Sunday, November 29, 2009

Want to See Change? Are You Willing to Do This?

"What sacrifices will you make for the change you want to see?"

That's the question I've been asking lately - for myself, my family, my ministry for Christ, for neighbors and nations. I want to see more people I know entering the Kingdom of God and serving joyfully for Christ. I want to increase the number of people competent to teach God's Word to others. I want my children to be strong in the Lord. I want our marriage to honor the Lord. I want to be a wiser leader and better steeped in Scripture. I want our church to grow by conversion and be an equipping center for sending people to neighbors and nations. I want to lose fat and build muscle so I can serve others better.

There are many changes I want to see. But positive changes require sacrifice. I will have to give up something that I kind of like, secretly enjoy, or even something that's been very effective in the past, in order to see the changes I want to see.

Much of my day-to-day life is built on mindsets, habits, and practices that I've held for months and years, and those routines are generally what produce the results I see. I have habits for studying the Word and for prayer, and routines about when and what I eat, how much I sleep, how I interact with my family and friends, how I spend money, what I do for entertainment. I'm not completely on autopilot, but I do have a many functional habits, rituals, and routines.

This is true for churches as well as individuals. We have treasured mindsets, habits, practices and routines that drive much of our time and energy. Routines and predictability give us comfort and give us strong foundations, up to a point. When they become the focus rather than God, they're idols. They're deadweight that pulls us down. Jesus is life, not rituals.

I'm not saying everything is bad and must be sacrificed! When we plateau and stop growing, then we need to seriously ask what needs to be sacrificed to grow again. If we want to see different results - positive changes - then we must wisely discern what mindsets, habits, practices, and routines need to be different. In short, we have to address the question "What sacrifices will you make for the change you want to see?"

We're weak people, of course. We tend to exploit two strategies to shortcut this question and avoid making sacrifices.

(1) First, we rationalize that the change we desire isn't going to happen anyway, or for a very long time, or is just not realistic for the near future. So we don't need to change anything about the way we live.

(2) Second, we displace the need for change on someone else. "I'm fine, I don't need to make any painful changes - it's those other people who need to change. Then everything would get better."

Be mature. Don't allow either of these to derail you from a tremendous growth opportunity, and drawing closer to God in obedience.

(If I haven't made you uncomfortable yet, please go back to the beginning and reread.)

Let me help you unpack your thinking.

Mindsets. How do you think about yourself? How you think about your spouse and children and extended family? How do you think about God's call on your life? What do your behaviors tell you about how you really think about people and situations?

Habits. Is there something mindless and useless that takes up more than a few moments of your week that needs to be sacrificed, however enjoyable? What are some habits that you know do not help you or help others? What are some positive habits that may still be a distraction from the desired change you seek?

Practices. What's the good thing which is the enemy of the best thing? Is there a constructive shakeup to the order in which you do things? What habits contribute to "numbed autopilot stumble along through life" behavior rather than dynamic growth in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ?

Routines. What are our conventional schedules and programs which keep up busy enough to have no margin for creating and developing new ministry areas? What are the "sacred" things in our church life which have a big "Don't Touch" label - and why? What would it take to hear equal parts criticism and "Wow!" responses?

Working through this takes humility and prayer.

Let's push ahead for Christ's sake!

The Church in China

China is a large, diverse, important nation in world history. There have only been a few decades in their several thousand year history when they have not been the superpower in Asia. Today the government is Communist but practices an form of economic openness.

When you hear news about China, I encourage you to think about the story behind the story. My Chinese friends remind me that the government will do business with other nations, but it is not about friendship. There are layers of complexity and fear and greed that drive decisions.

One of the most important stories behind the story is what God is doing in China. The Wall Street Journal had a recent opinion article describing house churches in China (perhaps 100 million believers strong). One of my Christian Chinese friends believes it is a "race of sorts" between the Communist government and the power of the Gospel. As I wrote earlier, "Marxists fear religion -- and Christianity in particular -- because it's a competitor for moral transcendence and gives people heart-satisfying reasons to abandon their fears."

May the Lord bless His Church in China!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Hugging Kids

Here's a great picture!

Hey, Dad! How are you doing with hugs for your kids?

Do your kids see your affection for your beloved wife on a daily basis?

Go out there and give extra hugs today.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving Day for those of you in the US!

It's a good day to review some of our history. This is a useful, short article about the Puritans in New England.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Use This Framework for Dealing with Abortion Questions

Here's a helpful framework for dealing with abortion questions. Recommended!

Alan Shlemon recently gave a defense of the pro-life position at Central Michigan University and he focused on just two claims:

(1) the unborn is a distinct, living, and whole human being from the moment of conception;

(2) abortion is discrimination: it disqualifies a group of human beings (the unborn) from being valuable because of an arbitrary quality or characteristic.

He then fielded objections from the audience. The vast majority of objections against the pro-life view, he says, come in one of two forms.

They either assume the unborn is not a human being.

Or, they disqualify the unborn from being a valuable human being based on an arbitrary quality or characteristic.

When I hear a defense for abortion, I figure out which category it falls in.

Then, I can show them the misstep by appealing to one of the two claims I defended in my opening remarks.

The simplicity of this is excellent, and principled.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Here's a Song to Get Stuck in Your Heart

I want songs like this to be stuck in my heart.

The Key Math Insight From 1931 That You'd Probably Never Heard Of

You may never had heard of one of the three most important discoveries of the 20th century: Godel's Incompleteness Theorem.

In effect, Godel transformed the Liar's Paradox ("This sentence is false.") into math. He humbled a lot of great mathematical minds in the process!

So why am I writing this on a blog for husbands and fathers? Several reasons:

1. Godel's Theorem reminds us of our limitations and humbles us.

2. Though the math won't interest many of you, the historic significance and critical shift in mathematics and philosophy changed our world.

3. Godel's Theorem provides a framework for understanding the role of God and the universe, of harmonizing science and faith.

Perry Marshall has a terrific article using Godel's Theorem of Incompleteness to explain why God is a conscious Person outside the systems of the universe. Highly recommended.

Now you'll have something very impressive to speak about at the dinner table tonight! :-)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Why I Don't Blog or Twitter About My Family

People sometimes ask me to share more about my wife and family (meaning, write in emails and blog posts and on Twitter). I think these requests are sincere. I'm a real person with a real family. People want to know more about my world.

I don't say more online about my beloved wife or my children (or my extended family) for two primary reasons:

1. I want to shelter and protect them.

Though I've had no death threats recently, nor am I doubtful of God's ability to protect my family, I am mindful that there is evil in this world. Why should I give out information about them to people who might use that information to misuse it? I'm amazed that people publish information online that shouts out "Hey, I'm traveling from now until then, and my wife and little kids are home all alone without me."

2. Writing about them makes it harder to be in close, trust relationships with them.

It's a major withdrawal from the "trust" account if I speak about them without their permission, even in the midst of our church "family." Writing online would require an even larger withdrawal!

So I'm as transparent about my life as I can be with a large online audience, but that transparency fades to black when it comes to my close friends and family members.

Twitter, Blogs as Influence Tools

I've heard a bunch of people say things about blogs and Twitter like "Waste of time, I don't get much out of it."

No doubt that much time can be wasted. But since most of the people reading this are called to be leaders, I want to challenge you:

It's a mistake to focus on what you get from blogs and Twitter and Facebook (and...). Instead, focus on the people you're serving! These are tools for influencing others -- encouraging, coaching, teaching, rebuking, helping others!

Michael Hyatt says that Twitter is a leadership amplifier. All communications media amplify your leadership ability (or inability).

The personal benefit of blogging and Twitter is increased clarity that results from the discipline of writing things down. And that clarity of thinking in turn benefits others!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

How To Be A Content Producer

Many of you are called upon to produce content on a regular basis -- sermons, devotionals, lessons, articles, etc. I'm actually happiest when I'm preparing new information to share, whether through my teaching ministry, my blogs, emails and conversations with friends, or coaching materials for Bible teachers worldwide. But everyone who is called upon to be a regular content producer can hit some dry spells, and feels challenged to keep up with demand.

Here are a few thoughts on how to be a great and regular content producer.

1. You must be a world-class content consumer and a good thinker. Take in material from a broad spectrum on a regular basis. Since there is nothing new under the sun, a lot of content production is about synthesizing information across disciplines, finding new ways to express ideas, and solving problems people experience. That requires thinking, which is distinct from input. (A common error is to confuse having more input with actually thinking about a topic or issue in depth.)

2. Your motivation needs to be serving others. The only sustainable driver for a content producer is the strong desire to serve an audience.

3. Produce regularly, and share what's best. I recommend you write daily. Record audios and presentations. Push yourself even when you feel dry. Produce potentially share-able information consistently. Then...share what's best. Not everything you produce will be good to share -- but you won't get to the quality you want unless you push yourself on quantity first. The hardest thing is the first draft. The real work of writing comes in editing and reworking.

4. Use feedback. You probably won't get as much constructive feedback as you'd like, but use what comes. What did people respond to? What pricked them into action? What puzzled them and left them more confused? Paying attention to these things helps you sharpen the quality of your product, and also gives you new ideas about what to write/speak about in the future!

P.S. If you'd like to be much better at #1, check out Keys to Accelerated Learning.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Undermining Trust in Authority

One of the characteristics of our age (and probably true of youth for several thousand years) is deep mistrust of authority.

People don't trust leaders, institutions, or authority figures. Curiously, there's usually a simultaneous craving for good and great figures and heroes.

I'm still meditating on this situation, mulling over it like a cow working on her cud. But one insight has come to me that I will pass on:

Satan fuels this mistrust of human authority figures because it spills over to how people think about the goodness and greatness and truth-worthiness of God.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Heel..And Experience Joy

I recently saw a lady trying to walk her energetic puppy, who was running, rolling, sniffing, and constantly straining against the leash -- everywhere except by her. She was pleading in frustration, and yanking hard on the leash. The puppy was either trying to pull her along as he sprinted out front, or refused to come to her when he wanted to sniff longer around a tree. Neither she nor the puppy looked the least bit happy.

A few minutes later I saw a man walking with a mature German Sheppard. What first caught my eye was the absence of a leash (we have a leash law in our town.) But then I noticed that no leash was needed. The dog heeled beautifully, perfectly keeping pace with the man, and joyfully kept his attention either on his master or looking straight ahead. The man spoke quietly to him. The deep affection between them was obvious. I watched them enjoying their walk together until they turned the corner out of sight.

A dog heeling next to his master is a curious picture of the joy of the Christian life.

I thought about how many times I’ve acted like that puppy: running ahead of God, sniffing after things that are of no account to Him, barking in frustration when pulling at the end of the tether, choking myself in resistance to God’s direction. Puppies are absolutely convinced they know better than people where we should be going, how fast, and when to take diversions. You and I have behaved like that with our loving Father in heaven, haven’t we?

Contrast that with the joy that we can experience when we walk with our Father, by His side, looking frequently to Him, submitting to His pace and direction. No straining. We respond to gentle words. The biggest satisfaction is simply being with our Lord and Master, Teacher, and Friend.

Our ability to joyfully live the life God has for us is utterly dependent on our close connection with God and obedience to His direction. Jesus told us we can do nothing without him: “Apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Our relationship with Christ is designed to be like the relationships in the Trinity: "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does.” (John 5:19-20)

What can you do today to experience joy as you walk well with God, as you are enabled by the Holy Spirit?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Toughest Par 3

I've played some golf, like to watch it on TV. But you don't have to be a golf fan to enjoy reading about the world's highest and longest par 3 hole.

No Photoshopping, this is for real. You have to take a helicopter to reach the tee. I'm not sure I could stand that close to the edge and swing!

Celebrating the Mayflower Compact

Today in 1620 the new citizens of a new land signed the landmark agreement we call the Mayflower Compact. It is as amazing and distinctive as it is brief. (Compare the bloat of our current legislative agreements and legal contracts!)

IN THE name of God, Amen.

We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread sovereign Lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France and Ireland king, defender of the faith, etc., having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our king and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.

In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape-Cod the 11 of November, in the year of the reign of our sovereign lord, King James, of England, France, and Ireland the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domine 1620.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Real Men See the Evidence of God's Grace

This is an excellent counter-strategy to discouragement: keep notes about the evidence of God's grace.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Enduring Appeal of Marxism

"Part of the genius of Marxism, and a reason for its enduring appeal, is that it feeds man's neurotic fear of social catastrophe while providing an avenue for moral transcendence." -- Bret Stephens

Marxists fear religion -- and Christianity in particular -- because it's a competitor for moral transcendence and gives people heart-satisfying reasons to abandon their fears.

20th Anniversary Celebration

Let us rejoice with our brothers and sisters and friends in Germany as they celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down!

This is arguably one of the most significant events in the 20th century, certainly within my lifetime. I can still remember watching the news coverage of people chipping on it and singing happily. My father had taken a short bus tour of the East German side of Berlin only a few years before, said it was one of the most depressing sites he'd ever seen.

I find it curious that it's not getting as much attention here in the US as I would have expected, given the prominent US role in freeing people in Eastern Europe. Perhaps we're distracted with domestic issues. Perhaps it's preferable to celebrate Nazi defeats more than Communist defeats.

I hope and pray that lessons of what it took to bring down Russian communism and its satellite empires is not forgotten.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Prayerlessness = Unbelief ...And How to Remedy It

Take a few moments and reflect on Kevin de Young's recent blog post on prayerlessness as unbelief.

Excerpts to whet your appetite:

"There may be many reasons for our prayerlessness—time management, busyness, lack of concentration—but most fundamentally, we ask not because we think we need not. or we think God can give not. Deep down we feel secure when we have money in the bank, a healthy report from the doctor, and powerful people on our side. We do not trust in God alone. Prayerlessness is an expression of our meager confidence in God’s ability to provide and of our strong confidence in our ability to take care of ourselves without God’s help."

"You don’t need to work and work at discipline nearly as much as you need faith. You don’t need an ordered life to enable prayer, you need a messy life to drive you to prayer. You don’t need to have everything in order before you can pray. You need to know you’re disordered so you will pray. You don’t need your life to be fixed up. You need a broken heart."

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Seeing Jesus as our Manly King

I've written before about Jesus not being a Breck girl, and the problems for some men when we portray an incomplete picture of Jesus.

So I really liked this short video from Pastor Mark Driscoll about how we sing to the Warrior King.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

What is RSS and Why

Advices for Parenting the "Terrible Threes"

I liked this advice from Ron Edmondson:

Here is my advice for surviving the terrible threes:

Suffer through it! Most likely, it will not last long,, perhaps not even a whole year, and there is hope on the other side.

Be consistent - This is not the time to give in to the child’s outbursts. This is the time to consistently follow through with prescribed discipline.

Keep loving - As much as your child tries your patience, continue to always exhibit love to your child, even during discipline.

Experiment – Use different discipline methods until you find one that works for this stage of the child’s life.

Remember you are the adult – Sometimes when the child is showing his or her worse side it is tempting to show yours. Keep your cool. Be mature. Handle these days firmly, but calmly. Remember you are modeling behavior for your child.

Teach your child – This phase can be a great opportunity to teach your child how to respond to disappointment and frustration.

Don’t be afraid to share your situation with others. Often parents are embarrassed because of their children’s behavior during this stage of life so they hide the struggle; not realizing that so many other parents experience the same with their children. The biggest surprise at this stage of your child’s life may be when you discover you are not unique in this struggle.

By the way, these work in most other phases of a child’s life also.

Frightening Stats on "Christian" Kids

Our CE Director recently attended the D6 Conference, and reported this information to the pastors and elders at our church. I'd encourage every dad and every church leader to look through these -- then repent, ask God for specific direction, and pray for strength to lead our children well.
"Children are living in a state of crisis!" George Barna September 25, 2009
" Moral foundation is formed by age 9.
" Spiritual foundation by age 13; no significant spiritual change by any other age groups.
" 69% of youth say they know all or most of the Bible stories and themes.
" Most parents say kids are incapable of making important moral and spiritual decisions until age 13 or 14.
" Kids are getting less than one hour per week of spiritual experience.
" 87% of parents are satisfied with what the church does.
" 2% of 13 year olds have a Biblical world view.
" Only 1 of 3 thirteen year olds is born again.
" 4 of 5 thirteen year olds don't know what worship is.
" Most never experience God's presence
" Biblical knowledge is embarrassing.
" 20% of students who were highly churched as teens remained spiritually active by age 29. - Barna / Missions Frontier

Darren Whitehead, Next Gen Ministries, Willow Creek Church
" Church kids not much different than world.
" 60-80% leaves the church. Whitehead
" Church kids have shallow Biblical knowledge. Whitehead

"The majority of self identified unbelievers in this country are former church kids. Perhaps for the first time in church history those most inclined toward belief - our own children - are walking away from the faith at an alarming rate." Unchristian by David Kinnaman

"Only 17% of the 1009 adults participated in family devotions with any degree of regularity. Shift by Bryan Hanes p. 43. Copyright 2009.

What will the next generation look like?
" Builders: born 1927-1945, 65% Bible based believers
" Boomers: born 1946-1964, 35% Bible based believers
" Buster: born 1965-1983, 16% Bible based believers
" Bridgers: born 1984 or later, 4% Bible based believers

While many today might classify themselves as believers, only 4% of this next generation would affirm themselves as Bible-believing Christians!" Battle Cry for a Generation by Ron Luce

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

30 year anniversary of Iranian Embassy Hostage Crisis

It's hard to believe it's been 30 years since Iranians stormed the US embassy in Tehran. Here's an interesting slideshow of the events.

Thinking Clearly about HSAs

My friend Matt Perman has an excellent post on health-savings accounts and practical ideas that can and will work for improving health insurance. Highly recommended if you're as frustrated as I am about the paucity of clear thinking on the whole health care debate.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Christians Making the World Better

There is a lot of suffering and pain and sadness in this world. It's a broken system, and nothing short of the Lord Jesus' return will fully heal it.

Yet God works through His people today and the world is better because of His love and mercy and grace and power.

If I had a special magnet and could remove all the evidences of God's grace at work today, what would be left? Nothing you'd want to see or experience for long.

10 Million Words

I’m regularly challenged by Tim Challies’ observations and writing. He has a new year-long blog project: read and review every non-fiction book on the NYTimes bestseller list! What a terrific way to assess US Culture through the lens of what’s selling. It’s called 10 Million Words and worth your time.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

I Lost My RSS Feed List!

My computer hard drive died recently. I didn't have a complete backup, so I lost some information. I've been slowly adding back applications I need on a replacement drive. It's been an unsettling transition, moreso than I expected.

One of the things I lost was my list of RSS feeds. I had a list of about 75-80 blogs that I monitored regularly using RSS. I didn't have a backup.

At first I thought, "No problem, I remember most of them."

Reality: I remember some of them, but not all because I trusted the computer system to bring information from new blog posts to my attention.

My next thought: "Ok, I'll just gradually add them back as I remember them. That will be good since I'll only remember the most valuable ones."

Reality: I am slowly remembering good ones. Yesterday I remembered another blog when the author emailed me -- how could I have forgotten his blog!

Growing realization: I was far too content to swallow a fire hose of incoming data streams without enough discrimination.