Friday, January 29, 2010

Why Churches Stall

I am posting some highlights from a recent blog by Tim Chester, who was posting highlights of another website. The subject was "Why Churches Stall" in growth. I've put in bold things that I found that rang true with my experience.

1. The church forgets who we are and what we are for … When we forget that we are the community of disciples for declaring God’s greatness and making disciples, mission quickly becomes just one among many activities rather than the defining vision of who we are as a community.

2. The majority of believers are no longer thrilled with the Lord and what he is doing in their lives. When questions like ‘What is God doing with you at the moment?’ cease to be common currency, it is a sure sign of creeping spiritual mediocrity.

4. When [Christians] see church as one among many leisure activities, usually low down the priority list. They are unlikely to see the Christian community as God’s great hope for the world and unlikely to put commitment above self-interest.

5. … Where people take no personal responsibility for their own spiritual growth a stalled church becomes more likely.

6. … When preaching, teaching and Bible study become ends in themselves rather than means to an end, something is badly wrong.

7. A church becomes afraid to ask radical questions … The danger is that people start to equate serving the church with living out the gospel. Few churches regularly evaluate every aspect of church life against their core vision.

8. Confusing Christian activities with discipleship …

9. Not understanding how to release and encourage everyone in the church to use their spiritual gifts for the building up of the church … There are two types of DNA in churches. One type of church says ‘we exist to have our personal spiritual needs met’, the other ‘we exist to impact our locality and the world with the gospel of the grace of God in Christ’. The first type is a stalled church.

10. … No church was stalled at the point that it was founded. At the beginning all churches were adventures in faith and daring risk for God. No one actively decided for comfort over risk, but at some point the mindset shifted from uncomfortable faith and daring passion for the Lord to comfortable mediocrity … The mantra of the maintenance mindset is ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’. But just like buying shoes for growing children, if structures don’t take account of future growth then fellowships end up stunted and deformed.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Seth Godin on apologetics?

I pulled this from Seth Godin's blog. I have thought the same things in regards to apologetics:
In my experience, data crowds out faith. And without faith, it's hard to believe in the data enough to make a leap. Big mergers, big VC investments, big political movements, large congregations... they don't usually turn out for a spreadsheet.

The problem is this: no spreadsheet, no bibliography and no list of resources is sufficient proof to someone who chooses not to believe. The skeptic will always find a reason, even if it's one the rest of us don't think is a good one. Relying too much on proof distracts you from the real mission--which is emotional connection.

Now, what do we do with that?

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Commands of Christ (cont)

I am back to the project. Part of the lay off was because I hit a large portion of the Gospel of Matthew that was devoted to the teachings of Jesus and to many of his activities. (Perhaps two more future projects are in the works). Here are some more of the commands of Jesus that speak into our lives:

Matthew 9.37 - since the harvest is plentiful and the workers are few, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.
Matthew 10:28 - Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Matthew 10.32 - Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.

After a couple of serious commands, this next command is very uplifting:
Matthew 10.28-9 - Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
You don't often think of this as a command, but Jesus is telling us to come to him and take his yoke upon us because it will lead to rest for our souls.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Thoughts on McGwire

Yesterday Mark McGwire became Santa Claus. Not really, but in a sense his admission that he used steroids was similar to me finding out that Santa wasn't real. It is something I might have suspected, but until it was confirmed, there was always hope. I guess I always wanted to believe that Mark had a good reason for his, "I'm not here to talk about the past," performance before Congress. But, to be honest with myself, all the evidence was that McGwire was on steroids throughout the 90s when he broke Roger Maris' single season home run record and I knew it. (Just look at some of the videos of a skinny McGwire hit homers as a rookie in '89).
Now, how do I feel about his confession? It amazes me that many of the writers who have been calling for this have been ripping him. I don't know what else they wanted. He really didn't have much to gain by this admission. He has enough money so he doesn't need his coaching job with the Cardinals. I think he came clean because he wanted to get back in the game and he knew that he couldn't do that without facing the music.
Do I believe he came completely clean? Probably not, but maybe in his mind he did. He has probably convinced himself over these years that the steroids only kept him in the game but didn't really "enhance" his performance. I don't know how he can honestly state that he did not feel the steroids helped him hit all of his home runs. Maybe he has convinced himself that it's true.
For the most part, I believe him and I do think it took an amount of courage to come forward. He is getting hammered all over again when he really didn't need to put himself through this. I believe he wants to contribute to the game, he loves the Cardinals and Tony LaRussa. I don't think he did this to persuade Hall of Fame voters. He knows that he is not getting into the Hall of Fame. Several writers who have voted for him, now said they never will because of this. I don't know who is more delusional, Mark or those writers who voted for him before this admission. Maybe they just found out Santa isn't real also.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Final Thoughts on Primal

The Strength of Christianity
So what does it mean to love God with all your strength? It means expending tremendous amounts of energy for kingdom causes. It means blood, sweat and tears. It means servanthood and sacrifice. It means good old-fashioned hard work.
We’ve got to act on God ideas.
Love turns work into worship. At some point you need to stop praying and start sweating. The greatest predictor of success in any endeavor is persistence. We underestimate how much we can accomplish over the long haul. Don’t give up on your God ideas. You need to try. Then you need to try harder. And then you need to try longer.
[Although I am intrigued by a book by Seth Godin that discusses the idea of knowing when to endure but also knowing when to quit and start something new. I guess it depends on if it is actually a God idea, as Batterson defines it.]

Batterson notes that we falsely view righteousness as doing nothing wrong. So we practice holiness by subtraction. “Don’t do this. Don’t do that. And you’re okay.” Righteousness means more than doing nothing. It means doing something right.
Batterson has a section that, if you read his entire book, you really wonder what he is saying. He states that “none of us can imagine what God is capable of. Which means none of us can imagine what we’re capable of if we give God control of our lives. His power sets off a chain reaction. And with His energy at work within us, there is nothing we cannot do. Unfortunately, our lives don’t always reflect that reality.” In the course of this book, you get the sense that if we only tapped into God’s power like Mark has, you will lead a megachurch and write books and be like Mark.

Then he states, “The quest for the lost soul of Christianity is about rediscovering the primal energy that sustained the first-century church during persecution.” This is one of the more disappointing things about the book. I thought that this was going to be the focus of the entire book. He sets up the introduction by discussing descending into the catacombs and discovering the things that fueled the first-generation of believers. He hardly mentioned them at all, until this point. I was looking forward to more of this, instead it was how Mark sought out God, God gave him “God sized ideas” and God energized him to accomplish them. There’s nothing wrong with that if he was attempting to write biography. Mark is energetic and inspiring, but that was not what he set out the book to be in the introduction.

Back to a positive note: The most positive form of love is not doing things for God. It is receiving with gratitude what He has already done for us. And then reflecting it in our lives.

Good question: Which do you love more: your dream or God? Do you love God for what He can do for you? Or do you love Him for who He is? In its purest, most primal form, loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength is loving God for God.

I have no doubt about this quote and I think he is very good at this: “My mission in life, as a writer and pastor and parent, is to help people maximize their God-given potential.” If he would have marketed the book on this premise, it would have been truer to its mission. Knowing that in advance, it is a book worthy to read and be inspired to meditate on what God may be calling you to accomplish and energized to accomplish it.

If anyone would like it, I'd be glad to give it to them the next time I see them.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Commands of Christ - cont.

Some more commands from Matthew 6 and 7:

Do not worry about your life, what you will drink, your body or your clothes.
Seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness.
Do not judge.
Ask and it will be given, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened.
Do for others what you would have them do to you.
Enter through the narrow gate.
Watch out for false prophets.

This is all good advice, don't you think?

Thoughts on Primal, part 3

The Mind of Christianity
God has created us with the capacity to keep learning until the day we die. Learning isn’t a luxury; it’s a stewardship issue.
The god who conveniently fits within the confines of your mind will never fill your soul with wonder.
Loving God with all your mind literally means loving God with all your mind. It means managing your mind. It means making the most of your mind. It means loving God logically and creatively, seriously and humorously, intuitively and thoughtfully.

Einstein, on discussing his genius, declared, “I have no special gift. I am only passionately curious.”
This was a sobering note for me as it should be for all educators and pastor/teachers: In one classic study at a top university, summa cum laude graduates were given their same final exams one month after graduation. They all failed. This is because most academic programs revolve around force-feeding knowledge rather than releasing curiosity.
The church should be a safe place where people can ask dangerous questions, but all too often we’re guilty of answering questions that no one is even asking. We ought to be challenging the status quo, but all too often we’re guilty of defending it. But what if? What if we stopped force-feeding answers and learned to unleash the primal curiosity in our congregations?
Einstein again, “Science without religion is lame,” and conversely, “religion without science is blind.”
For Batterson, every –ology is a branch of theology. Why? Because every discovery reveals a new dimension of God’s creativity and personality. Sure, Scripture is in a category all by itself as God’s written revelation. But mathematics reveal a unique dimension of God’s personality too.

Discovering more about God can lead to a great appreciation for God. The more you know, the more you appreciate. It is like an apology, if you don’t know why you are sorry, it is an empty apology. Batterson thinks a lot of us worship God that way.
Batterson cites a book that discusses successful leaders in every field. The common denominator in this study is that they were first class noticers. That allows one to recognize talent, identify opportunities and avoid pitfalls. Prayer turns believers into first class noticers.
Batterson includes a great quote from George Washington Carver, “Anything will give up its secrets if you love it enough.”

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

More Thoughts on Primal

These thoughts are not processed in any way. These are just some of the things I highlighted from Mark Batterson's book Primal. This is from the second of four parts to this book. As you might be able to tell, I did not connect as well with this portion as I did with others.

The Soul of Christianity

A French philosopher went so far as to say, “All of man’s miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly in a room alone.” Silence is one of the soul’s love languages.

When was the last time you cried or clapped for the Creator? When was the last time you gave Him a standing ovation?

Have you ever had an epiphany? A moment when heaven seemed to invade earth? A moment when eternity seemed to invade time? A moment when the presence of God was so tangible that it almost felt like a cool breeze on a hot day?

Let me try to put our visual limitation in perspective. Our visual range is the equivalent of one playing card in a stack of cards stretching halfway across the universe. In other words, we see a very thin slice of reality. And the same is true spiritually.

French writer Jacques Reda had a peculiar habit. He used to walk the streets of Paris with the intention of seeing one new thing each day. It was the way he renewed his love for the city. I think we renew our love for God the same way.

We are too easily satisfied in our study of Scripture.

We started praying that God would give us that piece of property (a crack house that would have made a great coffee house). Honestly, that is all we could do, because we didn’t have the money to buy it. So we did prayer walks around it. We laid hands on the walls. We even trespassed on the property a few times to do prayer meetings.

For better or for worse, you life is your unique translation of the Scriptures.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

More Commands from Jesus

I was recently reading through the Sermon on the Mount, so it was heavy on commands.

In Matthew 6, Jesus commands us not to do our acts of righteousness before men in order to be seen by them. But then he gives us an idea of what "acts of righteousness" are:
  • Give to the needy
  • Pray
  • Forgive debtors and those who sin against you
  • Fast, but not as if it is obvious
  • Store up treasure in heaven

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Commands of Christ

I've started a new blog project this year. I am trying to read through the Bible this year and I am committing to writing down all of the commands of Christ and listing them hear. Thus, if Jesus tells us to do something, I will write it down. I am going to stick, for now, with just the commands of Jesus. I've been inspired somewhat by Dallas Willard's book, The Great Omission which is helping me form a true picture of real discipleship. More thoughts on that book later.

First up, this is from Matthew 4 and 5.
4.17 - Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is near.
5.11-12 - When you are persecuted, rejoice and be glad.
5.16 - Since you are salt and light, let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise the Father.
5.19 - We need to practice and teach Jesus' commands.
5.22 - Do not be angry with your brother or insult him.
5.24-25 - If your brother has something against you, be reconciled to him, immediately.
5.29-48 - Deal severely with those things that tempt you to sin.
Do not get divorced (except for unfaithfulness).
Do not make false oaths, keep your word.
Do not resist an evil person.
Give to the one who asks, do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow.
Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.
Be perfect!

Thoughts on Primal

Mark Batterson’s Primal: A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity is based around the Great Commandment of Jesus: Love the Lord with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength. I think the subtitle is a little overreaching. I don’t know that the issues that he mentions are “lost” but the book is thought provoking. I am merely going to post the thoughts that I underlined. I probably won’t react to the book in too much depth. On the whole I enjoyed it. I was inspired to act instead of to merely ponder these thoughts. At times, though, Batterson likes to tell his reader of all the things he has done and the great accomplishments of his church. But saying that, this book will be very helpful for entrepreneurial types (i.e. church planters).
I am very thankful for receiving this book. I got an email because I was a college minister and this book was in appreciation for the things we do.

These are the four “primal” elements detailed by Jesus in the Great Commandment:
The heart of Christianity is primal compassion.
The soul of Christianity is primal wonder.
The mind of Christianity is primal curiosity.
The strength of Christianity is primal energy.
Mark had a desire to return a time in his walk when he had a huge heart for God. Thus it was a “primal” place for him. He knew that getting back what he once had meant getting back to basics. It meant doing what he had once done. It meant rediscovering and re-imagining what it means to love God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength. He wants all to return to that “primal” place we all have.

The Heart of Christianity
Batterson uses an illustration of Dr. Bill Frist (former Senate majority leader) who performed many heart transplants. He described that miraculous moment when a heart beats in a new body for the first time. Likewise, when a believer gives his/her heart to Christ, Christ gives his heart to you. And you begin to feel what Christ feels. We cannot be okay with issues like suffering or injustice or starvation because it is not okay with Christ and his heart is within you.
Batterson then moved on to discuss our action in the face of our impact. How and why do we respond to the needs of others? There was a research project where people were given a charity request. But the groups received two different letters. One version featured statistics about the magnitude of the problems facing children in Africa. The other letter shared the needs of one seven-year old girl named Rokia. On average, the participants who read the letter about Rokia gave more than twice as much as the ones who received the statistical letter. This points out that calculations reduce compassion, but we give more when our hearts are impacted. Our hearts should break for the things that break the heart of God. Inaction, then is not an option.
Faith equals God-ordained risks in the face of fear. Obedience equals God-honoring decisions in the face of temptation. And compassion equals Spirit-prompted generosity in the face of greed. Batterson gives a great challenge to all Christians to set a predetermined income ceiling. The goal is to give away everything about and beyond their predetermined income ceiling.