Saturday, December 27, 2008

Beyond the Yearbook

This is an outline of a talk I gave to my church congregation on December 28, 2008.

I. Introduction:

A. Welcome back all college students
B. Introduce Senior class of 2009: first class I had all the way through
C. Power Point Game

II. Beyond the Yearbook

A. 18 years of nurture in an environment of family, church, school and
community and then off to college!

B. Proverbs 22:6:

1. Various Translations:

a. NIV: Train a child in the way he should go, and when he
is old he will not turn from it

b. New Living Translation: Direct your children onto the
right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.

c. Contemporary English Version: Teach your children right from
wrong, and when they are grown they will still do right.

d. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young Version: Teach your children
well . . .

2. Emphasis is on the word “train”: the verb includes the idea of
“dedicate,” and so the training should be with purpose.

3. Proverbs contrast two ways of life: the way of the wicked and foolish
in contrast to the way of the righteous and wise.

4. Cultural context vs. the reality of our day! Agrarian society vs. the
Post-modern, post-industrial information age

B. Recent Trends:

1. 70% OF CHRISTIAN TEENS WILL WALK AWAY FROM THEIR FAITH DURING THEIR FIRST YEAR OF COLLEGE
In an August 7, 2007 USA Today article (“Young Adults Aren’t Sticking With Church”), a national survey by LifeWay Research unveiled groundbreaking research that shows that 70% of church-attending Christian teens leave the church. The greatest numbers leave at ages 17, 18 or 19 throughout their senior year of high school and upon entering their freshman year at college. College becomes a spiritual graveyard for many Christian students… a place where their faith wanes. Culture shock, loneliness, peer pressure and an environment of freedom without bounds result in 70% of approximately 1.2 million youth ministry graduates per year leaving the foundations of their faith. For many of them, their God-given needs go unmet for the first time: to be loved, accepted and to fit into a group. When our students leave home alone with no established connection to Christian roommates, college, career or military ministries (on campus or in the church) and godly Christian friends they lose the accountability and balance provided by these vital relationships.

If there is any truth to this at all, this as a youth pastor and a parent is totally unacceptable to me. This means that in my own household I will have only one child continue in their faith into their adult life. Weather forecasters are wrong 50% of the time. We as a church cannot afford to be wrong 70% when we are talking about the souls of our own children!

2. Many ideas out there about whose fault this is: parents, youth ministries,
College professors, Campus life

3. Video of “Laurie’s Story”
http://videoroom.youthtransitionnetwork.org/

C. The training of a child

1. What we can do NOW: A Model in Luke 2:52 - "And Jesus grew in wisdom (mental) and stature (physical), and in favor with God (spiritual) and men (social)."


Jesus developed the mental, physical, social and spiritual areas of his life.

Some observations:
- Social and Mental take over during college while physical
and spiritual get neglected
- My life: the crazier life gets, the easier it is to neglect my
spiritual disciplines
- Jesus’ adult life: the crazier it got, the more he made time
to spend with his Father
- Luke 2:52 gives us a model to live by individually as well
as a good parenting model

2. What can we do BETTER to prepare for the next stage?

3. A few ideas:

a. Develop a College Transition Team

b. Campus/College Ministries: Wesley Foundation, Campus
Crusade, InterVarsity, Fellowship of Christian Athletes,
local churches, etc.

c. Develop our own ministry to our college students: be more
intentional in helping with transitioning from high school to
college

d. Empower our students to lead themselves

e. Stay connected through cell phones, e-mails, texting,
Facebook, etc.

f. Pray, pray, pray

g. Add your thoughts and ideas to the blog

h. Make a New Year’s Resolution to “train up yourself and you child” in a life that demonstrates balance and commitment to all areas of life.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Attack of The Shack

This book came as a complete shock and surprise. I had no idea what I was about to read. I have picked up on some of the buzz surrounding this book, but I was little prepared for what I was going to read. This is one of the most riveting and emotionally moving books I have ever read. William Paul Young has crafted a very unique and captivating story of a father who has lived through one of the most horrific events that any father could ever imagine - the abduction and murder of one of his own children. The events surrounding Mackenzie Philip's daughter cause him to sink into a deep depression referred to as "the great sadness". The first 80 pages go into this story which reads like one of the most gut wrenching things imaginable for any parent. Yet it is in the context of this darkness where light shows up in one of the most unlikely places. Mac comes face-to-face in a confrontation that he does not expect. God shows up to spend some time with him. Through their time together, God helps to unpack Mac's life and gets him to confront many of the issues that has left deep, deep scars within him.
I loved this book on several levels. First of all, I enjoyed this book because in many ways it reminded me of many of the philosophy and theology books that I have read that tried to rationally and logically tackle the age old questions of "Is there a God?" "Is God good?" If God is good, then why is there evil?" "If God is all-powerful, then why doesn't he get rid of evil?". The BIG difference with The Shack is many of these issues are dealt with in the context of a story that is very moving, and very easy to read and understand.

Secondly, I find it very interesting how Young portrays the Trinity in this story. Mac is confronted by an African woman who insists on being called papa. I know that there are going to be those in the theological ivory towers who will have issues with this portrayal of God. But a few things we must keep in mind! This is a work of fiction. I find it very interesting that as Mac's life begins to unfold you discover how his earthly father was a horrible father figure. And oftentimes people transpose their views of God based off of their experiences with their earthy father. So Mac would not be able to handle a heavenly father that personified himself in the image of his earthly father. And it wasn't until the point in which Mac was able to confront many of the issues related to his earthly father where you see "papa" take on a masculine form. The portrayals of Jesus and the Holy Spirit are also very captivating. Mac gets to spend time with each member of the Trinity and engage in important conversations that help him understand his life better and how God has been present throughout it all.

Thirdly, this is a story about redemption, forgiveness, and grace that deals with the most difficult issues of life. It does not try to sugar-coat the issues. God confronts all of the pain that is in Mac's life and helps to bring him to the point of healing, wholeness, restoration and redemption. God is portrayed as a loving AND just God. Mac not only has to confront the pain of the abduction of his child but he has to confront the dark corners of his own heart too.

And finally, I believe that this is one of those stories that help people process the God of the Bible in a story that they can understand and engage with emotionally as well as logically. I believe that this book will be put in the same category of "The Chronicles of Narnia" and "Pilgrim's Progress". I was amazed at the depth and insight developed within the context of a story that was captivating. I would highly recommend this book to anyone. This is a book that needs to be discussed and talked about for years.

Pick it up and tell me what you think! Once you start this book, you will not be able to put it down. There were many points within the story where I was moved to tears and a lot of introspection as it helped me confront issues in my own life. I hope you find this book to be a great addition to your spiritual journey.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Redefining Christians in Politics

Joel Hunter does a great job in "A New Kind of Conservative" in helping the conservative movement within the church to re-examine its agenda and begin to expand its focus on to other issues that are of vital importance biblically. He recognizes that there is a tremendous amount of focus in relation to the two hot-button issues of abortion and gay marriage. He even goes so far as to expose those within the conservative movement who intentionally use fear and anger to advance their agenda on those issues instead of compassion.

I personally have been a disgruntled conservative for quite a while. I have grown tired of the demonization of those who are seen as the enemy, the fear tactics that are used to scare up votes, and the way that power and control seem to trump true servant leadership within politics. I am one of those who wish that there was something different in our political system that offered more than two parties shouting down and demonizing each other.

Joel Hunter does a great job in exposing the pitfalls that the conservative movement has fallen into. But more than that, he also takes a careful look at how we as Christians need to be influenced and motivated by a much more holistic agenda that addresses many other issues that are just as important biblically as marriage and pro-life issues. He encourages his readers to be more centered rather than fully to the left or right. There are important issues that the Left seem to own and issues that the Right seem to own. As Christians we need to know which of those issues are in line with the heart of God and allow those issue to transcend partisan politics.

Joel puts into words many of the thoughts that I have been wrestling with over the past several years in looking at politics. He states that "We must focus on spiritual growth, rather than winning elections; the aim is not power, but service." (p. 94). We must grasp this truth and live into it. I honestly believe that if Christians were living out healthy marriages and investing in their own families and communities then that would have so much more impact within our culture than any political policy. We need to get back to the heart of service within our own family structure, and in our neighborhoods and communities.

Joel goes on to say that "Christians don't need to be taught what to think; Christians need to be taught how to think biblically." (p. 96). He goes on to show how Pilate and Jesus' interaction reveal many of the pitfalls to politics and what we can do as a Christian community to become more compassionate, and more involved within our political system.

Joel concludes by reminding us that "we need to know that individual maturity and God's sovereignty are, in the end unbeatable." (p. 160). We as Christians have the responsibility to approach politics with maturity instead of cynicism, apathy, or aggression. He also reminds us that God is sovereign in all of history. Knowing this helps us to trust that God is guiding and directing history towards his purposes. He is not in the business of making mistakes.

Overall, this was a great book that put many, many words to the thoughts that I have been thinking for a long while. I have been sitting on the edge of despair and looking into the valley of cynicism as I have gotten very disgusted with the party I have often voted for over the years. I am tired of feeling like I am being played by politicians who manipulate people to get votes and then do their own thing once they have power. Joel has helped to reframe a biblical view of politics that transcends partisanship and aims more at the heart of God.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Political Wrestling Match of 2008

I will admit that for me the is probably the first political season in which I have no idea what I will do. I have voted pretty consistently Republican in past elections but I am not at all content with where we are as a nation right now. I am mad at what has become of our nation, the way in which the Republicans have squandered their opportunity to make significant, positive changes. I am mad that instead of sticking to one of the Republican ideals of "less government", Bush has increased the government beyond what Clinton accomplished in his two terms. I am ticked that I believe Christians were manipulated for votes by the likes of Ralph Reed and Jack Abramoff and once they got what they wanted, the Christian community got nothing of interest to them (I know, shame on us for trusting in politicians). I am bothered that fear and manipulation are used consistently to win favor and votes when the Bible tells us specifically that fear is not supposed to be a defining characteristic of a Christ-follower. And so, in an attempt to rise above politics and consider some other thoughts and ideas i decided to read a variety of pseudo-political books before the election.
The first book I read was "Jesus for President" by Shane Claiborne. Go to www.frequency412.blogspot.com for the posts related to that book. I explored the issues of war and peace, poverty and the economy, and environmentalism and the creation.
The second book I read was "We The Purple" by Marcia Ford. This book highlights the frustrations of the current political situation we find ourselves in when there are only two parties fighting each other for control. She presents a view of opening up the door to independent voters. It is a very interesting read although I wish there was more of a movement for people who think outside of the box. Ross Perot and Ralph Nader were interesting but hard to take seriously. There was rumors of Mike Blumberg, John McCain, or Ron Paul running on an Independent ticket but nothing materialized this time around. Instead we seem to be even more entrenched in the two parties fighting each other for power and control. One on sense I just wish we could put McCain and Biden together and give Obama and Palin 8 more years of experience and then give them their turn in 2016. But I know that is not an option.

It takes a while to get through Marcia's book as she take a lot of the first part of the book to talk about the independent movement. I could see that I would be much more interested in what she has to say if we actually went in that direction during this political season. But instead, it seems like the independents have taken a back seat more this time around then any other time that i can remember. But I began to really get into her thoughts in the chapter entitled "Pew Distrust". In reflecting on the religious leaders who were the faces of the Moral Majority during the 80's she says,

"I have no quarrel with Falwell or any of our other religious-political leaders. I am serious when i say that I believe each of these men - along with their spouses - has done a tremendous amount of good. When you peel away their political efforts, which were significant, you find an equally significant body of work that provided physical, financial, and spiritual help to millions of people, including my own family. The problem is that we do have to peel away that top layer of political activity to see the core of good work that they accomplished. And the reputation of evangelicalism within the wider culture suffered as a result. We were seen as gay-bashing, woman-oppressing, war-supporting, anti-sex, anti-fun, anti-everything hatemongers.

That didn't sound like me or any of my evangelical friends. It didn't sound like Jesus, either, and he was the One we were supposed to be following. It took a while, but eventually I started asking questions like, Who gave these guys the right to speak for me and my kindred evangelical spirits?

Our leaders kept trying to convince us that we were in the middle of a war, and the culture was our enemy. For a long time I believed them. . . . The America they described was not the America I experienced. The church - the body of Christ - they purported to speak for was not the church I had signed on to. . . . many evangelicals on the ground had already been turning their attention to issues like war, genocide, poverty, injustice, AIDS, and climate change and other environmental issues. At the same time, religious leaders off the ground were bickering over whether to keep a narrow focus on abortion and same-sex marriage or expand the focus to include broader issues. Their dispute, which one media outlet called a 'family fight,' is essentially meaningless to evangelicals who have already moved on." pp. 139-142

In so many ways what Ford says here is one of those crystal clear moments in which she has defined perfectly how i have been thinking and feeling over these past few years. I went to Liberty University for two years and I did see a lot of good that Falwell was able to accomplish with the ministries he was involved in. But I would become very frustrated whenever he used the pulpit for political speeches laced with fear and ignorance. It went contrary to the teaching of Christ on many levels. And the greater culture will always know him for the controversial things he would say more than the good he accomplished through his ministry.

I am angry at how nothing has been done in relation to the pro-life issues that were used toward many Christians to gain votes. I have come to believe that the approach that was taken in the 90's to declare a culture war and protest in front of abortion clinics was horribly wrong. That was the beginning for me to start pulling away from the "Religious Right" and begin wondering if there was a better way than to go from that extreme to the opposite extreme that any and all abortions are okay. And also, if there isn't a more compassionate, thoughtful and Christ-like way that we could approach the issue of abortion as well as many other issues.

But then again, I wonder if the bigger issue is should we be putting our hopes and dreams in ANY political candidate for that matter. We put these people on God-like pedestals to the point where we lose sight of the humanity and goodness of the opposing candidate and instead we demonize them. I have had well-meaning, educated, religious people say some of the most demonic things in relation to Obama who just happens to be the most out-spoken Christian out of all the candidates! It surprises me at times how we give into the political process on a level that if the candidate we don't want ends up winning then he will most likely bring about the end of the world as we know it, pull off his mask and reveal his true identity as the spawn of Satan. To that I want to say did we forget about the sovereignty of God? Whomever gets elected is God going to wake up that morning and say "whoops!" and his self-destruct button begins the countdown to Armageddon? Come on! Really, let's act like Christ-followers for a change and put our trust in Him and FINALLY come to our senses that politics will never further the kingdom of God here on earth more than if we as a church shut our big mouths and begin living out the Sermon on the Mount in our everyday lives. That will have a more redemptive impact on society than getting our Republican, Democrat or Independent candidate elected.

I will leave you with a final quote that I believe sums up the journey I have been on with my faith and political views. Ford states that,

"Evangelicals may be at a crossroads, but many that I know have already come to that intersection, decided which road to take, and found themselves back at the foot of the cross - right where they started their faith journeys in the first place. It's there, seeking the wisdom of God, that they are learning all over again what matters to God and therefore what should matter to them. And it has come as no surprise to them that what matters to God is much bigger than a political party's platform." p. 142.

Amen to that! Thank you Marcia Ford for putting words to so many of my thoughts lately. It still doesn't tell me who to vote for! But I have been forced back to the foot of the cross over this election and the state that our world and country are currently in. So I appreciate the reminder that God is not forced into a box labeled Republican or Democrat but instead He is above both of them and calls the church to be something else other that a barter chip for politics. And it is time for us as Christians and Americans to begin thinking creatively and out-of-the-box when it comes to politics and cultural issues that we need to address. We need to throw off the methods of the past that polarized people and consider Christ's approach which changed and transformed those he encountered from the inside-out because he entered into their world and showed them human dignity and love first!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Legendary Coaches: George Horton and John Wooden

Theme: Legendary Coaches - George Horton and John Wooden

Large Group Lesson

I. Understanding Our Focus

A. George Horton

1. Basic Facts and Accomplishments from Wikipedia

2. Show DVD Special Feature from “We Are Marshall” starting at 24:13 and ending at 29:40

3. Coach Horton: taught the 3 “P’s”: to stay present, stay positive and stay with the process.

B. Philippians 3:7-14

1. Paul does not focus on failure or the past

2. Paul understands the goal

3. “I press on toward the goal” Paul lives in the moment, in the process! He is FOCUSED on the present.

II. Understanding Our Impact

A. John Wooden

1. Basic Facts and Accomplishments from Wikipedia

2. Show Video Special Feature from “We Are Marshall” starting at 29:41 and ending at 36:23

3. Coach Wooden: understood that we make a LIFE by what we GIVE!

B. Matthew 5:13-16

1. Salt gives: flavor, taste, preservation

2. Light gives: clarity, direction, focus, understanding

C. Galatians 5:22-26; 6:7-10

1. Spiritual fruit: gives an abundance of good stuff from me to others

2. Spiritual fruit: reaps a harvest of even better things

III. Conclusion: How will this apply to your small group?

1. We live in an entertainment based culture where it is so easy not to focus on anything other than my own entertainment and self-gratification. Focus takes determination and will-power. What is it that you need to focus on for this year to help you grow spiritually?

2. If you were able to view the end of your life right now, what type of person would you hope you are? What can you do now to develop the kind of fruit you want your life to develop?

Theme: Legendary Coaches - George Horton and John Wooden

Small Group Discussion

Questions that can be used for discussion:

What specifically impacted you about George Horton?

Why does the fear of failure hold us back at times? What makes our minds go to worst-case-scenarios that hold us back from even trying?

How can focusing too much on the “end result” take our focus off of doing our best in the present moment?

You will fail. A good baseball player averages .300! That is a lot of strike outs! How will you deal with failure when it comes your way? How will you deal with others when they fail you and your team?

What specifically impacted you about John Wooden?

This is his Seven Point Creed for life:
1. Be true to yourself
2. Make each day your masterpiece
3. Help others
4. Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible
5. Make friendship a fine art
6. Build a shelter against a rainy day
7. Pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings every day

Study Wooden’s Pyramid of Success. Take a copy home with you and put it up in your bedroom. What strikes you about his Creed and Pyramid?

If you could sum up his approach into one word what would it be? CHARACTER! Wooden understood that if he could create a better QUALITY OF LIFE for his players then he would have extraordinary athletes.

Live a life where you can look forward to the hear-after! How can we do this now?

Spend time in prayer as a small group on these topics:

1. Prayer for Strength: Every athlete will go through loses that are difficult, but through adversity we can either give up or grow stronger. Pray for super-natural strength from God to live each moment for him through his strength.

2. Prayer for Character: The quality of character as described by Paul in the letter to the Galatians comes through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within us. Pray for the Holy Spirit to produce fruit in your life that is godly and beneficial to yourself and others. Pray that godly character may develop within you so that you may be used of God to be his light in this world.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Legendary Coaches: Pat Summit and Lute Olsen

Theme: Legendary Coaches - Pat Summit and Lute Olsen

Large Group Lesson


I. Understanding Discipline

A. Pat Summit

1. Basic Facts and Accomplishments from Wikipedia

2. Show DVD Special Feature from “We Are Marshall” starting at 12:51 and ending at 18:05

3. Coach Summit: taught that hard work is the goal to success

B. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

1. Paul see running a race as an analogy for spiritual discipline

2. Only one wins 1st place in a race.

3. As strict physical discipline prepares us to achieve athletic goals so must spiritual disciplines help us to grow in our relationship to God and others

II. Understanding the Fundamentals

A. Lute Olsen

1. Basic Facts and Accomplishments from Wikipedia

2. Show DVD Special Feature from “We Are Marshall” starting at 18:06 and ending at 24:12

3. Coach Olsen: taught that there are no quick fixes if you want to be good at something. You must learn the fundamentals.

B. 1 Timothy 4:11-16

1. Paul encouraged Timothy to master the fundamentals.

2. Paul understood the importance of education AND application, both are required to master the fundamentals.


III. Conclusion: How will this apply to your small group?

1. How will you discipline yourself to grow in your faith? How can others help you stay motivated and focused?

2. Can you clarify the fundamentals of your faith? What are some “spiritual exercises that can help you become spiritually strong? What are you willing to do this year that will sharpen you?


Theme: Legendary Coaches - Pat Summit and Lute Olsen

Small Group Discussion

Questions that can be used for discussion:

What specifically impacted you about Pat Summit?

Why does the fear of failure have a way of keeping us from even trying sometimes?

Why is hard work so hard?

Why does our culture seem to champion instant gratification over hard work?

Which is hard work and which is instant gratification?

- having sex now with anyone who is willing or saving myself for the right person I want to spend the rest of my life with?


- eating to stay healthy or eating fast food?

- cheating on a test or studying to do well on a test?

- steroids to improve athleticism or training in the gym day after day?

- serving others or serving myself?

- trying to think the best of others or gossiping?

- bullying those I know I can push over or standing up for those who can’t stand up for themselves?

- doing honest work for a fair wage or spending my money gambling or on the lottery?

- the abuse of substances in order to feel good or finding satisfaction through overcoming difficulties in your life?

Instant gratification is ultimately a LIE. Real lasting gratification comes from knowing you did the RIGHT thing and you did it to the best of your abilities.

What specifically impacted you about Lute Olsen?

What are the fundamentals that a basketball player must master?
A baseball player?
A runner?
A volleyball player?
A football player?

What are some spiritual disciplines that are fundamental to spiritual growth? What do YOU want to commit to as a small group for this year?

Spend time in prayer as a small group on these topics:

1. Prayer of Confession: If we are all honest with ourselves, we are all guilty of giving into the lie of “instant gratification” at some level. Confess it before God and your small group so that they can support you and encourage you to take the high road of discipline (hard work) to become a better person.

2. Prayer of Dedication: Determine what you want to commit to doing this year in your spiritual education and the application of it. Dedicate yourself to God and begin your “spiritual training”!

Legendary Coaches: Jack Lengyel and Bobby Bowden

Theme: Legendary Coaches - Jack Lengyel and Bobby Bowden

Large Group Lesson

I. Understanding the Big Picture

A. Jack Lengyel

1. Basic Facts and Accomplishments from Wikipedia

2. Show DVD Special Feature from “We Are Marshall” starting at 1:50 and ending at 5:13

3. Coach Lengyel: inspired his players to honor the memories of those who have gone on before us understanding that we have a small part in a much bigger picture.

B. Author of Hebrews understood this

1. Chapter 11: by faith Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, read v. 32-39.

a. These people left a legacy that has been passed on to us

b. Their faith lead the way for us to do great things NOW!

2. Hebrews 12:1-3 - “a great cloud of witnesses” inspire us to do our best!

II. Understanding our Main Priority!

A. Bobby Bowden

1. Basic Facts and Accomplishments from Wikipedia

2. Show DVD Special Feature from “We Are Marshall” starting at 5:14 and ending at 12:50

3. Coach Bowden coached with LOVE as the main priority.

B. A Case Study of John

1. Jesus teaches him to love in John 13:34-35

2. John passes it on to others in 1 John 4:7-12

III. Conclusion: How will this apply to your small group?

1. Can you fully grasp all the people in your life who have brought you into this moment right now? Can you fully appreciate the flow of history that has brought you to right now?

2. Do you understand the main priority of our small groups? It is to love and be loved. It is to experience fully God’s love for us so that we too can be agents of his love to others.

Theme: Legendary Coaches - Jack Lengyel and Bobby Bowden

Small Group Discussion

Questions that can be used for discussion:

What specifically impacted you about Jack Lengyel?

Who are some of the people that have had a significant impact on shaping who you are today?

How can we honor those who have help to make us who we are?

What specifically impacted you about Bobby Bowden?

Does “love” seem like a good coaching strategy? Do you think the Bengals should try this approach?

Coach Bowden’s methods are extremely effective. How can we implement love within the context of our small groups?

Love takes effort and work. Love is not a warm, fuzzy feeling that comes and goes. Love is saying I will commit myself to the well-being of others. Some people are easy to love and some people are not so easy. Can you commit to being sure that love is the main priority of your small group?

Spend time in prayer as a small group on these topics:

1. Prayer of Thanksgiving: for all of those who have come before you to bring You to this moment in time. The freedoms you have as an American and as a Christian.

2. Prayer of Commitment: Pray that LOVE is the main priority of your small group this year. That you all look out for each others best interests, celebrate good time, hold each other up through tough times, defend each other at school, and hold each other accountable through times of
temptation.

Legendary Coaches: Introduction

These outlines are lessons used for youth groups. There is a lesson for the large group and then a discussion sheet used for small group breakouts for the purpose of dialogue. The theme of the small groups is "Legendary Coaches". It is based off of a special feature of the same name on the DVD movie entitled "We Are Marshall". If you want original documents e-mail a request to scott.r.eumc@fuse.net. Enjoy. This was used in the context of starting off our small groups at the beginning of a new school year. It helped to give definition and clarity to the role of the small groups.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Browns / Steelers Jokes

In honor of the best NFL rivalry of all time I will now try to compile all of the best Browns-Steelers jokes that I can find!

1. In a school just outside Pittsburgh, a first grade teacher Explained to her class that she is a Steelers Fan. She asked her students to raise their hands if they are Steelers fans too. Not really knowing what a Steelers fan is, but wanting to be liked by their teacher, their hands all fly into the air with one exception. A little boy named Timmy has not gone along with the crowd. The teacher asks him why he has decided to be different. "Because I am not a Steelers fan." says Timmy. The teacher asks "Then what are you?" Timmy says "I am a proud Cleveland Browns fan!" The teacher is a little perturbed now, her face slightly red. She asks Timmy why he is a Browns fan. "Well, my Mom and Dad are Browns fans so I'm a Browns fan, too." Timmy responds. The teacher is now angry. "That's no reason," she says loudly. "What if your Mom was a moron and your dad was an idiot? Timmy smiled and said, "Then I'd be a Steelers fan."


2. Four NFL Football fans want to find out who is the most loyal to their team, a Chicago Bears fan, a Green Bay Packers fan, a Cleveland Browns fan and a Pittsburgh Steelers fan. They climb to the top of a high mountain. The Bears fan, wanting to prove he is most loyal, yells at the top of his voice, "This is for the Chicago Bears!", and jumps off the mountain. The Packers fan, not wanting to be outdone by his rival, also yells at the top of his voice, "This is for the Green Bay Packers!", and jumps off the mountain. Now the Browns fan, knowing in his mind that he is the most loyal, yells at the top of his voice, "This is for the Cleveland Browns!", and pushes the Steelers fan off the mountain.


3. A Browns fan, a Steelers fan and a Titans fan were all in Saudi Arabia, sharing a smuggled crate of booze. All of a sudden the Saudi police rushed in and arrested them. The mere possession of alcohol is a severe offense in Saudi Arabia, so for the terrible crime of actually being caught consuming the booze, they were sentenced to death! However, with the help of very good lawyers, they were able to successfully appeal their sentence down to life imprisonment. By a stroke of luck, it was a Saudi national holiday the day their trial finished, and the extremely benevolent Sheik decided they could be released after receiving just 20 lashes each of the whip. As they were preparing for their punishment, the Sheik suddenly said, "It's my first wife's birthday today, and she has asked me to allow each of you one wish before your whipping." The Titans fan was first in line (he had drunk the least), so he thought about this for a while and then said, "Please tie a pillow to my back." This was done, but the pillow only lasted 10 lashes before the whip went through. The Titans fan had to be carried away bleeding and crying with pain when the punishment was done. The Steelers fan was next up (he almost finished an entire fifth by himself), and after watching the scene, said "All Right! Please fix two pillows on my back." But even two pillows could only take 15 lashes before the whip went through again, sending the Steelers fan out crying like a little girl. The Browns fan was the last one up (he had finished off the crate), but before he could say anything, the Sheik turned to him and said, "You support the greatest team in the world, your team has some of the best and most loyal football fans in the world. For this, you may have two wishes!" "Thanks, your most Royal highness," the Browns fan replies. "In recognition of your kindness, my first wish is that you give me not 20, but 100 lashes." "Not only are you an honorable, handsome and powerful man, you are also very brave," the Sheik says with an admiring look on his face. "If 100 lashes is what you desire, then so be it. And your second wish? What is it to be?" the Sheik asks. "Tie the Steelers fan to my back."


4. A guy from Nebraska, a guy from Cleveland, and a guy from Pittsburgh are out walking along the beach together one day. They come across a lantern and a Genie pops out of it.
"I will give you each one wish. That's three wishes total," says the Genie.
The guy from Nebraska says, "I am a farmer, my dad was a farmer, and my son will also farm. I want the land to be forever fertile in Nebraska." With a blink of the Genie's eye - 'POOF' - the land in Nebraska was forever made fertile for farming.
The guy from Pittsburgh was amazed, so he said, "I want a wall built around Pittsburgh, so that no Browns fans can come into our precious city." Again, with a blink of the Genie's eye - 'POOF' - there was a huge wall around Pittsburgh.
The Browns fan says, "I'm curious. Please tell me more about this wall." The Genie explains, "Well, it's about 150 feet high, 50 feet thick and nothing can get in or out."
The Browns fan says, "Fill it up with water."


Tuesday, September 02, 2008

One.org - One By One

Let your voice be heard! Join the cause. This must define us as a people: as a country and as a church.

Voices

This is the deal. This is what we should be about. All of us. Ironically, this is what the church SHOULD have been about and now the very people they vilified (Hollywood, entertainment industry) are doing what the modern day church should have been doing all along. And you tell me God doesn't have a sense of humor!?!?

Grand Theft Jesus: Part 2

There was another thought that Robert S. McElvaine unpacked that got me thinking. In his chapter "All About Eve" he explains the story of Adam and Eve as a metaphor for the transition that humans went through as a hunter-gatherer community into an agricultural community. I never have heard this explaination before but it was facinating to say the least and made me take a look at the first few chapters of Genesis a little differently.
Here is where I have to disagree though. The story of the Fall is not a diatribe against the female/feminine. Whether you want to take this story literally or metephorically, I believe that the main emphasis is on the separation that occured between God and the human race. A careful reading of the text in no way vilifies Eve over Adam. And shame on those who have demonized women over a misunderstanding of this text. The entire human race is separated from a Holy God because sin infected that relationship, as well as the relationships between humans.
Now throughout the book McElvaine seemed to have a real problem with this concept of sin infecting the human race. How an when is this "sin nature" passed on? I don't think that there is some "sin" gene or something phisiologically that we can point to. But I can tell you as a parent, that in the simple act of raising children, I have been able to observe this sin nature first hand. I promise you that I have never taught my kids to cheat, lie, steal, be mean to each other, be selfish, etc. Really, my kids are great kids! But in parenting I always have to use discipline, guidance, advice and boundaries in order to bring out good behavior in them. Strangely enough, that does not come natural for them. I really wish it did at times! And to let my kids off the hook a little, I know this to be true of me too. Left to my own devices, it comes naturally to want to do things that are wrong. It takes courage, integrity, prayer, discipline and character, with Jesus Christ as my focal point, to strive to live how Jesus calls us to live. And when we come into a new life in Christ it is never meant to be with an attitude towards others as if we now have bragging rights to heaven as we look forward to everyone elses demise. On the contrary, we should be so consumed with the love that God has for us that our lives become a shining light to others in a way that they too are attracted to the light. If we understand the heart of God towards the human race we must be compelled to love deeply all people everywhere sharing our lives with them so that they experience God's extreme love through us.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Grand Theft Jesus: It is Time for Us to Reclaim Our Faith from the Jesus Thieves!

Ever since I was a Junior in High School I think I can say that I have had a really hard time over several decades with what is associated with Christianity when it comes to what you see on TV. I thought that Jim and Tammy Bakker and Jimmy Swaggert and Jerry Falwell were such a strange brand of Christianity that really made wanting to be a Christian actually difficult to do. But it appears that not much has changed as we still have over-the-top spokesmen for the Christian faith who make the rest of us look, well, bad! Many, many times over the years I personally wrestle with whether or not the American church has completely missed the mark of true Christ-like faith. With many of the experiences I have had over the years I wonder why it is that we have created a Christian ghetto by pulling out of the culture in the 20th century and creating our own little (very bizarre) sub-culture; why we think if we just get the right people in politics all will be better (Bush proved that theory wrong even though I think Gore and Kerry would not have been better. They were their own worst enemy.); and why there has become an air of arrogance as certain evangelicals manipulate fear for their own self-interests (end times theories, the homosexual agenda, the Operation Rescue side of the anti-abortion groups, etc.).
Then along comes Robert S. McElvaine with his book "Grand Theft Jesus: The Highjacking of Religion in America." Although I do not agree with everything that McElvaine says in his book, he did push me to see how far the modern day church has gotten from the real teachings of Jesus in their pursuit of a form of Christianity that is more influenced by our own materialistic, consumer culture and Constantinian influence for power. I am truly afraid that the modern day church has gone so far off of the mark that we have more in common with WalMart than that of Jesus Christ. In fact, I even wonder at times that if Jesus did return today, how the church really would respond to him or maybe how Jesus would really respond to the current church.
One of the highlights of this book is when McElvaine brings out the example of the Amish response to the senseless mass murder of their own people. They immediately forgave, like within 48 hours of the actual murders. This is one of the most amazing modern-day examples of real hard-core faith putting into practice the teachings of Jesus.
I had to disagree though on McElvaine's belief that all religions are essentially the same. I know that pluralism is becoming more and more popular and if you look at all religions on a surface level it is easy to assume that all roads lead to the same God. This is what stops me from going down the road of pluralism: the cross. This is the crux of Christianity that Jesus had to die for our sins to conquer death and provide a way for his righteousness to cover us and bring us into a right relationships with God, AND transform us to be more like Christ. Now, if there were many other ways for people to get to God then what logical sense would it make for Him to have his Son crucified for us. If there was just one other way to God then this path that Jesus took would seem to come from a barbaric, evil and sadistic God. Why would He have his Son crushed on our behalf if there was another way? But if Jesus is the only way then we see a beautiful picture of a God who loves us so much that He sent his one and only Son so that we may have life through him.
McElvaine rightly asks the question of what is this new life in Christ supposed to look like? This is a good question that I believe the church needs to spend more of it time unpacking. I have grown up in churches that have placed such a high priority on evangelism that we have forgotten what it really means to be a follower of Jesus. In fact, I have always argued that if we discipled people into being Christ-followers in their day-to-day lives, evangelism would happen naturally without us having to create programs to "share our faith". Our own lives would reflect the teachings of Jesus in such a way that our actions would speak louder than our words! Discipleship is truly a lost art in many American churches. It is time we stop defining ourselves by what we are NOT and begin to simply follow the teachings of Jesus and living them out in our day to day lives. And I don't mean living them out at church (although that may be a good start) but in our families, in the workplace, in our neighborhoods, and around the world.

Man asks people to pray for rain during Obama's DNC speech

I find it very ironic, almost humorous that this Conservative, evangelical group has the audacity to make a commercial like this against their opposition in light of the present day results. Obama had amazing weather for his equally amazing final day at the DNC. The RNC is crippled because of a category 3 hurricane. Now if I follow Dobson's logic that God will speak through the weather, well then these evangelicals need to do some serious soul searching because God don't seem to be on their side if, and only if, I am to follow their very own misguided, and illogical logic. I hope to hear out the Republicans this week and watch the debates coming up so I can make a prayerful and well-thought out vote come this November. But once again, if I am supposed to follow the logic of the apparent leader of the American evangelicals, well they put out their fleece and God showed up and answered, but not the way they expected. Speaking of whom, thank God that this was not a hurricane with the destructive force of Katrina.

I am Done with The Bengals

Well, about just over three years ago when I moved down to Cincinnati I was excited just to be back in Ohio. Originally I was from North East Ohio which would make me a die-hard Cleveland Browns fan for life. As the saying goes, you can take a person out of Cleveland but you can't take Cleveland out of the person. As I acclimated myself to my new surroundings I thought that since the Bengals were an Ohio team I could make some room in my heart for them along with the Browns and the Buckeyes.
Now last year didn't look so good, as I had to endure watching Chad Johnson act like an idiot. I tried to tolerate it because I know people directly connected to the Bengals organization and they told me Chad is not a Dennis Rodman type but a fun, lovable type that just hams it up for fun. So, okay Chad be goofy even though it only brings attention to yourself and it disrupts team unity and focus. Then just as I was about to ease into another year of Ohio football, Chad has to go and make a complete fool of himself comparing himself to Micheal Phelps as a better swimmer?!?!? Chad, you need to concentrate on your sport because if I remember, you did not have a good year last year. I would put money on Phelps as having a much better career at FOOTBALL in comparison to you!

And then if that wasn't enough, the Bengals organization decides to hire back Chris Henry? This guy is bad news and does not deserve to play in the NFL for anybody. How do you possibly run a team with personalities and criminals like this??? Would any of the great coaches ever tolerate players like this? The Bengals organization has a major disconnect with what makes for a great player besides just physical talent. It takes cooperation, team work, character, etc. Just go to John Wooden's website http://coachwooden.com/ and look at the pyramid of success. He understood what it took to make championship teams!

Then if that weren't enough Carson Palmer talks smack about The Ohio State Buckeyes?!?! This was almost as bad as Le Bron James showing up to an Indians play-off game wearing a Yankees hat. Love Le Bron, but when you are taking a paycheck from Ohio, keep you loyalty close to home! Don't be broadcasting your loyalties to the opposition on national television or talking trash about the most popular college team in the state!!!!! With all this said I think the Ohio State Buckeyes could even destroy the Bengals on their own turf right now. So keep it up Carson, shot your mouth off about the college team up North. Maybe if you played like them Cincinnati would get a team that they could actually cheer for!

I hear by denounce any loyalty I had for the Cincinnati Bengals. I give my loyalty completely and entirely to the Browns, and as any Browns fan knows, I will also cheer for the Bengals when, and only when, they play against Pittsburgh!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Culture War over the Black Man

Jesse Jackson has revealed a little bit of who he really is when he thinks the mics and the cameras are off. Unfortunately, it is something which should disqualify him from having the title of reverend. But what is interesting about this comment and whom he is referring to is that it reveals what I believe to be the culture war over the black man. On one side, you have Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton who seem to want the government to give out as many hand-outs as possible with little to no responsibility thus creating a culture of government dependence and irresponsibility within the culture that is directed at African-American males. On the other hand you have the voices of Bill Cosby and Barak Obama calling out for black men to take responsibility for their choices and to become husbands, fathers and community members that stand for character and integrity. It is amazing to see the backlash of those who are appalled that guys like Bill Cosby and Barak Obama would dare to say things like integrity and character about black men. In fact, a rational discussion goes right out the window and Cosby is castigated as an angry old man and Barak is threatened with castration. This is simply unbelievable. I don't get why people like Jackson are even a voice for the African-American community. How is it that he is even taken seriously? I just don't get it when you have such amazing people like Oprah Winfrey, Colin Powell, Condolezza Rice, and many, many others. But there seems to be two competing philosophies that are fighting for the attention of the African-American community in America. The Jacksonian philosophy is the one that has been around the longest but it is the Cosbian / Obamian philosophy that is emerging and challenging the status quo. In fact, Cosby and Obama are not just the spokesmen for this new philosophy, but they are also living examples of what they are preaching: black men who did not settle for the status quo of irresponsibility and government dependency but rose above all of that and emerged as men who have worked hard, demonstrating not only an amazing work ethic, but also, integrity and morality to become who they are. Apparently Jesse hasn't been preaching much of anything at all these days or else his tongue would have snapped off for saying something against his fellow man that so viciously goes against the law of love from the Bible. Shame on you Jesse. This type of vile and disgusting language is in line with another self-proclaimed pastor: Fred Phelps. It is time we take you about as seriously as we do with Fred and his language of hate. I would much rather be inspired by the challenges that Cosby and Barak level at the men in the African-American community because I also know that it is a message that realistically all men need to hear from their leaders over and over again. Work hard, love your family, love your community and love your God!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

All About Bella

If you have not seen this movie yet, I can not recommend it enough. It is simply an amazing movie. Excellent cinematography, acting, character development, directing, plot, and story-telling. It is just a phenomenal movie in its entirety. It is a beautiful film dealing with issues of pain, suffering, grief, and the need for relationships, redemption, forgiveness and love. Very few movies reach this kind of depth and quality. It simply delivers on every level. The main characters are developed in such a way that you enter into this film completely engaged in their story. They come across as the real deal, not some polished, picture-perfect Hollywood types. The authenticity of how this movie was shot in New York City made you connect with the urban cultural surrounding enveloping these characters. I really don't want to say anything about the story itself because it is one of those movies you just need to see for yourself without knowing anything about it. But trust me on this one, don't rent it! Buy it because you will want to keep this movie and watch it again and again. I am very excited to watch how this new director's career develops over the years. If this is one of his first feature films then I can't wait to see what other stories he has to tell! Keep your eyes open for Alejandro Gomez Monteverde!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Marcus Luttrell is the Lone Survivor

On several levels this is an amazing book. First of all, a large part of this book deals with what goes into becoming a Navy S.E.A.L. Needless to say it is some crazy stuff. The intensity, the discipline, and being pushed to the edge of insanity would be the best way to describe it. What they are put through would seem more appropriate for those who find themselves incarcerated. Yet as you read this section of Luttrell's memoirs, you realize that he is fulfilling his calling.

Secondly, this book reads in such a way that you need to stop and remind yourself that this is the real deal. It is not some Tom Clancy novel. This is very recent history that has significant implications in where we as a country find ourselves right now.

Thirdly, this book gives us a better grasp of understanding our enemies as well as our allies within their midst! The enemies in the war on terror are vastly different than anything else we have ever faced. It truly is a hatred that is hard to comprehend. But on the other hand, it was simply amazing to see the good guys within Afghanistan that committed themselves to the care and hospitality of Luttrell in defiance to the Taliban.

It is exactly when the book takes us over to Afghanistan, which is where it become problematic for me. Luttrell's team is sent out on a recon mission and while they are on their mission some goatherds come upon them. It is in this point of the book that the ethical, moral and spiritual dilemma explodes in Luttrell's brain. You see the logic of the soldier as he is confronted with the logic of faith. Luttrell states that "my trouble is, I have another soul. My Christian soul. And it was crowding in on me. Something kept whispering in the back of my mind, it would be wrong to execute these unarmed men in cold blood." Based on Luttrell's vote the team decided to let the goatherds go and within less than an hour the 4 S.E.A.L.s found themselves being hunted down by a Taliban army. Based on the title of the book, you can only guess what was the end result.

Now let me be the first to say that Luttrell is an amazing soldier. But as a pastor who has worked with teenagers for almost 20 years now it kills me to see our young men having to deal with all that this war has done to their generation and we will only know the severity of it all in decades to come. Luttrell is simply amazing in all that he has been through and has lived to tell about it. My concern is what will become of these guys 10, 20, 30 years from now. It is very difficult to see the struggle between what Luttrell has committed himself to as a soldier when it goes up against his personal faith. And also it is difficult to see the anger that wells up within him as he directs a lot of his rage at the "liberals". On several occasions he basically blames the liberals for putting him in the dilemma he found himself in instead of seeing this as the crisis of faith that he himself points out. He should be directed his anger out on God Himself. God is a big boy. He can take all of our pain, anger and frustration with life. He is a better person to direct those feelings at instead of the softer target of those known as "liberals". After all, David used God as a punching bag in many of his Psalms and in doing so, David often found hope after giving God a piece of his mind. Hatred towards people is always a bad motivator. It has a way of turning people into, well, people like the Taliban who are completely motivated by hatred. My fear is that if we confront violence with more violence we will be in a perpetual cycle that has the potential of spiraling out of control.

Now I know that God Himself has a special place in his heart for the soldier. We wouldn't have such great stories such as David and Goliath, Gideon's army, the conversion of Cornelius, David's mighty men, the Egyptian armies demise before Moses, etc. But is it possible that Jesus presents to us a new way to confront our enemies? One of my most favorite parts of the book was when the small village extended their hand of hospitality and care to Luttrell. There is something that happened within Luttrell where you can tell he fell for these people. A bond occurs between him and the children as well as many of the adults who endeared themselves to him despite the fact that the Taliban was threatening their lives for protecting Luttrell. Is there a way to fight this evil form of intense hatred with a love that is not only childlike but makes almost no sense in the midst of the enemy surrounding the village? The love of this village persisted in such a way that ultimately it is they who won this battle. A living, breathing Luttrell was the result of their efforts. Love wins. Again and again and again. That is the amazing story within the story of Marcus Luttrell.

Friday, June 20, 2008

unChristian: Too Political

A Lesson for youth groups based off of the book entitled "Unchristian" by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons

The Issue: Too Political

The Perception: Christians are primarily motivated by a political agenda and promote right-wing politics.

Questions and Quotes for Discussion:

Name for me who you think the top 5 Christians of all time would be.

We are in full gear for a political season that will have a major impact on your JH/SH years. The next president could possibly have that office all the way into your college years.

1. First of all, what political issues do you feel strongly about?
2. Secondly, if you could vote, who do you think you would vote for in November and why?
3. Thirdly, should Christians be involved in politics?

Listen to Fermi Project Podcast: Episode of unChristian featuring Mark Batterson

Did anything that Mark Batterson had to say jump out at you? Why do you think outsiders equate Christians with being Republicans? How difficult do you think it must be for him to pastor a church in D.C. where many people feel very strongly about both political parties? What about our church - do you think we are tied to a political party? The stereotype out there is that evangelical churches lean right and mainline churches lean left. Is that always true?

1. The Impact of Religion on Recent Politics

A. In the last two elections George Bush was very outspoken about his faith whereas his
democratic opponents did not. The results are obvious.

B. In this political season we have seen one very qualified candidate get eliminated more or less
because he identified himself with Mormonism.

C. Democrats have turned the corner in being much more outspoken about their faith.

D. Both John McCain and Barack Obama have had to distance themselves from religious leaders
they considered as friends and allies who have said things that were offensive to a vast majority of people.

E. And let’s not forget, it was a radical religious ideology that brought down the World Trade
Center that initiated much of where we find ourselves today.

F. It is a radical religious ideology that is influencing Iran’s government today and will have major
implications with the next American administration.

2. The Influence of Religion on Politics

A. Is there a connection between faith and politics? The Bible has a lot to say about issues related
to life, human dignity, the poor, marriages and families, just war, environmentalism, good vs. evil behavior, wise vs. foolish decisions, the influence of the Spirit of God vs. our own selfish desires, etc.

B. What is a worldview? What factors help to shape our worldview? How important should our
faith and knowledge of the Bible develop our worldview?

C. Do Christians agree on everything politically? So, is it possible that a biblical worldview can operate out of the Republican AND Democrat parties?

D. Should Christians align themselves with one specific party or should our faith rise above both
parties critiquing the positives and negatives of both sides against a Christian worldview?

3. Political Change vs. Spiritual Change

A. In Barack’s campaign you have seen, and will see up until November, the word “change”. Also,
McCain will work hard to show a difference (change) between Bush and himself, although Barack will argue against that (no change from Bush’s policies with McCain). What do you think he means by using that word? How does “political change” occur and how does that affect us?

B. Think of an issue you feel strongly about. If the government changed the law to go against what you believe would that automatically change you beliefs? Why? Example: my view on abortion.

C. What kind of change was Jesus interested?

D. How is the change that Jesus is interested in that different from the kind of change that comes
through politics?

4. The Bible and Politics

A. Matthew 22:21 - Jesus does not dismiss the importance of politics but recognizes our duty to
serve God and our leaders.

B. 1 Timothy 2:1-4 - Regardless of political parties or even faith, Paul calls us to pray, intercede and thank Him for those in authority over us. Bill Clinton was not treated like this by many conservative religious leaders, instead he was vilified.

C. John 18:33-40

1. Jesus’ kingdom is radically different from political kingdoms.

2. The political climate was used against Jesus to murder him.

3. Jesus was determined that he came to testify to the truth even in the face of death.

4. Pilate, the politician, questioned the idea of truth as his conscience is being battered by the
demands of the people who wanted blood.

CONCLUSION

Politics: Under the right circumstances help to create laws that will deter people from acting out in evil ways. The hope is that the law will change people from the outside-in. Although a law may cause someone to hold back from making a bad decision, it does not and will not change the HEART of a person. They can still hate as long as they do not murder. They can still lust as long as they do not rape or molest.

Faith: This is a radical change from within in which the Spirit of God transforms us from the inside-out. We willfully open ourselves up to God changing and transforming us to be more like him. The change begins within the heart of a person.

THE NEW PERCEPTION: Christians are characterized by respecting people, thinking biblically, and finding solutions to complex issues.

Ichthus Festival 2008

Another Christian Music Festival has come and gone. And as you can tell by this picture where on God's green earth can you find an all-American teenage boy, a hippie, a ROTC, and a plastic lawn ornament from someones nativity set all having a great time together?!?!?! You won't find this at some Woodstock wanna-be lallapoloza, monsters of rock, angry-hate-the-world music fest. Nope. It is only through the sweet vibes of Christian rock, punk, hardcore, metal, rap, worship, contemporary all thrown into a blender and served up in Wilmore, Kentucky!

Typically throughout the year I get discouraged by what passes for Christian radio. Why have the buzz words for Christian radio become "positive" and "Safe for the whole family"? The Bible sure doesn't hold to these labels. When I get up the nerve to give some of the local channels a chance I get an image of Christ that is so shiny and happy and squeaky clean. The happy DJ's come across as perfect Christians. I worry if at times our idea of Christian radio is really having a deep impact or if it is just another deterrent to outsiders. It is these thoughts I struggle with until I come on out to Ichthus!

Every time I come out to Ichthus I am reminded all over again that there really is some amazing music out there that not only uplifts but also digs into the pain and struggle of life (normally the songs you never hear on Christian radio stations). I was encouraged by Mark Hall of Casting Crowns, I stumbled into the deep impact that the band Disciple had on their crowd as I came across hundreds of people praying after their concert, David Crowder made me explode with joy for our great God and for growing up in the 80's, Family Force 5 brought down the house and let us go absolutely insane, MxPx had me moshing until I sweat through the 3 t-shirts I had on, and Warren Barfield helped me to appreciate the ups and downs in my marriage. I ran into other youth pastor friends, students I have met at other churches and through Chrysalis, and I deepened my relationship with my youth group and my adult leaders.

Now deep down in my heart I wish that Johnny Cash and U2 would be at Ichthus but Cash has already made the trip to heaven and is singing for a much bigger audience and U2, well, I'll just wait until they hit the road again. In the meantime, I will also be looking out for Flatfoot 56 and Toby Mac since the weather did not cooperate for their appearance at Ichthus. Thanks to all who participated at Ichthus: bands, speakers, organizers and volunteers. Every year brings memories and encouragement for me. It is a great way for the students to end their school year and begin to look forward to all that the Summer holds: camps, mission trips, activities, vacations, etc. It is the perfect spiritual boost to kick start a great Summer!

Friday, June 06, 2008

Cudo's for Juno

I grew up in the 80's. During that time we had the films of John Hughes that helped to define a generation of Gen-Xers growing up under their Boomer parents. His movies brought a lot if insight into the way many teens of that generation experienced life. His movies had amazing characters, great plots, a wonderful sense of humor and depth that many of us related to as we grew up. It is with this experience in mind that I have been bothered by the lack of quality films that help teens through their experiences of growing up. It seems like so many films about teens today are about acting as stupid as possible, and how to get drunk and get laid. It is with the absence of any great,enduring teen films that all of a sudden Juno comes along.

This movie was amazing on many, many levels and I would hope that parents as well as teens would see this movie and use it as a discussion on several topics such as:

1. Sexuality: How has our culture gotten to the point that sex is seen as the next best thing to boredom? How have we failed the youth of today by not teaching a Biblical view of healthy sexuality as well as living out a loving, caring and nurturing marriage in front of our children? Why is the divorce rate in the church exactly the same as that of the mainstream culture? Why is marriage not seen as an exciting new stage of life to look forward to?

2. Family: It is scary to see all of the options that Juno goes through in dealing with her predicament before she final comes around to telling her parents. How can we create a culture within our families, church and community in which a teen who is in trouble or has made a mistake can know that there are caring, loving people who they can go to when they need help?

3. Life: Life is a beautiful thing even if it is an unplanned pregnancy. I love the advice of the step-mom in which one person's problems might be Jesus' blessing to someone else. I was almost kind of surprised by how the abortion clinic was portrayed but in all fairness, a culture of not taking responsibility for one's actions breeds a type of mentality. Granted, I know abortion is a complex issue but I loved the beauty and celebration of life all throughout this movie and the attitude that there had to be a better way other than abortion. The teen abortion protester even made me sympathetic towards the "protest community" of which I have never been a big fan of either. Her protest was rooted in the fact that she had a relationship with Juno as a fellow student and she approached Juno with compassion.

4. Relationships: This movie I believe adequately portrayed all relationships in a way that showed that no matter what, there is no perfect relationship. We are all flawed human beings. Juno and Bleeker were young teens who made a stupid mistake and are trying to live into those choices. Juno's parents are divorced and she expressed feelings of abandonment towards how her mother walked out on them. The adoptive parents, although looking like the perfect couple at first, ended up being another painful source of abandonment and grief to Juno. If one thing came out loud and clear from Juno's dad and step-mom it was that relationships take a lot of work and there are rules and boundaries to making it work. I absolutely loved her dad and step-mom in this film.

I was also equally excited to see the last name of the director: Reitman, Jason Reitman that is! The son of Ivan Reitman who was also another director who struck quite a bit of fame during the 80's with my generation! My hope is that this is only the beginning for Jason as he comes from a family of fun storytellers and was most-likely raised on the same teen movies of the 80's. I hope he has discovered his niche with Juno!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The New Christians 2

In this chapter Jones sees the emergent church and the establishment church through an allegory of the frontier of the West in contrast to the established settlements on the Eastern seaboard. He brings up 3 Dispatches in explaining the Emergent church.

Dispatch 3: The gospel is like lava: no matter how much crust has formed over it, it will always find a weak point and burst through.

A basic reading of the Gospels show that Jesus did not play by any one's rules but the Father's. And ironically that really upset the status quo in the religious establishments of his day. But all throughout history we see time after time when religion becomes domesticated, institutionalized and bureaucratic, somewhere along the way God brings something or someone along to break through the crust and breath new life into the body of believers yearning for more than what the institutions are offering. We even see this prior to Christ as the prophets call out to the nation of Israel to let them know that God wants obedience over the sacrifices, their hearts rather than their token offerings. I do believe that we are at a time when a thick crust has hardened over the church as we know it and in considering all of the seismic shifts that have been occurring within the world, new life is going to break through in ways that we can not imagine or control.

Dispatch 4: The emergent phenomenon began in the late 1990s when a group of Christian leaders began a conversation about how postmodernism was affecting the faith.

The is no doubt that in my experience growing up the Bible was interpreted through a very modernistic mindset. The Bible was systematized and explained very scientifically as if the truth could be like a pure diamond with no flaws. But it wasn't until I entered into college and took Dr. Ellis's history classes at Lorain County Community College that I began to discover deconstructionism. As we looked at various times of American history and read many books, we discovered that with every single book there will always be bias. There is a particular filter or grid in which the author interprets history as well as how the reader interprets the book for himself. It is the same when a community studies the Bible together. Their micro-narrative of that community will have specific ramifications for how they look at Scripture. I noticed this in a huge way when I moved from North East Ohio ( a very strong liberal, Catholic, blue collar area) to Lynchburg, Virginia (a very militant conservative, fundamentalist area). There were times when I was shocked by the massive differences in how the faith was lived out by those two communities both using the same Bible.

Dispatch 5: The emergent movement is not exclusively North American; it is growing around the globe.

Jones believes that the DNA of this movement comes from "the golden era of American youth ministry" during the 70's and 80's. My youth group experience was during the early to mid-80's. It was fun to belong to a large youth group and have many of the experiences I had growing up. I even learned a lot, both good and bad, as I turned my back on it all my Senior year. Ironically, over the course of 3 different colleges and a seminary education, I ended up in career youth ministry. Although I do see that postmodern thought has influenced the emergent church I really had to think about the implications of this emergent movement possibly being heavily influenced by those of us who have come out of "the golden age of youth ministry." Did the church accomplish what it had hoped through the establishment of youth ministry or did youth ministry evolved into something else? Did the advent of youth ministry inspire the new thoughts and ideas that would break through the crust that was hardened over during the end of the 20th century by the establishment church? Either way, it is exciting that with today's technology and the new forms of communication, this is definitely a movement that has long reaching influence all around the world.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The New Christians 1

In the preface of his book Tony Jones instantly has me intrigued with this quote,"Many in church leadership today - not to mention everyday believers - feel that the church made a wrong turn somewhere in the twentieth century. At the dawn of a new century, the emergents are one of the few groups offering a way out of this mess, and lots of people are listening." Jones then opens up his book on the Emergent church by first of all giving a cursory glance back on the old country that is being left behind as he reflects on the 20th Century.

As Tony Jones looks at the horizon behind him he makes two definitive statements, called dispatches in Chapter 1. He states:

Dispatch 1: Emergents find little importance in the discrete differences between the various flavors of Christianity. Instead, they practice a generous orthodoxy that appreciates the contributions of all Christian movements. (p. 8)

Our church, Epiphany United Methodist Church in Loveland, Ohio did a sermon series a year ago about different denominations. Now growing up in a fundamentalist, evangelical past I wasn't sure where the pastor was going with this. It was my experiences in the past that something like this would be an opportunity to blast the mainlines, Catholics, and charismatics. But instead, Doug took this sermon series as an opportunity to celebrate what we can learn from the emphases that other denominations bring to the table when you consider the entire body of Christ. Needless to say, it was an awesome series.

Dispatch 2: Emergents reject the politics and theologies of left versus right. Seeing both sides as a remnant of modernity, they look forward to a more complex reality. (p. 20)

I have studied church history enough to know about the great divide during the 20th Century between the fundamentalists and liberals. Most of my experiences in churches has been of the Conservative evangelical flavor. I heard my share of sermons demonizing youth culture, Hollywood, rock music, and anything that actually seemed interesting to me. Needless to say, I grew up with a lot of guilt! In fact we had to reject modern culture and immerse ourselves in the counter-Christian culture. You know, that sub-standard, vanilla flavored, bland, boring thing that Christian culture produces when it tries to entertain ONLY a church audience. I actually remember being frightened into saying the "salvation prayer" after a showing of "A Thief in the Night" which was the 70's version of Tim LaHayes amazingly awful "Left Behind" movies. And I also remember one guy at our house who came over for a haircut from my mom ranting about how terrible it was that Amy Grant would dare to sing a "secular" song with Peter Cetera who was the lead singer of Chicago. I remember looking at the guy thinking he was crazy because I didn't understand why Amy Grant should be forced to entertain ONLY US CHRISTIANS!

In the youth groups that I have been a part of it always seemed like the most important thing was to create programs in which we can somehow trick people into hearing the "plan of salvation" and get 'em saved! After they say the pray, sign the card, which was a kind of guaranteed ticket to heaven, our work was done! Unfortunately, no assimilation would occur, no discipleship, no follow up, no caring for the needs of those we manipulated into saying "the prayer". When I was alone with my friends we would often talk about if this was really effective at all and are people really beginning a new relationship with God or are they just repeating some prayer for "fire insurance" under the false pretense that we encouraged, that if you just say this prayer you will be saved. The culture was to be feared and we were to "separate" and wait for the rapture to take us ragtag bunch of Christians home to be with God. It was a very depressing and weak eschatology that drove the evangelical church.

It wasn't until I took a very nervous step into the Methodist church that I discovered some new thoughts and ways of thinking. Mind you, God had to really humble me to enter into the mainline churches. I really had an arrogant view of the mainlines as I was growing up. But it wasn't until the fundamentalists and Baptists told me to find another job that I was finally willing to consider some other alternatives I would have never really considered in my younger years. Now, within the Methodist church I have discovered this thing called "Social Justice" and a view of culture that is transformative instead of condemning and hopeless. Needless to say, this has been like an awakening for me as I discovered a new eschatology that brings hope and courage and God's love that is much more holistic.

But the mainline is not above criticism here as Tony points out some of its glaring faults. During the industrial age,big business and monolithic bureaucracies were the forms that our culture created in the areas of work and industry. Sadly to say, I see that this is a big problem within the church I am in. In the evangelical churches once I was hired I was considered an official pastor. But as I came to the Methodist Church I got the label of Director of Student Ministries and that really bothered me at first. A mere title, I know. I believe that I have been called by God to be a youth pastor. Titles that people put on my door really do not matter. But after some time I did want to pursue becoming clergy within the Methodist church for a variety of reasons. It has been shocking to me to amount of bureaucratic red tape and overbearing process that has been created for someone to serve as a pastor! So many of those coming out of seminary, and not even seminary trained adults for that matter, are realizing that all it takes to start a church is a vision, persistent and passion and with that anybody could pretty much do it, from the gifted to the insane! If the mainline wants to survive they will need to seriously reevaluate the monolithic government that has been created in their denominations.

I am excited about this new thinking outside-of-the-box that Jones is presenting. Instead of accepting that 20th century Christianity was the way it has always been, he is presenting new and fresh ideas that will hopefully shake the foundations of the church and cause so many of us to rethink church, evangelism, discipleship, culture, etc.