Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Letter to Preachers: Help Us Remember!

To all the preaching pastors out there:

I know what you do is hard because I've done it before. I've studied and been trained in preaching, and have had the opportunity to do it here and there, though I must quickly point out that I've never shouldered the burden of preaching weekly. 

But I know enough to know it's hard work. You literally pour your heart and soul into your study and preparation each week. You wrestle with the text - its meaning, its context, its implications and applications. You feel the weight of the responsibility to bring God's Word to God's people as they gather to worship. I share your high view of preaching. 

Like I said, I've done it before. But now I'm the church member who is listening and benefitting from your labor. I have a job, some kids, a busy life. And there's a sad truth that we need to discuss. 

That sermon that you wrestled with, that kept you up at night, that you pour so much of yourself into… well… most of us will forget most (if not all) of it by tomorrow. And that really, really stinks. I hate that I'll forget it (especially when you hit that proverbial home run). I don't want to forget it. 

So I'm writing you with one simple request: Help me remember it. 

I'll do my part by taking notes, so I can try to hang on to at least some of the message. But I'm asking you do take a part in helping me remember. 

How can you do that? That's a good question worth pondering at some length. The answer(s) will depend on your context -- each church and community will be a bit different. 

So with that disclaimer, I'd like to make five suggestions:

  1. Let me hear it again if I want to. Hopefully your sermons are recorded and made available somehow to those that missed them or want to hear them again. You can burn them to CDs or you can set them up as a podcast where they can be easily downloaded. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you've probably got a young person in the church who can help.
  2. Give me a summary. I suggest setting up a blog on the church website where you (or someone on your staff) can post a sermon summary each week. The level of detail is up to you - but at least highlight the key points. I would love for you to build on this further…
  3. Help me re-visit your material. As I said above, I try to take notes, but I miss some things. (I'm punching my notes out on a phone for crying out loud!) Use that blog to help me out. Post the "money" quotes from your message. If you had a really helpful quote from some writer, use that in the blog (with proper attribution, obviously). The same could be set for a chart or diagram. As a general rule of thumb, if something makes it onto the screen while you preach, it should make it onto a blog. After all, we know somebody typed it out already and organized it - now it's just a matter of uploading it onto the blog!
  4. Give me some direction to explore in depth. Are there certain articles or books that would help me go deeper? Sure there are! Why not list a few of these resources so I can check them out? Provide suggestions for further reading or study.
  5. Give me some discussion points. Help me initiate a discussion with my friends or family by providing some starter questions. Many small groups would benefit from having 3-5 questions that they could use to discuss the sermon. Ideally at least some of these questions would drive us in the direction of making application of this message (and this passage of Scripture) to our lives. Ask questions that begin with "how" or "why." 

I think that last point could be significant. As you're neck deep in the text and in your preparation, spend a few extra minutes considering these kinds of questions and then make them available to us. The conversations that could result might really help the message get worked out in the community and get us thinking and talking about how we could apply it to our lives. And isn't that one of your chief goals in this whole enterprise? 

I have deep respect and gratitude for the work you do. That's why I'm so keen for your labor to bear fruit and make an impact. 

Related: A Basic Social Media Strategy for a Church

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Getting (Only Half) the Gospel Right

Sometimes the "Cross-Centered Life" can become a sin-centered life.  

"Hi, I'm Alex, and I'm the chief of sinners." 

I've been in small group meetings where that would probably have been a fitting way to do introductions. Unfortunately, I've led meetings like that too! You know, where the purpose of the group meeting seems to simply ferret out sin, so we can theoretically confess it and move on. Then do it all again next time.  But a small group meeting doesn't have to sound like an AA meeting, does it?

Now, it is certainly appropriate and necessary to confess our sins to each other. But what I'm talking about goes beyond that into the kind of naval gazing sin hunt that can eventually bog down the soul. I mean, seriously, doesn't that get depressing after a while? 

This is what happens when we get just half of the Gospel.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Newbigin via Keller on the the Church and politics

I read this tonight and found it quite interesting:
"Those who call for a Christian assault on the worlds of politcis and economics often make it clear... that the aim of the attack is to seize the levers of power and take control. We have seen many such successful revolutions, and we know that in most cases what has happened is simply that the oppressor and the oppressed have exchanged roles... The throne is unshaken, on there is a different person occupying it. How is the throne itself to be shaken?... Only by the power of the gospel itself, announced in word and embodied in deed... The victory of the Church over the demonic power which was embodied in the Roman imperial system was not won by seizing the levers of power: it was won when the victims knelt down in the Colosseum and prayed in the name of Jesus for the Emperor." 
-- Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society, as quoted by Tim Keller, Gospel in Life, 200. 

These are thought provoking comments that bear on a number of issues regarding the church in culture, including American politics, the concept of "culture war" and how to engage in divisive moral issues like abortion and gay marriage, and all sorts of other things.

The primary role of the Church is not to endorse, campaign, and elect the right candidates with the right views. These things are not unimportant, but I think many in the Church overemphasize them. Frankly I'm not sure that churches should endorse candidates.

I do believe that churches can certainly speak to moral issues - abortion comes to mind first - in a prophetic way. But speaking in a prophetic way is, it seems to me by definition, to speak of them biblically. And I think it's hard to speak in a biblically consistent and helpful manner in the kind of cynical, ad hominem manner and tone that is so common in (post)modern politics.

The role of the church (and the role of individual Christians) is primarily to serve as a beacon of the gospel message. And sometimes our dalliances in politics (and the allure of the power, money, and influence that go with it) causes us to be distracted and to throw up roadblocks to the message. The gospel itself is a stumbling block, so we ought to strive not to create additional stumbling blocks for people.

I don't claim to have the answers here because these are sometimes muddy waters. But it's worth considering. What do you think?

Thursday, November 08, 2012

How to Handle a Social Media Gaffe

It's one of the most dangerous things about social media.

Sometimes tweeting leads to saying something stupid. We all say something we regret. This problem is exacerbated for someone who is representing a business or brand online, or for someone who has achieved some fame or notoriety because people see it quickly. Let's be honest - if you or I say something dumb we can delete it and there's a decent chance nobody will ever know. Not everyone has that luxury.

Knowing you're going to say something stupid... it's best to think through how to respond. Tonight I saw a great example of how to handle it when you stick your foot in your mouth online.

Tonight there was an important playoff game in the eastern conference of Major League Soccer (MLS) between DC United and the home team, Red Bull New York. After the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy last week and a nor'easter (blizzard) this week (that forced the game to be postponed), we all know that area has been through a lot.

Turns out that, with everything going on, Red Bull Arena wasn't exactly sold out. Eric Wynalda, a former professional player (really a trailblazer for American players) and US national team legend, is a well known commentator for Fox Soccer. He also has a reputation for, shall we say, speaking his mind.

So noting the crowd, he tweeted something critical about the low attendance. Do you think there was a reason for that? Well, he hadn't thought of that, but was quickly alerted to his lack of sensitivity by dozens of followers.


So here's how Wynalda responded. (1) He deleted the offending tweet. Why not? There's no reason to leave a stupid comment out there for posterity. (2) He responded individually to each person who replied to him, and did so with authentic contrition.

Crisis averted. In fact, the tweet was deleted so fast I'm not sure that there's any record of it (I tried to find it!). Every person who objected received an apology, and in most cases they responded back with forgiveness or understanding. In fact, they may respect him a bit more now than they did before.

And, when you think about it... that's a great strategy to use when you stick your foot in your mouth offline too. Own it, ask for forgiveness, and move on.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

An Awesome Perspective of the Earth in Space, from the Space Station

Some things just don't require a lot of commentary. If a picture is worth a thousand words, I suppose time-lapse video covers a lot of ground. Figuratively and literally in this case.

Let's just say you can't watch this and feel big or proud. I also fail to see how you watch this and believe that it was all an accident - you know, a couple atoms of unknown origin bumping into each other.

Anyway... enjoy the awesomeness.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

A Nice Moment in Seattle You Probably Missed

You probably missed this because it happened around 1 am EST. That's why I missed it. Of course, most people also missed it because it happened in MLS (Major League Soccer). I'm a soccer fan, but truthfully not a big MLS guy either. But, trust me, this is worth it.

Steve Zakuani, a Seattle Sounders forward, was one of the better players in MLS, a rising star, in fact, until about 14 months ago, when a vicious tackle by Brian Mullan of the Colorado Rapids snapped his leg. (There's video out there, but it's brutal...  I'm talking Joe Theissman brutal. So I'm not linking it here).

It was such a vicious injury that many, including Zakuani himself, wondered if he'd ever play again. His recovery was long and arduous and there were significant setbacks along the way.

Last night, the Seattle Sounders were hosting, you guessed it, the Colorado Rapids. With a 2-1 lead in the 86th minute, the Zakuani entered the game as a substitute. Now, the Sounders are known to have a raucous, enthusiastic home crowd (averaging 40,000 or more per game). But the stadium was reportedly shaking as that crowd welcomed back one of their favorite players. Pretty cool moment:

But it was not the only cool moment on the night.

That tackle last season obviously had a dramatic impact on Zakuani - but it also had a dramatic impact on Brian Mullan. To be fair, it was a rough and reckless tackle, but many fans vilified Mullan as if he had intentionally tried to ruin the career of a rising star.

Mullan was a respected veteran in the league and won championships with multiple teams. He became an overnight villain, and the incident apparently took an emotional toll on him as well.

Mullan and Zakuani. Photo credit. 
So the second moment of note was when Zakuani approached Mullan and offered to swap jerseys. (Swapping jerseys is a common tradition after a soccer/football game as a gesture of appreciation between respected rivals). It was a show of class and sportsmanship that spoke volumes.

After the game, Zakuani said he had no problem with Mullan and had forgiven him: "I have said from day one that I do not have any issues with (Mullan)," Zakuani told the media after the match. "I forgave him a long time ago."

A great comeback. Forgiveness. Class. Sportsmanship. We need more of this in sports, don't you think?

Thursday, July 05, 2012

God, Conciousness, and Random Physics Experiements

This is one of the dumbest things I've read:
Several prominent physicists are right now suggesting that our universe is a simulation, a physics experiment created by a vastly superior race of beings who inhabit a higher dimension. (Source)
I mean, seriouslyThese are presumably brilliant physicists. 

Here's the context: There seems to be ample evidence that the physical laws governing the universe had to be instituted by some higher Architect. The article cited is arguing that the existence of consciousness is itself something that physics (and science, generally) has yet to come to grips with. 

So, to summarize, there are evidently prominent physicists who, at some level, have come to the conclusion that there may be reason to believe that there is a higher intelligence behind the laws of the universe that they're exploring. Someone/thing who wrote the laws of physics:
This gets to the Creator behind the very laws of physics. How was the framework of quantum mechanics created in the first place? Who selected and fine-tuned the cosmological constants to support the formation of stars? How was the framework of dark matter and dark energy engineered?
Those are good questions. The article (and it's not exactly easy reading) doesn't come to the conclusion that these questions necessarily lead to a belief in the Christian God. But they certainly don't lead one to believe in atheistic Naturalism either. (And, to be clear, I have no idea what the author believes about these things.)

My point, though, is to emphasize again that there are purportedly prominent physicists (admire the alliteration) who theorize that our universe is a big physics experimented being conducted by some higher race of beings? 

That, to me, is further evidence of the lengths to which some people will go to avoid the uncomfortable conclusion that there is a God. Because, let's be honest, concluding that God exists is uncomfortable -- because that raises a whole host of other questions.

Like... we might find ourselves accountable in some ways to that God. We might find that there are unpopular, politically incorrect moral realities that we have to do something about. Suddenly we may realize that what we do, the choices we make, actually matter. And this makes unbelievers uncomfortable.

On the other hand, to those who believe in the God of the Bible and the Gospel, will realize that this realization brings hope. It is a positive, hopeful thing that we matter. It is a freeing thing to realize that there is a point and a purpose to the universe. And it ultimately freeing, of course, to have been reconciled to this God through His son.

Count me among those more at peace with the idea of a universe created by God with purpose rather than a random experiment of some mysterious higher race. What about you?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

How the Jerry Sandusky Case Argues for the Existence of God

Sandusky. Photo Source.
I believe the sad story of Jerry Sandusky presents a fairly compelling argument for the existence of God. Really. 

Now, many people who hear about young boys being raped would have a kneejerk reaction in the opposite direction. After all, many reason, if God exists, how could he let this happen? The fact horrors like this befall children seems to be proof that God does not exist. 

There's a point in the process of dealing with pain, especially early on, when it's natural to react like this. Because pain hurts! The case that follows is not written for people presently dealing with that kind of pain. Their open wounds need to be tended to and addressed at a deeper emotional level.

With that aside, after the jump I'll make my case for the connection between Jerry Sandusky and Christian apologetics:

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Don't Buy a Trampoline

Kids love to bounce.

At least mine do. I bet yours do too. Heck, I sometimes love to bounce too.

But don't buy a trampoline. They're fun, but I've got a better idea for you. But first, here's a couple reasons to steer clear of the trampoline:
  • They're dangerous. Yeah call me a big killjoy, but a doctor friend has told me too many horror stories (a couple that just aren't fit to print!) about injuries he's seen from trampolines. 
  • They take up too much space. Seriously, that's a big chunk of yard space getting swallowed up by that trampoline. 
My alternative: Get a bounce house! Here's why:
  • They have walls. They keep your kids inside so you don't have gruesome falls to the ground or into rusty metal springs or poles. 
  • They're inflatable. So when you're done with it you just roll it up and put it away. 
  • They're great for get-togethers. Something to do when friends come over, birthday parties, etc. 
  • They make naptime/bedtime easier. Seriously - they will wear your kids out. 
(Just so you know, the link above will take you to my Amazon affiliate page)