Archive for March, 2005

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Why We Won’t Change Anything

March 31, 2005

My heartache as a leader in God’s Church is that we are becoming increasingly ineffective at reaching our culture. Never mind that the rest of the world is now discovering that we exist as a voting bloc. Never mind that two of the three best-selling books in the country are being produced with the ideas put forward by pastors (I won’t say they wrote them since both of them used ghost writers).

The bottom line for me is that our moral and ethical values as bible-believing people are now shown to be no better than the rest of culture; and in some cases worse. You can look at what I’m referring to in this former blog entry. But this is not true of the church in other countries right now. The Church in Colombia is primarily responsible for bringing the large drug cartels to justice. The church in China is largely responsible for the economic and cultural rennaisance in that country. The church in Russia helped to bring down Communism. And the church in the Philippines is helping the national culture move away from drug use and fear of organized crime. And in each of these countries, the church is training up some very good preachers, writers and theologians. What are we producing?

For a chilling answer to that question, take a look at this article in the New York Times Magazine. I appreciate this writer; he has done his homework. Read the article carefully and ask yourself if Alan Wolfe is right when he claims, “”American faith has met American culture — and American culture has triumphed.” When we started Gateway five years ago, my fear was that we would seek this kind of growth. I admit, we used some of the same methodology as this church does. I am more afraid of that than ever now. The Church used to have a “Message”. Now it has an “Image”.

Jim Bakker, the author of the PTL scandal of the 80s, now builds furniture for a living. In his tell-most autobiography, Jim says that the hardest thing for him to overcome when his ministry was growing was that growth in popularity was somehow the greatest thing he could ever achieve. He said it made him forget his family, his morals, his principles and his God. He now teaches occasionally at a Bible School in North Carolina and the only course he teaches is on the Ethics of the Heart. He has recently said he is afraid that we as a church are now on the verge of doing what he did as an individual: Become so obsessed with drawing crowds, we forget to teach truth in a way that will often offend people.

But if we don’t teach the whole truth, will we bring about any changes in this country? Hardly. Instead, we will be the ones who will change.

The answer for Gateway Fellowship is simple. We will do the minimum to help people not feel like they have to fit into our culture before meeting God. We can be culturally neutral and even friendly to those who don’t get the “church thing”. After all, we do meet in a warehouse (more for the cost than the design, btw). But as you look at our church, or even the church you go to, ask yourself: Does the image outplay the message here? If it does, then I want to know about it…or if you attend another church, let them know what you feel about it.

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Hearing God When You’re Making Decisions – Part 2

March 31, 2005

Is there a more difficult aspect to the relationship mortal man has with God than the time when we attempt to hear His voice? We all would love to say like the Psalmist does in Psalm 18, “his voice thundered above the waters”. But, at other times, the thundering didn’t make a lot of sense to the average person. For instance, God spoke so very clearly to the masses in John 12. In fact, God spoke so that not only His son Jesus could hear, but so that all people there that day could catch on. But listen to what it says in verse 29: The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. Even though God spoke so loudly and clearly that everyone could hear His voice, they attributed it to thunder or maybe an angel. For those who say, “I want God to speak so there cannot be any doubt, I am not sure how that would work.

When we are trying to make a decision, the clear thing to remember is that God didn’t just show up yesterday in your life. We are told in Isaiah that “before we even call upon Him, He is answering”. This suggests that God really is taking an active part in our lives, much more than we are aware.

So why do we need to hear God’s voice when we are seeking to make a decision? Can’t we just make a decision and trust that God knew what we would decide beforehand, and then work it out for us? That has an assumption behind it that would not be healthy to entertain.

The assumption being that God is ready to endorse everything we want and is willing to allow us to take the lead in ruling our own lives. Now, there is no doubt that God wants us to exercise dominion and control over our own lives (why else would he give us “self-control). But that is not the same as ruling our own lives. A person within a kingdom can decide to live each day as they please: They can eat what they want for breakfast, can stroll through the park or can shovel out a ditch. It is unlikely the King would interfere with these activities. Unless of course, the ditch in question belongs to the King or the oranges came off his tree. Then he might have a considerable amount to say about it all.

In the same way, there are things in life that you can do that you certainly don’t need to ask God about. C.S. Lewis calls these “Orange Juice” decisions. We don’t need to ask God, “should I drink orange juice or apple juice”? God will answer: “Which one do you want?” The only exception to this might be the indwelling spirit warning us that the Apple Juice has salmonella. But that’s another teaching.

God is interested in helping you stay on track with the plans God has for His work in the world and His work in our lives. Therefore, every day God is influencing our thinking processes, guiding us to understand more of the road ahead. In order to make decisions at the crucial stages, we must incorporate hearing God during those boring and ordinary times.

This morning, I was thinking about some of the issues facing me. I am still recuperating from surgery, but I am at that awkward stage of feeling well enough to get work done, but not well enough to put a lot of energy into it. I went ahead and put forward an agenda of work that was much too aggressive for the energy level I am supporting. Big Surprise! That tends to be my sui generis approach to life. But in the midst of doing that, God reminded me of a friend of mine that I hadn’t thought of in years. This man was pastoring a church in Portland, Oregon in the seventies. He suffered a mild heart attack and his doctor recommended he take at least six months off. He took two. Within a year, he had suffered a nervous breakdown and had to be hopitalized for a good long time.

He later wrote a book about the whole experienced titled, “A Few Things I Learned Since I Knew It All”. In that book, he warned that we must heed those small warnings God gives us before they get extra large. Extra Large might be a favorable size of french fries, but they suck when it applies to our problems. I sensed God was saying that I could relax and pace myself now or I could go in for more serious surgery later.

That is what it means to have God help you make decisions ahead of time. He is like a good coach that helps his team map out the plays that will be used at the beginning of the game. But God is also concerned that at critical junctures we listen for the play He is sending in from the bench. Next time, I want to talk about how you can pay attention to His still small voice on a daily basis.

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Humor the Old Romantic

March 28, 2005

In my recovering state (I have taken the bandages off and my innards did not poke out, so I think we can chalk a winner up for the doctor on this operation) I have way too much time on my hands to read blogs I haven’t read for awhile.

I am also a romantic at heart, so this is my pilgrimage to that shrine for today.

I am a sucker for good marriage proposals. And the two in this story are both Bloggers themselves and met after admiring each other’s writing. Read about it here and if you are so inclined, share the kleenex box with someone you love.

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Hernia Blogging

March 26, 2005

Thursday afternoon, I went into the Morse Avenue hospital to have my third hernia surgery. The first surgery was when I was a year old…and the technology at that time was not advanced enough to prevent further problems. For those who want to know exactly the problem I have and how they corrected it you can go to this web site.

The second surgery was last summer and they sewed up a small tear in the abdominal muscles. This also didn’t solve the problem, so my physician decided that I needed a mesh installed. They made 8 small incisions in my abdomen and through one of them put in a nylon mesh and then used the other holes to sew it into place. My gut looks like a roadmap at the moment. Kathy did take a picture, but won’t let me post it here.

My favorite moment was talking with the anaesthesiologist. He was speaking to me about any allergies I had and I said “Quinine”. “How do you know you’re allergic to Quinine” he wondered out loud. “I had malaria when I was in Africa in 1978”. We talked about why I was in Africa (doing missionary work) and this lead him to ask me what I thought about the Teri Schiavo case in Florida. The country is once again looking to the Church to at least come forward with opinions on moral and ethical issues.

It just underscores the fact that without God, there is nothing we can use for a moral consensus. But, we had a great discussion, and his main point is that the medical situation could have been solved if she had a living will. Do you have a living will? You can get one very cheaply, and I would advise that you get one soon.

That’s all for now. I am recovering and not in as much pain as I feared. Praise God.

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Inventing New Spiritual Colors

March 22, 2005

A group in San Francisco Called ReImagine has proposed we think of the Christian walk in terms of colors. Yellow space in our life is defined as spirituality that is concerned with the personal, interior world of faith. This is expressed in personal quiet times, church attendance, devotions, worship etc. Blue Space refers to exclusively other-centered focus for our life: taking seriously activities such as social concern, justice-seeking, activism and moral/ethical behavior. Green Spaces, therefore, are when those two cross over and combine. Green people are those who take their private inner world and use it to focus outward.

What will that look like? My friend Bill quit a lucrative IT job with a $100,000 per year salary to start up an Internet Cafe. In this cafe, he also invites artists of various genres to come and perform. They were incredibly successful for four years and a number of people came to see God in a whole new light. Then Bill moved into the next Green Space in his life.

Are there other colors that can be Imagined? If we said that Red Space are those areas of wounding/bleeding and pain in our life, and Blue being where we interact with others, then the healing process will be Purple Space.

I think it is time to get out the Crayolas. Some of us think better in colors than in strategies.

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Faith in Action

March 14, 2005

This is the story of the woman who was held hostage by the man arrested in the Atlanta Courtroom killings. During the time when she was being held, she had discussions on making pancakes as well as other items. They had long conversations about the meaning of life. Read about it and understand what God can do for us in a crisis.

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Lost in Translation March 2005

March 14, 2005

Here is the latest from Engrish.com


“I Cast You out in the Name of the Lord”
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Banished Words 2005

March 11, 2005

Every year, a group of journalists and writers get together and discuss what words in common usage in the English language ought to be eliminated, or at least put on permanent probationary status (yes, English really is a language; it really has its proponents and there are even one or two who can speak it accurately…none of them actually live in the USA, but we can hope to have one some day).

Here are some of my favorites from this year’s list.

PLACE STAMP HERE – Dennis K. McDermott of Oneida, New York, says, “It appears on 99% of the return envelopes provided by creditors with monthly billings. It’s especially annoying when enclosed in a rectangle drawn in the upper right corner. (What if you miss?) And then…they inform you that ‘The Post Office will not deliver without postage.’ Can we legitimately claim to be a superpower if we need to be reminded to put a stamp on an envelope?”

COMPANION ANIMALS – “They’re called PETS.” Nick Leach, Bloomington, Indiana.

EMBEDDED JOURNALIST – Nominations for this Iraq War II phrase came from throughout the U.S., Canada and overseas. “I’m a journalist and until the war started, I’d never heard this term. In the interest of objectivity, journalists probably shouldn’t be embedded with any organization they regularly cover.” Ken Marten, Hamtramck, Michigan.

“It seems to be a hip way of saying, ‘at the scene,'” said Tim Bednall, Tokyo.

“The next time I hear it used by the media, I’m going to embed my foot in the TV!” Ellen Brown, San Diego.

CAPTURED ALIVE – “The news keeps stating that Saddam Hussein was ‘captured alive.’ Well, what other way are you going to be captured? Maybe ‘found dead’ or ‘discovered dead’ never ‘captured dead.'” Bill Lodholz, Davis, California.

SHOTS RANG OUT – “I’m tired of hearing this phrase on the news. Shots don’t ‘ring’ unless you are standing too close to the muzzle, and in that case you don’t need the reporter telling you about it.” Michael Kinney, Rockville, Maryland.

SWEAT LIKE A PIG – Tim Croce of Torrington, Connecticut says “Pigs do not have sweat glands; that is why they roll in mud to cool themselves.” Nevertheless, Tim said he was sweating like a pig to get this nomination to us.

HAND-CRAFTED LATTE: We’re not sure where Orin Hargraves of Westminster, Maryland discovered this beauty, but we agreed with his assertion that “This compound is an insult to generations of skilled craftspeople who have mustered the effort and discipline to create something beautiful by hand. To apply ‘hand-crafted’ to the routine tasks of the modern-day equivalents of soda jerks cheapens the whole concept of handicraft.”

SANITARY LANDFILL – “Ever been to one?” asks Stan Slade of Long Beach, Mississippi. “Not the cleanest place in the world. What happened to the county or city dump?”

What would you add to this list of Banished words and phrases?

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This is Long Overdue

March 10, 2005

The Spanish branch of Islam has issued an official condemnation (a Fatwah) against Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda. This is long overdue and represents a change of thinking for the worldwide Islamic community. We can only hope that other national Islamic associations follow suit. Read about the Fatwah in this article.

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The Tune is Changing

March 8, 2005

To the delight of Neocons and friends, the Mainstream Media is now singing a different refrain to the telltale melodies that were playing right after the President’s State of the Union Address. No less a critical (of the President) magazine as Newsweek has now endorsed what is happening to bring changes to political regimes in the Middle East and is even laying some claim to fame to Bush 44. Read Fareed Zakaria’s article here.

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