Thursday, May 7, 2009

NEW BLOG SITE!

Mike just launched a brand new blog site! To continue to read Mike's blogs and participate in the discussion, log on to:

www.mikepottersblog.com

Mike will no longer post to this site. Hurry and click the link above so that you don't miss a thing!

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Nerve!


As you know, I have four teenagers living under my roof. Two of them are graduating from high school this month. The cost of graduating a child from high school can be measured in the thousands of dollars: books, school fees, homecoming, prom, spring break trips, multiple ACT tests, college application fees, senior pictures, graduation parties, graduation gifts, college orientation fees, etc. It all adds up, and for our family, this cost is doubled.

So, needless to say, I was shocked, angered, and overwhelmed with destructive thoughts when I saw this sign at a local car dealership last night. The nerve! How many parents who are fighting off the entitled requests of their high school graduates for a car have driven by this sign with their teen only to be attacked again with renewed vigor?

"See dad! Not only do ALL my friends have a car, but I deserve one! And look...I'm not the only one who thinks so!"

I know this dealership thinks this is a funny and creative sign, but it's obvious that the people responsible for it don't have teenagers. If they did, the sign would read: "Parents, don't you deserve a car for raising your teenager? Come on in for a GREAT deal!"

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Lots of Americans Changing Their Religion

Americans aren't losing their religion; their changing their religion...a lot. I'm not sure if you caught the article about this at cnn.com on Monday, but if you didn't, let me share some of it with you.
More than half of American adults have changed religion in their lives, a huge new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found. And there is no discernible pattern to the change, just "a free for all," one of the lead researchers told CNN. "You're seeing the free market at work," said Gregory Smith, a research fellow at the Pew Forum. "If people are dissatisfied, they will leave. And if they see something they like better, they will join it."

Many people switch because they move to a new community, and others because they marry someone of a different faith, he said. Some don't like their ministers or pastors; some like the pastor at another church better. And many people list more than one reason for changing, Smith said. "The reasons people change religions are as diverse as the religious landscape itself," he told CNN by phone.

Some factors that might be expected to drive people away from religion - such as sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, or a belief that science "disproves" religion - actually play a very small role, the study suggests. "I've been struck by the very large number across all the different groups who say they just gradually drifted away. Not all of this is the product of carefully considered, conscious decision-making that happens at a specific point in time," Smith said.

The number of people who have changed religion is much higher than previously thought, the new report suggests. A Pew Forum study released last year concluded that just over one in four Americans had switched. More than four in 10 American adults are no longer members of the religion they were brought up in, while about one in 10 changed religion, then went back to the one they left, the study found. Just under five in 10 - 47 percent - have never changed faith. Some have switched more than once, and a small number have changed three times or more, according to the study.

The survey supported a study released last month in that it found about 16 percent of Americans are not affiliated with any religion. The American Religious Identification Survey, from Trinity College in Connecticut, found the number to be about 15 percent. But Smith warned against labeling those people "secular." "Upwards of one-third of newly unaffiliated people say they just haven't found the right religion yet," Smith said. And many people who had no religion as children later join one, he said.

"More than half the people who are raised unaffiliated are now affiliated," he said. "More than half [of those people] say they joined their current faith in part because they felt called by God to do so. Just because a person is part of a particular group at this point in time, or a part of no religion, doesn't mean they are going to stay that way forever," said Smith.Most people who switch religions do so before they are 24, combined with the finding that older people as well as younger people have changed, suggests to Smith that the trend has been going on for some time, he said. "If I'm 65 and I changed religion at 24, I changed 40 years ago," he pointed out. "It's not a new phenomenon."
Not sure what all of this means for the local church, but I should would like to hear what you think.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Making Millions in Ministry

My television was on all last weekend as I watched young men become instant millionaires via the NFL draft. The number one pick in the draft, a quarterback picked by the Detroit Lions, signed a six-year contract that guarantees him at least $42 million. Most (if not all) of us will never see that kind of money in our lifetimes. I used to think that my ability to make millions of dollars as a pastor was impossible...until now! A story I read today in the New York Daily News has changed everything, and now I'm a pastor in search of the big bucks!

The story is about the Rev. Brad Braxton who is the incoming pastor of Riverside Church in Manhattan. This past Sunday, he finally broke his silence over his massive pay package, saying that God was behind him as he assumed the position of senior pastor. He told his congregation on Sunday - who responded with thunderous applause, "God told me all week, 'I got you.'" However, not all 2700 parishioners were clapping. Some are actually filing a lawsuit to trim his $600,000 in yearly salary and perks. $600,000 per year! Cha ching!

I didn't know that kind of money could be made in ministry. I used to say that if I wanted to become rich, I chose the wrong profession, but now I see that I'm wrong! Evidently, the sky's the limit. There's tons of money to be made in ministry, and I'm going for it.

Please pray along with me as I call my elders together this week and demand a huge pay increase. I could swear I heard the Lord tell me this morning, "I got you." Let's hope and pray that this translates into millions of dollars for me.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Mostly Stupid (But Kinda Clever) Church Sign

I don't know why, but when I drove by this one, I did actually laugh out loud. It's clever, but it's still stupid. Stupid to the non-believing thousands that drive by it every day and stupid to the Christians who drive by, most of whom probably chuckle...then shudder like I did.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Spiritual Lesson from the 1929 Depression for the 2009 Recession

I'm studying Psalm 124 this week in preparation to preach on it this Sunday. One of the resources I'm using is a book called, Meditation in the Psalms by Erling C. Olsen written in 1939. As I was reading today, I came across an application he was making that spoke directly to the Great Depression that the world had just suffered through at the time of his writing. In light of what our country is going through financially some 70 years later, I found this surprisingly relevant. Here's what Olsen wrote...

A United Christian World

When the crash of our pyramided prosperity took place in 1929, the whole world was shaken like a reed. Since then, some voices have been heard suggesting that the collapse was inevitable, because of the materialism with which the people possessed, but now that materialism had broken into bits and was found to be but a vapor, men would return to the verities of God and spiritual things.

For a moment, it seemed that men had learned a lesson. But what do we see today? It is acknowledged by some that we have turned the corner and are well on the road to another period of prosperity. Have men ceased to be materialists? Have the nations learned the lesson of 1929? Indeed not. Then what? What can be the hope of this particular hour?

An item appeared on the front pages of our newspapers this past week which I read with interest. It directed attention to the call raised by one of the richest men in this world. That distinguished gentleman suggested that only a "united Christian world could stem the rising tide of materialism and selfishness, of broken traditions and crumbling moral standards and point the way out." He lamented the failure of the church visible, with its sects, still clinging to its denominationalism "in a drifting, disillusioned, discouraged world which sees in the church confusion rather than hope."

I wholeheartedly endorse the comments which that gentleman made, and I agree with him that the world is on the brink of disaster as its very foundations are being shaken. I agree with him that the only thing for the church today is to bear a united testimony, so that she might be a bulwark against the raging storm.

Interesting and relevant words for us today. President Obama said this week that he foresees a very difficult 2009. We're not yet out of the woods of this recession. So, it's very timely and necessary that we - the church - ask ourselves what role we should be playing for those who are on the financial ropes. What message should we give to a country that has been knocked off of its firm footing by these uncertain financial times? Will we be a bulwark of hope for the hurting people around us, or will we just add to their confusion and fear by displaying a lack of love, compassion, understanding and unity?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Surviving the Teenage Storm

Last week, something monumental happened in my family. With the celebration of Taylor's birthday last Monday, we officially became a home with four teenagers living in it. We knew this day would come, but like with any major catastrophe, we just weren't ready! Michelle and I could feel the wind picking up, and we could hear the thunder in the distance, but last Monday, the lightning struck and the storm hit with gale force winds. And, as far as we can tell, the storm has stalled out over our home. The latest forecast calls for this storm to continue to pelt our home for at least the next five years. So, how will we survive the teenage storm that has hit our home? Here's what we're doing to try to survive...

1. We're in the process of creating a parents-only sanctuary in our home. Our home is pretty small for the amount of people (and dogs) living in it, and it's hard to get away. So, Michelle and I are in the process of creating a "sanctuary" where we can get away. Currently, our bedroom has a TV equipped with a DVR for recording and watching our favorite shows at our leisure. In the coming months, we're hoping to install the claw-foot tub that we drug here from Ohio. It needs to be refurbished, and our bedroom/bathroom combination needs some reconfiguring, but we think we have a plan. As we revealed our "sanctuary" plan to one of our teenage daughters, she replied, "If you do that, you guys will never come out!" Exactly.

2. We get out of the house regularly. This is something we've done since the kids were very little. When they were unable to care for themselves, we spent quite a bit of money each month on babysitters. And when Emily became old enough to watch the kids herself, we made it known to her that staying home with them while we went out on a consistent basis was her God-given reason for being born. She bought it for a while, but as she got older, she got smarter! Michelle and I have always made time for one another, and one of the main ways we've done this is by taking walks together. When the kids we're younger, we would take them to a park to play. While they played, Michelle and I would walk laps around the park keeping them in our sight at all times. Now, we leave home nearly every day for a 35 minute walk. This is the time when we debrief our day, talk parenting strategy, or even stop on a street corner to kiss. Walking together is healthy, free, and even romantic sometimes.

3. We work hard to maintain the top position in the home. Those of you who have teenagers know that this can be a difficult thing to do. Teens can be assuming, demanding, and full of entitlement. If parents aren't careful, their teenagers can overtake the control of the house! Michelle and I love our teens dearly, but we often let them know their place (below us!). We do this sometimes by verbally reminding them that we're the parents, and they're the kids. But we often do it non-verbally by not allowing them to have full run of the house. For example, we still require that our younger teens get to bed at a decent time; our older teens can stay up as late as they need to, but they have to be quiet and courteous to those who are smart enough to go to bed before 2AM! We also require our teens to all pitch-in with the work wound the house. Our kids know that Saturday is "chore day," and they know that they're not allowed to do anything "fun" until their chores are done. Although the younger teens tend to still complain about this sometimes, the older ones work diligently, understanding that this is part of being a kid in the Potter home. Maintaining the top position in the home is essential for any couple who desires to survive the powerful onslaught of budding adults in their home.

4. We eat together as a family as much as we can. This is getting harder and harder to do. Michelle and I both work, Emily and Jasmine have after-school jobs, and Taylor plays sports almost year round, but all six of us do manage to sit around the same table at the same time for a meal probably 2-3 times per week. And because our family meal times can sometimes turn into family fight time, we are trying to instill an exercise we heard about from some family friends. Each family member must share what was the best and worst part of their day. No one is allowed to interrupt the one speaking, and no negative talk about another family member is tolerated. I think the older teens think this is a bit goofy, but the conversation sure ends up being better than what it could be and has been in the past. Even though getting all four of our teens together in the same room is often loud, crazy, and obnoxious, connecting face-to-face as a family on a regular basis is a very high priority for me and Michelle.

5. We pray. A lot.
Michelle and I have been and continue to pray for our kids. Sometimes we do it together, but most of the time, we find ourselves crying out to the Lord in the quiet of our hearts on behalf of our kids. Raising kids is not a science full of proven "if/then" scenarios. It's an art, and it requires constant thinking, rethinking, and evaluation. Even though I've been in ministry for 15 years, and even though much of that ministry has been to teens and their parents, I find myself often at a loss for what to do or what to say regarding my own teens. With four teens in the house, Michelle and I find that we are more dependent upon the Lord now than we've ever been before. Even though God has entrusted these kids to us, we're fully aware that it is Him who is ultimately in charge of drawing them to Himself and changing their hearts. We just hope and pray that our mistakes and failures don't hinder the work He's doing in them.

This is an exciting time in our home, but it's also an exhausting time as well. Statistics show that disagreements and stress about money, sex, and children are the top three causes of divorce in American homes today. Teens cost a lot, so I'm not sure how to solve the money stress right now, and this is probably not the forum to discuss our sex life, but I do know that as Michelle and I strive to do the five things mentioned above, we are surviving, our marriage is growing, and we are discovering peace and enjoyment amidst the chaos of the teenage storm!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Inspired By A Cigar Room

The other night, I was invited by a friend to join him at a local cigar room to watch the NCAA tournament. I'd never been to one, but the prospect of smoking my pipe indoors was appealing to me. You see, I like to smoke a pipe every once-in-a-while, and because I don't want to stink up my house, I always do it outside. So, I packed up my pipe, took a small bag of my favorite blend, fueled up my lighter, and made my way to the land of smoke and good conversation.

When I got there, I felt like I was playing the part of an extra on the set of Cheers. As different men arrived, I watched as the others sitting around welcomed them with a wave of the hand and a hearty calling out of their name. The men engaged one another in conversations about their work, families, and other life issues, all the while enjoying their favorite cigar or pipe. The evening was filled with smoke and casual, friendly, natural conversation. Men from all different walks of life sat around and enjoyed one another's company. As the new guy, I was immediately welcomed, and before long, I was right in the middle of the conversation.

There was a sense that these men genuinely cared for one another. There was an older man who the others respected so much so that he was allowed the best seat in the house. This man bought everyone in the room pizza. The owner offered a free cigar to another man whose business has fallen on some tough times. I met a man the others called "Rev," who I later discovered is a fellow pastor. Even though he is "a man of the cloth," all of the men there respect him and laugh at his goofy church jokes. It was a warm (pun intended), inviting, relaxing place where - even though all the men knew I was a pastor - I was accepted and made to feel right at home.

I really enjoyed my time there, and it got me thinking. I just completed leading the men at my church through a 24-week study on authentic manhood. We spent the last several months discussing what it means to be a real man, and while it was a good study, I'm not so sure the men really connected with one another like I had hoped. Why? I think because it was forced. There was a one-and-a-half hour window each week where men were expected to come, hear a lesson, and then share their deepest, most intimate feelings...and it really didn't work too well. Don't get me wrong, I'm pretty confident that the men did get to know one another more than before, but the kind of care, concern, and camaraderie I experienced at the cigar room just wasn't there.

Women are quick to come together and can easily move from surface issues to core issues in a matter of minutes, but men need something to gather around. They need a project, an event, a reason. And even with those things in place, men are still pretty slow to open up. I know of a man who has committed his life to the Native American men of northern Wisconsin. He has lived among them for 30 years, and in addition to preaching at a small church (attended mostly by women and children), he spends most of his time under the hood of pick-up trucks with men and in the cab of a snow plow with men. He does this in order to connect with the men of his community because few will ever grace the doors of his church.

I know of a fellow pastor in the New England area who meets with the men of his community at a local pub once a week to drink some spirits and talk about the Holy Spirit. He calls it "Pastor on Tap," and it's a weekly event that is even advertised in his church bulletin. Men who this pastor would otherwise have no way of connecting with at the church come for a drink and some spiritual conversation with their pastor.

So, back to the cigar room concept. I'm convinced that men do want to connect with other men, and I'm convinced that men do want to discuss intimate issues like how they feel about their marriage, their children, their job, and even their spiritual condition. They just need an environment that allows them to connect with other men in a naturally masculine way...a place where men want to come, and a place that men enjoy when they're there. I'm not so sure sitting in a circle at church is that place.

I agree that encouraging men to hang out at a local cigar room (or even a local pub) would be a radical step for a church to take, but how serious are we about reaching the men in our church and the men in our surrounding community? I - for one - am tired of making attempts at reaching men that prove to be minimally effective at best, and I - for one - am ready to consider a more radical approach if effectiveness is the pay off.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Another Stupid Church Sign


So, who are they trying to encourage to come with this one? The unbeliever driving by will have no idea what this sign means, and as a believer, this sermon title really doesn't appeal to me. I mean, why would I want to come listen to a preacher talk about how bad and "worldly" believers can be. I already know, because I often am one, and I serve at a church full of people who struggle with this as well!

Posting sermon titles on a church sign is never really a good idea. Sermon titles often sound ridiculous to unbelievers, and believers don't really care what the title of the sermon is. Usually, the only people who really care are the preacher and his secretary who assembles the bulletin. For sure, people driving by really don't care what the title of the sermon is. Churches ought to just stick to posting service times and the church's web site address on their sign. Or better yet, they should put a passage of Scripture on the sign and let God's Word speak for itself.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Vacation Music Indulgence

I'm on vacation this week, and in addition to sleeping in, playing golf, and painting a room, I've been getting caught up on music downloading and listening. This is something that often gets pushed aside when I'm busy, but I finally made some time this week to do it. Here's what I've been downloading and listening to this week. Take a look at the list and then tell me what I'm missing. What would you be listening to if you had a week off?

Adele, 19
Adele has a very unique voice and is considered a pop artist, although I would consider her a mix between pop, jazz, blues, and lounge music. Very good. Relaxing.

Barren Cross,
Rattle Your Cage
You probably wouldn't understand, nor would you like it! Early 90's Christian metal. Sounds a lot like Iron Maiden. This was their last album, and I've been looking for it for quite some time. Finally found it!

Bruce Springsteen,
Greatest Hits
You can't beat "The Boss" when it comes to needing motivation for painting! I'm listening to it right now, and mostly enjoy his stuff from the 80's: Born In the USA, Glory Days, Dancing in the Dark.

Burlap to Cashmere,
Anybody Out There?
"One album wonders" from the 90's. Christian band best known for their song, Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. There's a lot of salsa/flamenco style on the album. Good stuff.

Coldplay,
Viva La Vida
Hard not to like these guys. I just downloaded the entire album this week after over-playing the songs, Viva La Vida and Lost! for weeks. Good album.

Daniel Band,
Rise Up and Running Out of Time
Again...old school 80's Christian rock band. Loved them when I was a kid and only had these albums on cassette. Finally found them on-line. Alright!

David Cook,
David Cook
Ok. Stop laughing! As far as American Idol rockers go, Daughtry is better, but this is a pretty good rock album.

Def Leppard,
Pyromania
Best of their many albums. My brother played it constantly when I was a kid, and this was the only "secular" band t-shirt I ever owned. I wore it once in junior high, got convicted about it, and threw it away. Buying this album as an adult serves as redemption for my legalistic upbringing!

Delirious?, Mezzamorphis and The Mission Bell

I really like these guys but these two albums have been holes in my collection of their stuff. I've heard a lot of the songs from these albums, but have not owned them until now. I still like their debut double-worship album the best.

Dido, Safe Trip Home

I just really like her stuff. Smooth, cool, and edgy.

James Newton Howard, Soundtracks to Lady in the Water and Defiance

Both were good movies, and after familiarizing myself with his style on Lady in the Water, I immediately identified that he was the composer while watching the movie, Defiance, last week. I love his mysterious, almost haunting, style.

Jimmy Needham, Not Without Love

My older girls recently saw him open up for Barlow Girl. The really like his stuff, particularly a love song he wrote for his wife called, Unfailing Love. They squeal every time it comes on, and if they're around, it comes on a lot!

Luciano Pavarotti,
The Duets: Best Of Pavarotti & Friends
I love a good tenor and along with Andrea Bocelli, Pavarotti is my favorite. The duets are with friends like Bono, Sheryl Crow, Sting, Bon Jovi, Bocelli, and others. It makes for some great dinner music and goes down as smooth as a glass of red wine!

Norah Jones,
Feels Like Home and Not Too Late
Talk about smooth! Is there anything smoother than Norah Jones singing at the piano? Great light jazz from a woman with an incredible jazz voice.

Metallica, Death Magnetic
I know what you're thinking. Not very pastoral of me to listen to these guys, but have you heard the guitar work on this album? Probably not...but it's awesome. If I'm in a grind-it-out mood, I may throw these guys on. I do have to commend them for at least becoming a bit nicer and bit more civilized in their old age!

U2,
No Line on the Horizon
Still enjoying this one. Great music and thoughtful lyrics, although I have to admit that sometimes I don't understand what Bono is trying to communicate! However, the more I listen, the clearer it becomes...and the more profound I find it to be.

So, that's my vacation listening list. What's missing? What would you have on your vacation listening list? Let me know.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Stupid Church Signs

The Bible tells Christians to be the "salt and light" of the world. Unfortunately, when it comes to church signs, some Christians mistaken "salt and light" for "stupid and lame." I absolutely hate it when a church puts some ridiculous saying on their sign for the whole world to see, and believe me, the world is watching...and what they're seeing in front of many churches is shameful. No wonder we Christians are often seen as irrelevant, out-of-touch weirdos. Just take a look at some of the more popular - and idiotic - church sign slogans:

"Baskin Robbins isn't the only place with good Sundays"
"CH__CH: What's Missing? U R!!
"Dusty bibles lead to dirty lives"
"Forecast for heaven: reign forever"
"God answers knee-mail"
"Looking for a sign from God? This is it!"
"Stop, drop, and roll doesn't work in hell."
"The best vitamin for Christians is B1"
"Think it's hot here..."
"This church is prayer conditioned"
"Walmart isn't the only savings place"

When will these churches understand that people are not as stupid as they think they are? When will they realize that people are turned off and angered by their ridiculous slogans and insincere efforts to "save sinners" in their communities? When will they realize that hurting people don't want or need a "witty" slogan or a lame attempt at a "community outreach" event. When will they realize that what people need is to be loved for who they are and cared for right where they're at?

It's interesting that the churches that display these stupid sayings on their church signs often wonder why they're so ineffective at reaching out to those in their community. They need to look no further than their front lawn for the answer.

Do stupid church signs make your skin crawl like they do mine? Have you seen any that you'd like to share? Join me in exposing them by sharing them here.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Magnificent Life; Magnificent Worship

I'm always on the lookout for fresh, new worship music. I have over 5,000 songs on my iPod, with a wide variety of musical styles: from heavy metal to classical; from Seattle grunge to club techno. I even have a couple (as in 2 or 3) country music songs on my iPod, but that's a secret meant to be kept just between you and me! In the midst of it all, the music I find myself listening to the most is music that creatively and passionately exalts the Lord Jesus Christ: worship music. Recently, I found such a song in a pretty unlikely place.

It's not on the latest Chris Tomlin or David Crowder album. It's on U2's latest album, No Line on the Horizon,with a song simply titled, Magnificent. Although U2 has been known over the years for writing songs that talk about the Lord, this song is the most blatant "worship" song I've ever heard from them. Here's a sample of the lyrics from the song:

I was born
I was born to sing for you
I didn’t have a choice but to lift you up
And sing whatever song you wanted me to
I give you back my voice
From the womb my first cry, it was a joyful noise…

Only love, only love can leave such a mark
But only love, only love can heal such a scar

Justified till we die, you and I will magnify
The Magnificent
Magnificent
Magnificent

And the song is pretty magnificent as well, by the way!

Over the years, I've been very intrigued by Bono - the lead singer of U2, in case you've been living under a rock the last 20 years. I've been trying to figure out exactly who he is. U2 is one of the top selling live bands in the world, and they've sold millions and millions of albums. Some would say that they're the best rock band of all time. But in the midst of all the accolades and the millions upon millions of dollars made, Bono has consistently professed faith in Jesus Christ.

Lately, he's become better known for his work fighting against AIDS in Africa than for his music. He meets with world leaders and generates billions of dollars in relief for those suffering from AIDS and for the millions of children who have lost parents to AIDS. He's not doing this as a "side-gig" to his U2 involvement, but he sees the fame and fortune he's garnered from U2 as a platform to do what he feels God has called him to do. His efforts in Africa has even landed him on a short list for the Nobel Peace Prize.

I recently read the book, Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2, and I'm more convinced than ever that Bono is the real deal. He's a man living a "missional life," (more missional living) understanding that God has blessed him in order to be a blessing to others. His goal is to bring an end to AIDS in Africa. Pretty lofty goal, but if there's someone who might be able to use his influence to pull it off, it's Bono.

Bono lives his life as worship to the Lord...and he writes a mean worship song as well!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Courage in the Public Schools

I witnessed a pretty incredible act of courage this week at the middle school that my two youngest children attend. My son, Taylor, wrote a paper on courage where he described what courage is and then gave a couple examples of it. Here's what he wrote in his final paragraph:
The last example of courage is the greatest example. It is when Christ died for our sins. I believe this saves us from our sins. Christ is the real picture of courage.
There's no doubt that this took a lot of courage for Taylor to write, but he really believes this. Michelle and I didn't know he wrote this, so this was something he wrote all on his own. He writes this kind of stuff all the time, because he loves the Lord and looks for opportunities to share his love for Him whenever he can. I am impressed - to say the least - at Taylor's boldness, and I am both proud and thankful for his courage in talking about the Lord to others.

It was the response of his teacher, however, that blew me away. In a day and age where revealing one's Christian beliefs can bring about a lot of trouble, I was incredibly impressed at the courage of Taylor's teacher. Here's what he wrote in response to Taylor's paper.
I couldn't agree more, Taylor! You keep this mentality up and God will do amazing things through you. The simple fact that you wrote this comment shows your courage! Never be afraid to tell anyone about the love of Christ. You are one of my best students, and now I know why. Keep being the salt and light to this cold and dark world that doesn't know the One who saved us from our sins.
Wow! Talk about courage! It took a lot of courage for Taylor's teacher to write this on his paper, and it shows that the Lord has His people strategically placed even in the dark halls of our public schools. I could tell that Taylor was pretty pumped about all of this, and so were Michelle and I. Oh, and by the way, Taylor got an A on the paper!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Please Pray

It's been a pretty sober day for me after learning of the murder of Pastor Fred Winters of First Baptist Church in Maryville, IL. Evidently, while Pastor Winters was preaching yesterday morning, a 27-year-old man walked right up the center isle and shot him at point blank range, killing him in front of 150 of his parishioners. As a pastor who preaches each Sunday, this is surely a concern for me, but more concerning is how this will affect his congregation, his wife, and his two precious daughters. My heart goes out to them, and I would ask you to pray along with me for them.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Difference Between Hymns and Praise Choruses

What's the difference between a hymn and a praise chorus, and why do so many people in the church make such a big deal about it? Should the church today sing more hymns, or should they sing more praise choruses? I came across this explanation on a Puritan web site and thought it would be good to pass it along to you.

And old farmer went to the city one weekend and attended the big city church. He came home and his wife asked him how it was.

"Well," said the farmer. "It was good. They did something different, however. They sang praise choruses instead of hymns."


"Praise choruses?" asked the wife. "What are those?"


"Oh, they're okay. They're sort of like hymns, only different," said the farmer.


"Well, what's the difference?" asked the wife.


The farmer said, "Well it's like this ... If I were to say to you, 'Martha, the cows are in the corn,' well that would be a hymn. If, on the other hand, I were to say to you, 'Martha, Martha, Martha, Oh, Martha, MARTHA, MARTHA, the cows, the big cows, the brown cows, the black cows, the white cows, the black and white cows, the COWS, COWS, COWS are in the corn, are in the corn, are in the corn, in the CORN, CORN, CORN, COOOOORRRRRNNNNN,' then, if I were to repeat the whole thing two or three times, well that would be a praise chorus."


As luck would have it, the exact same Sunday a young, new Christian from the city church attended the small town church. He came home and his wife asked him how it was.


"Well," said the young man, "It was good. They did something different, however. They sang hymns instead of regular songs."


"Hymns?" asked the wife. "What are those?"


"They're okay. They're sort of like regular songs, only different," said the young man.


"Well, what's the difference?" asked the wife.


The young man said, "Well it's like this ... If I were to say to you, 'Martha, the cows are in the corn,' well that would be a regular song. If on the other hand, I were to say to you,


Oh Martha, dear Martha, hear thou my cry
Inclinest thine ear to the words of my mouth.
Turn thou thy whole wondrous ear by and by
To the righteous, glorious truth.

For the way of the animals who can explain
There in their heads is no shadow of sense,
Hearkenest they in God's sun or his rain
Unless from the mild, tempting corn they are fenced.

Yea those cows in glad bovine, rebellious delight,
Have broke free their shackles, their warm pens eschewed.
Then goaded by minions of darkness and night
They all my mild Chilliwack sweet corn chewed.

So look to that bright shining day by and by,
Where all foul corruptions of earth are reborn
Where no vicious animal makes my soul cry
And I no longer see those foul cows in the corn,


Then, if I were to do only verses one, three and four, and change keys on the last verse, well that would be a hymn."

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A Missional Perspective on Church Worship

I've been involved in several discussions lately about worship style, and at the same time, I've been reading a book called, The Present Future by Reggie McNeal. In it, he challenges the church to become more intentional about focusing their ministries and energies on those outside the church rather than on the "club members" inside the church. He (along with many others) calls this kind of church a "missional church" - where people are exploring and discovering what it means to be Jesus' sent people as their identity and vocation. Obviously, this mentality and focus has far-reaching implications on all areas of life, like family, work, and church, but what he says about how a missional focus ought to impact a church's worship style is worth noting. Here's what he says...
I am proposing that missiology come into prominence, both as a theological pursuit and as a guiding operational paradigm. Even the issues that have captured the church’s attention should be framed against the backdrop or under the overarching theme of missiology. For instance, the discussion of worship unfortunately often occurs without a missiological perspective. Witness the church worship wars. These are the result of club members discussing their worship style preferences as stockholders and stake holders, not as missionaries.

The usual goal is to find something that club members like. We’ve all heard discussions among church leaders involving questions such as, “Can nonbelievers really worship God?” or “Should our worship be seeker-sensitive or seeker-driven?” as though worship is not a powerful evangelistic tool to express the church’s mission in the world! Nonbelievers are already worshiping, because people are built to worship something. Our challenge is to upgrade their worship to worship of the true God.
This "missional" perspective must be included in the discussion of what music should be played on a Sunday morning during the worship service. The worship music cannot just be targeted toward the likes and preferences of the "club members." We must take into consideration the evangelistic power of the songs we sing.

On any given Sunday, there are scores of people that attend churches all across America who have not placed their faith and trust in Christ. These are not just the random people who stop in one Sunday a year, but these are also people who attend church every week and faithfully serve. As church leaders consider what songs to sing, what prayers to pray, and what sermons to preach, this reality must be taken into consideration.

Some may call this approach "seeker-sensitive" and may react negatively to it. But if we understand that God has called us to live like missionaries 24/7 among our neighbors, co-workers, family members and friends, then making sure that even our Sunday morning worship service has a missional flavor to it is essential.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Congressional Warning for the Church

Was it just me, or did most of the people in attendance at President Obama's speech on Tuesday night look like they'd rather have been ANYWHERE except for there? When the cameras panned the crowd, the congressional leaders looked like they were either asleep, mad, uninterested, or all of the above. And then there were the half-hearted standing ovations. Except for Speaker Pelosi who seemed to be a little too excited at times, no one really seemed too enthusiastic about those either. Every year when our president gives his annual speech before Congress, I find myself really disturbed by the behavior of our congressional leaders...maybe because it reminds me so much of the church.

I'm not so much talking about the asleep, mad, uninterested, and unenthusiastic part...although you should see the view from the front that I have on Sunday mornings! What actually bothers me about the behavior of our congressional leaders is their lack of unity at this event. Standing ovations (or any ovations at all) are totally dependent upon which party the President represents. Last night, the Democrats were up on their feet several times, and the Republicans sat there like a bunch of grumpy old men (with some grumpy old women sprinkled in). What happens in that room each year represents the political divide in our country, and it reminds me of the lack of unity present in our churches today.

From the Psalms to the Epistles, the Bible makes it clear that followers of Christ are to live in unity:

Psalm 133:1-3
Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.

Romans 15:5-6

Live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Could it be any clearer? Regardless of our differences, we are to live in harmony with one another. Period. That means that our personality differences, our economic differences, our racial differences, and even our doctrinal differences are to be trumped by our love for one another. There is absolutely no biblically justifiable reason why we should not love one another.

Let us heed the warning our congressional leaders inadvertently sent us on Tuesday night by their juvenile and foolish behavior. May we - the church - stop acting like them and start loving one another regardless of our differences.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Would You Be Willing to Sacrifice That?

I would love to be able to blog more often. I really enjoy writing, and I enjoy the conversation that it provides (both through the blog and through personal contact). However, I'm usually consumed with writing on a weekly basis. Between writing a weekly sermon, writing for the weekly Men's Fraternity, and working with the elders on amending the church's constitution, my writing "well" is usually dry by the end of each week. However, I'm not preaching for the next two weeks (thanks, Jesse!), so I hope to have some time over these next two weeks to allow you to witness something with me that I think is quite incredible.

My brother-in-law (Michelle's brother, Michael) is set this week to donate one of his kidneys to his father-in-law (his wife's dad, Howie). Howie has already received a donated kidney several years ago, but it's been slowly failing over the past couple of years. If he doesn't receive a healthy kidney soon, he will die. Howie's two children were tested to see if they were a match. His son is not, and his daughter (Michael's wife, Heidi) is, but she had some complications during her latest pregnancy that eliminated her from being a donor. On a whim, Michael decided to get tested, and amazingly, it was discovered that he's a match.

I don't know the process that Michael went through internally that led to his decision to offer his kidney to Howie, but I'm sure it was a struggle. Last night, Michelle and I talked about who we would be willing to give a kidney to, and both of us decided that it was a no-brainer that we would be willing to give one to one another or to one of our children. However, we both let out a nervous laugh when we considered the prospect of giving a kidney to one of our in-laws! We love our in-laws, but we both decided that it would be a tough decision on whether or not to give a kidney to one of them. Simply put, the fact that Michael is willing to go through the excruciating pain and is willing to deal with the on-going health risks of living with one kidney is pretty amazing.

Michael has been following Christ for about three years, so I'm sure that his relationship with the Lord factored in to his decision. I wonder if I would be willing to obey the Lord if He asked me to give a kidney to my father-in-law. I would certainly hope so, but I can honestly say that it would be a hard decision to make.

The transplant was supposed to take place today, but the doctors have decided to postpone it until tomorrow or Thursday. On Saturday, I'm flying out to Connecticut to be with Michael, Heidi, and their three kids. I figure if Michael can sacrifice a kidney, I can sacrifice a week of my time to serve his family while he's recovering.

Please pray for Michael and Howie. Pray for a safe transplant to take place, and pray that both men will recover without complications. The donor usually has a rougher road to recovery, so please pray especially for Michael. Also, pray for me, that I would be a blessing and a true help to Michael's family while I'm there.

Check back often over the next two weeks as I hope to share more about this incredible act of generosity and sacrifice.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

On Pure Evil

The following is a post submitted by Matt Valdiviez.

Two recent local crimes have been much remarked on the television news of late. Fortuitously or fatefully, they have tended to be mentioned consecutively in a manner that seems to me to bring into relief a certain dilemma of thought on the nature of evil. The one concerns the murder of a fourteen-year-old girl by a young man, one Efrain Valenzuela, at a house party; the other tells of middle-aged cult-leader Wayne Bent’s sexual abuse of one of his adolescent female disciples.

The cult-leader’s crime, shockingly vile though it may be, seems to me rather less disturbing than the murder. As little as I would care to confess any identifying sympathy with the impulses that would lead a man to molest a child, I nonetheless must admit the intelligibility of the pleasure the man must have been seeking in taking advantage of the girl. It’s a wicked and destructive pleasure in which no man must ever allow himself to indulge, even in thought, even for an instant; yet it is a real pleasure, founded upon passions now native to all fallen creatures, the familiar exhilaration of the sense of the helpless other’s violent and humiliating subjugation.

However the man may have justified his activities (and it appears from the news reports that he had conceived a rather elaborate and impressively fantastic self-defense), there is at the heart of his action the pursuit of something recognizably pleasing and, to that extent, good, though catastrophically twisted. That this particular good has been unlawfully and immorally pursued is beyond question. But one can see nevertheless that the man got something from it, that he was willing to sacrifice conscience for concupiscence. It probably seemed like a good trade at the time.

The other crime, however, seems not to exhibit any such intelligible motive. The culprit apparently found himself the butt of a few friendly jokes and reacted, without hesitation, by pulling out a handgun and shooting the girl in the face. What sort of misconceived good could the young man possibly have been pursuing? This act of violence, which is neither more nor less shocking and disgusting than that of the cult-leader’s pederasty, seems to lack any readily intelligible motive.

It recalls the theme of the acte gratuit familiar from certain modern novels; Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov, Albert Camus’s Meursault, and Cormac McCarthy’s terrifying Judge Holden all embody the possibility of men committing atrocious acts of violence simply for the sake of the violent atrocity, without promise of either profit or pleasure. The theme has been developed in a somewhat more melodramatic fashion in films of a romantic bent in which characters and their moral cosmos tend to be polarized, neatly opposed as good to evil, like the black and white pieces on a chess board. Think of the Darth Vader from the first Star Wars movie (before the psychologizings of the later installments reduced him to a traumatized teenager) or the Joker from 2008’s The Dark Knight. These figures display, in the words of the nineteenth-century poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a “motiveless malignity.” (Coleridge was actually describing Shakespeare’s Iago.) They seem to do unthinkably evil things for no other reason than to be unthinkably evil, to test the limits of man’s inhumanity to men. They gain nothing from their crimes. They symbolize a purely destructive instinct in us, something like what Freud referred to as Thanatos, the death drive.

But these, of course, are fictional characters whose activities are not really meant to map directly onto the real world of criminal psychology. Yet when one hears of such an apparently gratuitous murder as that of Mr. Valenzuela, one may pause to ask whether there is not something of the same motiveless malignity in him and, therefore, potentially in us all, all flesh falling equally short of the glory of God. Is pure evil a real possibility for human beings? Do we commit acts of wickedness solely because we fail to recognize the higher good and settle for a lesser one? Or do we sometimes indulge in evil for evil’s sake?

Christian theology has been reluctant to take this thought too seriously. At least since Augustine, and most forcefully since Thomas Aquinas, evil, in the theologian’s zeal for theodicy, has tended to be described rather as privation of the good than as any sort of positive entity. We sin because we fail to recognize the higher good of spiritual obedience and settle too readily for the bestial and worldly goods of the flesh, laying up for ourselves treasures in earthen vessels when eternal glory is offered us. By this rationale, if we only knew better, if only our spiritual education could be at last perfected, we would choose righteousness invariably, for our motives are never purely evil, merely deficient in good. But if it were possible for us to commit evil acts from purely evil promptings, this would instantly undermine any confidence we might place in our, or our children’s, spiritual education. No matter how well we had trained ourselves to recognize the cause of righteousness, sin might nonetheless surprise us. Sinfulness could be our nature in a rather deeper sense than that of a mere persistent temptation. If we can do evil for evil’s sake, then we really don’t even need to be tempted in order to fall. For what was it that tempted Mr. Valenzuela to pull the trigger? What good, however meager, could he have hoped to gain by it?

Now it may be that I’ve simply missed the point and don’t really understand just how much genuine enjoyment is to be got from shooting an innocent girl in the head or that the thrill of the transgression is its own epicurean reward. And I have no idea how one might even go about determining whether or not pure evil is a human possibility. Yet the mere thought of it as a possibility seems to me to present something for spiritual edification and admonition. If we are so helpless against evil as to succumb to it without even being tempted, then our sole refuge lies in the righteousness that can only belong to the Lord and his Christ. No vigilance can shore us up against a new fall; no rigidity of devotional habit can insure that we shall not revolt against God and his Creation. Our trust must be solely in his providence, for both our native goodness and the stability of our moral upbringing are illusions.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

My New Year Prayer

I was running on the treadmill yesterday, pondering the new year. At the same time, I was listening to a song by a (now defunct) band called Church of Rhythm. They were a group of guys from WillowCreek Church in Chicago who put out two really good albums in the 1990's. One of the band members is now a member of Superchick. Anyway, the song, Common People, was playing, and I thought, "Yah. This is what I want to see become more of a reality in my life and in the life of the church." These words describe my desire and my prayer as the new year begins.

We are a common people, each of us a fallen man
Let's find that common ground and stop drawing lines in the sand

We are a common people, living in a common life
There are ties that bind us all when we look beyond the lines
Common people, you and I

Can't we tear the fences down
Can't we rip the labels off
Can we share the common ground
Instead of judging what is not

Can't we love instead of hate
Can't we trust instead of fear
Can we stop fighting for a moment
And feel our common tears

Is it us against them, wrong against right,
black against white, my kind your kind
There comes a time to put the argument down
and have a party on the common ground

I see a blind man on the street
He doesn't know what I look like
So he can't judge the man I am
Except by what he sees inside

I see a child on the street
He doesn't know the mistakes I made
I know he takes me where I am
He sees a friend not a crusade

Lord help me live like this
Lord help me love like this

I see a brother on the other side
Of my crusade, my holy fight
I think I know where I went wrong
When I gave up love to be proved right

I saw a man die on a cross
He forgot the mistakes I made
He died for me the way I was
and He wants me to love the same

Lord help me live like this
Lord help me love like this