Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Monday, December 28, 2009
Thank you for all your continued hard work this year. We are so thankful for you!!
In your bag you will find:
Bracelet - this bracelet explains the significance and reason it was purchased. Supporting fair trade and empowering some entrepreneurs in India.
Ornament and top - even thought Dawson would like this when he's older. They are hand painted by residents in a village in Uganda. They are made of vegetable paint and 100% lead free. They practice fair trade.
Bag - made by women who chose to leave the sex trade industry in Calcutta and make a better life for themselves and their children.
Enclosed you will find a certificate in your honor for one teacher in Darfur to receive a salary for a year. in honor of you and all the wonderful teachers we wanted to help other teachers sustain their living and continue educating. Also, enclosed is a Gap gift card, just for fun!
As well, 3 books were donated to an inner city school with our purchases.
Sunday, December 27, 2009
I just found a website of some guys who toured every Big Ten stadium in a single season, eleven straight weeks.
Friday, December 25, 2009
I'm writing this on Christmas morning. Both Dawson and Erin are taking naps.
Yesterday, Christmas Eve, was a wonderful day. I did a little bit of grocery shopping and got to enjoy the big crowd at Walmart. Most of the day however, I just laid around the house with my family in my pajamas. After being sick most of the previous day, Dawson was his smiling self again and even taking some solid foods. Just as I was running my last errand to Walmart, the light rain started turning to snow and ice. We locked ourselves up inside, put on a fire and listened to my all-time favorite Christmas album, Oakridge Boys Christmas. After we put Dawson to bed, we laid out his presents and then laid in front of the TV and watched the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol, my all-time favorite Christmas movie. It was a wonderful day.
Today started out pretty good but quickly went downhill. Dawson was very excited over his new toys but just before putting him down for a nap, he regurgitated his breakfast cereal all over the both of us. Erin has gotten progressively sicker as the morning has gone on, seeming to have the stomach flu Dawson had two days ago. She's sleeping right now. Between the ice and snow drifts and the sick family, it looks like we won't be doing all the family stuff we'd planned.
Did I mention Christmas Eve was a wonderful day? It really was.
Merry Christmas, everyone.
UPDATE: Erin' sickness violently peaked about noon yesterday. I took care of Dawson while she stayed in the bathroom. But while she was really sick, I could feel the flu growing in my own body. By 5:00 last night, the flu violently took me as well. I'm not over-stating when I say this might be the sickest I've ever been. After every bodily purging, I did my best "addict in withdrawal" imitation by laying on the floor with cold shakes. Each purging increased my dehydration resulting in more and more painful cramping. And on top of everything, the people who wanted to come help us weren't able to do so because of the snowstorm. Dawson's first Christmas is certainly one we'll remember.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
That's parenting, right? Just when you think you've got something figured out you find yourself starting all over again.
I'll never write a "mission accomplished" post again.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
The first step in the process of raising a child is to teach them how to sleep. Not only for our sanity (those first few months about killed me) but also for the life-long health of the child. To help us with this, we followed a friend's advice and have been following Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child (Amazon link on the side of the page).
Well, mission accomplished on the sleep front. Dawson is regularly sleeping through the night, which a few minor wake-ups here and there. He's also right on the nap schedule recommended in Healthy / Happy. A regular night is sleeping from 7:30 - 5:30 or 6:00. 5:30 is still a brutally early wake-up call but at least he's sleeping through the night. Occasionally, Dawson does us a huge favor as he did this morning, sleeping until 7:30! He woke up briefly at 4:30, 5:15 and 6:30 but he's able to self-sooth himself back to sleep.
But here's the whole point of this "mission accomplished," we had quite the struggle in helping Dawson learn how to sleep on his own, mainly midnight screaming sessions. You can read the whole story of how we "broke" his bad habits on Dawson's blog - here.
But isn't that why we become parents? To sacrifice what's comfortable and easy for us so we can teach a young life how to make it in the world? I KNOW the parenting challenges are just beginning, but it's nice to have struggled through to positive results in this first big step of parenting.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Yesterday, I was listening to someone on 96.5 talking about the rapture, Youth Pastors with frosted hair and cheesy Christian music. I realize it's fun to laugh at stuff like that (I was cracking up) but it's unfortunate that's the picture a lot of people have of Christianity.
This is a much more healthy and biblical picture.
Check it out.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
While founding fathers appealed to God to justify their war against Britian and in the drafting of The Declaration of Independence; a document in which only white, landowning men were granted by their Creator “certain inalienable rights.” George Washington, as did almost all the Founding Fathers, owned slaves, so it’s likely they didn’t believe the very words they penned in the Declaration of Independence. Washington had the teeth pulled from his slaves to produce a set of false teeth for himself. An early draft of the Declaration of Independence had to be rewritten because it implied that slaves were created to be free as well. Unfortunately, many modern Christians proof-text the Founding Fathers to “prove” America was founded as a Christian nation. When in reality, the Founding Fathers were simply doing what politicians of all generations do (including Clinton, Bush and Obama), quoting scripture and appealing to God to justify their own political aspirations. Even if it were possible for a nation to be founded as “Christian,” the US was founded to be plurasitic, as evidenced by the “separation clause.” Now, to be fair, the vast majority of the first US citizens would’ve identified themselves as Christians but the US wasn’t founded as a Christian nation. Our supposedly Christian nation was founded by men who demonstrated little commitment to the teachings of Jesus. Those who did hold to some sort of faith were mostly deists, far short of biblical Christianity.
“The words and acts of the founding fathers, especially the first few presidents, shaped the form and tone of the civil religion as it has been maintained ever since. Though much is selectively derived from Christianity, this religion is clearly not itself Christian.” – Robert Bellah
Beyond the personal faith (or lack thereof) of our founding fathers, there are two major reasons in which our nation is not a Christian nation; it's faulty theology and it's inaccurate historically.
The only theocracy in history was the nation of Israel and that wasn’t much of a success. God abandoned that plan with the creation of the Church. With the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, God's representatives were no longer a particular nation but rather a world-wide group of people committed to following Jesus. In Romans, Paul refers to the church as the “new Israel” and Peter names the church “a royal priesthood, a peculiar people, a nation belonging to God.” In Ephesians, Paul challenges the church to manifest everything Jesus died for, manifesting a divisionless “new humanity, which is the heart of the Kingdom calling. The Kingdom of God is not within human borders, rather it is composed of all followers of Jesus. While Christ-followers have their own particular national citizenship, no nation can be “Christian.” To quote one author, “it’s just as theologically accurate to call a dog a Christian than to call a nation a Christian.” While may work good through an earthly government, no political entity can be Christian, it’s theologically impossible.
Governments also operate in a manner completely opposite of Jesus. To borrow Greg Boyd’s terminology, governments operate with a “power over” approach while Jesus operated under a “power under” approach. Governments pass laws to enforce behavior, Jesus lays down his life in service which leads to a change of heart. Governments use force and violence to attain their ends, Jesus told Peter to “put away your sword” and then laid down his life for his enemies. Unfortunately, the power over approach is very appealing, whether it be the mixing of church leadership and government positions under Constantine or the American Religious Right trying to legislate sexual ethics. The way of Jesus is very costly but the only true way to affect change.
A perfect example of this is how the owner of Bonita Flats has changed his perspective on Christians thanks to Trinity Family’s Love Wins ministry. Read a letter from Guido here.
And this “power over” method NEVER works. Look at every nation (mostly European) that was once dominated by the church in a “power over” approach, the church is now a non-factor on those nations. Many American Christians want to blame the secular / humanistic philosophy that was birthed in the era of the Enlightenment for the secularization of Europe and eventually the United States. I’d argue however, you need to go farther back and see how the power over approach of the church created an environment in which Christianity was doubted and mistrusted. For example, the "Church of Reason" birthed during the French Revolution was a direct rebellion against a Church supporting the oppression of France's poor. Whenever the church aligns itself with the world's powers, the name of Christ is blasphemed.
“Having accepted the falsehood that we must run the world, we seek to get ahold of the mantle of power. Consequently, ‘discipleship’ gets transformed: ‘following Jesus,’ rather than denoting a walking in the way of the humble Suffering Servant, denotes being ‘spiritual’ as we seek to wield power over our fellows… Christians become convinced that they are pursuing the purposes of God by pursing the purposes of the empire.” – Lee Camp
And even if it were theologically possible for a nation to be Christian, the history of the US convinces us to reject any false affirmation of our nation’s commitment to Jesus.
While the first Puritan settlers believed their new settlement to be a “new Jerusalem “ and a “city on a hill,” they quickly abandoned that ideal by their second generation. The modern belief of a “Christian Nation” came into vogue during the first few decades of the 20th century, mostly from the KKK, who were revolting against the influx of Eastern European immigrants who were Catholic. Protestants of Western European descent didn’t like the unsettling feeling of a changing US demographic. Their desperate grasp to retain a privelege position in US politics is remarkable similar to politically active evangelical groups trying to remain relevant in the current political scene.
It seems the only group of people to have ever bought into the idea of a “Christian nation” are white protestants. It’s not a coincidence that this the same group to have held poitical power throughout most of our nation’s history. No Native American or descendant of a slave nor even many Catholics would ever call the US a Christian nation. Those on the wrong-side of power are (for obvious reason) much more aware of the immoral use of power than those who hold the power.
The following is a quote from Frederick Douglas, who as a freed slave turned abolitionist preacher, spent years on the wrong side of the US’ power structure. “Between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference – so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt and wicked…. I love the pure, peacable, and impartial Christianity of Christ; I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity." Ouch…
Following Douglas' thought, the problem with this belief in a “Christian Nation” is that it’s used to justify American interests. If America is Christian, it just makes sense that whatever is good for America is ordained by God. It’s not too difficult to see why this belief would make life much easier for politicians. Why do many American churches blindly support America’s wars? Because if we’re Christian, than America’s enemies are also the enemies of God. This language is heard in a vast majority of white Protestant churches.
It’s quite enlightening however, to realize we’re not the only country who believed they were a Christian nation, and that their national interest was synonymous with God’s will on earth. The crusades, the 30 years war, the Revolutionary war; every western nation has believed itself to be a Christian nation and to be fighting for the cause of righteousness. An extreme, yet powerful example, is Nazi Germany. Obviously, there was nothing Christ-like about the plunder and extermination of other European countries carried out by the Nazis. The average German however, didn’t realize the autrocities being carried out by Hitler’s regime until it was too late. Rather, they allowed themselves to be pacified and carried along by their national leaders’ appeal to the Christian history of Germany. If we think about it, Germany has a much longer and deeper Christian heritage than the US. If any nation could be “Christian” it would be Germany. Germany’s conquest of and payback to the rest of Europe in the 30’s was propped up with the same spiritual language used by our nation’s leaders to justify our wars. It was quite disturbing to tour the Holocaust museum in Washington DC and read a nationalized Christianity from Hitler that sounded very much like the language of the US Presidents of my lifetime. Please don't read too much into this connection; in no way am I saying we're Nazi Germany but I am saying the spiritual language used to support Hitler's war is similar to the spiritual language used to support our wars, including the current war on terror.
So branding the US a Christian nation is wrong, obviously but it also makes us like many other western nations. What we must come to accept is that the US isn’t Christian, neither is it Satanic. Rather, it’s simply a spiritually neutral government composed of fallen human beings. The US has done a lot of good and a lot of evil because we’ve got a lot of imperfect but well-meaning humans in our nation. The Kingdom of God is found within the US (among the communities of Christ-followers) but it is not expressed by the US. That’s a simple, but revolutionary distinction.
This deconstruction has been long and has been blunt, but only because it's extremely necessary to go so long. I realize that if this is the first time the average protestant midwestern Christian has come across these ideas, they’re likely fuming with anger right now. But the deconstruction of the lie that the US is a Christian nation, while painful, must be done. The process is long and difficult however, because it’s hard to train our eyes to see the water in which we swim – this myth is a foundational belief for many Christians.
When we’re done with the deconstruction, we’re left with Jesus; his life, his teachings, his example and his Kingdom. Our ultimate allegiance is to a crucified-but-now-alive King and an already-but-not-yet Kingdom. JESUS is the answer. We’re to reject the coervice methods of government and lay down our lives for our enemies as Jesus modeled. Rather than fighting for a marriage amendment, we find ways to share God’s love with those of a same-sex orientation. Rather than waiting for schools to sanction prayer, we teach our students to constantly pray for their classmates. Rather than celebrating America’s history of violence and supporting American wars, we challenge our government to find nonviolent means of reconciliation while personally modeling a commitment to peace and to valuing the life of every human being created in the image of God (which is every human even terrorists). It’s time to focus on introducing people to the self-sacrificial love of Jesus and trust in the power of that love to effect life-transformation.
Highly recommended reading:
Myth of a Christian Nation
Jesus Wants to Save Christians
They like Jesus but not the Church
Lies My Teacher Told Me
A People’s History of the United States
Monday, November 30, 2009
This week President Obama decided to send more troops for the war we are involved in. I was reading in Thomas Merton's book: "New Seeds of Contemplation," and I thought his chapter on war has some existential relevance. What do we really mean by "peace?"
“To some people peace merely means the liberty to exploit other people without fear of retaliation or interference. To others peace means the freedom to rob others without interruption. To still others it means the leisure to devour the goods of the earth without being compelled to interrupt their pleasures to feed those whom their greed is starving. And to practically everybody peace simply means the absence of any physical violence that might cast a shadow over lives devoted to the satisfaction of their animal appetites for comfort and pleasure….........
Instead of loving what you think is peace, love other people and love God above all. And instead of hating people you think are war makers, hate the appetites and the disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed—but hate these things in yourself, not in another.”
- Thomas Merton
What Merton is reacting to is a good summary of the American Empire's definition of peace. My mom and I were talking last night about how it's basically impossible for someone to be a serious follower of Jesus and at the same time be Commander-in-Chief. For American to continue it's empire status, we must wage war. But for Jesus to be honored, we must work for a peace brougth through non-violent methods.
Some more qoutes:
"You've got to kill the terrorists before the killing stops. And I'm for the president to chase them all over the world. If it takes ten years, blow them all away in the name of the Lord." - Jerry Falwell
"Jesus concerns Himself harldly at all with the solution of worldly problems... His word is not an answer to human questions and problems; it is the answer of God to the question of God to man. His word is... not a solution, but a redemption." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
[The Sermon on the Mount is] an indication, a picture, a vision of the in-breaking of a new society. They are indicatives, promises, instances, imaginative examples of life in the Kingdom of God... they help us see something so new, so against what we have heard said, that we cannot rely on our older images of what is and what is not.
The basis for the ethics of hte Sermon on the Mount is not what works but rather the way God is. Cheek-turning is not advocated as what works (it usually does not), but advocated because this is the way God is - God is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. This is not a strategem for getting what we want but the only manner of life available, now that, in Jesus, we have seen what God wants. We seek reconciliation with the neighbor, not because we feel so much better afterward, but because reconciliation is what god is doing in the world through Christ." - Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon
"Every war... with all it's ordinary consequences... the murder with the justifications of its necessity and justice, the exaltation and glorification of military exploits, the worship of the flag, the patriotic sentiments... and so on, does more in one year to pervert men's minds than thousands of robberies, murdes, and arsons perpetuated during hundreds of years by individual men under the influence of passion." - Leo Tolstoy
"Why of course the people don't want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people don't want war neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders.That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing thecountry to danger. It works the same in any country."
- Herman Goering
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Of course, the next marriage to come out of TFC is coming this May...
Saturday, November 28, 2009
And it was a lot of fun, at least for awhile. The crowd was juiced and deafening. Hutchinson took an early 7-0 lead but GEHS quickly countered, which is the video below. Gardner then forced a 3 and out and Bubba Starling reversed field and found his tight end for a 40 yard touchdown. After getting the ball back, the Blazers were forced to punt but with a GEHS coverage man bearing down on him, the Salthawk returner heard the footsteps and fumbled away the punt. Bubba then moved Gardner right down the field inside the red zone but threw a pick on 3rd down. Later in the quarter, GEHS failed to convert a 4th and goal and entered halftime down 21-14.
I'm telling all this about the first half because the 2nd half was a disaster. The massive offensive line wore down GEHS' d-line and began running the ball in big chunks. Two separate times, a Salthawk running back broke free from three GEHS defenders and once ended up running for a TD. Even more demoralizing, was GEHS' failure to field kickoffs, leading to short fields for Hutchinson.
With the exception of Aquinas, no school on Gardner's 2009 schedule gave them much of a game. Gardner has grown so quickly that they're simply overpowering their former rivals, which is why they're moving into the Easter Kansas League next year. But after dominating over matched opponents all of 2009, GEHS was finally on the opposite end of a mismatch. The town of Hutchinson is about 2 1/2 times the size of Gardner and their offensive and defensive lines were just about the same proportion to the GEHS lineman. While GEHS put up a good fight for the entire first half, size and strength eventually won out. The final score was a demoralizing 52-14.
Despite the lopsidedness of the score, the Blazer nation gave their football team a rousing ovation during the runner-up trophy presentation.
There are so many reasons I love living in Gardner and an incredible football program is one more addition to the quality of life. We moved into our house just before the start of the 2004 football season and I've been following the Blazers ever since. Travelling to playoff games has been an additional thrill. It's been really fun to see the whole community unite around the football team. Nothing can bring together a town like a winning sports program.
Based upon the steady improvement GEHS football has shown under 4th year head coach and future KSHA hall-of-famer, Coach Deiner, it's just a matter of time until the entire town gets to celebrate not only a berth in the State Championship game but GEHS' first ever State Championship.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Last Sunday was another piece of the newfound momentum, it was the baptism of Travis Bottcher. I'll post Travis' testimony from Sunday below:
Some of you may be wondering who I am because I am not here very often on Sunday’s due to my job. So I wanted to talk briefly about how I have come from not really caring or thinking about GOD to being dunked in this kiddy pool, which is a nice touch I must say Donnie.
When I was younger my family and I attended a small country church in Sedalia and I was baptized when I was 12. I am very glad I was baptized there but it has a totally different meaning to me now. We continued going there for a while but we eventually stopped and I really never got involved with another church.
In November of 2004, Amy and Billy started coming to Trinity Family as the church started up. I pretty much avoided the place at all costs for the longest time. As I look back, I think it was mainly because I felt like I didn’t need church or GOD in my life. I didn’t want to go to a place where it was being pounded down my throat all the time or here that what I was doing was wrong. I believed in GOD and that was good enough.
One Sunday, I finally came and met Donnie and other people from Trinity Family and the next thing I know I am having weekly bible studies with Donnie. A while later I am having bible study groups at my house.
Even when I was going thru my divorce and couldn’t make sense of anything, GOD and Trinity Family was still with me. Then when I found out I was expecting another baby, I was so happy but I knew it wasn’t the perfect circumstances to bring a child in to this world with two parents who were no longer together. I fought for several months in my head and did not really talk to GOD because I guess I was ashamed or something a long those lines. It was not like I blamed him but I could not understand because I felt like I had already been thru so much. Then in August I am not sure exactly what happened but I was talking to a dear friend and it was like something came over me. I felt like GOD was talking to me and said it’s alright. I won’t give you more than you can handle. Now I have said it before but I am not a real bible pounding kind of person but this was a moment I felt through my whole body and it is hard to explain unless you have had this moment.
I sent a text to Donnie right away and said I want to be baptized now. Keep in mind Donnie and I have been talking about me getting baptized for well over a year and I kept telling him, I’m not ready and I’ll know when its time. It would have been great to see his face when he got that text but I think he replied with a “Wow” and let’s do it. Now our schedules haven’t worked the best so it has been a couple of months but over that time I have some special friends in my life who are helping me find my “true self”. Not only has my relationship with GOD gotten stronger but my relationship with my friends and family also. Not everyone gets to see these changes and some people may not even notice them and that is some of the things I am still working on, but I know there are certain people who can see and feel those changes. I hope and pray that these changes can be passed on to my two beautiful children, Billy and Gabrielle, who was born on November 2nd. That has become one of my goals and dreams.
Now our schedules have finally worked out and I am here to take this step!!!
Travis' spiritual journey over the past year parallels what has happened in TFC. After some initial excitement and momentum, Travis hit a wall. But he's pushed through that difficult spot and found the deeper joy and contenment that comes from a spiritual maturity, a spiritual maturity known only to those who have persevered through difficult times.
If the camera had just panned a bit more to the left, you could've seen me in the stands sporting my old-school #20 Dean-O jersey.
The inevitable destruction was only postponed, however. After the Hawks hit a 3 pointer to take the lead in the first minute of the 2nd half, UT went on a 17 point run and won the game going away.
On a positive note, the Hawkeye football team continues to experience success under the leadership of the best coach in College Football.
It's only fitting that I'd get to enjoy two nights of ugly basketball after being in Iowa City Saturday for some ugly football.
There was however, a beautiful goal line stand in our end zone, allowing us to keep the pig.
Iowa football may win ugly, Iowa basketball is ugly all the way through.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Friday, November 20, 2009
His websites are offthemap.com and doableevangelism.com and his book, Evangelism without Additives can be ordered here.
Here are some excerpts from this interview:
From interviewer, "Jim's 5 years of pastoring taught him that sinners like Jesus but they don't like Jesus' people, causing him to rethink how he was approaching nonbelievers."
Jim, "I was tired of thinking of you as a project and not you as a person."
"Most of the ways [we] observe evangelism being done, as it's being marketed - the large rallies, all that stuff - the statistics are just abysmal about the number of converts that actually stick. It does not result in what the church wants. The church wants disciples; Jesus didn't say 'go into the world and make converts' he said, 'go into the world and make disciples', which is a completely different project... Jesus did not model this behavior. He did not have to lower himself to a bait-and-switch. So this has been an adoption of American consumerism. It's largely based upon sales... I want people to follow Jesus, but I'm done with the whole sales pitch."
"Doable evangelism does not concern itself with converting people, it's not about sales, it's about connecting. There are three spiritual practices for connecting with people.
1) Notice people.
2) Pray for people behind their backs
3) Actually listen"
"Our goal is to get Christians engaged in the process, our concern is not with results. Our goal is teaching Christians not to be jerks. Our goal is helping Christians learn to be normal... Our goal is to help people build friendships... that's how human beings change, through relationships. When people like each other, the rules change."
"I'm much more concerned about the starting line of faith. Why don't we try to get them across the starting line, rather than the finish line."
The reason this resonates with me is because I spent most of my life as the "bait-and-switch guy." I would befriend people simply for the sake of converting them. If I could tell there wasn't much chance of that happening, I'd move onto another person. I was operating under this method as late as the early days of pastoring TFC. I could post some pretty sick examples but for the sake of personal pride, I won't.
My motives were honest, I wanted people to meet Jesus. My methods, however, were very UN-Christlike. The guilt I would feel for taking too long to turn the conversation toward Jesus and the weight of "if I don't do this right, they might burn in hell" was very unhealthy.
The answer, then, is to build relationships that have NO AGENDA, to love people simply for the sake of LOVING THEM. It's hard to say that, as explained in the interview, because evangelicals have guilt if they don't "produce fruit."
I love how Jim was cool with the the interviewer's branding his method as "all bait and no switch." A life truly lived for Jesus is all that's needed. A person intriqued by that life will eventually open up dialogue about what that life is all about. But even if they never do, they are still humans created in God's image, deserving of our love, respect and service. To love, without ever seeing that friend make the decision you'd die for them to make has to be similar to Christ's self-sacrificial love from the cross. How many billions of people did Jesus die for that will never accept that love and forgiveness? Yet he still poured out his life.
This requires slowing down, rather than building a lot of shallow and short-lived relationships with a lot of poeple, you build deeper and longer relationships with fewer people. This has been very hard for me to grasp but I'm beginning to get there.
One encouraging stat that Jim shared is that it often takes 4 years for a person to decide to follow Christ. This gives me hope because I'm about 1.5 years into a friendship that looks like what Jim is proposing, this friend has been exploring faith in Christ off and on since we became friends.
Also following Jim's idea, this friend first became interested in Christ because of what they saw in Erin and my lives. To directly quote this friend, "I'm not so sure about my faith, but I love yours and I have so much faith in you so I figure that means something, right?"
Yes, yes it does.
Following this line of thinking, check out this video David posted to his blog.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Contributing to the growth of local megachurches, one disgruntled family at a time.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
1) Simplify and enhance our website I'd been thinking that our current website is too 'brochure-like' and not set up for community building. We're also paying $50/month for web hosting. We're going to switch to a server that only charges $12/ month, rewrite the content to fit our new direction and integrate Church Community Builder into our current site. It's going to take a few months to make this happen; first we'll redo our current site and then we'll launch and integrate CCB.
2) Refreshments Not a huge financial decision and we're already doing it, but we formalized the decision to redirect some of the money we're now saving on rent toward Sunday morning refreshments.
3) Giving to the under resourced This is what has me the most pumped. TFC is already modeling generosity in the fact that we give away 13% of our offerings; 7% is for for local ministry through our district and 6% goes to our overseas mission work. A part of our denomination's mission funding goes toward Nazarene Compassionate Ministries.
But beyond that 13%, we're trying to find more ways to give. Decisions such as cutting rent and using a cheaper web service are all ways to cut expenses so we can give more. We're cutting as much operating cost as possible so more money can be given away!
We haven't finalized it yet but we're currently considering allocating these newly freed resources in this way; %30 for helping people within our own congregation, 60% given to organizations that serve the poor in our local community, such as Gardner Multi-services Center and 10% will be given to efforts to serve the global poor. We'll also continue to have special offerings to serve the world's poor, such as the offering we took in July for World Vision.
And this is just the beginning of the larger impact TFC is going to have on our local and global community.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
At about 5:45, Dawson began falling back to sleep, nestled in between myself and the back of the couch. I let him lay there for about 1o minutes before carrying him to his crib. Those 10 minutes were wonderful. Dawson's, blanket-covered, warm little body was snuggled next to mine. His head was laying on the side of my arm and his little legs were curved along the top of my legs. Nothing really better in the world than lying next to your sleeping little boy. My thoughts then turned from my little boy to my Heavenly Father.
As my little boy lay on my left, nestled between the couch and my body, I imagined my much bigger Father on the right, holding me in between his infinite person and my little son. Just as I'm content to simply hold my son, I know my Father is content to hold his son. It was a good time of enjoying the presence of my earthly son and my heavenly father.
All year, I've been trying to focus upon the discipline of constantly practicing the presence of God. Each morning, I read a section for Practicing His Presence (linked on the right side of this blog) and try to turn my thoughts to God throughout the rest of the day. To be honest, I've been pretty unsuccessful at it. Occasionally however, I have moments with God similar to this morning's moment with Dawson.
Here's an excerpt from this morning's reading:
"Can I bring the Lord back in my mind-flow every few seconds so that God shall always be in my mind? I choose to make the rest of my life an experiment in answering this question.
Someone may be saying that this introspection and this struggle to achieve God-consciousness is abnormal and perilous. I am going to take the risks, for somebody ought to do it. If our religious premises are correct at all then this oneness with God is the most normal condition one can have. It is what made Christ, Christ. It was what St. Augustine meant when he said, 'Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our souls are restless until they find their rest in thee.'
I do not invite anybody else to follow this arduous path. I wish many might. We need to know so much which one man cannot answer. For example: 'Can a laboring man successfully attain this continuous surrender to God? Can a man working at a machine pray for people all day long, talk with God all day long, and at the same time do his task efficiently? Can a merchant do business, can an accountant keep books, ceaselessly surrender to God? Can a mother wash dishes, care for the babies, continuously talking to God?'
Is this obtainable?
Any hour of any day may be made perfect by merely choosing. It is perfect if one looks toward God that entire hour, waiting for His leadership all through the hour and trying hard to do every tiny thing exactly as God wishes it done, as perfectly as possible. No emotions are necessary. Just the doing of God's will perfectly makes the hour a perfect one."
Sunday, November 1, 2009
There was an energy level among the congregation on Sunday that I haven't experienced for a long time. People kept telling me, through smiles and hugs, how much they love the changes that have just happened.
These changes have been a long time coming. Last spring, we began a numerical slide that has resulted in our Sunday morning worship attendance being between 2/3 - 1/2 of what it was a year ago at this time. Toward the beginning of that slide, after a very lowly attended Sunday in March, I spent a sleepless night talking with God and wrestling with my fears and hopes. My fear was that if we continued to "do church" as we were at the time, we might not continue to exist. That fear lead to a hope, a hope that TFC could stop focusing on "doing church" and become more intentional about "being the church." At about 4 AM, I got a pretty clear picture of the changes we could make.
I began sharing those changes with staff, the board and then ministry leaders; everyone was on board with the ideas. Last summer, we polled the congregation to find out approaches were working and to gauge their openness to the potential changes. The surveys revealed an almost unanimous support of the structural changes our leadership was considering.
In August, we took a big first step in introducing Discussion Groups to Sunday AM worship. To say these groups have been a success would be the understatement of the year. Every Sunday, over 90% of the congregation participates in discussion groups. This past Sunday, only ONE person skipped discussion groups and that was because of a family emergency. It was almost hard to hear the other members of my group over the dull roar of the conversations happening all over the commons. The introduction of Discussion Groups, as well as "Ask Anything" Sundays, have all been a part of our effort to take a more dialogical approach to Sunday morning worship.
The immediate success of Discussion Groups allowed our leadership to take a bigger step in this move from "doing" to "being." In summary, our new focus as a church is upon three main values, Simplicity, Community and Generosity. Let me explain our new focus on these areas.
Simplicity = When TFC launched 4 years ago, I was determined to make us into a church that would wow everyone who showed up for worship. 4 years later, I've broken (been broken is probably the better way of saying it) out of that consumerism / attractional approach. Our unique niche in the Kingdom isn't going to come from what we do but in what we are. Our first major step in simplification is in moving out of the auditorium of PRMS and into the commons. In making this move, we've eliminated as much set-up as possible, focusing on the essentials for corporate worship. Elements such as stage lighting and moving backgrounds have been lost in our move into the commons and I'm not sure whether we'll be able to find them again.
Community Also left behind in our move were the cushy but permanent chairs of the PRMS auditorium. We've now got portable chairs that can be arranged in a large half-circle for corporate worship or into smaller circles for Discussion Groups. It's amazing what changing from rows facing one direction to a circle of chairs does for group dynamics.
Moving into the commons is saving us a LOT of money in rent payments, lowering our operational overhead by thousands of dollars. Our Advisory Council is considering using some of the saved money for an online service designed to help churches build community.
We're also rebudgeting some money for morning refreshments. Worshiping in the commons means we're able to have coffee and donuts again! Amazing how something so simple can go so far in community building.
Following the advice from last summer's surveys, we're also going to be having regular community meals as a part of our worship. Our first community meal will be Nov. 22nd.
Generosity This is what has me more fired up than any of our changes - the more we lower our operational expenses, the more we can give away. The less we spend on rent, the more we can give to organizations that serve the poor and under resourced, both locally and globally. My constant challenge to our congregation is "spend less on self so you can give away more." I'm glad to say that TFC is taking another step in that direction. We do already give 7% of our offerings to local ministry work and 6% to global evangelism, but we'll be able to do more now. Our Advisory Council is also working out a process for setting up a fund to help families within our congregation; having funds available for those in immediate need - allowing us to live out the New Testament value of taking care of each other.
What do you think honors Jesus more, spending our resources on facilities or on serving the poor? If you're not sure, check this out.
While these changes may not seem too radical on the surface, they're indications of deep changes that have happened within me. My whole understanding of how a group of Christ-followers are to live together as a local expression of the Kingdom of God has been turned upside-down over the past 9 months. Last spring was a season of disillusionment and failure within the typical North American protestant model. Last summer was a season of depression and hopelessness (to read my self-confession to my church from a few weeks ago, click here). This fall has been a season of rebirth for Trinity Family, a rebirth into a new model of church that greatly parallels the old model we see in the New Testament.
And it's my sneaking suspicion that the approaches that make TFC different from just about every other church in our area are going to be common place within the next couple of decades.
Below are pictures from Sunday, including our TFC Kidz area. We would've moved into the commons sooner but it took a few months of planning to figure out how to make TFC Kidz work in a different space. I'm proud to say Pastor Andy figured it out.
The tech guys figuring out the digital sound board DONATED to TFC, which helps us further simplify our set-up process.
Friday, October 9, 2009
During these four years of pastoring, I've come to realize that many Christians (myself included) have ignored vast sections of Jesus' teaching and example from the gospels and have created a Jesus that fits comfortably into their particular paradigm. To put it another way, there are a lot of false Jesus's floating out there; the Jesus of the religious right, the Jesus of politial ideologies, the Jesus of American patriotism, the Jesus of economic prosperity, the "Jesus of Suburbia (to quote Green Day) and many other false Jesus's.
Leading a pre-Christian to Jesus and then discipling that new Christian is an exhuasting and rewarding work. Trying to lead an established Christian to Jesus however, is a serious threat to one's personal well-being and vocational comfort. For a well-meaning Christian to leave behind a false Jesus to which they've held onto for years and turn to the Jesus of scripture is a drastic and rarely seen conversion. Difficult personal experiences over the past couple years have taught me that most established Christians don't take too kindly to having their false views of Jesus challenged; personal attacks, sleepless nights, tears of anguish, broken relationships and various other unfortunate circumstances have resulted from being faithful to this burning desire to lead Christians to Jesus.
But when the conversion happens - it makes all that other stuff worth it!
For an example, check out the email conversation I had last week with a guy from nearby conversation, with whom I've been friends for years and has an almost identical background as myself.
Hey brother, I just listenend to your Politics sermon from a year ago. Very, very nicely done. This has been an issue that I have just recently been delivered from, and I wish there were more people that believed like you and could deliver a message like this. Nice job (a little late).
Also, I'd like to get your perspective and thoughts on some issues that I'm dealing with at [my church], mostly pertaining to passion and outreach. Obviously these are things that Trinity does well, and I'd like to know what you think could be done. I would like to get your idea on how a large, prominent, comfortable, rich, white, Johnson County suburban, Nazarene church can become an outreach centered church.
I really want to include my responses, which share a lot of behind-the-scenes struggles, but I don't feel it's appropriate to share all of that.
Good stuff man. I appreciate your out of the box thinking and mentality towards this Christian contentment that the church finds itself in.
I got deep in trouble last year during election season as I would listen to the one-sided lineup all day of Chris Stigall, Glenn Beck, Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Michael Savage. I noticed myself becoming very angry as the day progressed. I would even come home and rant to Michelle about how I hated the greedy left, and how much I thought Obama was a dumb a**. Not cool. About a month ago, I made it out to your blog and saw that you were reccommending the Turning Jesus Over to Caesar podcast. As I read through your blog I honestly thought to myself, "Donnie must be a bleeding heart, liberal idiot that is way off track." (sorry) However, I did listen to the sermon with a very critical mind and finished with a very open minded broken spirit. I made the paradigm shift of realizing that first I am a citizen of the Kingdom of Christ and second I am a citizen of the USA, and that has made all of the difference. I basically have stopped fighting the politics war and focused my attention back on the eternal soul war. I feel very liberated.
Thanks for what you do for the kingdom. Keep it up.
Part of one of my responses:
Of course, you realize that your life just got more difficult. The right-winged politics you'll experience from some people at _____ Church will drive you crazy. And if people find out you don't believe that the Republican party is God's plan to "bring America back to God," you'll become a marked man. I suggest you keep these ideas to just a few close friends. Being set free from right-wing politics in most convservative churches is like converting to Christianity in a Muslim nation, very dangerous! I'm only half-way joking.
It's not about liberal or conservative, it's about Jesus and His Kingdom. If I were pastoring on the East coast, I'd probably have to tell my church that the Democratic party isn't God's party. Also, would you be okay if I shared your email on my blog? I'll write it in such a way that people won't know who I'm talking about. I'd like to share perspective, if you don't mind.
His final response
Yeah, you can share it. I'm still developing what exactly I believe, but I now see the world through a Kingdom view, rather than an American view. You are correct about being careful when sharing this idea. It's not something that I'm going to be bringing up at the next board meeting.
"I hope you will put up with a little more of my foolishness. Please bear with me. For I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God himself. I promised you as a pure bride to one husband—Christ.3 But I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent. You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed." - 2 Corinthians 11:1-4
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
And on the Love Wins front, we combined with Bonita's again last weekend to serve at My Father's House. We spent the morning helping organize the storage area of their thrift store. The service project was a great time, as was hanging out together at lunch afterwards.
My favorite part of the morning was the 'stump / shock the pastor' session while doing some work. I had some hard questions thrown at me as well as some "I shouldn't say that in front of a pastor," even though I don't care. In fact, in situations like that, I usually drop a profanity to let people know I'm a normal guy.
But what I think is really going on when people throw tough questions at me or take on a tough persona is the deeper question of "will you befriend and accept me for who I am." Or even deeper, "does God love and accept me just the way I am."
The answer to both questions is a solid "YES!"
But in no way was I prepared for "the agony of defeat." I wasn't ready to watch as people I'd baptized decided to return to a life of sin. I had no way of knowing that people I'd personally discipled would leave TFC to find a church where they could be "spiritually fed." How was I to know that I'd be capable of both leading someone to faith and then committing an unintentional and unperceived (to me) slight that so offended them they inexplicably cut off the relationship? I didn't know that the high of helping a person push through their personal barriers to faith would give way to the low of watching that person let up on their search. In the midst of the excitement in helping a marriage reconcile, I was unable to see the devestating divorce waiting in the future. And never, not even in my wildest dreams, (though I was warned by other pastors) could I have imagined the incredibly immature behavior to come from people who sincerely consider themselves mature Christians.
I just didn't see any of it coming. And it's taking a lot of work to learn how to sort through it all.
I guess this is just what it means to pastor a congregation. A friend of mine, who also started a new church, recently told me about how he'd experienced the thrill of baptizing his neighbors, only to experience the agony of seeing them divorce a year later. I now understand the ache in Paul's heart as he wrote these words to the church he planted in Corinth, "I wrote that letter in great anguish, with a troubled heart and many tears. I didn’t want to grieve you, but I wanted to let you know how much love I have for you." - 2 Corinthians 2:4
"Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my feeling that weakness? Who is led astray, and I do not burn with anger?" - 2 Corinthians 11:28-29
Paul knew the pain of seeing people he loved make terrible choices and even turn away from Christ.
What did Paul do? Did the agony and frustration cause him quit proclaiming the gospel and to give up starting new churches? No. He was doggedly determined to do what he knew deep in his heart that God had called him to do. May I do the same. May I continue to proclaim Christ with boldness and love. May I lead with a soft heart and a thick skin.
Monday, September 28, 2009
The two words which best describe Michael and my interaction with the PSU community is class and hospitality. With the exception (and it was a big exception) of the drunk college kids tailgating in the field in which we parked, we enjoyed interacting with the friendly and knowledgeable PSU faithful. Whether it was the sports bar in which we watched the early Big Ten games, walking around campus or even in the stands, PSU fans took great pride in their hospitality. I'd never had people welcome me to their campus and on Saturday, it happened over and over! Most people to which we talked to learn we'd driven the 17 hours from Kansas City. They were even more shocked to learn that we would be driving 17 hours back to KC right after the game. We did stop for a two hour nap just over the Ohio border.
It rained - a lot. Our only rain gear were two Chiefs ponchos, which covered our black and gold and likely made us the only people in Beaver stadium wearing red. These ponchos resulted in some funny and rude comments. Mostly because we stood out but also because the Chiefs were playing the Philadelphia Eagles the next day. I should've carried a sign, "yes, I know the Chiefs suck but thanks for reminding me." After the game, we tore off the ponchos and walked around a stadium that was empty except for other celebrating Hawk fans. We went over to the bleachers right under the press box and yelled up to Hawkeye radio color man and Chiefs hall of famer, Eddie Podalak, who leaned out of the press box window to give us a celebratory fist-pump. At that time, I did wish I still had on the Chiefs poncho.
Our seats were literally the worst seats in the stadium. We were in the upper corner of the top deck of the end zone, so far away we could barely tell what was happening on the field. From what I could decipher, however, the game went almost exactly the way I'd predicted it would go, the Iowa defensive line dominating the game. I have to admit however, that I overestimated the need for Iowa's offense to score, since the defense scored almost half the points and provided a short field for the offense to score its share.
PSU fans vocally and wholeheartedly celebrate their proud football tradition. They do so, however in an amazingly classy and almost understated manner. This is best illustrated by the chant that can be heard coming from the pre-game tailgates and echoing throughout Beaver Stadium. Half the fans call out "We Are." The other half respond with "Penn State." It's a great college football tradition. I thoroughly enjoyed, then, leading the Hawk fans in my section in a variation of that great cheer, "We OWN - Penn State!" I had been hoping that lead that witty cheer and busted it out when it became clear halfway through the 4th quarter that we were going to beat PSU for the 7th time in the last 8 games.
One final observation: Never in all my trips to opposing Big 10 stadiums have I seen a fan base so obsessed with beating Iowa. The general motivation wasn't just "beat Iowa and get another conference 'W'," it was "we want revenge" or "payback time" or more coarse descriptions of payback. There were about 5k Iowa fans in attendance but more than 5,000 PSU fans were wearing shirts with some sort of derogatory statement about Iowa. What completely amazed me was that just before the PSU team took the field, the big screen showed Daniel Murray's last second field goal that knocked PSU out of last year's national title game. The crowd booed the play and then cheered the promise of revenge that blasted over the PA. The fact that we beat them when they were so determined to extract painful revenge makes this victory even sweeter. Here's a video of the team taking the field and the pre-entrance video, though it's hard to tell much of what's happening.
PSU fans have one more year of living with the reality that they're owned by the only coach classier than Joe Pa, Pennsylvania native and Nittany Lion killer, Kirk Ferentz.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
While I can't speak to the Horus story, I can give some resources that point to the historicity of Jesus' birth, life, death and resurrection.
The Reason for God by Timothy Keller
The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel
Simply Christian by NT Wright
And then there's sermon I preached on Easter 2008. It might help explain the idea I was proposing of all the other resurrection stories being tremors of a coming event or even echoes of what has happened. Echoes of Easter
You can all watch it on this, Saturday night at 7:00.
Penn State wants revenge for this:
And for this the greatest college football game ever played in Beaver Stadium:
I don't think the PSU O-line can hange with Clayborn and company. Daryl Clark hasn't seen anything like the Iowa secondary. But with All-American candidate tackle out, Buluga and with our All-American candidate tight end out, Moeaki and without our leading receiver from last year out, DJK - our offense is going to be in trouble.
But I'll be there. At the top row of that strip of gold you'll see in the corner of one endzone.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
The message can be heard by going here, then scroll down to 9/6 "Turning Jesus over to Caesar" and listen, read, or watch the sermon.
The message is powerful, counter-cultural, a prophetic voice to American Christianity, biblicly sound and contains coth relevant and accurate church history.
Basically, Christians living in a particular culture face the constant temptation to mistake their way of life for the Kingdom of Jesus. We're like fish, who can't see the water in which they're swimming. This has been happening for over 1500 years in church history, ever since Constantine was converted to Christianity. When we make this mistake of perspective, Jesus is reduced to a "cheerleader for our way of life." Whether it be democracy, capitalism, socialism or even nazism (yes, most churches in Germany supported Hitler because they believed he was restoring the "Christian" nation of Germany to it's rightful place and defending the Fatherland from their enemies).
But when the values of that particular culture contradicts the values of Jesus' Kingdom, we have to make a choice - Jesus or Caesar. With the exception of a few distinct groups, most Christians through Christendom have chosen Caesar. Church history teaches that it's possible to sincerely believe you're following Jesus while you're actually confusing a commitment to Caesar for a commitment to Jesus.
I'm trying to discern God's leadership in how TFC can consistently choose Jesus.