Tuesday, December 30, 2008
To be completely frank, and that is what Frankly Speaking is all about, following a man of Ron's stature was a bit intimidating to me when I came to South last August. The guy can preach! His people skills are without peer. He is able to inspire and motivate people to action like few other preachers I know. The cool thing is that Ron has done the same for me.
I never leave his presence without a couple new ideas that I am eager to try out. I know that he has been one of my biggest supporters here at South - both to me personally, and behind the scenes with those I know.
We often needle one another. Ron is just that kind of guy. He greases people and laughs when they dish it right back. But seriously, Ron is a guy that I respect and admire. And just in case I've never told you that, I thought you should know.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
What will you be doing the next twelve hours or so?
What gift are you expecting to receive?
What gift are you most excited about giving?
The gift of God incarnate - timeless, priceless, and precious - of all the blessings we celebrate this time of year, He is the gift that really matters.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
You folks know who you are and what you did. More importantly, you know for Whom you did it.
Your preacher just wanted you all to know that I am proud of you . . .
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Friday, December 19, 2008
Last night I was sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that God had me right where he wanted me. As a volunteer chaplain for Lansing Police Department, I ride along with officers once a month (sometimes more). Yesterday I was riding with Officer Smith (I've changed the names here) when we received a call that a babysitter called 911. She had become overwhelmed, was holding a knife, and was threatening to hurt herself or the babies she was watching.
For the first time since I've been a chaplain we drove with lights and sirens. I stopped looking at the speedometer when it went north of 90 miles per hour. When we got to the townhouse, we were grateful to learn that the young woman had safely located the children to an upstairs bedroom, placed the knife in the kitchen sink, and was waiting for us to arrive.
As the officers talked with the babysitters, I went upstairs to play with the children. There was a little boy and a baby girl. The girl was crying and had a runny nose. She had spit up her spaghetti dinner all over her brother's mattress. I cleaned her up, puts some pants on her and gave her a teddy bear. The boy, who was three-years-old, was a lot of fun. Little Jonathon and I played with cars together. We read a book and rolled the cars back and forth on the hardwood floor.
After a while I took the children downstairs to watch some television. I asked the babysitter the little girl's name. (Little Jonathon couldn't pronounce it.) When the babysitter told me her unique name I realized why the little boy looked so familiar. Both of these children used to attend South Lansing Christian Church along with their parents. Their dad ran off about six months ago leaving mom to raise the two little ones alone. She moved a couple of times and our church lost track of them.
After I settled the little ones down to watch Bob the Builder I roamed around the townhouse. This three bedroom town house had no furniture. For the past six months, this family has been living with only a small dresser, a twin mattress and a baby-crib mattress. Aside from a television and a telephone, they have nothing else. Literally. Nothing else. No couches or chairs. No kitchen table. No end tables. No appliances. Nothing.
Now here is the thing that makes this such a divine appointment. Several months ago an apartment building around the corner from the church burned. Our church began collecting furniture to donate to people who had lost all their furnishings. With our pole building bursting with furniture we called the Red Cross to begin the distribution. The Red Cross told us that The Salvation Army had the distribution list. When we called The Salvation Army, they told us that the Red Cross had the list. The fact is, nobody had a list, and we had a pole barn full of furniture that we couldn't get rid of. And, we didn't know why.
Now I do. Sunday afternoon a team of deacons from South are loading up a trailer full of furniture and taking it to this family. Others are donating food. A Sunday school class is going to donate some funds that we can use to get some Christmas gifts (and maybe a tree) for the little ones.
All because I rode with a cop. At the exact time God wanted me to. Cool. Very cool.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
On January 4th the church leadership plans, in accordance with their understanding of scripture, to "tell it to the church." The scripture the church references is Matthew 18:15-17:
If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.Church discipline is a sticky wicket. (Check out this Wall Street Journal article on the subject.) The fact of the matter is, there are plenty of Frankly Speaking readers that are considerably smarter than this author. So here are a couple of questions for which I would love to read your answers:
Is this a correct application of Matthew 18?
Jesus said, "If your brother sins against you . . ." How does that apply in this instance?
Finally, how does Galatians 6:1, "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted." fit into all of this?
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Brian mentioned that his oldest grandson is seventeen and carrying a newly-minted driver's license in his wallet. As it happens, the oldest of the Franklies is seventeen herself and has recently taken to the road. (She nearly spun out, in fact, on the way home from her High School Christmas concert last night, but correctly corrected and made her way home like a real life Michigan driver - which she is, of course.)
Anyway, both Brian and I were feeling a little bit sentimental as we talked about how quickly time has passed. Just yesterday my daughter was tooling around in a Little Tykes coupe with red fenders and a yellow roof. Made of plastic, the body resisted all attempts at dents and dings. Today she drives around in one of Detroit's finest. Interstate, inner-city - she does fine in any environment except perhaps dirt roads, which she has not yet had the occasion to drive on. (Except for those times when she was thirteen and I would let her drive our old Astro minivan the back way from Butler to the Koeppe farm - but don't tell her mother.)
Back to breakfast. Brian said to me, "I can't believe how quickly time flies."
"I have a theory about that," I replied.
"Let's have it."
"It is like this: When you're six years old and you're waiting for Christmas to come, or you're waiting for the big day when you finally get to ride the school bus, it seems like time drags on. That is because a month is a significant percentage of your total life experience.
"It seems like it takes forever for you to turn ten years old because one year, when you are only nine, is over ten percent of your lifetime. When you're forty-one like me, though, one year is less than 2.5% of your total life experience. It's not that time passes more quickly, it is just that it seems to because your perception of the future is compared to your experience of the past. It is the same reason why almost everyone looks back on their childhood as 'the good old days' when life seemed to move at a slower pace.
"In other words, I consider Christmas coming in just over a week and I think, 'it is just a blink away.' My four-year-old goddaughter, however, thinks it will never get here. We view time differently."
Consider that in light of eternity.
Earlier this week our church laid to rest a thirty-seven-year-old woman who passed away from cancer. Tammy left behind a loving husband and five children ages sixteen months to fourteen years. For her husband, Chris, and her children, I imagine it seems like it will be a very long time until they are able to see her again. And, for the youngest of her family, that time will seem to pass more slowly, especially right now. Chris enjoyed fourteen years with his wife. Their infant son knew her less than two. Sadly, they likely will spend far more time without Tammy than with her - at least here on earth.
Except for this - Tammy is a Christ-follower. So is her husband and their three oldest children. I expect the littlest two will be, too. And so I was able to say with confidence at her funeral:
You're going to spend far more years with Tammy than without her. Heaven is forever, friends. And even if all of us live to a ripe old age, living decades here on earth without Tammy, that time is only a fraction of a whisper of a moment compared to the time that you will spend with her in Heaven.It seems like the time between now and when we are finally at home in Heaven ticks by ever so slowly. And yet, viewed from the lens of eternity, say, a million years from now, this life is "a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." And, on freezing, snow-covered days like today, I am glad for that.
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
More troubling than the grinch-ification of the Indiana BMV, however, is their reasoning. Indiana's new facial recognition software recognizes specific facial features so that, ostensibly, identity theft becomes more difficult. More disconcerting to me, however, is how much the whole thing smacks of Big Brother. (The literary figure, kids, not the reality show.) Do we really want to record and codify the facial features of every person applying for a driver's license in Indiana? Makes for a handy database if government ever decides to become, say, intrusive or heavy handed. Not that government would ever do that - at least not any time soon, right?
I don't know. Maybe the folks at the BMV are right. Then again, the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles was ushered into the "modern era" by Joel Silverman, the former Jock-strap salesman that Governor Mitch Daniels hired away from Galyan's, a failed chain of Indianapolis Sporting Good's stores. Silverman's brief bureaucratic career was, in many people's minds, accurately characterized by my then twelve-year-old daughter shortly after she heard him speak at a town hall meeting back in Butler, Indiana. When I asked her what her impression was of Silverman she gave a one-word answer: "Loser!"
The BMV systematically dismantled their delivery service over the course of the several years by closing local branches all over the state of Indiana despite the clear wishes of Indiana taxpayers. That the same BMV is banning smiling doesn't surprise the Hoosiers I've spoken with. Given the way the BMV has been administered over the years, they stopped smiling long ago.
Sunday, December 07, 2008
Greene interviewed five former Presidents for the book: Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush. It is the best $3 read I've ever bought. Here is a snippet from the book in which Greene considers the toughness of veteran combat pilots George H. W. Bush (41) and Geroge McGovern, who unsuccessfully ran for the office that Bush eventually attained:
I've always thought that there should be an unwritten rule for those of us who were born after World War II: Whenever you meet an old combat pilot from the war, you are automatically disqualified from thinking that your life could possibly measure up to his. He beat you before you blinked in the light. Yet somehow Bush - and McGovern - had been judged by millions of their countrymen, and by commentators who had never heard a shot fired in anger, as if they were lifelong croquet players, badminton aficianados, instead of men who, when it counted, piloted bombers against the enemy during the greatest war in the history of human conflict.Both Georges, and millions of other men and women just like them, deserve our thanks. And, in a smaller - but no less sincere way - Bob Greene has earned mine.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
Harvey explained a recent article from Discover Magazine. Discover is a scientific journal. That's important to know, because the article has some pretty big theological implications. Were it published in . . . say Christianity Today, I have no doubt it would have been pilloried by naturalistic pundits world-wide. It may still be, however, because the conclusions that physicists quoted in the article have reached fly in the face of modern scientific thought. Consider these quotes:
"Our universe is perfectly tailored for life. That may be the work of God or the result of our universe being one of many."The multiverse theory suggests that there are other universes, with their own laws of physics - and that our universe just happened to have physical laws that support life as we know it. Whether or not there are multiple universes I cannot know. But the fact that this universe is so finely tuned leads me to believe that there must be a Being with a hand on the knob that does the tuning.
"Life, it seems, is not an incidental component of the universe, burped up out of a random chemical brew on a lonely planet to endure for a few fleeting ticks of the cosmic clock. In some strange sense, it appears that we are not adapted to the universe; the universe is adapted to us."
"On the other hand, if there is no multiverse, where does that leave physicists? 'If there is only one universe,' Carr says, 'you might have to have a fine-tuner. If you don’t want God, you’d better have a multiverse.' "
Consider these "Cosmic Coincidences." Author Tim Folger writes, "If these cosmic traits were just slightly altered, life as we know it would be impossible." A few examples:
Stars like the sun produce energy by fusing two hydrogen atoms into a single helium atom. During that reaction, 0.007 percent of the mass of the hydrogen atoms is converted into energy, via Einstein’s famous e = mc2 equation. But if that percentage were, say, 0.006 or 0.008, the universe would be far more hostile to life. The lower number would result in a universe filled only with hydrogen; the higher number would leave a universe with no hydrogen (and therefore no water) and no stars like the sun.My mind is pea-sized compared to the scientists that Folger quotes in his article. And yet, the most important lesson I learned about physics was at the knee of Erma Kees in the first grade: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Bang! God spoke and it was so. At the risk of sounding smug (and I honestly do not mean to), it is nice to see that science is finally catching up.
The early universe was delicately poised between runaway expansion and terminal collapse. Had the universe contained much more matter, additional gravity would have made it implode. If it contained less, the universe would have expanded too quickly for galaxies to form.
Had matter in the universe been more evenly distributed, it would not have clumped together to form galaxies. Had matter been clumpier, it would have condensed into black holes.
Atomic nuclei are bound together by the so-called strong force. If that force were slightly more powerful, all the protons in the early universe would have paired off and there would be no hydrogen, which fuels long-lived stars. Water would not exist, nor would any known form of life.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
We were wrong. She had to get her Michigan driver's permit and then undergo a second driver's ed class. Then, she had to take her driver's test. She passed with flying colors and we headed into East Lansing for the MSU vs. Purdue football game to celebrate. The following Monday she and I went to the Secretary of State and she became a full-fledged driver.
The last couple of weeks have been about us taking the training wheels off. He first trip was to the Student Leader meeting for South's youth group. She drove her brothers to school several times. Youth group trips on Sunday night were part of the process, too. The real test, however, took place today when she and her brothers headed south to Grandma and Grandpa's house in Butler, Indiana. The two hour trip took them down Interstate 69 at 70 mph.
The thought of everything that matters to Tracy and I heading down the highway at any speed faster than a Huffy made me twitch. I had them call me when they left the house, when they got on the interstate, when they crossed the state line, when they got off the interstate . . . you get the idea. They arrived safely. End of anxiety, right?
A couple hours after arriving in Butler Abby called to ask if she could go to a movie with her friend, John. Who is a boy. Who would be driving her. To the movie. And back to her grandparents. Her first official car date?
I said that this weekend's trip was about us removing the training wheels. The truth is, I think maybe it is more about me learning to let go. To be completely honest, it hurts because I know where this is all headed. Seventeen years ago my wife and I went on our first "post-baby" date and entrusted our little girl to a babysitter for the first time. Today we're racing toward Abby moving into a college dorm and, (gulp!) walking down a church aisle.
When I was about to become a father for the first time a wiser, older man told me, "Frank your children will break your heart." As he was the father of a great kid that made him proud then (and since with a great husband, career, and beautiful granddaughter), I was puzzled by his comment.
I understand now. . .
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
I love what Andy Stanley wrote on page 28: "We must never forget that people who follow us are exactly where we have led them."
A sobering thought for those of us who lead others . . .
Friday, November 21, 2008
As I watched the clip, I found myself agreeing. The common sense part of me says, "Yes, a person should be able to defend himself or herself." Our founding fathers thought it important that we be able to do so. It seems that, if all of us are endowed by our creator with the right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," that we ought to be able to secure those rights with a firearm. Nugent is obviously passionate in this regard - more passionate than me, certainly.
On the other hand, it is difficult for me to reconcile his comments with the Apostle John's: "Beloved, let us love one another. For love comes from God and everyone that loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love." Herein lies the enigmatic tension with which I continue to struggle: the tension between living as a citizen of this nation, and as a citizen of the Kingdom of God.
Take a look at the video and see if you don't find yourself conflicted, too. Then, if you're inclined, comment and see if you can't help me wrap my head around the issue of dual citizenship. WARNING: Be advised that Ted uses some strong language - stronger than you're used to reading or hearing at Frankly Speaking.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Quick quiz: A guy wearing an Indiana University sweatshirt and typing on a MacBook Pro is in a bar in Farwell, Michigan with a bunch of guys in camo and a dude setting up sound equipment for tonight's "Thirsty Tuesday Band Night." (There's a guy with a long beard - like the dude from ZZ Top, too.) Which of these does not fit? You're right, it's me.
Seems Jesus went to a lot of places where he didn't fit in either - not that I am Jesus, of course. My motives aren't nearly so altruistic. Hey, I just came for the free Wi-Fi.
I've seen tons of deer. Shot at three. Killed one, but didn't find it until the day after - and after the coyotes, I am afraid. I seem to keep missing where I am aiming. I'm beginning to think that I either stink at hunting, or I have bumped my rifle's scope. Tonight is my last chance. Nothing over 200 yards. 150 is better.
PS - They just delivered my burger. The condiments come to the table in a cardboard Miller Lite 6-pack carrier. Cool. I think.
Friday, November 14, 2008
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Shortly before I relocated to Lansing, I and a group of literacy advocates met with the County Commissioners in an effort to persuade them to extend library service to every township in the county. Now, for the Frankly Speaking readers that take their library cards for granted, an explanation is necessary. Indiana is one of a handful of states that does not provide taxpayer supported library services for all of it's citizens. 93% of Hoosiers have a tax-payer funded library card. 7% do not, and must purchase an annual subscription. While not a problem for some, many who live in a "unserved" area cannot afford a library card and thus are forced to do without.
At the aforementioned meeting we presented our case. The commissioners dismissed our request forthwith. Frankly, it appeared to many of us who were present that they went into the standing-room only meeting with their minds already made up. Sadly, DeKalb County - the county where I grew up, the county where I still own property and continue to pay property taxes - remains one of the relatively few underserved counties in the United States.
How did we respond? We licked our wounds and moved on. At Butler Public Library, a dedicated staff and board of directors are building a new library - with no tax dollars! The other libraries in the county continue to expand services and offer programming to all citizens regardless of their ability or inability to access materials that can be checked out and taken home.
Today I was blessed to return the Butler Public Library for a "topping off" ceremony. The last bit of structural steel is about to be placed at the new library and soon the structure will be buttoned up for winter so interior work can begin.
While there I inquired about the recent elections and how they might affect library service. I learned that County Councilman Larry Moughler had an interesting quote in The Evening Star. I respect Larry Moughler. He is a good Christian man. He has worked hard his whole life, raised four good sons, and served his country in the United States Marine Corps. His grandkids are friends with my oldest two children. What is more, as a Gideon, he promotes Bible distribution throughout the world. He is a great guy, really, that I'm sure I would agree with on most topics. But, if he is quoted correctly in this particular article, I couldn't disagree more.
When asked his position on bringing county-wide library service to DeKalb County, Larry said,
"I don't use the library service . . . I know to some people it's very important. To me, it wouldn't be worth it . . . I'm not a reader, I guess, so I wouldn't appreciate that."For the life of me, I just cannot understand that mindset. It is akin to me saying, "I don't use centrally dispatched 911 service . . . that may be important to some people, but I don't like to talk on the phone and don't expect an emergency, so I guess I wouldn't appreciate that." These same folks say, "I don't have kids in school, so why should I pay a school tax?"
Some services, while not universally used, are necessary because they collectively raise the quality of life and intellectual tide of a community. Library service is one such service. I cannot imagine a world where a quality library of wide-ranging books, periodicals, and media from authors and artists with whom I agree and disagree are not available to anyone who wants them. I've read about such places. George Orwell wrote about one in his book, 1984.
As I was pondering my frustration with the "I'm-not-personally-using-the-library-so-I'm-not-going-to-support-it" mindset, I spoke with a ministry colleague on the phone who told me of a quote he read some time ago:
"Those that don't read are no better off than those that can't."My fear is this: the former - those who do not read and choose to not support libraries, the very organizations that promote reading - are ensuring a greater increasing supply of the latter.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Let's remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House, a party founded on the values of self-reliance and individual liberty and national unity.I am convinced that our 44th President is a good man, and there is no doubt that Obama is a great orator who has the makings of the best speech giving Commander in Chief of my lifetime. For my part, I will be praying that he is more than merely a good orator but, given that governing is so much more than making fine speeches, a good President, too.
Those are values that we all share. And while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress.
As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, we are not enemies but friends. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.
And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices. I need your help. And I will be your president, too.
And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces, to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of the world, our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand.
To those -- to those who would tear the world down: We will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security: We support you. And to all those who have wondered if America's beacon still burns as bright: Tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope.
That's the true genius of America: that America can change. Our union can be perfected. What we've already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
The whole effort took less than five minutes.
How about you? What is your November 4th story?
Monday, November 03, 2008
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
I saved all these letters. My most cherished is from Doc. It means even more to me now that I am preaching at Doc's "home church." I can't imagine what it must have been like for Ron to look out from the pulpit and see Doc sitting among the faithful. What a privilege. Here is what Doc wrote to me:
Dear Frank,I don't know whether or not they read blogs in Heaven, but I do know that "we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses." Among that cloud, looking down upon us, is Dr. Brant Lee Doty. Doc, I still covet your prayers. Thanks for standing beside me.
I have kept letter of last month on my desk here at GLCC . . and it has reminded me to pray again and again in your behalf.
Without knowing the specific situation and/or problems at Butler I have taken your name to the Lord, sincerely asking that you might find release from pressure / or tight situations . . or any other oppressive obstacle (or obstacles) confronting you.
It will be a pleasure and a relief whenn you are able to inform me that the matter of concern(s) [is resolved] . . and that you are again at peace in heart and soul.
Sincerely in Christ,
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Well, I did encourage people to skip our 10 AM service. But I also urged them to come back for a special 6 PM service. And they did - about 300 of them, in fact.
In short, today was amazing. There were 338 people that volunteered to serve. Instead of a worship service, we had service worship. Southies . . .
- . . . packed a semi-load of clothing for shipment to the Ukraine.
- . . . prepped a garden plot for spring planting as a community garden.
- . . . hosted a neighborhood carnival.
- . . . watched lots of little kids so their parents could participate in SERVE day.
- . . . decorated gift bags to be sent to Haiti (filled with food for hungry Haitians).
- . . . took dessert to Lansing Police department's North and South Precincts as well as the Detention unit and the 911 Dispatch center. We even had enough for two fire stations.
- . . . washed and packaged potatoes for distribution at a local assisted living apartment building.
- . . . painted playground lines at North Elementary school.
- . . . cleaned up Burchfield Park.
- . . . painted a jungle gym at Hawk Island Park.
- . . . sang and visited at the nursing home.
- . . . sorted food at the food bank.
- . . . cleaned the teeth of dozens of head-start kids.
- . . . packaged enough meals to feed 11,000 people for Kids Against Hunger.
- . . . built a porch and wheelchair ramp for a disabled man in Mason.
For almost a year, our church has been challenged to Seek, Study and Serve God. Today, I sense that our folks really embraced the challenge to serve. I don't know, for sure, the lasting effects of today's efforts. I suspect, however, that our folks are more excited about serving than ever.
Not only did I see a lot of people acting like Jesus today. I think I also saw many of them become more like Him, too. What a day!
Friday, October 17, 2008
"The sixties were laudable in their efforts to bring social justice to society," Colson said. At the same time this was the period when Liberal churches did good things for many people. But they also became less spiritually relevant. "People want the real thing. They are not interested in a pale substitute, because it can never satisfy. It just doesn't answer the questions people have."This is particularly relevant on the eve of our church's largest service project ever. As we make an effort to serve the community we must not make the same mistake that mainline churches committed a generation ago. Service and theological liberalism are not necessarily tied to one another. We can serve while making sure that, in matters of doctrinal essentials, we have unity. And, we must do so.
Today, he said, many churches that are presumed to be orthodox, at least compared with mainline churches, are making the same mistake. This is especially true in some of the large evangelical churches, which Colson said are the purveyors of "self-centered worship. You may get people to come to those churches, and you may have church growth. But you will not have church impact. The reason is that church becomes increasingly like the culture. People go in, see a skit, listen to some music, hear a soothing sermon, and think they've done their Christian duty. They are entering the exact precarious position the mainline found itself in in the sixties and seventies." As such these churches may eventually see their own pews empty. What churches should be doing, Colson said, is teaching believers that Christianity offers a sound and rational explanation of life and helping them to "see the world through God's eyes and govern their behavior accordingly."
Monday, October 13, 2008
Most people don't go to church to learn the minister's opinions on whatever happens to be in the headlines. They can get similar opinions sitting on their sofas watching television, quite possibly presented by someone much better-looking.I agree with Shiflett, I think, (except, perhaps about the better-looking part). That is why I've steered clear of politics in preaching. I do wrestle, however, with the tension of preaching what is relevant to the times in which we find ourselves. The headlines often have moral and spiritual significance. A recent issue of City Pulse, Lansing's self proclaimed newspaper, "for the rest of us," recently carried a cover story promising to tell us "What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality."
Most people go to church to get something they cannot get elsewhere. The consuming public - people who already believe, or who are attempting to believe, or who want their children to believe - go to church to learn about the mysterious Truth on which the Christian religion is built. They want the Good News, not the minister's political views or intellectual coaching. The latter creates sprawling vacancies in the pews. Indeed, those empty pews can be considered the earthly reward for abandoning heaven, traditionally understood.
Where the headlines are so clearly in opposition to the Scriptures as I, our church, and indeed two thousand years of orthodox Christianity understand them, I cannot and should not remain silent.
So where is the line between personal political opinion and scriptural absolutes?
Oh, it turns out Shiflett is a pretty good songwriter, too.
Thursday, October 09, 2008
Come to find out, it actually is a five-speed. The real problem was with the transmission.
Frankly, I do the same thing a lot of times. There is a problem, but rather than deal with it, I buy a different knob and slap it on. My effort at redefining normal doesn't change anything for the better, it doesn't fix anything, but it sure makes me feel better. So here's to you, Mr. put-a-new-knob-on-it man. As my old friend, Terry Ulm used to tell me, "When confronted with something uncomfortable . . . try not to think about it."
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
- 70% of pastors do not have someone they consider a closer friend.
- 50% feel unable to meet the needs of the job.
- 45% of pastors say that they've experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from their ministry.
- The clergy has the second highest divorce rate among all professions.
- Over 1600 pastors in the United States are forced out of their positions each month.
- Nearly 1 in 4 pastors experience a forced termination at least once in their ministry.
- Only 54% of pastors go back into full-time church related positions.
After leaving our church in Indiana, I experienced some extremely difficult emotions. We poured our life into the church for a decade, and it just wasn't easy to say goodbye. We knew God was calling us to South Lansing - that was clear. But that didn't make the grieving any easier. The feeling that I was leaving home, family, and the church I loved overwhelmed me. People I loved didn't know how to talk with me about our leaving, so much was left unsaid. Friendships were strained; my best friend and I didn't even say "goodbye." My approach: suck it up and deal with it. Nevertheless, on the advice of a fellow pastor, I called John and sat down with him. He was able to help me deal with my emotions and keep from growing bitter or angry.
I am a healthier preacher today because of John Smith and PastorCare.
October is "Clergy Appreciation Month." Make sure you drop your preacher a card and tell him how much his work means to you. And, if you're so inclined, consider making a donation to PastorCare in their honor.
Monday, October 06, 2008
Dad had an Allis Chalmers WD. I loved that tractor because it had a hand clutch that made it easier to drive. I could gently pull back on that clutch and start rolling without killing the motor. She had four levers on the steering column. Two were pull levers - one on the left that was the choke and one on the right to start the motor. Two others controlled the throttle and the hydraulic bucket on the front. Dad had every imaginable add-on for that tractor: front-end loader, cultivators, two-bottom plow and even a sub-soiler.
When I got older dad bought a Farmall Super-M and later a Farmall 400. Those both had road gears that made them fly - or at least it seemed that way to a fourteen-year-old.
My favorite tractor by far, though, was our green Oliver 1600. The steering wheel was adjustable - two ways, in fact. (Its pictured there in the corner.) You could swivel it upward and raise it so you could drive the tractor standing up. It also had big wide fenders. I would sit on them while dad cultivated corn and beans with the three-point mounted eight-row cultivator. Years later, when I missed the school bus one morning, I threw "Ollie" into sixth gear and drove it the three miles to school.
We have a green John Deere lawn tractor in the garage these days. I've left the farm, but the farm has stayed with me . . . and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Saturday, October 04, 2008
Eight years ago, Mike and Tracy Goeglein rejoiced when they learned that a Midwestern mega-church had decided to adopt the Kaputo people group in African. Bible translators, Mike and Tracy have devoted their life to seeing that people who don't know Jesus Christ have the word of God in their own language. Together, along with other missionaries from their organization, they signed a lengthy covenant with the Independent Christian Church that agreed to be their partners in this monumental endeavor to bring the Bible to the Kaputo.
It was a win-win. Mike and Tracy would have the resources necessary for their work; the church would accomplish its goal to evangelize an unreached people group; the Kaputo would receive God's Word in their native tongue.
Mike and Tracy returned to Africa and threw themselves into their work. Two years passed and a new pastor arrived on the scene at the mega-church. Changes were instituted. The most significant was the church's determination to be more "elder-led" and less "staff driven." As a consequence, a significant number of the church staff was fired, including the mission's minister that was the architect of the covenant between the church and Mike and Tracy.
An ocean away from these changes, however, Mike and Tracy felt relatively secure that their partnership with this Restoration Movement megachurch was stable. After all, they had signed a covenant, and that word meant something. So, they confidently continued in their efforts to bring God's Word to the Kaputo. Then, just two years ago, the church announced that their mission's ministry had "received another calling" and sent "Dear John" letters to more than fifty of the missionaries they supported. Of the church's seventy-one missionaries, only seventeen would continue to receive financial backing. Some were cut off immediately. Others, like Mike and Tracy, were given two years notice so that they could find other streams of revenue for their work.
Of course, the Goegleins were in Africa, so finding other supporters - especially those with pockets as deep as the 6,000 member church that was abandoning them - was particularly difficult. Mike and Tracy's stateside colleagues visited the church and implored them to reconsider. They were told, however, that the church's new mission strategy was more short-term in its approach. Their new "calling" was to send short-term missionaries or teams that would be in and out of a country within five years. With the average Bible translation requiring an investment of twenty or more years, the Goeglein's work did not fit the new parameters.
Eventually the Goegleins themselves returned home to ask the church's elders to reconsider. They did not. In the course of their meeting, however, Mike and Tracy were treated to a tour of the church's new facility. They were shown the multiple large-screen video projection units that the church was in the process of installing. The tour guide explained that the congregation had recently contracted with a Disney consultant to develop an animated Noah's ark theme for the children's wing.
Mike and Tracy are back in Africa now. They and their children survive on beans and lentils. There is not much protein in their diet - maybe a chicken to eat every other night. The mission support they have counted on from the megachurch ends in December. Just after Christmas. What then?
While children in the heartland will be treated to an amazing children's facility that boasts animatronic giraffes with heads that sway above the roof of a cartoonish Noah's ark, the Goegleins wonder if the Kaputo children will ever be able to read about the real Noah. While the elders of this megachurch set aside the covenant they signed in which they agreed to partner with the elders of the Kaputo tribe, one has to ask: if the Kaputo ever get a Bible in their own tongue, and if they learn to read that Bible, are they not going to ask, "If God's people can so easily jettison a document that they call a 'covenant', will not God do the same with His?"
Shame on us.
This little button buck will taste pretty good, and Caleb is hooked on hunting for life, I think.
Jonah got a shot at a nice 6-point, but the jitters took over and he missed. It was a great weekend that primed the Weller men for November 15!
Thursday, October 02, 2008
I really like it when Dave said, "I noticed your email. Seekstudyserve.org - very cool." I confessed to Dave that we developed the mission after hearing about it indirectly from Southland Christian Church. I told him that we purchased ".com", and ".net" as well as our website's ".org." Dave frequently has contact with Jon Weece, the Senior Minister at Southland, so I jokingly told him, "When you talk to Jon, let him know we'd be happy to sell him one of the URLs we're not using." Dave retorted, "For just a week's worth of offering, right!"
A week's worth of Southland's offering? I'd say that oughta 'bout cover it . . .
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Three of Bob's elders also talked with us about how the eldership functions as Southeast. These guys are sharp, and they reminded me a lot of our elders at South Lansing Christian Church. We have an excellent group of elders there. Not only are these men committed to Christ and his church, but they are supportive of our staff and good leaders. I really apprecaited them. Southeast is planning a second eldership retreat next fall that I hope our guys can attend. I want them to experience the same refreshing that I have this week.
We also heard from Dr. Kevin Ezell, a Baptist megachurch pastor from Louisville. He talked with us about some of the early struggles he faced at his church. He had to fire, for instance, 23 staff people in a 24 month period when he arrived at Highview Baptist. He was a stictch and had us laughing until our sides hurt.
From there we drove to Southeast to visit with Dave Stone and to take a tour of their facilities. Amazing. Huge. But also quite complex. As we discussed their men's ministries, their women's ministries, and all their other ministries, I thought about our efforts to become a Simple Church. I'm convinced that we're on the right track. Just three things folks: Seek, Study, and Serve God.
One thing that Southeast is doing that is light years ahead of South Lansing is in connecting first-time attenders and new members to the church. Their assimilation process is specific, defined and hums along like a Swiss watch. I especially like that they're connecting new members and attenders to a five week small group as soon as they join (something Wally, our Associate Minister, and his team has been pushing for). I think we need to send Wally and his team down here soon to learn the ins and the outs of a system that could pretty easily be adapted for South Lansing Christian.
We rounded out the day by bowling with Bob and then eating dinner at Bob and Judy Russell's home. What a great day.
I am looking forward to coming home and implementing what I've been learning!
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
He talked about the importance of "swimming with the fish." It is a metaphor that basically means we need to connect with the people our church is trying to reach to get their reactions. A question he recommends we ask them is, "What in our service helped you draw closer to God?" Also, "what was an obstacle?"
Excellent, excellent stuff.
Dinner tonight was at Ruth's Chris - I had the T-bon - Wow! We'll be touring Southeast tomorrow and meeting with some of their elders and Senior Minister Dave Stone. What a great retreat.
My buddy Fred is going on this retreat in November. To all my preacher buddies - you need to go to Bob's website and apply for this retreat!
Oh - the fish. One of the guys at our retreat, a Baptist preacher from Mississippi who is a chaplain on the pro bass fisherman's tour caught this eight pounder this morning right down in front of the lodge. It was his third cast. He threw it back, though. So much for once-a-keeper, always-a-keeper.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
The window / mirror concept comes from Jim Collins' book, Good to Great. Collins teaches that "level five leaders," that rare breed of individuals that reach the pinnacle of leadership, have mastered this concept. When looking to assign credit they look out the window. When looking to assign blame, they look in the mirror. That is real leadership, says Collins.
By comparison, leaders who were in charge of companies that failed, ". . . did just the opposite. They'd look out the window for something or someone outside themselves to blame for poor results, but would preen in front of the mirror and credit themselves when things went well."
Consider then, Collins comments in light of the blame being either accepted or deflected by the men and women who lead us in Washington:
Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi
According to The Hill, "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, when asked Tuesday whether Democrats bear some of the responsibility regarding the current crisis on Wall Street, had a one-word answer: 'No.'" Apparently there are no mirrors in her office.
Republican Presidential Nominee, John McCain
McCain comes a little closer to getting it right. At a Florida rally, McCain said, "As for the Congress, members in both parties must accept a share of the responsibility." According to the AP McCain said, "America is in a crisis today . . . The economic crisis is not the fault of the American people. Our workers are the most innovative, the hardest working, the best skilled, the most productive, the most competitive in the world. ... But they are being threatened today ... because of greed and corruption that some engaged in on Wall Street and we have got to fix it."
Democratic Presidential Nominee, Barack Obama
U.S. News and World Report writes, "Democratic nominee Barack Obama in a statement called it 'the most serious financial crisis since the Great Depression.' He laid the blame squarely on the policies of the Bush Administration, and suggested his Republican rival, John McCain, would provide more of the same."
Real leaders man up and accept their share of the blame. Congress is responsible, and that includes Senators McCain and Obama. President Bush is culpable. Wall Street shares some of the blame. I am partly responsible for contributing to the problem by buying into the buy-now-pay-later culture.
You'll hear a lot of talk over the next few weeks about "blame isn't productive, let's focus on a solution." Well, the first step in finding a solution is recognizing my share of the blame. Real leaders do that. Hopefully one will reveal himself so we can elect him in November.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
At one point in the service they played the MSU alma mater, "MSU Shadows." It was amazing to watch the congregation. Tears that had been held in for most of the service flowed as the lyrics of the song brought back memories - not just of Mr. Stewart - but for his children and grandchildren who are fellow State alums.
It made me think about my Alma Mater, Great Lakes Christian College. I don't ever recall seeing anyone get misty-eyed as they sang, "'Neath the azure dome of Heaven . . ." There is something visceral and palpable about the love that State fans have for their university that seems to be missing among my generation of GLCC grads.
I think I might know at least one reason why. I play basketball with John who works for the University. About a month ago John had to miss a game - something he almost never does. When he showed up the following week I asked him where he had been. He told me that each year, when incoming Freshman arrive on campus, John gives a talk. Because there are thousands of freshmen, John gives the talk dozens of times. I've since learned that "the talk" is legendary. The title: "What it Means to be a Spartan." John shares MSU traditions with the students. He explains to them that they are inheriting a legacy, and that they are keepers of this legacy for succeeding generations of Spartan alums. MSU has such profoundly loyal alumni because, in part, they learn to love the university the very first week they are on campus.
I don't recall ever hearing a talk titled "What it Means to be a Crusader." To be sure, I learned something of what it means to be a GLCC alumnus. Indeed, I do tear up when I sing the Alma Mater because I recall Dr. Brant Lee Doty, its author. I wonder, though, if this year's freshman even know the song. (State Freshman are required to learn theirs.) I wonder if they have heard of Dr. Doty or if he is just another faceless name, a bit of trivia, or a post-card thought that some of their alumni parents occasionally mention.
My wife and I and many others have bemoaned the anemic alumni involvement at our college. Frankly, there have been instances where we contributed to that problem. I am wondering, though, if part of the solution begins by teaching incoming freshman just how special a legacy they're entrusted with. By reminding them that they're receiving a gift from the college and that the time will come when they'll be expected to give back in equal measure . . .
Saturday, September 06, 2008
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
In an effort to reign in the eager hoopsters, Julio posted this sign on the front door last week:One of our elders saw the sign shortly after is was taped to the front door and freaked out (rightfully so, by the way). We stress, over and over, that South is a "place for you." We are inclusive not exclusive. For Julio - who doesn't attend our church - it was an honest mistake.
Yet I've been around many churches and many Christians that have exactly this attitude. Church starts growing. New people start coming. The "establishment" begins to realize they might lose control and they freak out. (Sound familiar Fred?) Maybe they don't post signs on the door, but it is made clear in other, not uncertain ways, that "If you don't know me and I don't know you, you are not welcome."
My friend, Terry, was fired from a church in Kentucky for this very reason. The church grew. "Our people" were threatened by "those people." Undesirables (read, "sinners") began coming to church bringing their habits and heartaches right along with them. Solution - fire the preacher. My buddy Mike went through the same thing. He started inviting skateboarders to church. Kids with more ink than a Kinko's starting mixing with the Bible Bowl crowd and Mike's phone began to ring. Parents were concerned that their "good kids" might become "infected." (Perhaps because they were never properly inoculated?) When over 100 such kids started showing up on Sunday nights, it was time for Mike to go. Bye bye, Mike. Oh, and bye bye youth group. And, I suspect, bye bye to a generation of kids in that town who have one more reason to hate the church.
The thing is, these churches usually get exactly what they want. A small, close-knit group of believers that know each other, and each others' business. Forty people who come together on Sunday morning and play church the way you and I used to play house with our siblings and neighbors in the yard barn out behind the grape arbor. People stay away and the church slowly atrophies. The building becomes an antique mall and the member or two that has to sign at closing takes some small consolation in knowing that the money realized from the sale of the building went to help the church camp or the Bible college.
There is that problem of the great commission being ignored. There is the little thing about Acts 1:8 being overlooked. "Go ye into all the world." Fine so long as the world don't come in here. "You will be my witnesses in all Jerusalem." As long as the Jerusalemites don't have different color skin or funny hair or tattoos or, or, or, or.
I have to talk with Julio tonight. Hopefully I can help him understand that our church has a different understanding. Some have suggested its time to nix the Tuesday night open gym altogether. I wonder, though, if a better plan might be to "plant" some Southies in the gym as covert witnesses of Jesus Christ. Maybe we can do a little guerrilla evangelism once a week.
If that happens, maybe Julio and his crew - none of whom are members here at South - will begin showing up here for something other than ball. Who knows, maybe we'll have to deal with all Julio's guys coming on Sunday morning and sitting in "someone's seat."
Frankly, I can't wait for that to happen.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Friday, August 22, 2008
Here in the states, athletes leave college and go to the NFL or some other professional league and make millions. Chinese athletes don't have that option. According to Wetzel, they're state property. What is more, the Chinese have targeted solo medals rather than the team sports. It takes fifteen softball players to win one gold, but dozens of gymnasts, swimmers and weight lifters can each take medals home.
The end result: the USA had better get used to being second in the medal count.
So I propose a new method of accounting medals. Simply take the total medal count from the mint - every medal they stamp - and divide them accordingly. So, when the men's hoops team wins gold, we'll put 12 gold medals in our column. When 14 . . . er . . . 16 year-old He Kexin wins gold on the uneven bars, we'll place one tally in the Chinese column. We do the same for each individual and each team sport.
I would be interested to know how the US fares with that sort of accounting. Given our dominance in many of the team sports, I suspect we'll win the medal count, or at least hold our own.
If not, we'll have to hope that the Chinese decide to stop being the new East Germany, in order to keep up.