Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Segmentation vs. Intergenerational Church

I was impressed with this interview with Kara Powell, "Is the Era of Age Segmentation Over?" and recommend it to you dads and church leaders.

You're aware of the distressing statistics about teenagers and young adults falling away from active church participation.

Rather than wringing you hands I suggest you (a) pray for kids and teenagers and young adults! and (b) implement some of the intergenerational ideas in this interview.

Key ideas:
  • The concept of segregating youth is actually quite modern. (I like to point out that the word "teenager" is, too!)
  • There is a strong link between kids staying in church after they graduate and their involvement in intergenerational relationships and worship.
  • Teenagers are up to the challenge of full engagement and meaningful relationships with adults of all ages.
  • Strive for have 5 adults who build into one kid. (I suggest a good metric is to have 5 people building into every person in your church, irrespective of age!) Serving together is the key approach.
  • Parents and adults should share about their own spiritual journeys with younger people.
  • The generation gap is widest today on communications technology -- an area with kids can be leaders in our churches!
Highly recommended.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Go Where You're Needed

I'm blessed with friends from many religious groups, nations, and socioeconomic classes. I need to get better at sharing Christ's message with them. This short video clip helped.

"You don't go where you want to, you go where you're needed."

Friday, September 25, 2009

Prayer Insight: the story BEHIND the story

Today I'd like to challenge you about the story behind the story in the Muslim world.

The story most commonly portrayed in the news media is about terrorism and hatred against Israel.

Sidebar: Let me state clearly that while the nation of Israel is not perfect, I'm on their side in nearly all the issues where they are roundly condemned. The recent UN report criticizing Israel is shameful. I'm also in favor of military action against terrorist groups, as a means of restraining evil. Sic vis pacem, para bellum. I do not think they are a complete solution, nor perfect in every operation, but I support the military option because it's necessary to counter evil targeting civilians and innocents. The US and other nations are not spending treasure and sacrificing blood for conquest or immediate gain, any more than we did in WW2, Korea, Vietnam, or Bosnia.

So the story you most likely are hearing about is violence perpetrated by Muslims. These are real events, horrible events, demon-inspired.

I do not think this is the most important story in the Muslim world. Not by a long shot.

The most amazing story coming from the Muslim world is the incredible rate of conversions to Christianity:

"According to Al-Jazeerah's interview with Sheikh Ahmad Al Katani, the president of The Companions Lighthouse for the Science of Islamic Law in Libya, In every hour, 667 Muslims convert to Christianity. Every day, 16,000 Muslims convert to Christianity. Every year, 6 million Muslims convert to Christianity." This interview was in 2001; a number of observers say the conversation rate is increasing.

In France "
[a]round 15,000 Muslims each year are converting to Christianity - around 10,000 to Catholicism and 5,000 to Protestantism...."

There are astounding conversion movements in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Egypt and Indonesia.

The God of the Bible is calling people to Himself. Remember this story -- the real story -- when you see news about Muslim violence. Consider the spiritual warfare going on for the souls of millions upon millions of people. And pray differently!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Why of Marking Up Your Bible

I'm a big believer in marking up your Bible -- make lots of notes, interact with it! Make it yours! Over time you create something much more valuable. I advocate using wide-margin Bibles to give you more room to write notes. People ask me for specific tips on how to mark up their Bibles, and my answer is "How you do it is much less important than why you're doing it. Start with underlining and making notes in the margins, and go from there."

Now that I have you thinking about your Bible, check out this quote from Mortimer Adler's excellent book, "How to Read a Book" :

"There are two ways in which one can own a book. The first is the property right you establish by paying for it, just as you pay for clothes and furniture. But this act of purchase is only the prelude to possession. Full ownership comes only when you have made it a part of yourself, and the best way to make yourself a part of it is by writing in it. An illustration may make the point clear. You buy a beefsteak and transfer it from the butcher's icebox to your own. But you do not own the beefsteak in the most important sense until you consume it and get it into your bloodstream. I am arguing that books, too, must be absorbed in your blood stream to do you any good.

Confusion about what it means to "own" a book leads people to a false reverence for paper, binding, and type -- a respect for the physical thing -- the craft of the printer rather than the genius of the author. They forget that it is possible for a man to acquire the idea, to possess the beauty, which a great book contains, without staking his claim by pasting his bookplate inside the cover. Having a fine library doesn't prove that its owner has a mind enriched by books; it proves nothing more than that he, his father, or his wife, was rich enough to buy them.

There are three kinds of book owners. The first has all the standard sets and best sellers -- unread, untouched. (This deluded individual owns woodpulp and ink, not books.) The second has a great many books -- a few of them read through, most of them dipped into, but all of them as clean and shiny as the day they were bought. (This person would probably like to make books his own, but is restrained by a false respect for their physical appearance.) The third has a few books or many -- every one of them dog-eared and dilapidated, shaken and loosened by continual use, marked and scribbled in from front to back. (This man owns books.) ...

But the soul of a book "can" be separate from its body. A book is more like the score of a piece of music than it is like a painting. No great musician confuses a symphony with the printed sheets of music. Arturo Toscanini reveres Brahms, but Toscanini's score of the G minor Symphony is so thoroughly marked up that no one but the maestro himself can read it. The reason why a great conductor makes notations on his musical scores -- marks them up again and again each time he returns to study them--is the reason why you should mark your books. If your respect for magnificent binding or typography gets in the way, buy yourself a cheap edition and pay your respects to the author."

HT: Tim Challies

Strive to make the Bible part of you!

Marks of a Spiritual Leader

I know many readers of this blog are pastors, lay leaders, and civic leaders. So I strongly encourage you to print off this article, "The Marks of a Spiritual Leader" , read it, mark it up, and reread it occasionally.

"Biblical spiritual leadership contains an inner circle and an outer circle. The inner circle of spiritual leadership is that sequence of events in the human soul that must happen if anyone is to get to first base in spiritual leadership. These are the absolute bare essentials. They are things that all Christians must attain in some degree, and when they are attained with high fervor and deep conviction they very often lead one into strong leadership. In the outer circle are qualities that characterize both spiritual and non-spiritual leaders."

When I reread this the other day I was struck by this passage (which apparently I didn't think was notable the last time I read it -- no notes or notations on my paper copy!):

"Leaders must be able to digest depression because they will eat plenty of it. There will be many days when the temptation is very strong to quit because of unappreciative people. Criticism is one of Satan's favorite weapons to try to get effective Christian leaders to throw in the towel. "

I heartily recommend the whole article to you.

Monday, September 21, 2009

How to Use a Curfew Clock

Problem: you've set a curfew for your teenager(s) to be home, but are having trouble staying up that late yourself, or don't sleep well on the couch while you're waiting. You'd go to bed, but you're concerned that your son or daughter be home on time and ok.

Solution: set up a curfew clock.

Here's the system we used with great success:

Attach an extension cord to a 2nd alarm clock in your bedroom. Run the extension cord out under your bedroom door and plug into a hallway outlet. Set the alarm clock for the curfew time, and go to bed when you need to.

Your teenager needs to get home in time to pull the plug on the alarm clock. If the alarm doesn't go off, your kids are home and safe, and you keep sleeping. If the alarm goes off, you know they're late and make a phone call. The alarm clock is an arbitrary judge of curfew time.

Overall this worked extremely well for us, particularly since I'm an early riser and turn into a pumpkin about the time my kids hit their second wind!

I know one variation on this scheme -- put the alarm clock by the entryway to the house. That wouldn't work as well in our home because I'd sleep through the alarm. Making the kids come all the way into the house, and upstairs means they're really home.

Some limitations to think through:

1. You won't have the opportunity to talk with your kids when they get home. For many kids, this is a very good time to talk with parents.

2. You have to have enough trust that your teenager doesn't race home, pull the plug on the clock, and then head out of the house again. (This was never an issue for us, but I know some parents would be concerned about this.)

3. This doesn't enforce a going-to-sleep time, just a time to be home.

I encourage you to give this system a try.

Pastor Dad

I encourage you to check out this free ebook, "Pastor Dad" by Pastor Mark Driscoll. You can read it free online, or download the PDF file. It's fairly short, studded with Scripture, and well written. Much of it you'll read and probably say, "Yep!" -- but we need even those reminders!

Here is the Table of Contents:


Chapter 1
Worshiping the God of Our Fathers

Chapter 2
The Fruitful Vine

Chapter 3
Cultivating Kids

Chapter 4
The Masculine Duty to Provide

Chapter 5
Instruction Followed by Correction

Chapter 6
Protecting From Sin and Folly

Chapter 7
Countering Culture

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Developing Discernment

"In the 21st century, the #1 success skill -- a skill that NOBODY ever seems to talk about -- is discernment." -- Perry Marshall

Most adults reading this grew up in a world where information was relatively difficult to publish, find, and reproduce. We were trained to go to the library with our 3x5 index cards to capture source information for our research papers. Photo and video editing was crude enough that you could readily spot fakes.

Today it's different. Information is readily available on the Internet, and it's just as easy to publish stupid stuff as it is smart stuff. And since stupid tends to shout "louder" than wisdom and sense, stupid tends to prevail.

Discernment has always been important. The only difference today is the increasing volume and variety of the noise.

Discernment is best described as keenness of insight and judgment. Developing discernment requires modeling and practice, it's not inborn.

Here are some suggestions for you:

1. Study the Word. Especially Proverbs.

2. Study the world. Think about causes and effects. Observe patterns of behavior and results (over time!). Think through multiple steps (ask "And then what? And what would happen next? And then after that?"). Smart and Stupid are seen in the study of contrasts.

3. Read history and original sources. Don't depend on the latest buzz and fourth-hand analyses.

4. Associate more with people you recognize are wise in their decision-making.

5. Stick with timeless principles. "There is nothing new under the sun," we read in Ecclesiastes. There's truth in the statement that news is the same old stuff happening to new people. Yes, technologies change, and rapidly. But we have the same kinds of strengths and failings as people from thousands of years ago.

6. Pray for wisdom and discernment, for they are both gifts from God.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Happy US Constitution Day!

Today is the 222nd anniversary of the U.S. Constitution! God's providence prevails, brothers. Take some time today to actually read it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Is Social Media the New Normal?

Here's a stunning set of facts, cleverly presented in this video:

I'm curious to hear your comments about social media communication. Like many communication technologies, it can enrich or diminish people's relational capability.

Irrespective of your thoughts, it's HERE and you'll need to figure out how to navigate in this environment.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Keeping Up on Reading

Several people have commented to me recently about my volume of reading.

Men, I believe you should be a reader, thinker, and leader. But it's more important to be a thinker and leader than it is to be a super-duper reader. Some of us will read a lot, and that's appropriate. Good thinking requires some level of input. The quality of your reading should outweigh the quality.

Some of you need to stop beating yourselves up about not reading enough. Others need to kick yourself off the TV and push yourself to read more. You know who you are.

If you'd like some help being a more effective learner, check out "Keys to Accelerating Learning."

Yes, I'm on Twitter

You can keep up with me on Twitter. I'd love to have you follow me.

See my earlier post about how I'm using Twitter to encourage people.

It's been a good learning experience on Twitter, and it's an excellent way to find out about new blogs, articles, and resources. The trick is to go quickly and not spend too much time on it.

Increasingly this kind of social media is going to be a major means of communicating with segments of the population that need the love of Christ.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Questions to Ask Yourself

Here's a list of questions I ask myself frequently. The process of answering these helps keep me on track!

Who is Jesus?
What will I do about that?
Where is my faith?
What's the opportunity to serve now?
Where is God at work?

I hope these help you, too! What other questions should we be asking ourselves?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Remembering 2001

From the world perspective, the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and Flight 93 on Sept 11th were the biggest events of the year.

Today let's pray for the families of those killed. Let's steel ourselves and remember that we are fighting terrorists who prefer targeting innocent non-combatants. We pray not for the death of our enemies, but that the Lord would stop them.

From a personal perspective, I think about 2001 every day -- not of September 11th, but of the day in July when my dad died unexpectedly. I've been wearing his watch ever since, as a reminder to me of what is important in this life.

Events shape us. As you minister with people, remember that they have been shaped by events larger and smaller, and by everyday friction of living.


Wednesday, September 09, 2009

How Much Faith?

If you think this is a worn-out repeat of the "small as a mustard seed" devotion, you're only half right. Read on and see for yourself.

The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" He replied, "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you. (Luke 17:5-6)

I've met with several people who struggled to make a faith-based decision because they imagined it as leaping across the Grand Canyon.

Our imagination is powerful, and often wrong. We tend to amplify our problems and challenges and focus on unrealistic worst-case scenarios. Jesus helps us here with a visual. Just a little faith, a tiny amount is enough, because God is so Big and Powerful and Sovereign. Not a walnut, nor even an acorn, but a mustard seed-sized faith is sufficient on our part.

We follow the disciples in praying, "Lord, Increase our faith!" Fixing our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith (Heb 12:2) is important.

Now here is comes the twist.

Check out the context of Jesus' lesson on faith. It's about relationships and how to handle the serious issue of sin in relationships.

Jesus said to his disciples: "Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. So watch yourselves. "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent,' forgive him." The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" He replied, "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you. "Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, 'Come along now and sit down to eat'? Would he not rather say, 'Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink'? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.' " (Luke 17:1-10)

There is another passage (Matthew 17:1-20) where Jesus tells his disciples that if they have faith the size of a mustard seed, they can move mountains. The context there is the story of driving out the demon from a boy.

Key lesson: Our mustard-seed-sized faith moves mountains in relationships. It links up with God's power to deal appropriately with sin through repentance and forgiveness. And we don't deserve a lot of credit in all this, because it's our duty to operate this way.

For most of us, our most challenging day-to-day issues are rooted in relationships. They're wearying and worrying. God's power is available (and so necessary!) as we exercise our tiny amounts of faith. Seeing God's power does not require huge reservoirs of faith, according to this promise, but just a little bit of faith.

Transformed relationships testify powerfully to the world about our great and awesome God!

Monday, September 07, 2009

Getting Past Overwhelm

I wish I had recognized this problem sooner.

And I wish I had a better track record of getting past it.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. :-)

Here's the problem: I have so many things going on, and so many good ideas about what to do, and a long list of "should do's" and "must do's" that I'm unenthusiastic about that...I stall out, freeze up, and feel really, really tired. I feel overwhelmed. And far too often I don't do much of anything useful at that point.

Logically, with some perspective, I'm not at a danger point. These aren't major health issues, relationship crises, or disastrous money problems. My life is not in danger. (I should be overwhelmed by gratitude that I get to experience so many blessings!)

But at these moments it's difficult to think with dispassionate logic, but how I FEEL is foremost.

And I FEEL like a nap, followed by a fun movie accompanied by eating yummy-but-bad-for-me food, followed by bed so I can get a fresh start tomorrow. It's all about ME ME ME ME ME!

Some of you who know me might be quite surprised to hear about this, because my reputation is built on getting a lot of things done, quickly and well. I work efficiently in bursts!

Let me share the best antidotes I've found for this wrong response to ill-perceived overwhelm.

1. Take five deep breath and reconnect with God. This feeling of overwhelm doesn't leap to selfishness if I'm reminded of God's goodness, provision, and presence. The deep breaths helps calm my racing heart, which makes it easier to focus on Christ.

2. Write out a list of stuff to do. Getting it out of my head and on paper actually makes it easier to think logically and creatively about what needs to be done, and what opportunities exist to serve.
3. Tackle hard unpleasant tasks early (or when you're freshest). Those are the tasks that build your character, dad! Putting them in the rear-view mirror makes it easier to look forward.

4. Pick just one thing, a small thing, and get it done. Enjoy that satisfaction of crossing it off the list, and build momentum from there.

Now when I hit this state of overwhelm and might still need a 10 minute nap. But I don't need to keep going downhill into selfishness and lethargy. And knowing that helps a great deal, too!

I hope these shorten your learning curve. If you struggle with this, too, let's pray for one another.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Systems Thinking about US Health Care

If you're weary of the blather and let's-shout-past-the-other-guy news about US healthcare and how it should be reformed, I strongly encourage you to read this Atlantic article:

How American Health Care Killed My Father, by David Goldhill

I recommend this article to you in spite the tabloid headline because
  • it's well-written and loaded with facts, but uses a personal story to engage you without manipulating your emotions
  • takes a systems-thinking approach, identifying stakeholders, relationships, and [unintended] consequences of decisions made
  • avoids demonizing individuals and institutions
  • proposes solutions and shows how they meet reasonable tests of effectiveness
  • is realistic about human behavior related to change
Even if you don't agree with Goldhill's proposed solutions, I endorse this article because it intelligently fosters dialogue.

Warning for those with ADD: it's 17 pages printed. Get over it. You aren't going to intelligently cover something as complicated as a healthcare system in three paragraphs or a 3 minute network news story.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Ad -- Start Your Own Religion

This ad appeared on my daughter's Facebook page recently. (It was heartening to see her outrage :-)

If you click through you go to an Amazon sales page for a 40 page self-published book titled "How to Build a God in Your Garage" that is categorized in both Humor and Religion.

I haven't read the book, so can't comment on its humor potential. The Bible uses humor effectively to ridicule the idea of idols and home-fashioned 'gods.'

"So who even comes close to being like God?
To whom or what can you compare him?
Some no-god idol? Ridiculous!
It's made in a workshop, cast in bronze,
Given a thin veneer of gold,
and draped with silver filigree.
Or, perhaps someone will select a fine wood—
olive wood, say—that won't rot,
Then hire a woodcarver to make a no-god,
giving special care to its base so it won't tip over!" (Isaiah 40:18-20)

"Don't take the godless nations as your models.
Don't be impressed by their glamour and glitz,
no matter how much they're impressed.
The religion of these peoples
is nothing but smoke.
An idol is nothing but a tree chopped down,
then shaped by a woodsman's ax.
They trim it with tinsel and balls,
use hammer and nails to keep it upright.
It's like a scarecrow in a cabbage patch—can't talk!
Dead wood that has to be carried—can't walk!
Don't be impressed by such stuff.
It's useless for either good or evil." (Jeremiah 10:1-5)

And when deprecating humor is inadequate, God sends judgment.

Now most readers of this blog aren't crafting idols in their garage. We're far too sophisticated for that! No, our modern idols are subtle and invisible most of the time. Our idols are crafty, stealthy, and deadly dangerous to our hearts and our families' hearts. Sometimes we manipulate our idols so that people follow us and shower us with attention.

John's counsel remains for us: "Dear children, keep yourselves from idols." (1 John 5:21)

Thursday, September 03, 2009

To Understand REALLY Smart Children...

Some of you have really smart children. They may not always do exceptionally well in school. But they have an adult kind of self-awareness and occasionally have insights that shock adults.

If you'd like to understand more about how these children think and experience the world, I have an unusual recommendation for you: read the sci-fi book Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card.

I've never read anything else that better describes the challenges and skills of these children. They don't think of themselves as children, actually, and quickly learn how to mask aspects of themselves around adults -- because most adults are uncomfortable around them, or even frightened. One of things Card correctly captures is their strong desire to be loved.

I've probably read this novel twenty times. Yes, I do see a character very much like me in the book. (I'm not Ender, but those who know me may recognize me in another key character.)

This is not an explicitly Christian book, nor written as a parenting manual. There is some violence in the plot. It is definitely not a book for younger children to read. But I do recommend it to adults for the insights you can learn about human behavior. It's a well-written story. (Actually, it's the first of a series of related novels, but it's the best.) If you don't have a child or grandchild like this, there is still probably one in your sphere of influence.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Help Your Family Understand World History

Dads, here's a great tool for helping your family understand the timeline of world history with this very cool chart. (The information below is from another blog I run, Teach To Change Lives.)

After my earlier post about studying the Bible chronologically, the Agards contacted me and asked me to review their world history chart. So I ordered a copy from their easy-to-use website. The chart arrived here in 3 days and I shot this video review with the chart spread out on our living room floor. (The video is a little fuzzier than I'd like; I used a Flip cam.)

Key points:
  • This is world history up to the year 2000, not only the biblical timeline. So you get church history and key events throughout the world.
  • The circular layout, color coding for people groups/nations descended from Adam, and the index are outstanding.
  • The quality of the work is excellent.
  • There is so much information packed on this chart that you have to be up close to read the small print. So it's an excellent reference tool, or for use with a family or small group around a table, but you can't put this in front of a larger group and expect them to see more than the sweep of colors.
  • The provided PDF copy is your best avenue for enlarging a subset of the chart in order to make slides or handouts. Open the PDF, zoom in, then make a screenshot of that to paste into another document for your handout or slide.
You can order your copy from http://agards-bible-timeline.com

My Thoughts on the Kindle 2

Kindle 2Kindle 2 My wonderful wife gave me a Kindle 2 as a gift earlier this year. This is probably the leading wireless reading device available today. It has spawned a number of competitor products.

As an avid book reader (2-3 books/week, more on vacations!) I've enjoyed the financial savings, the format, the convenience (get a new book in less than a minute), and overall experience.

Let me give some more details on my observations.

The format is sleek and easy to handle, even for long reading stretches. (1500 book capacity -- amazing!) You definitely want to get a case, though. That makes it a little easier to hold and protects the screen surface when you're carrying it in a bag. Battery life is terrific. I read it for hours every day on an 8 day trip and used up maybe half the battery.

The basic functions are easy to learn. I think there's a lot more, but I haven't gotten back to the manual to figure it all out.

A surprising % of the books I'm interested in are available in Kindle format. You have to buy books via Amazon; you can't get them from other sources. Most of the books are $5-12 less expensive in Kindle format, so at the rate I'm reading books, I'll cover the initial outlay in savings.

I've had no problems at all with the purchase or download process. The wireless signal has been available everywhere I could get a cell phone signal in the US. (I haven't traveled outside the US with my Kindle yet.)

There's no backlighting or color. I haven't found this to be a problem, myself. But cookbooks, art books, some travel guides might not work as well. If you like to read books in bed at night, you can attach a little book light.

I tried reading the Wall Street Journal for about 2 weeks, but abandoned that. The Kindle (at least in this size) is not a good tool for fast eyeballing of articles and charts on the newprint pages. It was certainly nice to have the daily edition of the WSJ already downloaded to the Kindle early in the morning.

I have read 28 books now on the Kindle. Just as with paper books, I'm reading several at a time. The Kindle "remembers" where I was when I moved from one book to another, so it's easy to jump right back and pick up reading again where I left off. On my recent vacation I took along my Kindle loaded up with books, a small notebook for writing, and my Bible. That's about 20 pounds less than the paper copies of all the books I read on that trip!

You can highlight text and leave bookmarks in key pages of books, to make it easier to find information. But I do miss being able to mark up books and add scribbles in the margins. I need to experiment more with the Kindle annotation features.

The worst thing right now is that I have no way to pass a book along to someone else. (I've historically enjoyed passing along great books, with my annotations, to friends and colleagues.) Someday maybe the digital rights management tools will be in place to enable this.

I haven't used the Kindle for downloading blogs and other web-based content, so I can't comment on how well that works.

Do I think you should get one? If you're an avid reader in the right circumstances, the Kindle might be good for you. If you only read occasionally, you're probably better off with physical books.

Thoughts? Questions? I'm interested to hear what you think, so comment below.