the stories? Where are the stories of a church invested so much in to the mission that they give up the personal glory for a team. Maybe that is the reason we don't hear so many stories because there are very few out there who consciously strive to do this.
In sports often times we will hear of a player who only plays for their own stats to a detrimant to the team. Sports has such a spotlight that we can see a team that works together and a team of individual stars. In interviews athletes will talk with great respect of team mates who sacrifced for the team. Who did the little things in order to make the team succeed. Yesterday in the Patriots football game there were smaller role players who did their jobs in order for them to go to the Super Bowl.
How does this play out in our churches? Where is the teamwork? How often do we sacrifice our opinions, personal goals for the good of the team. If this was a sports team what would our team mates say about us? Are we so concerned with the way we come across that it affects the final outcome?
I think there are great stories of team work and churches working together to accomplish great acts. Maybe the reason they are not told is that they are not as romantic as a knight in shining armor riding into town and saving the world.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A dream beginning to come true

I have had a goal/desire over the past few years to start a business with the sole purpose of making money for ministry. This idea started even before I left the Real Life. Over the last couple of years the business idea I have pursued- but it wasn't done with the intent to use the money for ministry. Here in Goshen I began sharing this idea with a couple of people and it has begun taking shape.
It is going to be a ebay/book selling business. We have already worked out a deal with selling items from a resale store with items hat would sell better online than in a physical store. We are also in the process of working out a deal with a storage unit of selling stuff from unpaid tennants.
On Tuesday I put a few items I had just sitting around and was so excited because I sold 5 items on half for $200. It is always nice when God reaffirms a dream by blessing us right away. I wish I could say this is always the formula but it isn't.
There is a lot of work to be done. Today I am talking to an accountant who is going to help with the bookkeeping part. There is also a board that I am working on putting together. The money that comes in is both going to be used in the Goshen community, other ministries, and special projects world wide. It is our thoughts,goals, and prayers to be a blessing to both our local community and partner with those around the world who are doing kingdom work.
If you would have items that you would like for us to sell on ebay, we charge a 25% of the final sale price. This money is going directly to ministry and none is used for administration fees. Let us know and we can come pick your items up.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Is Money the Answer?

Last night as I was standing in line to return my dvd via red box, I saw this grizzley camo clad middle age man buying lottery tickets. From his outer appearance he looked to have lived a rough life. His greying hair was thinning and his teeth looked to have been neglected since the glory days of Night Rider. His camo had some holes in them and his smell was one of cigarettes. As I was taking in his appearance I was thinking what is going to happen to him if he was to win the lottery?
Would his life be everything that he always wanted? Would he be able to accomplish his dreams and go to the places he had only seen pictures of?
After thinking about him I had to ask myself is money the reason we don't accomplish our dreams? Say we were to get a raise or job change that would increase our yearly income by $10,000. If it was in one lump sum we may be more apt to spend on it dreams we have- but since it would be distributed throughout the year in our paycheck we have a very slim chance of spending it on anything important. We may think that we need a new car with the payments being roughly $200 more a month, we may upgrade cable or go to dish tv with that being another $40 a month. The money may disappear a little more with going out to eat at $150 a month. Of course we need another cell phone that is going to make it easier to communicate with each other at $100 a month. Just with those seemingly insignificant life style changes we have just spent $5,880 a year. More than half the money that we would recieve has been spent in ways that has upgraded our lives how?
When we make more money what happens? We change our life styles. There are always more things we want with other gadgets and trinkets that would make our lives so much better. Are our habits going to change if we make more money? Lets face it most of us need to make fundamental changes in our personal finances if we are going to accomplish our dreams.
Money is not the reason we don't do a lot of things in life. It is a convienent excuse but the reality is that spending is the reason we don't accomplish our dreams.
Would grizzly camo mans life be better if he wins the lottery? He may have all the cigarettes he wanted and the 1984 trans am that is pictured hanging on his wall.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Day Trading in Prison

Yesterday was the first day I met with my prison mentee. It has been a long time coming. Between paperwork and other delays it took 3 months for us to get together. So in our 2 hour meeting yesterday I learned a lot about him and more about prison life.
When I asked him what he had been up to recently. He responded saying "taking college classes from Grace- which he is looking to end up with a bachelors in Business and he took a class on day trading." Of course the day trading comment sparked my interest so I asked him to expound on the topic.
He explained how there was a class on day and stock trading - in the class there was both an outside teacher and an inmate that shared about their stock trading experiences. I don't know the legal implications to this nor do I really want to.Many of the prisoners have stock accounts and do a fair deal of trading. He said prisoners make good traders because of their patience. So I asked the obvious what are you going to do with the money if you make money. He told me that there is a few of them in the honors dorm that want to help fund Christian ministries through their stock money.
I have no idea if this plan of theirs will work, but if it does, it is utterly bizzare and would be a very interesting way for your ministry to recieve money. I asked how he would keep up on the markets, and he said some of the inmates recieve the wall street journal and they have bloomberg tv, along with cnbc.
As we were talking about the type of ministries they would support and start- one of the ones he mentioned was an after school program for troubled teens. As he was talking about that I asked him: would that have made a difference in the choices you had made in your life? Or if there was anything else that could have changed his outcome? (His earliest possible release date at this point in time is 2079. He would be 103. He has been incarcerated since 1998.) He looked at me and said "I have no excuse. I came from a good home that took me to church and I knew about God. I got saved at a summer camp, and I just made wrong choices."
I told him after he said this that it was comforting to hear that he wasn't making excuses for him being in prison, but as a natural helper it is hard to think that there may not have been anything that could be changed from some people making the wrong decisions.
Out of respect for him I don't want to use his name.- But I would like for you to keep him in your prayers. One of the things he said he strives to do is a good influence to the other inmates. The interesting thing about our conversation that lasted 2+ hours is he never mentioned life when he gets out. He is concerned with the life he lives now and how he can serve God and be he best follower he can be.
One of his close friends and another guy who was in my purpose driven life class last month tried to commit suicide and it has been very tough on their whole dorm. Keep this church in your prayers.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Is it wrong for the church to make money?

I have been bothered of how churches finances have been run since I have been a youth pastor. How many people really understand how church finances run?
In saying what I am about to say. I do believe in God, and miracles, I believe God is in control of situations.
I also belive that God has given us minds, creative ideas, and the opportunity to generate money for God's work and kingdom.
Churches are dependent on each of their congragents desire and ability to listen to God. If these people are willing to listen to God and pay the traditional 10% tithe then it can keep a church in business. Churches base their budgets on either pledges for the year, or figuring out a budget from last years numbers.
When a church is looking to build a new building or to raise money it goes back to the people that are tithing and look to get more money from these sources.
If the money is not raised does that mean that God is not apart of the plan? The answer many times is immediately yes or that people are not following God.
What if churches started thinking more strategically in making money. What if they thought creativly and found other revenue sources other than the congregation? Is this wrong?
I know in some circles this is a taboo topic. I am not suggesting making more money so the pastor can get paid more, I am suggesting generating more money so more ministry can happen.
Let me share some of my brainstorming ideas that are not refined ideas but rather starts.
Advertising income-
This is something that would have to be well researched before embarking but there are many companies who support and given in kind donations with their companies logo on it. I have seen many gym scoreboards sponsored by pepsi or coke. What about the church van being corporatly sponsored. It will have to be companies that first off are not going to make the message of the church compromised but also someone you are proud to support.
Why isn't this done more? Other than the above mentioned fears. I think that churches in general are not organized enough to have a plan to present to an organization or business.

Grants-
I can answer why churches don't do this more. The vision is so small that we have any need for grants.
Fundraising through sales-'
Of course there is the bake sale and the occassional rummage sale for youth trips etc. But what if churches intentionally started businesses through their church in order to raise money for missions on a continual basis?
For instance an ebay store or a book selling business. With donations from both the church participants and the community, and or a relationship with a resale shop the amount of money raised could be 300% times what is raised from an occassional bake sale and rummage sale.
Using the building as a resource-
Again this gets into a sticky area of what events and things that promote the church's values. With a resource of a building that in most cases is used sundays and wednesday nights with some creative thinking could make money for the church throughout the rest of the week.
When I was at real life and we did concerts. We brought in over $2,000 one night. These events was both a positive event for the community of teens and it helped pay for our annual ski trips.

Yes there is a lot of work that would go into doing any of this- but lets think about what we want to accomplish. Is maintaining an option? If we are going to be a viable option in many people's lives having a God shaped vision needs to be part of it. With that vision comes a cost and hopefully these few ideas can and will help you out.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Misconceptions

How often does the grass look greener on the other side? How often do we lament decisions that we made because we thought we could get a better deal, improve our life situation, or make more money? I met someone last week that had one of the biggest misperceptions I have heard in awhile.
This open mic night had the regular cast of characters. Some of the same people I had seen in Portage over the past 5 years. People still wishing to make it big by singing everything from originals to Sweet Home Alabama. The people who attend are almost as interesting as the musicians themselves. At this particular open mic night there was a person who was a little out of place. He wasn't there because he was a want to be John Mayer or was in love with the musicians, or though wearing girl jeans was still in style. No he was there because he didn't have anywhere else to go before his shift started at a gas station. Beshawn is a 22 year old from Egypt. He moved to this country a little over a year ago. One of my friends befriended Beshawn and became friends because he could speak Arabic. My friend Nasser and Beshawn playfully fought in Arabic through out the evening. Beshawn's story is one of misperceptions. I aksed why he came to America? This is the story he told me in broken English and with help from my Arabic translator Nasser.
"I came to America because of a lottery. My country has an online lottery that people can enter to win a green card to come to America. I won the chance to come here and was so excited. I was excited because America is such a "DEVOTED" Christian nation. "
This last statement really sparked my interest so I had to inquire more.He told me this part of the back story of his life.
"My father is a pastor of a Coptic church in Egypt. I was studying to be a pastor when I won the lottery. Egypt is mostly a Muslim nation and it can be difficult being a Christian there. I wanted to come here and practice my faith freely and meet more devoted Christians. Our church services are 7 hours long and their were 21 Christians in my town killed last year because of there faith."
And Beshawn wanted to come to be in a place that was more devoted to God. How much would our attendence at church change if we met for 7 hours or had 21 people in our town killed because of their faith?
Beshawn's misperception was what he thought he was getting when he came to America. Very few people have the faith or devotion that Beshawn has.I would love for him to speak at not only my church but anyone else that would have him- but he turned down my request. He said he would visit but not speak.
I need to do more research on Coptic denomination but theologically it believes the basics that mainstream Christianity does.
Pray for Beshawn, he doesn't know many people here in America, he lives with 3 other middle eastern's whose goal in America is sleeping with American women and partying.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Where does logic come in?

Is being logical a Christian characteristic? I would like to think it is a highly desirable characteristic of one who wants to emulate Jesus- but I am not sure.
What would God have against logic? This is not a definitive answer but maybe it has something to do with the fact that logic can make us think we are self reliant. Logic is how we make most of our decisions in life. This is our internal rudder which guides us through our life. I am not sure there is an absolute logic but rather a logic that comes from eaches experience,guidance, cultures standards, and our belief system. When a situation approaches we use this logic to help navigate to the right decision.
So why would the Bible be full of people who made total illogical decisions in order to obey God? Why would God ask those who are obedient to Him to make these decisions?
I preached on Joseph- Jesus earthly father on Sunday. In studying Joseph he was a righteous man meaning he held high regards to the laws and worked very hard in studying them. Why on earth did God ask Him to marry a women who was pregnant? He could have legally had her stoned which by God's law was totally acceptable. Even before the angel appeared to him in a dream his response was to divorce her quietly.
In most stories in the Bible God asked people to trust Him more than their logic. This is by far the toughest task God asks us to do. It is quick to define someone smart or stupid by how they use their logic. If I had lived in the time of Noah would I have viewed him as someone with a whole lot of logic? I would like to say great you are listening to God let me help you build your ark.
What do we do when someone says they heard God yet it defies logic? There are many of us who justify our actions by saying God told me- but what about those who really do hear from God? Are we so use to listening to the logic we wouldn't even know God's voice? Would we even listen if He did say something that went against the logic.
I know in my life it is much harder to listen to God than the logic that governs my life.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

What about those of us who didn't like school?

What would church be like if it was based on a different structure other than the American education system? Even as the education system is realizing the need for change in order for children to learn better is the church taking notice?
Even as schools better utilize technology and in some areas more practical teaching such as vocational programs can the church change also?
Should the church also? These are many of the questions that have been going through my head as I dug out of snow numerous times yesterday.
No, I have not done a complete study of the educational system in America and contrasted it with the church and the way it is constructed, but I think on the outside there are enough similarities to see that roughly they were based on the same structure.
If people are good at school, growing up in church will probably come easy to them. If one can focus,concentrate, and learn from a lecture style scenerio they will be much more apt to succeed in both settings.
But what about those who don't learn or thrive in these situations? I read a book a couple of years called Why men hate church. A better title would have been why don't active learners like church. The book in great detail talked about how church is mainly geared for those who learn in the above mentioned settings and those who enjoy sitting around and talking.
That leaves out a whole lot of the population, if someone does not fall into those catagories would they have the tendencies to think that God/Christianity wasn't for them? There is a very good chance.
When we look at our church families who do we see missing? Where are the artists, the leaders, those that think outside the box? Those are just a few of the type of people that I have seen missing from churches that I have been a part of.
Even as we emulate a educational system that is failing, are we going to have the courage to change our opinion of the basic structure of the church in order to better accomplish our mission?