Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Two stories from church

I have heard two stories in the past week that I thought were worth sharing.  Both of them relate to the same topic, but come at it from very different angles.  In my reflection, the telling of these stories reminds me of something of utmost importance.

Story 1:  a family comes into our fellowship, having seen our church's sign and website.  After some poking around, they figure us to be okay people and check us out.  For a while, all seems to be well but then they up and disappear.  When contacted, they let us know that no one was friendly to them and they didn’t connect with the people.  They loved what God was doing but didn’t find relationships.

Story 2:  a family comes into our fellowship, finding us through our website.  They listened to a couple of sermons, found out more information on the church, and visited one Sunday.  To this day, they’re still coming, have joined a Sunday School class, and seem to be plugged in.  When asked why they are here, they talk about how friendly the church is and how much they love what God is doing and the great people they have met here.

One family comes and has no relational connection.  The second comes and gets knit in easily.   I have no idea about the particulars:  where they sat, who they encountered, if they smiled at anyone, or anything else.  

What I do know is this:  the relationships are what keep people connected.  A church may have the greatest music and greatest preaching and greatest kids’ ministries, but if there is not a relational connection, there will be no staying power.  And more than that, it’s not church!  The church IS the network of relationships, centered on Jesus and rooted in His Kingdom.  It’s not a Sunday morning event.  It’s a web of Jesus-saturated, Bible-stained lives.

So here’s where it comes down for you and me.  What if we continually and intentionally looked around our lives, our neighborhoods, and yes, our Sunday morning experience to see those who might not be connected?  

As a church, we have worked hard on making sure people feel welcomed when they come.  Our greeters and others say hello to them at the door.  Hopefully someone around them gets them a greeter bag.  But it takes more than that.  It takes a relational investment, an invitation to lunch, an email or quick phone call during the week, an invitation to Sunday School, and many more things.  

Inside the church building and outside of it, people need to know that real, authentic, and genuine life in Christ is available.  And our relational efforts are our proof.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Monday, July 30, 2012

Thank you, Bill Bennett

The following appeared on the CNN website and is posted in its entirety.  Solid reflections contained therein...

Editor's note: William J. Bennett, a CNN contributor, is the author of "The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood." He was U.S. secretary of education from 1985 to 1988 and director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George H.W. Bush.

(CNN) -- Great evil often brings out the best in good men, men like Todd Beamer on Flight 93, Medal of Honor recipient Michael Murphy in Afghanistan and now the Aurora three -- the three young men, each in different parts of theater nine, who gave their lives to protect their girlfriends.

Twenty-five-year-old Jon Blunk was sitting next to his girlfriend, Jansen Young, at the midnight premiere of "The Dark Night Rises" when the gunman (who shall remain nameless) opened fire in the dark theater. Blunk instinctively pushed his girlfriend to the ground and threw his body on top of hers. Blunk, a security guard, served eight years in the Navy and was in the process of re-enlisting in hopes of becoming a Navy SEAL, family and friends said. He was killed in the gunfire; his girlfriend survived.

Twenty-four-year-old Alex Teves dived on top of his girlfriend, Amanda Lindgren, when the gunfire erupted. Covering her body, he took the bullets so they did not harm her. She survived the massacre; he did not.

Matt McQuinn, 27 years old, threw his body in front of his girlfriend, Samantha Yowler, as the shooting continued. Yowler survived with a gunshot wound to the knee; McQuinn's body absorbed the fatal shots.

These men were three of the 12 innocent people killed early that morning. Their incredible sacrifice leaves us asking: Why? Why would a young man with his entire life ahead of him risk everything for a woman he has no legal, financial or marital obligations to?

As Hanna Rosin so eloquently pointed out in a recent article, calling it chivalry would be a tremendous understatement. By all appearances, these men believed that a man has a responsibility to protect a woman, even to the point of death. They believed that there are things in life worth dying for and the innocent woman sitting next to them was one.
Babysitter tried to save youngest victim
They believed, to put it simply, in a code of honor. They put the lives of the women before their own, an old fashioned notion to be sure, but certainly an honorable one (if you have any doubt, ask the survivors). Their instincts were to protect, not run away.

From all accounts, these young men were average, working men in their 20s. (We know a little about Jon Blunk, but not much, and we know even less about the others.) Like all men, they had their own struggles. After his death we learned that Blunk had an ex-wife and two children living in Nevada. He was scheduled to visit them to resolve marital issues. This isn't to take anything away from Blunk or the other two heroes, but to illustrate that, in spite of shortcomings, men can still recognize what it means to be a good man and act like one.

This is especially important given the state of many men today. Record numbers of men aren't working or even looking for work. Record numbers aren't marrying or even acting as fathers to their children. These men need heroes to imitate whom they can relate to in everyday life, not just make-believe superheroes who catch their imagination for an hour or two. They need heroes like the Aurora three.

While much of the media obsesses over the psychology and motivations of this deranged killer, we should hold the Aurora three high. It is only by telling their story that this code of honor will survive for future generations of men. "The world is forwarded by having its attention fixed on the best things," Matthew Arnold wrote.

In an age when traditional manhood has been increasingly relegated to fiction -- capes, masks and green screens -- these three men stand as real-life heroes. Their actions remind us that good triumphs over evil, not just in movies, but also in reality.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Bad Trade

Who would trade a $100 bill for a penny?

Who would trade a Lexus for a Geo?

Who would trade an eagle for a bogey?

Who would trade genuine success for utter failure?

But we do...

3-D living people for 2-D images.

Character-building effort for mind-numbing comfort.

Lasting satisfaction for temporary adrenaline.

Time with the Creator for time with our pillow.

Relationship for answers.

Authority for recognition.

And on and on it could go.  I, and probably you too, need to remember the lesson of Moses:
By faith, Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.  He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking forward to his reward. (Heb. 11.24-26)

Good news and a strong challenge.  No bad trades.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Colorado, Evil, and Saying So Out Loud

You don't have to agree with everything Stephen Prothero says, but it sure is worth thinking about.  Posted in its entirety from CNN website.

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.
By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN
(CNN)–Friday both President Obama and Mitt Romney used the word “evil” to describe the killings that took place early Friday morning at a showing of the new Batman movie in Aurora, Colorado.
In perhaps his most theological speech to date, Romney referred to these Batman killings as “a few moments of evil."
“Such violence, such evil is senseless,” Obama said.
On September 13, 2001, on the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance for the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush used similar language to denounce the “evildoers” who killed thousands of Americans with airplanes and jet fuel. And he continued to use that term throughout his presidency.
My Boston University students are for the most part allergic to the language of “evil,” and I don’t think they are alone.
National polls tell us that roughly 7 out of every 10 Americans continue to believe in the devil and hell. But if you ask them if they themselves will go to hell, only 1 in 200 say yes.
Sin, it seems, is for other people.
In his 1995 book, “The Death of Satan: How Americans Have Lost the Sense of Evil,” literary scholar Andrew Delbanco mourned the loss in American culture of old-fashioned words such as “sin,” “Satan,” and “evil.”
Delbanco was criticizing liberals for trading in sturdy theology for flimsy moral relativism—for explaining acts such as today’s murders in terms of social depredations rather than sin and Satan.
But he was also seeking to reclaim the word “evil” from Christian conservatives who all too often (to paraphrase Matthew 7:3) see the sliver in others’ eyes but not the beam in their own.
To put it another way, Delbanco was mourning the demise of the longstanding Christian conviction—evident in thinkers from Augustine to Jonathan Edwards to Reinhold Niebuhr—that evil lurks not only in “them” but also in “us.”
Or, as historian Richard Wightman Fox puts it, “the fault lies in us, not in our stars, and certainly not in the witches, Southerners, immigrants, Jews, blacks, Communists, or other outsiders targeted for scorn—and identified with Satan—over the course of American history.”
I think Reinhold Niebuhr was right when he said that the doctrine of original sin is one of the only empirically verifiable Christian dogmas, so I am happy to hear both Romney and Obama respond to this tragedy with a rhetoric of evil.
I would be happier, however, if either of them were able to look into their own lives, and more importantly into our common life as Americans, and see—and name—evil there too.
"The Dark Knight" isn't all good, and neither are we, or our social or governmental institutions.
Surely there was evil in the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, this week. But every day hundreds die because of our actions or inaction at home and abroad.
There is "evil" in that too, and in each of us who allows it to happen.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Kenneth Stumpf, Medal of Honor Recipient

The Bear and I got to go to Arkansas for a youth camp where I preached back in June.  We had a great time and a cool encounter on the way home.  After seeing a hat in a bathroom, I just had to ask the guy, so I did:  "Excuse me sir, are you a Medal of Honor winner?"

Turns out, I was talking to Kenneth E. Stumpf, who was on his way to a patriotic rally.  How cool is that?

His citation:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. SSG Stumpf distinguished himself while serving as a squad leader of the 3d Platoon, Company C, on a search and destroy mission. As SSG Stumpf's company approached a village, it encountered a North Vietnamese rifle company occupying a well fortified bunker complex. During the initial contact, 3 men from his squad fell wounded in front of a hostile machinegun emplacement. The enemy's heavy volume of fire prevented the unit from moving to the aid of the injured men, but SSG Stumpf left his secure position in a deep trench and ran through the barrage of incoming rounds to reach his wounded comrades. He picked up 1 of the men and carried him back to the safety of the trench. Twice more SSG Stumpf dashed forward while the enemy turned automatic weapons and machineguns upon him, yet he managed to rescue the remaining 2 wounded squad members. He then organized his squad and led an assault against several enemy bunkers from which continuously heavy fire was being received. He and his squad successfully eliminated 2 of the bunker positions, but one to the front of the advancing platoon remained a serious threat. Arming himself with extra hand grenades, SSG Stumpf ran over open ground, through a volley of fire directed at him by a determined enemy, toward the machinegun position. As he reached the bunker, he threw a hand grenade through the aperture. It was immediately returned by the occupants, forcing SSG Stumpf to take cover. Undaunted, he pulled the pins on 2 more grenades, held them for a few seconds after activation, then hurled them into the position, this time successfully destroying the emplacement. With the elimination of this key position, his unit was able to assault and overrun the enemy. SSG Stumpf's relentless spirit of aggressiveness, intrepidity, and ultimate concern for the lives of his men, are in the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Army

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Coolest Way I've Ever Been Asked to do a Wedding

Our dear friends Kade Pierce and Jenny Biela are getting married in February.  And they need a pastor to do the ceremony...

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sermon Notes from Sunday, 7.22.12

Here are the notes from today's sermon called Idols and Families from the Fascinating Families series.  You can get these notes in PDF and the sermon audio at sermons.heritagepark.org.  You can also get the sermon audio on iTunes via our podcast.

Fascinating Families
Part 8 – Idols and Family
Genesis 28-31

If you’re relating to God on an “if” basis, you love something more than Him.  That is idolatry.

How does it get into families?  Jealousy

Colossians 3.5:  covetousness (jealousy) is idolatry

Idolatry:  exalting the secondary to the place of the primary.

Jealousy:  the disparaging desire for or sense of entitlement to what I deem is the success of someone else.

Appearance idolizes bodies.

Achievement idolizes performance.

Assets idolize image (31.1-2)

First step:  repent from idols and turn to living God (1 Thes. 1.9-10)

Combatting Jealousy
  • Settled Identity
  • Pursue Perspective
  • Battle Sin (wield the sword with prayer)

Friday, July 20, 2012

Snakes are Scary: Perspective

I don't agree with most of what was written on the website, but this was thought-provoking from a website someone sent me.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Brag on God

I'm not sure what you think of when you read the title to the post.  It's a short one today but I hope you take it seriously and think about it.  Of course, I hope you apply it too.

We brag on kids, work, turnout at events, experiences we had, accomplishments we made, help we received or gave, and any number of other things (living vicariously through our kids included).

But when was the last time you bragged on God?

It requires you (a) having something to say and (b) saying it.  So which is harder for you - (a) or (b)?  My guess is whichever one is your answer, it's not because God hasn't been trying to give you some opportunities.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Marriage and Commitment

Had I heard this song prior to my sermon two Sundays ago, I would have used it as the closing illustration.  Marriage is about commitment.  So for any and all of you struggling out there, I present a prophetic word from Jason Mraz...

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Mirror Mirror, on the wall...

Please help me to see myself, lest I fall.

Ever had that thought?  I'm grateful for mirrors that help me see things in my life that I couldn't or wouldn't see otherwise.  A piece of lettuce on the tooth?  Mirror speaks up.  Cut myself shaving?  Mirror communicates.  Too many desserts?  Even if I did know that, mirror confirms it.

And there's more to it than that, isn't there?

Because I don't know about you, but I have the capacity to say one thing and do another without it ever entering my mind that it's probably not wise or good.  I can offer a piece of advice to someone else and then not heed my own advice.  I can also remain blind to foibles and fumbles in my own life without realizing their existence or effects.

You're probably not that way.  But I am.

So I need mirrors.  I need time in the Word that reflects God's standard to me and pierces me when I don't measure up.  I need solid relationships with those closest to me that help me see things I don't see. Those are two great mirrors that are kind enough to me to tell me the Truth.

And although I may not like what I see, it's better than not seeing at all.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Monday, July 16, 2012

Why I believe in VBS

We kick off VBS at 9:00 this morning.  As the gathered church, yesterday we knelt (quite literally) and prayed for it.  It runs through Thursday and I can't wait to see what God will do.

Some have given up on VBS as a legitimate outreach or discipleship tool for children.  I get it as to why.  Some of the programs have become Gospel-lite and glorified babysitters.  Some are burned out on the decoration and ramp up and get-going process, only to see it all come a crashing and trashing 5 days later.

But I like VBS.  Here's why...

1.  Children hear the Gospel.  We don't do a high-pressure thing like the VBS I grew up in as a kid.  But I promise you, if your kid comes to any day of our VBS, they will hear the Gospel.  And that's a good thing because even if they're not ready to respond in repentance and faith, they will at least have a framework for understanding what it means to relate rightly to God.

2.  It mobilizes the Body to ministry.  We will have the better part of 100 volunteers (and maybe more) for the 300+ K-5 kids who will be there.  Everyone plays a part.  And the parts are meaningful.

3.  VBS is a high-profile ministry for our church, raising awareness that God is up to something and giving an idea of what God is doing in our midst.  Those who are not connected to our church or any church have positive exposure through VBS.

4.  We inevitably have stories to tell of how God has worked.  And that's just good for the Body to hear and celebrate.

So count me a fan.  God has certainly used it among us.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

P.S.  A great many thanks for staying with me through 750 posts.  I'm not sure I thought I'd make it this long!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sermon Notes from Sunday, 7.15.12

Here are the notes from Sunday's sermon in the series Fascinating Families.  You can get these notes in PDF and the sermon audio at sermons.heritagepark.org.  You can also find the audio on iTunes via our podcast.

Fascinating Families
Part 7 – Family Toxins
Genesis 27

Healthy families produce fruit that lasts.

Playing Favorites

  • The disposition of our hearts toward our children matters. 
  • What is your level of affection for each of your kids and what is its expression? 
  • Do you appreciate each of your children’s unique gifts, abilities, and aspirations?
  • Do you enjoy time spent with each of your kids?

Instant Gratification

  • The birthright was a sacred and special privilege given to the firstborn.
  • Instant gratification is rarely gratifying.

Tolerating Deceit

  • Jacob passed on every opportunity to do the right thing.
  • You cannot ask God’s blessing on something that you refuse to do God’s way.
  • It’s hard to repent of deceit because it is so ensnaring.

Materialistic Worldview

  •  Only what’s in front of me is real.
  • Once something is done it cannot be undone.

Remaining Passive

  • When we remain passive, we may avoid conflict.
  • When we remain passive, it is rarely the path to family health.

The result of the build up of toxins is fracture in the family.

Friday, July 13, 2012

No Snakes are Scary, because...


Today we celebrate an amazing 3 years with an amazing little girl.  With gratitude, I re-share the Gotcha Day video that my amazing wife made to celebrate.  Happy Gotcha Day to my Peanut.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


I was talking last week with my wife about expressions of commitment in marriage.  She gave a gem of a quote that I thought I'd share:
Commitment in marriage is doing the things that got you married and doing what it takes to stay there.
Sheer brilliance.  Poignant.  And worth thinking about.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Fred Luter, SBC President

I don't really follow Southern Baptist politics.  Let me rephrase that:  I don't follow them at all.  However, since I was bagging on the SBC yesterday via my Lifeway post, let me give a God-is-still-at-work-don't-write-Ichabod-yet report.

Fred Luter is the new president of the SBC.  It's an elected position that carries a 2-year term typically.  I really have no idea if they can run again or anything else.  As I said, I don't know the inner workings of the politics.

You know what's awesome about Fred Luter being president?

To get it, you'll need to understand a little bit of the backstory of the SBC.  Founded in 1845, they were a splinter group from a larger faction of Baptists in America.  And why, you ask, did they splinter?  I'll give you three guesses and the first two don't count.



If you've put 2 and 2 together to equal slavery, then you are exactly right.  The convention was originally conceived because the southern churches didn't want to take any guff from the northern churches on the issue of slavery.  In fact, many Southern Baptist churches became theological defenders of that southern scourge.  As horrible as it sounds, some of our religious forefathers were using the Scripture to pervert the Truth.  There was another time I remember someone doing that, someone quoting the Scripture to Jesus about not even hurting His foot if He jumped off the temple's highest point.  Yes, friends, we were on the wrong side of the Truth and the wrong side of history.  Shame on us.

And so that's why I am a little excited and just might keep up with Fred Luter.  I haven't still haven't explained who Fred Luter is, though.  Well, he's the new president of the Southern Baptist Convention.  And here's his picture.

The first African-American to be elected as the president.  It's been too long a time coming, but it did happen.  Amen.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Lifeway: Christian in Name Only?

Lifeway Christian Stores, owned and operated by the Southern Baptist Convention, has made a move that is their right to make.  It's also my right to point out how stupid a move it was.

If you have seen the movie, The Blind Side, you know what a great movie it was.  Great story.  Great characters.  Great cast.  And we could go on.  Oh, and there's that small thing about winning an Oscar (Best Actress) and being nominated for an Oscar for the Best film.

Here's the thing about the movie:  it portrayed Christians doing things that Jesus would do.  The family helped the helpless, made character-related investment in their children, acted like married people act, and had a deep faith that mattered.

So why in the *bleep* would Lifeway Christian Stores pull such a positive, well-done, Christian movie from its shelves?  Because someone got upset that they used the curse word "G-D" in it and portrayed a violent inner-city.

Wait a minute.

The actors portraying lost people cussed and acted like non-church-going suburbanites?  And that's the reason it's being pulled from the shelves?  A great movie with great themes and a great portrayal of what matters is pulled because they portrayed something as too true to life?


But please keep your WWJD bracelets, Jabez cups, Prayer Snuggies and other cross-laden cheesewheat on your shelves.  I'm sure those items will help people think deeply and struggle with the issues of their lives.

Is there a wonder why lost people think the church is out of touch with their lives, the very lives portrayed in The Blind Side?

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Monday, July 9, 2012

Personal Devotion Reflection

In my personal devotions as of late, I've been using the NT75 plan that we developed and implemented as a church a couple of years ago.  It was a huge hit and I was at the point where I had spent a lot of time in the Psalms, so taking big portions of the NT was a fresh change.

Two things I've noted, not that you haven't already grabbed hold of these yourself, but I'll say them anyway.

First, if I don't read slowly enough, I will miss some things.  There have been daily assigned readings that I have simply blown through to get them done.  But the times I've slowed down and savored what I was reading, it has been glorious.

Second, the 4-chapter-a-day approach is good for a while.  I have engaged with some broad themes and have seen some larger picture sights that have been good.  I have also, of course, been challenged by particular verses and commands.  But I'm also ready to settle down back into smaller, thought-provoking texts.  I'm not sure what book is coming next for me to digest, but I'm going to work through it bit by bit.

So whether you're in a season where large portions are good or smaller are what benefits you, I encourage you to be in the Word and really be in it.  Slow down.  Don't skim.  The time will be worth it.  You'll never look back and say you wish you would've got up from your Bible earlier.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Sermon Notes from Sunday, 7.8.12

Here are the sermon notes from Sunday, 7.8.12, in the series Fascinating Families.  We covered Isaac and Rebekah this week.  If you want these notes in PDF and the sermon audio, visit sermons.heritagepark.org.  You can also get the sermon audio on iTunes via our podcast.

Fascinating Families
Part 6 - A Family Trait
Genesis 23-26

Abraham not a perfect man, not a perfect faith – but He kept following.

The one family trait we all need: commitment.

“Humans...can be deterred from seeking marriage as a solution because they do not find themselves ‘in love,’ and, thanks to us, the idea of marrying with any other motive seems to them low and cynical. Yes, they think that. They regard the intention of loyalty to a partnership for mutual help, for the preservation of chastity, and for the transmission of life, as something lower than a storm of emotion.” ~ C.S. Lewis in Screwtape Letters

  • Defn: prioritizing being used by God to meet the spiritual, emotional, and physical needs of my family members.
  • Simply put: being present, staying engaged, and doing what it takes to prevent drift.

    Practicals for husbands toward wives
  • Time
  • Appreciation
  • Working to Understand
  • Mutuality
  • Affection

    Practicals for wives toward husbands

    Why do you need Commitment? Because life happens!
    You will face challenges and the thing that will determine whether you defeat those challenges or they defeat you is your commitment to one another.
In the face of...
Death in the family (25.7-­‐9) 
Kids (25.19-­‐26)
Provision (26.1-­‐5)
Family of Origin Issues (26.6-­‐7) 
Work (26.17-­‐25)