To Change the World – Right Here, Right Now.

Tears and fears on the evening news,
World seems to be in disarray.
I can turn the TV off and walk away,
But turning away doesn’t help much.

Rant and yell,
About how things ought to be.
It may get the pressure off your chest,
But yelling doesn’t really help much.

Lie down and give up,
Allow hopelessness to grip your own heart.
It may feel too overwhelming to try anything new,
But hopelessness doesn’t help much.

The world is too big,
For my arms to fit around the need.
I don’t start because I don’t know where to begin,
But not starting doesn’t really change much.

But I can surely do something,
Even a little I can do.
Faith meets action in small steps,
And something good begins to move.

A smile here and a little word there,
Compassion begins to grow.
It is not as hard as I thought,
To change the world I know.

Names and faces I begin to see,
People that I can help all around.
Changing the world may be beyond me
But helping, loving, and serving….that is the call.

Let me start here……….right here, right now.

Sticky Faith

I just finished a great new little book.  I should have read it earlier, but its message became more pertinent since our youngest child (yes, I still think of him as a child :)  has now turned 18 and looking toward college.  This book is based on research from Chap Clark’s research that went into his book, Hurt (which I blogged about earlier).  And the second path of research is from the College Transition Project sponsored by Fuller Seminary’s, Fuller Youth Institute. 

Here is the bottom line:  this research suggests that only around 50% of high school students that are part of a church or youth group will still stick with their faith through the college years.  Wow – 50%   – half will de-activate their faith after high school!!  It seems that many of our students graduate from the church when they graduate from high school.

This book is full of ideas for parents who want to actively engage their kids with sticky faith that will last.  It is not written with a lot of technical jargon, but with understandable language that outlines the kinds of things that parents can do to help faith stick.  A lot of this information helps to connect the dots between child development, the art of parenting, other important relationships, and the role of the church.  My only caveat is that parents should read this book early, and apply it early….because it is not a quick gimmick fix in 6 easy lessons.  Sticky faith is best developed over the whole scope of the young life of our children…..

Parents with children still at home ….you need to get this book.  And the earlier the better.

Please, Can’t We Be a Little Irrelevant?

Like almost every area in our culture, church life has changed rapidly and dramatically in the last twenty years.  “We have to be relevant” is one of the buzz-phrases to promote change.  Admittedly, there were a lot of old ways in church life that didn’t make sense – it needed some overhaul.  But sadly, the word “relevance” provides no theological teeth to help cut through the difference between helpful changes and “un-gospel-like” changes. 

Too many times, “relevance” has collapsed into nothing more than cool music, cutting-edge videos, lots of lights, and slick advertizing.  Please, don’t misunderstand – I like cool music and videos.  But, shouldn’t our theological discernment and actions  run deeper than just music styles, presentation skills, and growth strategies. If “relevance” causes us to diminish the “difference” and “mystery” of the Christian church – then where does it leave our gospel witness that something “extraordinary” has occurred in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

Bryan Stone puts it this way, …..”Creative reconstructions of evangelism are being attempted today, and they succeed in expanding the church by adapting it to new generations that are put off by boring liturgies, irrelevant preaching, and stuffy pipe-organ music.   But while these reconstructions have triumphed in making the church more relevant to the tastes, expectations, preferences, and quest for self-fulfillment of both the unchurched and the dechurched, they have utterly failed to challenge the racism, individualism, violence, and affluence of Western culture.  They in no way subvert an existing unjust order but rather mimic and sustain it.”  (“Evangelism After Christendom” – p 13)

It appears that the earliest church was attractive to many because they dared to lived in an irrelevant fashion in relation to the existing order.  They attempted to bring Jew and Gentile together (ethnic), men and women together (gender), free and slave together (class).  They shared with each other as needs arose (economics) , especially the orphans and widows when there was no profit to be had.  They refused oaths to other gods (idolatry) and to the emperor (state). 

These are the kinds of “irrelevant” practices that I hope we recover. These kinds of practices may be the most gospel-relevant thing we can do.    And I can’t help but believe that it will be more powerful than just lights and sound.

 

Tear Drought

Forgive me Lord for my failure to cry today
I didn’t see the little boy in Ethiopia that died
because food never came.
How could I see? – I live too far away.

Sorry that I didn’t think at all today
About the kids in Zambia that can’t go to school
because they have no money for the school fees.
How could I know? – no one ever said anything.

I am also afraid I didn’t feel badly today
For the 10-year-old girl who was stolen from the streets in Cambodia
because the sex trade is very lucrative.
How could I feel bad? – I didn’t even know her.

It didn’t even cross my mind to pray today
For the man who has no work in Haiti
because the earthquake stole his livelihood.
How could I pray? – I was busy with my own work.

Forgive me Lord for driving past without slowing down
The homeless family that is here in my hometown
because they lost their house due to layoffs at the factory.
How could I slow down – I had a lot of things to do.

Sorry that I didn’t cry today.

I am crying now……that I didn’t cry for others at all today.

Conversation with the Next Generation

Haven’t posted for a while.  But, this week I have had three distinctly different opportunities to engage youth and youth adults in conversation about life and faith.  I am still reflecting on it.

On Thursday, I met with our college-age gang – the “Book Club” as we call it.   We have found ourselves engaging a research article on the nature of the church and its future.  We engaged in lively conversation about community.  I asked them, “What does it look like?  If we say we want deeper community out of church – then really, “What does it look like?”  That night we all went out for supper together – and whether intentional or not – I think I caught a glimpse of what they were talking about as we learned more about one another and laughed with and at each other…..

On Friday afternoon, I met with some high school students to get some ideas for “youth sermons”.  I did get some great input, but the conversation also turned quickly to the nature of worship, the desire for connectedness, and the longing to be a part of a significant spiritual movement.  Wow…..

On Friday evening, my wife and I drove to Central Illinois where our church district is hosting Youth Camp.  There we goofed around with the teens for a bit, sat at the dinner table with them and then later attended the evening rally.  I again was amazed at the eagerness of the teens to respond to God’s call and be a part of something significant.

So – here are some things that I keep hearing from youth……that I think is worth-while for the church to hear.

  • Deeper Community – they really do want to connect better.  They long for more than just showing up to church or showing up at youth group once a week.  They want to BE the church for one another and the world.  They may have difficulty describing what that looks like for a church – but, if you go out for coffee or supper with them, they will show you a little of what they are talking about. :)  
  • Creative, Diverse Expressions – they don’t particularly care for the same thing each week.  They would love more creativity in worship styles, expressions, and messages. (They actually used the “hymn” word…)   While they want services to be done well and orderly,  more spontaneity among the programming was desirable.  They also long for ways to involve more people in the service.
  • Simplicity – They continually surprise me by their statements of boredom with the latest technological advances.  By “creative, diverse, expression” listed above, they do not seem to mean “give me more lights, smoke, and loud music”.  They seem to be desiring more simple worship.  Yes, Worship….just simple ways of expressing their love for God.

We old folks (that was what one teen called me at the Youth Camp :( )  tend to be scared of where the next generation is heading.  I am not so scared.  I have found them to be enthusiastic in thinking about and living their faith.  I  am quite positive that with a little direction and encouragement they might actually  lead the Church to greater things……….

“Let’s Feed the Children”

My daughter texted late last night.  Kathy and I were in bed.  But I heard the phone chirp, so I got out of bed to see who would be texting that late.  She wanted to let us know that all is well for her return trip from the Middle East.  She will be home in another day or so…..we are happy.

When Lindsey was a little girl, I would tell her a lot of stories.  Some of the stories would include real children that I had met on mission in other countries.  I would tell her about needs and hunger, as well as the joy of serving in other countries.  I would tell her, “Lindsey, let’s feed the children”.  She would reply in her little high-pitched kid voice, “yes, Dad, we will feed the hungry children.” 

Well, she in 21 years old now.  I never got to take her on that mission trip that I promised her.   So………she went on her own. 

That is the reason I like working with young people.  Most of them don’t want to sit around and wait.  They can talk and be creative, but they are ready to do something now to make a difference. 

So, I can’t wait to hear all the stories that Lindsey is going to tell me now.    I am proud of her. 

And who knows….maybe someday, we really will “feed the children.”

 

Blog Picture – Haitian Beauty and Pain

I have thought about saying this many times – but I keep forgetting. The banner picture above is not a stock photo. It is not “borrowed” from the internet. That picture is from my trip to Haiti last March after the earthquake.

I traveled with a team last year to help assess the damage done to schools, churches, and hospitals. We witnessed unbelievable damage, heard stories of tremendous loss, and found people still digging to try to find loved ones under the rubble. In the midst of the pain, we boarded a small boat one afternoon to go across the bay to LaGonave. During that ride, I snapped this picture. Such beauty.

Haiti – where beauty and pain mingle on a regular basis.  We continue our prayers for you.