Monday, February 28, 2011

Purple Shirt Laws

Have you ever been subjected to a law that seemed so arbitrary, so contrived, so random, that it left you shaking your head in amazement and confusion? I refer to these as "purple shirt" laws. I coined this term for my own version of such a statute, "Thou shalt not wear a purple shirt on Thursdays." I mean, what possible motive could there be to passing such legislation? To me it serves no purpose and raises nothing but open-ended questions. Purple shirt laws.

Of course you realize that for every purple shirt law on the books, there is someone out there who argued passionately for its enactment, who believed with all their heart and mind that this law was necessary and appropriate to curb some undesirable action or behavior. But what if you strongly believed that something was a sin, like wearing a purple shirt on Thursday? You believed it down to your very core, twixt and through the very pith of your marrow. What if you believed that wearing a purple shirt on Thursday constituted sin? What if you believed this regardless of what anyone else believed or what the scriptures directly tell you? Are you guilty of sinning if you don that purple shirt?

I don't know if I am the only one who has a set of purple shirt laws that I subject myself to. Whether anyone else can make sense of my behavior or attitude or beliefs, or even if they disagree with me or think I am being too draconian or prudish or stubborn, does not matter to me. I don't feel that overcoming my attitude on these items is a matter of education or pressure from the outside. Regardless of whether others wear a purple shirt or not, for me it is indeed a sin as I recognize it to be. But in reality, perhaps, my purple shirt laws are safe boundaries that I have erected to keep me well away from much deeper problems. Lines in the sand that I know I had dare not cross lest I get too close to the edge. In some ways I guess my purple shirt laws represent my own personal early warning system saying "beware".

Friday, February 25, 2011

On the Anvil

I picked up the book On the Anvil by author Max Lucado after reading some praise about it. In the last couple of years I have read nearly ten of his books. I seek out his books because I have tested his theology and believe it to be sound and firmly rooted in the Bible. I also seek out his writings because they are like spiritual comfort food to me. Certainly nothing too academically challenging, but usually something to make me shout amen, or make me laugh or cry. Sometimes simple and poignant, sometimes honest and humble. Good sturdy fare written in a dependable style and format.

It was only after I took a close look at "On the Anvil" did I notice that this book was his first published work. With nearly 70 published books under his belt, this was his first. It actually turns out that this book is a collection of weekly columns that he prepared for his local church bulletin. In some sense, they were written before he realized his calling as an author, before he developed a style or formula, before he even had a thought of trying to appeal to a mass audience. In that I found great enjoyment. Each of the 49 columns is a separate entity with a different feeling and with a very different style. Some are from light moments in his life and some from dark moments. Some are based on people he knew and learned from, others border on poetry. Some were laugh-out-loud funny, and others tugged at your heart.

The subtitle of this book is "Stories on Being Shaped Into God's Image". The shaping is done by God on His anvil of life. Some feel that they are old and broken tools wasting away in the scrap heap. Others are presently being shaped by God into the tools that He wants for them to be. Still for some others, God has completed His work on them for now, and they lay ready for His use in the toolbox. Such is the theme of this compilation. One that I very much enjoyed.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

New Math

<brag mode on>
I won the award for best math student in my class as a senior in high school. I received straight A grades for all of my math courses in college, from introductory calculus through advanced applied mathematical methods.
<brag mode off>

While the above statements are true, I failed at elementary school level addition. I thought that the answer to ½ + ½ was 1. However, it was only after failing the biggest test of my life that I realized that, in fact, ½ + ½ = 0.

As a newlywed with a young child, I also embarked on a new job. Given that I was so confident in my own abilities, I thought that I could keep all of the balls in my life airborn without really taxing myself. How hard could it be to take care of family obligations and work obligations at the same time? Everyone else seems to handle this without an issue, so I should be able to do it as well. Man was I wrong.

Over the years I fell victim to what I call the "chirping bird" syndrome. In this approach to dealing with life, I gave my worms to whatever was chirping the loudest. Given a finite period of time to satisfy my tenure requirements at a major university, with a full research load and a full teaching load upon my shoulders, and an ego of galactic proportions, nearly all of the time my work was to me the bird chirping the loudest. While I thought I was doing what was required for my family, I was failing them and didn't even realize it. The silence that I heard was not because they weren't hungry, it's that they found out that to get what they needed, they could not count on me. Tacitly I told them all that they needed to know about what was of most importance in my life.

Sadly, I learned the realities of the new math too late. No matter what you think you know, no matter how much education you have, how much money you make, or how confident you are in your own abilities, the sad fact is that ½ + ½ = 0. In case I am being too subtle here, let me state my point another way. While your job is important for many reasons, be sure that you put your spouse and children before your work. Don't leave them to feed on your leftovers or your crumbs.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Call it a Day

I see them from time to time. They are no strangers. Those portable green recycling bins suddenly appear in the hallway, standing as an silent sentry outside someone's office. I know what they signify. Someone else is leaving, calling it a career, moving on to the next phase of their lives. Before you know it, a once vibrant and busy office is cleared out. The books on the shelves are removed. Filing cabinets filled with history that stretches back for years are emptied. Personal effects are packed up. Personality and warmth and presence are eradicated. The space is reset for its next occupant. All that is left are paper clips in the desk drawers and some assorted office supplies. I don't like to think about it, but I know that one day that green bin will come for me.

If you pass by the scenes, you are likely to overhear laughter and jokes from visitors, colleagues, and well-wishers. Sometimes you can catch snippets of old war stories and other reminiscences. Hey do you remember the time ...? But I know that there is a deeper mixture of emotions stirring around that room as it slowly empties out and that green bin fills up. I know that after a long career, there will be plenty to look back over, in terms of job successes and failures. Likely there will be long trail of relationships that have been cultivated. I sometimes get a sense that those who are packing up their boxes and culling through their pasts are looking forward with some excitement toward stepping away from the rat race and the routine. Finally, there will be time to do the things that have been put off or set aside or passed over. The flag of family, hobbies, and travel is raised and that of toiling long hours under deadline pressures and demands is lowered.

However, I also know that there are attendant feelings of anxiety, about leaving behind something that has defined us or given us value and a sense of accomplishment and purpose. I wonder if they have any thoughts of suddenly feeling lost or lonely or realizing that time is starting to run out. I don't look forward to that time when I must step away and call it a day.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ugh, Play it Again

I have been grousing a lot recently about "the church" and its new-fangled "ways". If you listen to me talk, you might come to the conclusion that I dislike contemporary music, a sanctuary regularly overcome by laughter, smiling faces, and lively participation. Well, to quote the apostle Paul, "May it never be!"

To be clear:

  • I love listening to good contemporary Christian music with a positive message. I find listening to organ music only slightly more uplifting than having a root canal.
  • I love to laugh and believe that God does too. I believe that he is glorified when we can come together and regularly share some humor and a light spirit.
  • Smiling faces, what's the alternative? Who wants to be filled with a room of dour, joy-deprived sourpusses?
  • Participation is a sign that people are working to glorify not themselves, but their God.
I sometimes fulfill the role of a nabob of negativism. I grouse and complain and spew and whine when things are not done in the manner that I would like them to be done. Why do I behave this way? Well, who can say. I guess that I have a bit of Pharisee in me at times. Perhaps I am a bit more old-fashioned than I would like to admit. A bit of an old prudish prune.

At the pinnacle of my most recent fit of pique, a friend of mine shared a colorful anecdote that resonated with me. He told the story of an old man who came to one modern, growing church and sat through one of the services where he could be seen just filled with joy. Afterwards when asked about his experience, he stated that he did not care at all for the music, that he found the stage lights too distracting and too bright, and that the pastor's style was not one that he preferred. However, he stated, that if this place allowed the Spirit to move and bring people to God in celebration and revival, if it brought in the lost and disconnected, and strengthened the believers, then he considered it all a joyful symphony to his ears.

O.K., once more the bottom line is, it is not all about me.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Funny Pages

Each morning I navigate my way around the world in approximately 3.5 minutes via the news site So many dark and ugly headlines hit my eyes each day, so the occasional chuckle or guffaw is welcomed. In the past few weeks, several headlines really punched me in the ole' funny bone (medically called "the femur") and have been rattling around my brain ever since.
  • A century old cookbook was discovered that espoused the health benefits of a goose-fat laden diet for the invalid and convalescents who are weak and dainty.
  • Another boy band member has come out of the closet to announce that he is gay (and he also announced that he is saving a ton of money on his car insurance by switching to Geico).
  • Due to the convergence of the Superbowl in the Dallas, TX area, "gentleman's" club owners are wailing and moaning about a shortage of strippers. Present estimates are that they require another 10,000 strippers to just scrape through the weekend. Strippers can make an estimated $1000 per day. In a related story, a well-known scientist applied for his stripper's license but was unanimously rejected citing the good of the public.
  • A high ranking government official was caught having an affair. The official was quoted as saying that his positive test was due to drinking an over-the-counter energy drink.
  • Crowds of folks were reacting to the news that Nelson Mandela, 92, was in the hospital with some severe medical problems. Many were bewailing in unison that he is too young to die.
The headline banner across the top of the CNN web page refers to "breaking news". Reminds me of an old HBO news show parody whose slogan was, "When news breaks, we fix it." See you all in the funny pages.

Friday, February 18, 2011


Our footprints serve as a road map to show us where we have been and what we have done in our lives. Yet it seems to me that often I labor to bury my past in order to hide my failures, my shame, my sins, and my disappointments. I cover my tracks so that others don't see them, but more importantly, I want to hide them so that I am not reminded of them. Yet I am coming to understand that this is a mistake, one that could have far-reaching consequences.

For one thing it is important not to lose sight of the fact that without memories of our failures, we might just unwittingly retrace our same steps and multiply our pain, anguish, and frustration. An old saying goes, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Anyhow, it is likely folly to think that we can isolate ourselves from our past in an attempt to guard our minds from unpleasantness. Such a path may gain some short-term peace, but will bring longer-term darkness. It prevents understanding, and understanding is a prerequisite to wisdom.

Another reason that covering our footprints is a mistake is that we, with a bit of perspective, might come to appreciate just how far we have come. Those footsteps just might provide some positive feedback that could serve to strengthen us and embolden our resolve. The ancient Chinese proverb says, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with but one step." With perspective comes appreciation. Footprints serve to show us where we have been and what we have done. Hopefully we will all continue making strides to a more positive place toward wisdom and appreciation.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


In his latest book Soulprint, author Mark Batterson asks the question we all must ask, "Who am I?". He states that you cannot fulfill your destiny if you don't know who you are, and you won't know who you are until you know who God is. Who we are is revealed by what he calls our "soulprint". A fingerprint uniquely identifies us, but this record is only skin deep. A soulprint is what identifies you in God's view. It's not just who you are at present, it's who you are from your past experiences and who you are destined to become in the future. Soulprint was written as a celebration of who we are as individuals and how our uniqueness is a joy to God. Each of us brings something special and individual to worship.

Mark Batterson is a regular blogger and I follow his posts because he has a perspective on living as a Christian that encourages me. Last summer he and I shared a comment exchange on his blog about his first published book called ID: The True You. It is interesting that even though this book was published before he became more widely known, he tends to downplay it and avoids mentioning it. I have a sense he is not fully satisfied with it. However, that book really was the seed for all of his books since that point, In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day, Wild Goose Chase, and Primal. While the theme of each of these books is contained in ID: The True You, each also stands apart. However, Soulprint is really a parallel to his first book. In fact, the cover art is essentially the same and the book starts off with the same paragraph. Even though his new book stands on its own strengths, I really think that those who enjoy Batterson's works, will really find a treasure in his first book. It is written in a different style, and while it is not as polished as his "mainstream" books, it really allows you to see his vision and how he has maintained a consistent message. Of course, it is also interesting to see how he has progressed in his writing abilities and his skills for illustrating and accentuating his key points.

However, this post is supposed to be about his most current work Soulprint, which turns out to be the least weighty of his books (only 150 pages long and a very quick read). While it does not have anything new or earth shattering to tell us that I have not encountered before in other books, it still was a joy for me to read and absorb. I now look forward to his next book that will be called The Circle Maker.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


he stands at the concourse intersection
       looking this way and that
he reads the faces of passersby
       for signs of confusion and frustration

he is quick to act and even quicker to recall
        each and every gate and prop and counter
with a smile and knowing wink,
       he gently points the way

you can see the tensions ease as the
       words come from his mouth
reassuring, experienced, calming,
        they melt and ease back their shoulders

he is a blessing to all,
       but this is a cautionary tale
for he is there at that corner,
       himself lost and dry

for his ticket and pass point to where
        he cannot find
friends i am that airportman,
       sight so clear of other's paths

yet i cannot find my way in similar
       forests and travails

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Do you trust in God's timing for the big things on your "wish list"? Whether it is to bring you that perfect mate, to get that new job or big promotion, to lead you to the right church, for healing of a sick loved one, to be successful in school, the question is how do you handle the period between when you bring everything before God in prayer and supplication, and when you receive a reply? Christians intellectually understand that God is not a magic genie whereby we snap our fingers and are immediately lavished with his gracious outpouring. However, in our hearts and in our minds we are impatient. We demand a quick answer. We want our dream spouse to show up at our door that night and ring the doorbell, we want to get a phone call out of the blue with that job offer, we want to drive by a church and have it light up at our passing, we want the doctor to come to us with a miraculous report of healing, and we want to ace all of our exams.

I don't know about you, but contrary to how scripture instructs us to pray, my prayers for the "big things" are usually correlated with an ever-present anxiety. Of course my level of anxiety and fretting and worry and anguish tends to steadily rise as more and more time passes. Sometimes my life seems to hover in a mode of depression while I stew and wait. Why is God not coming through for me. Am I not worth it? Is God not real? Is there some past sin that I am being penalized for? Did I not pray in the right way? Have I received my answer as no and missed it? The frustration can amount to such a din that it takes over my mind and sours me for all else in life.

But what if, what if, instead of making bouillabaisse or chilorio or gumbo or ragout, I did something altogether different, something positive during this waiting time. What if I took advantage of the time I was given to increase the odds. I could learn how to find satisfaction with myself that would make me more attractive to finding a wife, or work on my skills training to help with landing that new job, or talk to people about their church and visit different services in my area, or learn more about the medical conditions and associated treatments to be more engaged and knowledgeable when those close to me get sick, or took some time to study my course work? Perhaps it might be that I will be much better prepared when God finally answers my prayers. Perhaps that is what he was giving me an opportunity to do all along.

Monday, February 14, 2011


A friend of mine recommended that I read the book entitled Confessions by St. Augustine. He told me that this would not be an easy read, but that it would be a journey I would find relevant to my own walk as a Christian. St. Augustine, or Augustine of Hippo, was a philosopher and theologian who lived in the Roman Africa Province in modern day Algeria circa 400 A.D.. His writings were very influential in the development of Western Christianity.

His work called Confessions is an account of his early life from a teenager to an adult. The book is written as his personal confession to God of what led him to each point along his path from unbeliever to baptised Christian. By all accounts, St. Augustine was a very bright scholar, and it was his early life's experiences in academia that initially polarized his beliefs against Christian teaching. But St. Augustine was not one who accepted what he heard without careful and critical examination. He personally agonized over everything that he came across to slowly separate the wheat from the chaff, the wrong or misguided from the truth. In fact, the wonderful aspect of his Confessions was going along on this journey of self-discovery with him and witnessing how he wrestled through conflicting thoughts and ideas, and ultimately came to accept and embrace the Christian doctrine.

There was much to savor and enjoy in this 1600-year-old account. However, there were also several long sections that struck me as metaphysical ramblings or really pointless debate. It was funny to me that St Augustine was at one point a teacher of rhetoric. I am not really sure what this means, but usually when I think of a rhetorical question, it is a musing for which there is no answer. I thought this type of definition fitting for portions. However, even though I found some sections obtuse, they were still fascinating to read to see how he went about asking a question and then passionately framing his answer.

The other fascinating aspect of reading this sixteen century-old work was just how current its topics remain. Apart from some allusions to a very different culture in a long bygone age, the struggles of man then to learn about his creator are very much the same as they are today.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Dateline Sidewalk

Intrepid Reporter: In a shocking update on my old Mine Field O' Poo report, the geese are once again honking a defiant tone. They are making a mockery of everything we hold dear as they push to set a new record in the category of excrement depth on a busy pedestrian walkway. The humans are quickly falling behind the Canadian Geese in their maneuvering to stem the tide.

Studio Anchorman: Dude, I realize that I am perfectly coiffed but stuck in this dead-end job at a local affiliate, but what are you rambling on about?

Intrepid Reporter: In recent weeks, menacing flocks of Canadian Geese have been endeavoring to cover every square inch of the sidewalks with their flotsam.

Studio Anchorman: Maybe its the cloud of hairspray depriving me of much needed oxygen, but go on.

Intrepid Reporter: Local workers have been trying to break the logjam by erecting crude cut-outs of the one natural predator of the Canadian goose, the Yukon coyote.

Studio Anchorman: Man, this must be a slow news day.

Intrepid Reporter: The presence of the herd of coyotes standing proudly about the grounds should make a firm statement to these defiant fowl that their presence is not welcome.

Studio Anchorman: How come I see a lot more poo in the immediate vicinity of the coyote likenesses?

Intrepid Reporter: Well, it seems that the Canadian goose is nobody's fool. It seems they can clearly see that the coyotes are far from realistic. For one thing, they occupy only two dimensions. For another, they somehow seem to know that the Yukon coyote is not indigenous to this local habitat.

Studio Anchorman: How about the fact that they only have three legs?

Intrepid Reporter: Well, that also seems to be upsetting the geese. Seemingly they feel we are insulting their intelligence and having been stepping up production. This reporter will stand by for developments in this back-and-forth exchange to see what the human's next move will be. Back to you in the studio.

Studio Anchorman: Does anyone know how to spell resumé?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Big Church IV

I find the rapid growth of my church both exciting and worrisome. On one hand growth does indicate that they are bringing people to God. However, what happens when a church and its style catches on and rapid growth takes over? Church leaders can easily get caught up in the apparent success and then start craving more. Without great care a church can become less about fellowship and relationship and the teaching of the Word, and more about growth models, mission statements, outside consultants, and brand recognition. More, more, more. We so easily risk raising up church growth and numbers as an idol. Where does healthy growth led by God-first motives and Spirit leading, separate from the ego of the church leaders?

In part III of this blog series I mentioned Francis Chan, who was climbing up the ladder of celebrity preacher. He was leading a church in California that was following the rapid growth trend. He had written two mainstream books that ensured that his church's growth trend and his celebrity would increase. Yet at the pinnacle of all of this, he stepped aside from his pastorship. He felt that he was trapped in a rat race that was such a fast-paced, push-push-push style, that he had no time to feed his sheep, to build relationships. I admire him for leaning on his God and not getting caught up in that game of worrisome compromise. That sin of focussing on self.

I don't have answers to all of my worries. I am trying to maintain a level of excitement as my church grows, but I am more than anxious. I am proceeding with caution and measuring each step, each message, to be sure that I am hearing the truth. I pray regularly for my pastor and his staff to stay connected day by day with God. This is His body, not ours. I pray that they would make sure that they never compromise His Way for their way.

(Part 4 of 4)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Big Church III

I find the rapid growth of my church both exciting and worrisome. On one hand growth does indicate that they are bringing people to God. However, an important part of a church is the connection and fellowship of its body. It seems to me that without great care, the very growth model that the church leadership is pushing and driving can make the church a building filled with individuals where there is no presence of the Holy Spirit.

Across our nation there are a growing number of seemingly dynamic churches whose growth rates are staggering. These bodies tend to be comprised of folks mainly in their 20s or 30s. They typically are led by a young, high energy, charismatic pastor. These folks are driven and many have inked publishing deals that require them to bring a new book to press every 12 to 15 months. Some of these folks like Mark Batterson, Rob Bell, Craig Groeschel, Joel Osteen, Max Lucado, Andy Stanley, and Francis Chan fall into this mold. The mold of the celebrity preacher. The pressures to produce weekly sermons and write books and lead rapidly growing churches must be immense. Yet this slope of popularity is treacherous, and without great care with each step, a pastor can easily be led to worship his God less and himself and his celebrity more. When is enough enough? Is better the enemy of good enough? Is rapid growth and a sizeable following something to be deeply worried about? The din of popularity can so easily squelch that still small voice. When that happens, the shepherd cannot lead his flock to the rich meadows that they need for survival and growth. Beware the numbers game if that is the only metric that you consider.

There is another aspect of rapid growth that concerns me at a very deep level. When churches grow they take on significant debt in the form of mortgages or leases and increased staff salaries. They must then ensure that they maintain their number growth so that they can continue paying the bills and continue expanding. When that happens, I worry that in order to placate and soothe and mollify the masses, the message of the gospel can start to be compromised. Preaching on the crucifixion of our Lord and his death for our sins or our inherently sinful natures apart from a relationship with Jesus can be harsh and put some people off. Better to soften the message and stay away from areas that might tend to push people away. Keep things light and entertaining and feel-good. Make it a show, bring in some jugglers and magicians and stilt-walkers. Why not some give-aways and door prizes? Make it about the laughter and the spectacle and the lights and the music and the positivity. After all, the congregation must continuing growing at all costs.

Of course another staggering aspect is the amount of money it requires to build the church building itself. Sanctuaries of large churches can run from $20 to $50 million dollars! After all, inlaid marble and imported mahogony and teak wood don't come cheap. Aren't there more important things to invest God's money in? Maybe we're really just building a grand idol to ourselves.

(Part 3 of 4)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Big Church II

I find the rapid growth of my church both exciting and worrisome. On one hand growth does indicate that they are bringing people to God. However, an important part of a church is the connection and fellowship of its body. It seems to me that without great care, the very growth model that the church leadership is pushing and driving can make the church a building filled with individuals where there is no presence of the Holy Spirit.

During the "campaign" to raise the funds for our church's move to a multi-site model to enable us to increase our capacity and reach, our pastor really had to press and push to relay to his congregration his vision for this development. He needed to overcome the obvious palpable initial resistance and reluctance of his sheep. I suspect most folks felt like I did that rapid growth and radical models to deal with it can really change the feel and approach of a small-town, cozy, intimate church. I remember in one of his sermons he repeated the phrase, "If you are against increasing capacity in the church, you are telling others to go to hell."

This statement was meant to be provocative to be sure, but the message was clear. Our job as members of the church and members of the body of Jesus, was to spread the message of the gospel. If we are working to actively keep people out of the body or discouraging them from even hearing the good news, then we are keeping them on a path to hell. However, to my ears, I also sensed by his tone and timbre, something else in his words that I wrestled with. Perhaps it was the drive and passion of a man and his vision that was overshadowing or competing with the compassionate message of Jesus regarding his followers, his body of the righteous. Jesus told his disciple Peter to feed my sheep (John 21:17). This is an active and ongoing process of those who already are set aside as righteous. Without being properly fed, there is no depth and learned understanding. There is no sanctification, only shallow, dime-store religion that does not bring true salvation.

I wrestled with my pastor's message then and I wrestle with it still today. Am I following the teaching of Jesus and working to bring new distant and disconnected members to the body or am I being selfish in my resistance to get what I feel I need and others need to be properly fed? My thinking is that the role of a pastor is to fulfill the role of shepherd and teacher. Yet as the numbers grow and grow, there is no way for the shepherd to know his sheep. As well, a teacher who does not interact with his students in an intimate relationship is simply a lecturer or a figurehead. Without relationship, there is a danger of growing numbers masking a hollowness and shallowness and emptiness in the flock.

(Part 2 of 4)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Big Church I

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." These words form the Great Commission of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20) to his disciples to go out and spread his word to everyone. They represent instruction that is meant as much for us today as it was for his disciples some 2000 years ago.

It is natural when pursuing a goal to keep track of progress. For the church, one standard measure of success in carrying out its charge is to quantify and track the number of attendees from week to week. As the numbers grow with time, churches celebrate their success. Resolve to continue to grow and strive for more and more, pushes church leaders to devote effort and resources to ensure the positive feedback loop continues.

The church that I currently attend has every reason to be proud of their efforts given this measure of success. The church officially started about 8 years ago with a group of about 50 folks. For five years they met in the gym at the local YMCA and slowly and consistently grew until they averaged an attendance of 500 each Sunday and were having two services. They then expanded to two locations and three service times and continued to grow to an average weekly attendance of about 800. Starting about two years ago they built their own building on their own property, and are now averaging about 2000 folks each week in five Sunday services. Next month they will join the growing ranks of churches operating in a "multi-site" mode. The church leaders forecast that their growth trend will continue and they plan to continue seeding the area with separate "campuses" and will continue to push their metric of success, namely growing their weekly attendance.

I find the rapid growth of my church both exciting and worrisome. On one hand growth does indicate that they are bringing people to God. However, an important part of a church is the connection and fellowship of its body. It seems to me that without great care, the very growth model that the church leadership is pushing and driving can make the church a very impersonal building filled with very separate individuals. Individuals who are in danger of living not in the breadth and depth of the Word, but skimming along on the surface, ignorant of the truth.

(Part 1 of 4)

Friday, February 4, 2011

Your Best Life

Some of my all-time favorite books have been recommended to me by friends whose opinions I respect. In them I usually find value, enjoyment, and personal enrichment. Thus I looked forward to reading the book Your Best Life Now by Joel Osteen. My anticipation was elevated because of the impassioned recommendation of my friend, but I did have some significant levels of pessimism and reluctance based on what I know of Mr. Osteen. Mr. Osteen is a televangelist (a term with a strong negative connotation for me) and I have watched his program a few times. I have found that his sermons are all essentially the same message with the same feel. I would describe Mr. Osteen as slick, a sort of made for T.V. personality. He is always smiling and talking about claiming our victory in God. His message is consistently "feel good" and "rah-rah" motivating. On the other hand, Mr. Osteen is the lead pastor at Lakewood Church in Houston, which boasts the largest congregation in the country. So, certainly Mr. Osteen is selling something that the public buying.

As I expected, his book Your Best Life Now is peppy and motivating. This man is so upbeat and joyful as to be almost saccharine, yet I get a sense that Mr. Osteen genuinely lives this type of life. His approach to leading our best lives on earth include:
  • Enlarge your vision
  • Develop a healthy self-image
  • Discover the power of your thoughts and words
  • Let go of the past
  • Stand strong against opposition and adversity
  • Live to give
  • Choose to be happy
As I have found with his sermons, each chapter in this book is essentially a restatement of the previous chapter. There is a lot of repetition, but his simple bottom-line message is "Think positively so that your actions will move you toward success and away from defeat." Now, I will not deny that his approach at a high level is reasonable and his style has a somewhat infectious appeal to it. But ...

You know when someone says something positive about you but follows it with a "but", it means that there is more to the story. In nearly every chapter of this book, my "spider senses" were tingling as I read, telling me that the theology I was reading was not right. I was troubled that his teaching was not based on the Bible that I know. His focus in every chapter is centered on me; what do I have to do to get the stuff of my dreams. A bigger house, a better job, a good parking spot at the mall. Even his section on giving is couched in terms of give today and you can expect material goods tomorrow. This book is about a formula for getting what we want in this life. More stuff, better stuff, bigger stuff. Well, I for one will raise the danger flag high. Something is quite amiss here and it overshadows whatever good advice he has to share.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Each of us can be associated with various habits. Habits represent an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary. They are a part of who we are. Of course, habits in and of themselves are not necessarily bad. For example, holding doors open for others coming in behind you or saying thank you when someone has done something for you. Other habits, like smoking or drinking or gambling, on the other hand, have a long and well chronicled history associated with them.

Anyone who has tried to break themselves of a habit understands how difficult it can be. There are psychological, physical, and chemical aspects involved. Sometimes separating ourselves from bad or undesired habits can be just a matter of education and awareness. Other times this separation can be absolutely torturous for mind and body. It has been shown in clinical studies that it takes about 3 or 4 weeks for our mind to accept a new behavior and make it part of our normative programming.

When I came across this notion of the necessity of "reprogramming" our minds to break us free from bad habits, it really was the first time that I thought about it in this light. In my life, when I have worked to break free of bad habits, my reprogramming normally takes several distinct steps:
  1. Awareness of the problem.
  2. Understanding of the impacts of the habit on my life.
  3. A resolve to make a change.
  4. Development of a strategy for victory.
  5. Attempt to change and subsequent setbacks.
  6. Modification of strategy.
  7. Vigilant personal monitoring and attention.
  8. Change accepted by mind and body.
Sometimes changes can occur quickly and this is quite a boost to moral. Other changes can take much longer to be fully brought about. Sometimes just when we start to think we have something licked, an old issue or behavior can manifest itself. In these situations it can really seem that despite all of our efforts, we are back at square one. One habit that I would dearly like to overcome at times like these is that of being too hard on myself and thinking of myself as a failure. I would much prefer to take ownership of what I did and work to get back on track with renewed vigilance and care and patience.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


In today's hi-tech society, most folks have come across the term "FAQ". FAQ stands for "Frequently Asked Questions". In fact you can typically find a page of FAQs in most owner's manuals and on most computer help pages. The typical FAQ is written for, well let's face it, a complete idiot. To wit, from my television manual FAQ page, "Q: What do I do if the television does not come on when the power button is pushed?, A: Be sure the power cord is plugged into the outlet." Geez, why didn't I think of that?

As a Christian living in a world surrounded by so many complexities and problems that crop up on a daily basis, I have frequently wished that there was a useful FAQ page for me. Many preachers and pastors and clergy-type will tell you that the Bible is the ultimate and definitive source for the answers to all of life's questions. Well, as someone who has read and studied the Bible very carefully, I can say that they are all full of bean dip. The Bible provides the outline and boundary conditions, but it does not truly get into providing specific answers to the specific questions that come up in my life. I wish there was a FAQ page in the Bible (perhaps in the "Newer Testament") that would give me direct answers or suggestions in the areas of:
  • Money and finances
  • Personal interactions with people that aggravate me
  • Dealing with relatives
  • How and when to talk to my child
  • Saving for college
  • Lust and sexuality for the single man
  • How to make consistently tasty pancakes
To be more specific, I would like a website written by God where I could go and type in a username and password, say Perhaps then I would be able to make wiser decisions and get along better with the people around me.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Every Man's Battle

I mentioned to a friend of mine that I have taken steps to deal with controlling my lustful thoughts. Tempering such an insatiable beast takes determined and purposeful measures. The Bible says "For this is the will of God ... that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust." (1 Thess. 4:3-5) As a result of our conversation, he lent me a copy of the book Every Man's Battle by Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker. The subtitle of the book is "Winning the War on Sexual Temptation One Victory at a Time".

As I worked my way through each chapter of this book, the thought that kept circling around my mind is that there was something very familiar about the book's layout and message. Although I had never read this book before, it is very similar to other book's about Christian men and their trials and tribulations dealing with sexual immorality. For example, Pure Desire by Ted Roberts and Out of the Shadows by Patrick Carnes. These books all spend several chapters describing the downward spiral brought on by the ever-increasing pull of sexual immorality and our lack of sexual integrity, followed by several chapters telling us how wrong it is and how draining its presence can be in our lives. The strategy for our ultimate and complete victory in this arena is then uncovered at the end in a big reveal ... "Just stop being addicted or impure!" ... ta-da.

Now perhaps I am over-simplifying these works a little bit, but I sometimes think that many authors in this genre are either naive or have an approach that works better in a clinical setting but does not translate well into a self-help book. Some books seem to claim that one day you will look at a Playboy centerfold and the next you will be a serial rapist. Others claim that even a passing glance at a good-looking woman on the street and you are a marriage-destroying devil. Now I am all for men taking ownership of their moral weaknesses and working to make improvements in their lives. I find this commendible, honorable, and biblical. So, reading a book like this might help folks to develop their own personal plans. However, I think that these strategies would be more successful if they did not come with a biblical brow-beating. Our sexual desires are both innate (hormonal and instinctual) and learned. The learned part was developed and inured over the course of decades and it takes time and patience to develop new thought and behavior patterns. I'm just not sure that any of these books has found a path that makes full sense to me.