Monday, November 30, 2009

War and Peace

A Facebook post from a good friend, Andy Phelps:

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

My response:
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


TFC's first two engaged couples got married on the exact same day, two hours and 90 miles apart in eastern Missouri. Although they weren't yet engaged, Jeff and Kelsi were already dating when they came to Trinity Family. Mike and Elizabeth's relationship however, is a direct result of TFC. Elizabeth interned with me in 05-06 and Mike interned with me in 07-08. Having a deep respect for both of them, Erin and I tried talking Mike into asking Elizabeth out on a date. It took awhile, but eventually he saced up and asked her out. As we suspected, it was a good match. I will admit however, that at first I wasn't convinced Mike had a chance because Elizabeth is way out of his league. Erin assured me that while that might be true, Mike was just handsome enough to have a chance. She was right, of course.

Last Sunday, during our community meal, our church celebrated these new marriages.

Of course, the next marriage to come out of TFC is coming this May...

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A City-Wide Celebration

The GEHS football team played Hutchinson in the State Championship game today. We arrived at the Emporia State University football stadium an hour and a half early and still had trouble finding seats. From this picture of the Gardner side of the stadium, I'm guessing there were at least 5,000 people at the game. That's almost one third of the entire population of Gardner. When fans are cheering during warm ups and cheering the band walking into the stadium for their warm ups, you know it's going to be a lot of fun.

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

Some serious momentum

At the beginning of this month, we made the move into the commons of PRMS and also began our new emphasis upon Simplicity, Community and Generosity. The change has been life-giving and the newly acquired momentum is envigerating. I'm more fired up about the direction of our church right now than I have been in years. And after about 6 months of spinning our wheels and lacking any sort of positive momentum, this is a wonderful place to be, as pastor and as a church.

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.

The highlight of the Hawkeye basketball season

Unfortunately, I cheer for a basketball team with a bright past, disgusting present and equally dark future. But being the true fan that I am, I bought tickets to the CBE Classic at the Sprint Center. Expecting to see the #3 Texas Longhorns destroy what might be the worst team in D-1, my beloved Iowa Hawkeyes, I was pleasantly surprised that the Hawks were able to make a game of it. This amazing shot allowed the Hawks to enter halftime with the score tied.

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.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Bait-and-Switch Evangelism or Do-able Evangelism

I'm addicted to the podcast of This American Life, the stories and themes are fascinating. One of the more recent podcasts was on the theme of "bait and switch." Held up as a classic example of this tactic was the efforts of evangelical Christians to convert nonbelievers. The segment ended with an interview with Jim Henderson. I posted the interview on TFC's website here.

His websites are and 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.

Christians Trying to Convert Non-Christians from Rethink Mission on Vimeo.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Doing my part for church growth

This is tongue-in-cheek obviously, but there's a lot of truth to it, too. My personal role in contributing to the growth of quickly growing attractional churches could be described this way:

Contributing to the growth of local megachurches, one disgruntled family at a time.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sunday's Advisory Council Meeting

Sunday was our monthly Advisory Council meeting and I'm pleased to report we made some significant decisions for our church. As I've been sharing, the new direction for Trinity Family is to commit ourselves to Simplicity, Community and Generosity. Here are a few of the decisions from Sunday that will help move us in that new direction.

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

Sleeping next to Daddy

For the past month or so, Dawson has been waking up at 5:30 - every single day. In order to get him back to sleep and try to break him of this painful habit, we're lying right next to him on the couch after that 5:30 feeding. The past two days, he's fallen back asleep. Yesterday Erin laid next to him, this morning it was my turn.

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

A New Era begins for TFC

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.