Monday, December 5, 2016

Training the Next Generation of Women in Ministry: The Rest of the Story

Anne Menear (2nd from left) with some of her "daughters"
My latest article, an interview with Anne Menear, is in the December 2016 issue of Christian Standard.  (Training the Next Generation of Women in Ministry: An Interview With Anne Menear). I encourage you to check it out, in paper or online.

Anne is the Director of the Education department at Central Christian College of the Bible, as well as the Dean of Women and the possessor of several other titles and wearer of numerous hats at CCCB.

As usual, not everything from my interviews finds its way into the published version of the article.Here, then, is more from (and about) Anne Menear:

I'll begin first with a couple of quotes from her boss, David Fincher, the president of CCCB:
“Anne has been quite dedicated to working in whatever capacity we need, as well as building strong relationships with our students and staff members. She relocated here from West Virginia in 2004 and has been all in. She has actually recruited several employees to come here as well. She has been a tremendous asset to us in that time.”
. . .
Many of the earlier restrictions upon women in all of our Christian colleges were inferred from Bible verses that specifically addressed the worship assembly and leadership polity of the first century church,” he says. “Over time more female students enrolled at Christian colleges and were being given leadership opportunities in our churches after graduation. In order to develop servant-leaders for the church, we saw that not only were there legitimate leadership needs within the church where women were being called to serve, but there were many qualified women who could effectively train both men and women for those positions. At that point, utilizing them in those capacities was difficult to criticize either biblically or culturally

Anne Menear on why she gave up coaching the CCCB women's basketball and volleyball teams:
I gave all that up to for the student development. Too much road work. I love people. I love coaching, but I’m not a professional athlete or coach by any matter.

On her passion for teaching people how to teach:
I’m in charge of the Christian Education program, since Mr. Schantz retired, so I’m the advisor for Christian Education majors and I help them with the schedules and oversee their internships.

Basically I try to teach well, to teach them how to teach. That’s one of my greatest passions is teaching to teach.

I hate that the assumption is made that you’re born a teacher. I think anybody can be taught to teach, with some basics skills.

I don’t think you should put someone in as a teacher, whether it’s for Sunday School or otherwise, just because they have a bachelor’s degree or they have a master’s in something. That does not mean that they know what they’re doing. It means they know a lot about a subject.

I think with a little bit of training anyone can be trained to be a teacher. So you teach them about discipline, teach them how to be organized,and how to put together a layout for teaching and be prepared.
On restorative discipline:
I always call it the principal of the college. When I was working in Virginia I was an assistant principal, so I had to discipline on a lower level.

Here, discipline is more based on our code of conduct. We try to do what’s call restorative or redemptive discipline. It’s a great program. It was introduced to me when I first arrived here.

It’s just the idea that we’re not going to kick you to the street because you can’t follow God’s rules; we’re all struggling with that one.

Instead, how can we restore a person and help them to overcome those things so they can be a part of the community. I get to do a lot with the young ladies around here.
I work very closely with Daryl Ammon, my boss, and with the Dean of Men, Aaron Welch. We do a lot of team type of work. The climate of today’s culture is such that you don’t want to be one on one with people, so you get into a he-said/she-said situation, It’s a really cool program
On identity as the key issue for women:
I was at the national basketball tournament in Joplin two years ago and a young lady spoke on the subject of identity, and bells and whistles went off in my head.
. . .

I think that’s been a universal issue for centuries, but I don’t think it’s gotten any better at all.

How is that different than “finding myself”? It’s more guided. There’s less drugs involved! I don’t want them to necessary want them to wander around Colorado looking for their feelings.

I know they’re going to make a lot of mistakes, a lot of its trial and error.

They need good examples. I try to have some of our dorm mentors, professors’ wives, or local ladies in the church to come in and have contact with them, just to show them you can have a direction in life, you can have an identity and it’s not necessarily just wife, mother, children’s minister, missionary, that it’s “I’m a child of the king.” Once you have that prioritized then hopefully there will be less wandering and finding yourself.

I was the main speaker at an all girls camp for 5th-8th graders at Lemoine Christian Camp last week. I told them you’re all princesses. Some of you have been acting like queens; you think everybody should be bowing before you. But you are a child of the King, and that makes you a princess.

But there’s still responsibility that comes with that. People aren’t here for your beck and call.

Your identity could be bound up in so many different things, and it could be the wrong things.

It’s a message little kids need. It’s sad, but I can’t believe how many 10 year old girls I see, and younger, struggling with that already. Wearing makeup, flirting with boys, and that kind of life. When you start that young, by the time you’re 18 and 19 and you’re going to go to bible college, those things hang on to you. They show up here with a lot of baggage.

If you came here broken like that, we can work with that, but you don’t have to go that direction.

I drive home that you don’t’ have to go that direction. You don’t have to be an alcoholic to feel the grace of God. You don’t have to have walked down those bad roads in order to get real with God. I feel fortunate to be able to catch a lot of them before they get to that.
On how she wound up at CCCB:
A friend of mine knew that I wanted to teach at the college level, saw the advertisement in the Christian Standard and passed it along to me. I kind of pooh-poohed it. There’s no way they’re going to hire a 30-year old woman – a thirty year young woman – to work at a bible college.

I sent the resume in, got an interview and got hired. I assume God was somehow orchestrating a big move away from the ocean I love to the Midwest, where the humidity is just as wettening, but not as nice. It’s a different culture than northern Virginia.
On trends among students:
I get a sense of restlessness. They’re not sure what to do or where to go.

Your generation and my generation, we went to bible college because we wanted to preach, we wanted to teach, and we had in mind where we were headed.

Now we have a lot of ones who are not sure, so they start in general studies and then they change to counseling, and then they might change their mind again three semesters into that.

Friends who work at Mizzou say the same thing.

That’s one of the hardest things to deal with is students who are flip flopping degree programs, which they don’t understand can really hurt your progress. They don’t where they want to go or what they want to do. They just know they want to do something.

This generation is really struggling with that , clarity of direction. It goes back to the identity issue.

I love something Jon Rawls said about your call. Very few people in the bible were called directly by God’s voice. “You go from here to there.”

We are all called in the general sense to spread the gospel, of course.

But whatever we choose to do should be based on our talents and what we’re trained to be able to do. And we should go ahead and do that with boldness.

So I just try to give them that kind of message. You might not hear God’s voice audibly in your bedroom tonight saying, “Go to Nigeria”, but there might be somebody who contacts you or who you meet at ICOM, who invites you to come to Nigeria. And if you’re able to see how you could fit into that, then you can see how it could be something you could do with your career.

God kind of leaves some things up to us and we’re all scared to go through those doors. I just try to explain it to them and reinforce it.
. . . and a final quote from Anne Menear:
"We could use a little less divisive subjects and more unity."

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Don't Mourn. Don't Cheer. Mobilize.

The total expenditure of words in the past 24 hours has been "yuge." Everyone has an explanation for what just happened and suggestions for what comes next.

An editorialist in the Chicago Tribune wrote, Use this gift from voters well, Republicans, advising the winners to take constructive advantage of what will likely be a very short window of opportunity, if history is any indicator.
Just as surely as they've [the Republicans] have raised this red sea, they can sink back to minority status in a couple of election cycles. Solutions or self-destruction, GOP. What'll it be?
A writer on the other side of the divide said on The American Prospect website, Mourn. Then Organize.
At a time like this, many liberals and progressive will recall the words of labor activist Joe Hill: “Don't mourn, organize.” But let's be honest. We're in shock. We need time to mourn. To recover from the trauma of this election. ...
The truth is, this is probably not the great sea change most people seem to think it is. Nate Silver of points out in What a Difference 2 Percentage Points Makes that the difference in popular vote was minuscule statistically. If only 1 voter out of 100 had voted differently, the entire narrative of the post-election onslaught of verbiage would have been totally different. The conventional wisdom would have been completely reversed.

The arc of the pendulum, it seems, is not that large.

So what should a Christian do, now that the election is over?

I'd paraphrase Joe Hill: Don't Mourn or Cheer. Mobilize.

That same Chicago Tribune editorial opens with this quote:
"How could Nixon have won? Nobody I know voted for him." — New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael, expressing disbelief (and myopia) in 1972 after Republican Richard Nixon defeated Democrat George McGovern by an Electoral College vote of 520-17. Four years later, Democrats won back the presidency.
Kael's comment illustrates a sad truth, that we all tend to congregate with people much like ourselves. We don't take time to get to know the people whose lives and experiences have led them to a very different political perspective than ours. We look at politics as being about the big issues, rather than seeing the people entangled in the daily impact of those issues.

The next step, for missional believers, should be to examine what we can learn about the people of our community, based on the election cycle we've just endured and the results of this vote. Can we see beyond the rhetoric and the slogans to understand the hearts and minds of people who would inexplicably vote for four years of Donald Trump? Can we push past the accusations and labels to learn about the daily struggles and fears of a person who would dare vote for Hillary Clinton?

Our God has what each of those people needs. The only way they'll discover God's gift is if we'll stop being a voting bloc called "Evangelicals."

Instead, let's mobilize to reach out to our neighbors and share with them our hearts and our good news..

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Fruitful Politics: Self Control

In the prison chapel I've encountered quite a few believers who have been convinced that the Holy Spirit has taken up residence in them for the purpose of letting them lose control. And so they let the Holy Spirit "set their feet a-dancing", they impulsively say things the Spirit has "given" them, or they find themselves suddenly "slain in the spirit". I've yet to witness anyone barking or fainting or rolling in the aisles in the prison chapel, but I've been told it happens in some of the other services there.

Among the fruit of the Spirit is self-control. It's a paradoxical fruit, since the scriptures clearly tells us the best way to have self control is to put God in control. The Holy Spirit was sent to assist us in this difficult pursuit, but not by staging regular recreations of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"

I'm not judging whether the Holy Spirit will actually do such things in the modern church, although I do have some definite opinions about the matter. My chief issue with this sort of uncontrolled behavior is that it seems to fly in the face of the things Jesus said, recorded in John 14-17, about the reasons he was sending the Spirit to inhabit his church.

Jesus clearly explains to his disciples that the Spirit is to be a counselor, an advocate, a guide. He lays out the Spirit's job description clearly in John 16:8-11

When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me;  bout righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
You can read more about those three job description bullet points here, here, and here, but altogether they're describing the Spirit's task of pursuing the gospel mission of Christ through the people of the church.

The Spirit helps us to control our emotions, our motives, our words, and our actions by helping us maintain our focus on the mission.

Self control is hard. Raise your hand if you think it's easy. I didn't think so.

And yet, there are situations where we do find it easier.

When my kids were smaller, I found it easier to control my words and my actions when they were around, because I was motivated to set a good example. When I'm at work, it's generally easier to control my tendency toward sarcasm because I'm focused on working together as a team. When I'm driving in rush hour traffic, I'm highly motivated to be aware of everything around me and am able to adjust my actions accordingly.

Every one of those scenarios has in common a mission, some sort of purpose or goal that helps me maintain self control. We all know people who don't control themselves well in those situations, and the result is kids who grow up with potty mouths, difficulty succeeding in or keeping a job, and road rage.

Keeping my mind on God's mission helps me maintain self control, aided by the Spirit within me.

Maintaining control during political season is extremely difficult.

Every morning I check Facebook to learn what's going on in the lives of my friends and family, only to find rude and inflammatory political memes and links. Every day at work there are people who are always trying to provoke a political argument. I read the latest news or tweets and I'm aghast at the things I read.

I want to sarcastically respond to some of those silly Facebook posts. I want rise to the bait and tell that obnoxious co-worker exactly what I think about the cockamamie conspiracies he finds on his favorite deep websites. I want to react to every hot take with a flaming tweet of my own.

Sometimes I do. The snark is strong inside me.

With the Holy Spirit's help, though, I'm becoming more focused on the kingdom mission every day. With his help I'm change.

I'm still easily opinionated, but I'm not easily offended. Anyone with a mind that is at all analytic will form opinions. But with the mission in focus, I realized it's not about me. Being offended means I take things personally. Being missional means I listen not only to the opinion but to the heart of the person sharing that opinion. Then I can respond in a way that plants seeds to grow the kingdom of God.

A missional focus also has taught me to be in control when political disagreement occurs. The truth is, hardly anyone is ever convinced to change their mind because someone argued them into it, or because someone posted a rude meme or gossipy half truth about a candidate. And even if I was able to win a political argument through such means, the result would likely have the opposite effect on my effectiveness at winning people to the truth that's most important.

If you want to grow in the spiritual fruit of self control, it's not about letting go. It's about sowing seeds to the Spirit's garden in your heart. It's about keeping in step with the Spirit as he leads you on mission for the gospel.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Fruitful Politics: Meekness

"The meek will be taking over the earth, so gently that the powerful won't notice until it's too late." (Simply Jesus, by N.T. Wright)
While some translations call this fruit of the Spirit gentleness, there are other Greek words better suited to be translated as such. The word in this verse is praus, meaning "strength brought under control." The Greeks used the term to describe a wild horse brought under the control of a master by the use of a bit and bridle.

The parallels to the life of a Spirit-filled Christian are obvious, but often ignored. The meek are not easily provoked, not easily panicked, and not easily distracted.

One reason why we so often fail at the gentle art of meekness is that we fail to keep our focus on the true mission.

If I've allowed the world's thought machine to convince me that the most important purpose I could possibly pursue in 2016 is keeping illegal aliens from taking our jobs, corrupting our country or importing terrorism, then the part of meekness that always takes its directions from the master has already been set aside. The same is true if I've concluded the most important goal for the few days remaining before November 8th is to convince as many Facebook friends as possible that Donald Trump is a danger to the country and to our women. Or that Hillary Clinton should be in jail. Or that President Obama is a Muslim. Or that George Bush and the CIA engineered the 9/11 attacks so they could hand over to the NSA the keys to American's privacy.

If you've become convinced that any of those goals, or any other political agenda, should be the driving motivator of your behavior, you've slipped the reins and broken out of the stall.

There is no cause that might capture the imagination and energies of a Christian that is more important than the cause of representing the kingdom of God by being salt and light in the world. Not conservatism nor liberalism. Not libertarianism nor nationalism. No candidate or principle is more important than the gospel.

Also, there is no amount of "rightness" of a cause that allows a representative of Christ Jesus to set aside the righteous character the Lord wants to work out in our lives.

Meekness requires that even if I find myself emboldened by an adrenaline rush when I hear or read some comment by a politician or one of his or her followers, I'll still allow my reaction or response to be under the control of the master. I'm no longer a maverick, running wild on the political range, picking fights with rivals. I'm an energetic and powerful steed for the Holy Spirit to ride in pursuit of God's mission, regardless of the direction or manner in which I'd like to take off at a gallop.

What does it profit a Christian if he gains the White House and ensures the right Supreme Court Justices are named or the wrong person's finger is not on the nuclear panic button, but, in the process of pushing for that political goal, loses his soul and the souls of his non-believing friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers?

God's mission does not require spinning the truth, passing along political gossip, or sharing rude Facebook memes.
When God wants to change the world, he doesn't send in the tanks. He sends in the meek, the mourners, those who are hungry and thirsty for God's justice, the peacemakers, and so on. Just as God's whole style, his chosen way of operating, reflects his generous love, sharing his rule with human creatures, so the way in which those humans then have to behave if they are to be agents of Jesus' lordship reflects in turn the same sense of vulnerable, gentle, but powerful self-giving love. (Simply Jesus, by N.T. Wright)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Fruitful Politics: Faithfulness

I was pleased when Bob Dylan was named the recipient of the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature, "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition." He's been the poet laureate of my generation, telling tales of the life of a rolling stone and painting pictures of the world seen from his unique perspective.

I have many favorites among his works, but the one that always sticks with me is from his 1979 album, Slow Train Coming:
You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes
Indeed you're gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody
Serve Somebody was the most successful of the songs from that album, a collection he created during his spiritual journey of the late 70's. Arguments can be made about the degree of Dylan's faithfulness to the Lord of Lords, but these lyrics have brought Jesus' words to life for many.
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money." Matthew 6:24
Jesus applied the principle, at that moment, to the danger of loving and serving money. The principle holds true for many other things that can threaten to become a master that competes with God, including politics.

How can you tell if your faithfulness to politics has pushed aside your faithfulness to God? Consider these thoughts:
  • Are you willing to spin the truth about your chosen candidate, lying to others and to yourself about their flaws, while amplifying the flaws of the opponent? The Father of Lies would welcome your faithfulness to his agenda.
  • Are your political obsessions distracting you from the mission of God? Are they distracting the seekers and skeptics around you from the faithfulness of God?
  • When someone asks you the reasons for your political stance, do you remember to mention your faith and the name of the One who motivates everything you do? Or would a missional approach conflict with the tone and tenor of your vehement response?
  • Do you see the fiercely devoted followers of the "other" candidate as distasteful? Or do you see them as people who need to rediscover the image of God within themselves?
  • Are you so fearful about the possible outcome of the election that you're on the edge of panic? Or do you understand that God is faithful and will work for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose?
  • Are you faithfully sharing the good news in season and out of season, or are you too busy sharing your hot takes on the latest developments during political season?
  • Have you considered whether your freedom of political expression might interfere with your ability to be heard when you talk about Jesus?
Are you remembering to be loyal - to be faithful - to the God who will always be loyal and faithful to you, even when you forget about him during political season?
He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. Psalm 91:4
If we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself. II Timothy 2:13
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. I Corinthians 10:13
I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service.  I Timothy 1:12
You're gonna have to serve somebody.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Fruitful Politics: Goodness

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8
Some readers, if they haven't read my previous blogposts on missional politics, may have been wondering about the reason for the picture of trees. What does it have to do with the topic at hand?

It's all about goodness, and what you're sinking your roots into.

From a previous blogpost, What Tree Would You Be?:

Like a tree being feed an uneven diet of toxic nutrition, the average Christian's powers of discernment are being slowly poisoned. We're consuming so much of a limited range of information, we can no longer recognize the validity or existence of alternative ideas. Like the beautiful red tree in the picture, we're proud to be the oddball in the crowd, the one is getting the good info and possesses all the right opinions about every topic. Worst of all, with constant feedback from our favored sources, continually reinforcing our confidence in the rightness of our views and our cause, we begin to listen to those voices more than we listen to that other voice inside us. The Holy Spirit voice. The one that keeps trying to pull us back to the Bible, back to our purpose as Christians, back to the fruit of the Spirit and humility and mission.
For the Christian who genuinely wants to let the fruit of the Spirit drive his involvement in politics, continually soaking up the goodness of God is essential.

As a writer who frequently writes about the intersection of Christianity and American culture, I read a lot about politics and the latest trends in cultural thought. I continually have to remind myself, though, that I can easily lose my way if that's all I ever read.

While I'm searching for yet another obscure piece about the cutting edge of post-modern American thought, I'm also intentional about reading the Word, to keep myself rooted in God's goodness.

I'm also constantly on the lookout for other writings that reflect and express the goodness of God as it applies to life in 21st century America. The truth of God can be found in unexpected places.

Examples of what is noble are always a treasure. I find nobility in those rare people who refuse to let their principles be dumbed down or compromised by the whims of pop culture.

I also look for examples of people, both believers and non-believers, standing up for whatever is right in the face of a tidal wave of wrong. I appreciate people like Southern Baptist president Russell Moore, who has steadfastly refused to ignore the deep flaws of both Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton, no matter their political platforms.

It's only by consuming a variety of the goodness that God is constantly inspiring throughout our culture that we can remain balanced in our approach to politics. Too often we latch onto the the worst of our culture, the sensationalism of the latest viral rumors, the never-ending negatives.

We're supposed to be salt and light, or, as Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message, we're to bring out the God-flavors and God-colors in the world. We should be actively looking for the glimpses of goodness and truth and nobility and rightness and purity and loveliness and everything admirable in daily life, in the news, and on social media. And THAT's what we should be sharing on our timelines, on the political message boards, and in our conversations at work and in the checkout line.

That will only happen, though, if our roots go deep into the goodness of God.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Fruitful Politics: Kindness

“Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign." Joshua 2:12

I've always understood kindness as the active expression of the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. So how does kindness work itself out in the political season?

Kindness listens. The worst sort of conversation is the one where you can tell the other person is not really listening to you. They're half-listening while they're waiting to respond with their much-more-important contribution to the "discussion". This happens all too frequently in political discussions. No one is really interested in a substantive dialogue. They're just taking turns spouting off their cherished opinions.

Kindness listens attentively and actually considers not only the content of what's being said, but the value of the person talking.

Kindness prefers dialogue to monologue. This is closely related to the previous point. Some people, when they're talking about politics, are so invested - or obsessed - with the brilliance and superiority of their own political insights, they'll talk your ear off. There's no room to respond, to ask questions, or even to agree.

Kindness loves a dialogue, reveling more in the personal interaction, in getting to know one another better, than in letting the other person know how smart you are.

Kindness answers softly. It's easy to become so wrapped up in the "right vs. wrong" narrative when it comes to politics. Reasonable people can and do disagree on the detailed application of principle to politics. Approaching every political statement or Facebook share as the opening volley in a war will motivate you to respond with a blast of indignant certainty. Valuing the other's right to their opinion as much as your own will help you to respond with a soft answer. That doesn't mean you'll always agree, but you'll answer gently, perhaps putting your riposte into the form of a question.

Kindness hesitates to judge motives. In my experience, responding to a strong partisan statement with a soft answer often prompts the other person to quickly assume I'm for the opposite candidate or position. Along with that can come assumptions about my motives for such a contrary viewpoint. Often, their assumptions are not true at all. It's just that my goal is to keep political conversations constructive and missional.

Jumping to conclusions about someone's motives for their political stance or their approach is never conducive to having a productive dialogue. Kindness assumes the best motives from others, until proven otherwise.

Kindness doesn't pass along gossip. If kindness is treating others like I'd like to be treated, then gossip is at the top of the list of things I don't like. Gossip is unkind and is more a sign of the works of the flesh (hatred, discord, ... selfish ambition, dissensions...) than the fruit of the Spirit.

Gossiping about politicians and candidates is equally unkind. If you heard a salacious but unproven rumor about me, would you rush to post the details on Facebook? Would you share it with as many friends and friends-of-friends as possible? I would hope not.

Why, then, are so many people - and so many Christian people - so gleeful about passing along the latest viral smear about political figures? Is it because we don't think of them as people? Gossip is unkind in any setting.

Kindness sees individuals.  It's so easy to see the phrase #BlackLivesMatter and respond to the political statement, rather than seeing the wounded souls of the people who have been marginalized by so many. It's easy to vehemently oppose policies about immigrants and refugees and fail to respond with empathy toward the plight of the aliens in our midst.

Kind, Spirit-fueled believers may hold definite opinions about the politics of a situation, but they will always fall back on their default mode of empathy and compassion for the individual children of God enmeshed in a political quagmire.

Kindness offers help. If I'm struggling with my weight, I hope my Christian friends will help me by keeping me on track with my diet and exercise program, rather than just shaking their heads at the "fat pig"in their midst. If someone in the church has anger issues, I would hope his fellow believers would help him with his problems rather than talking about him behind his back. These are just common sense expectations of how the community of believers conduct themselves.

Why, then, do so many Christians respond to the poor, the drug addict, the convicted criminal, the transgendered, and the young woman who just had abortion - why do so many believers see these sinners and have a quick, automatic reaction of censure and political outrage?  Spirit-driven kindness produces an automatic response of "what can I do to help?"

Kindness gets involved. Kindness not only sees the individuals enmeshed in the issues and immediately wants to know how to help. Kindness also  rolls up its sleeves and gets involved. "Helping" can be something you do while still keeping your distance. I'll give money to a group that helps "those people", but I really don't want to get involved with "those people."

It took me years to learn this lesson: You'll never know the full blessings of the Christian life until you intentionally become messily involved in the messy lives of messy people. More than your money, more than your political opinions, people who are oppressed by the world or oppressed by sin need to know you're willing to walk along beside them.

Kindness gets involved.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Fruitful Politics: Forbearance

Some translations call this fruit of the Spirit patience. I think the word forbearance is much more descriptive of what Paul had in mind.

Patience is a common word. In modern usage it often means nothing more than semi-willingly sitting around and waiting for something to happen.

God's forbearance, as described in His Word, is an act of mercy and grace.

The scriptures that talk about the forbearance of God frequently describe it as putting off judgment. It's like a probationary period, without the guarantee of a full pardon.

Forbearance also carries with it the important aspect of bearing with and bearing up the person who might otherwise be judged. God doesn't idly stand by and watch us flail about. He doesn't root for us to fail. To the contrary, he patiently bears with us, not wanting anyone to perish. He bears us up by providing Christ as a substitutionary sacrifice. He also bears us up by actively seeking and saving the lost, a mission pursued by Jesus and by the beautiful feet and vocal mouths of His Church.

His forbearance is only transformed from a temporary stopgap to a permanent withholding of judgment for those who accept Christ's offer to bear the punishment.

If we apply this understanding of God's forbearance to the frequent call for his followers to practice forbearance, it takes on a more complex meaning than simply being patient.

When someone is in the wrong, the forbearing Christian patiently waits, allowing them time to change. We also bear them up, rather than tearing them down. We're not trying to shame them or make things more difficult for them. Instead, we're getting involved, bearing with them, instead of sitting by idly, waiting for them to fail. And yet we know there are consequences in store if change does not occur.

So, how does the biblical concept of forbearance apply to the Christian's conduct during political season?

Rather than buying into post-modern concepts of tolerance and diversity, the Christian will instead choose forbearance. It's not our job to judge people whose lifestyle is in opposition to our understanding of God's clear truth. Instead, we're to be patient with them and actively play a part in God's mission to let them know about Christ's sacrifice.

This will mean that instead of avoiding all contact with sinners, we will intentionally seek them out, going to the places where they are, befriending them. This shouldn't be difficult. Christians are already in the habit of hanging out with a motley group of sinners every Sunday morning.

This missional attitude of forbearance toward people living ungodly lifestyles doesn't necessarily mean Christians will readily agree to laws that condone and/or enable those lifestyles. Some believers might see the granting of some legal rights and freedoms to their fellow sinners as part and parcel of forbearance. Others will not agree with that at all.

Reasonable Christians can agree to disagree on the politics of morality, but we surely can agree to agree that our primary task as the Church of the forbearing God is to be missionally forbearing to all sinners, even the ones who make us uncomfortable.

We'll also want to be missionally forbearing to people with whom we disagree about political issues.

My neighbor's opinions about illegal immigration might be completely opposite of mine. I might even think he's a political wacko. But I can still be forbearing, rather than confrontational, with him. But only if I always see him -and his opinions - through the lens of the missional eyes God has given me.

My co-worker's insistence on loudly campaigning for a candidate I find repugnant might provoke me, and it can be difficult to not allow myself to be baited into arguments. Instead, her actions should remind me to increase the level of my forbearance toward her. After all, if my continual arguing with her over politics prompts her to distrust my judgments and opinions in general, she's unlikely to listen to me when I want to tell her about my Savior.

Spirit-prompted forbearance will always be motivated by and directed toward patiently drawing people to Christ, even during political season.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Fruitful Politics: Peace

The politics of peace can be pretty complicated, prompting a lot of disagreement and even more labeling.

Are you a hawk or a dove? An isolationist or an interventionist? Do you favor diplomacy or confrontation? Appeasement or bullying? Unilateral disarmament or mutually assured destruction? Or perhaps something in between those choices or way outside the box?

Or are you a peacemaker?

Regardless of your stance or the opinion of whomever you're talking to about politics, is your first impulse to be a peacemaker? Or are you an argument instigator? The guy who always has to put in his two cents. Or the girl who always has to have the last word. Or, worst of all, are you a troll?

Or maybe you're the one who is quick to turn a conversation into a debate and then into a full fledged fight. All because, of course, you believe so strongly in the right-ness of your opinions. Forget the righteousness of peacemaking, you're going to make your point and you're not going to quit until you've either convinced your 'opponent' or they run away in fear.

Being a peacemaker is harder than being a troublemaker. To stir up trouble in any discussion, all you have to do is react, countering every statement with one of your own, answering every claim with a counter-claim, every spin with a counter-spin.

Being a peacemaker is about not reacting with jerk of a knee, but instead responding from the depths of your carefully tended heart.

You've been putting down deep roots into the Word of God. You've been investing intense hours on your knees, struggling with the difference between your desires and the things God loves, between your opinions and God's priorities. And you've come through it with a changed heart, one that always and only wants to peacefully pursue His mission, That mission is to share His shalom - "a rest of will that comes from divine assurance about how things will turn out" (Dallas Willard) - with every person in every situation in every season.

Even in political season.

Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it.
Don’t bad-mouth each other, friends. It’s God’s Word, his Message, his Royal Rule, that takes a beating in that kind of talk. You’re supposed to be honoring the Message, not writing graffiti all over it. (James 4:1-2, 11-12, The Message)

Friday, October 14, 2016

Fruitful Politics: Joy

How can godly JOY, second among Paul's listing of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, have anything to do with politics?

I wondered this myself until I stumbled across The Politics of Long Joy, a piece by Alan Jacobs at Books & Culture. I'd encourage you to read it in its entirety, but allow me to excerpt this paragraph that explains the phrase, "long joy":
"The politics of long joy" is an odd phrase, but a rich one. Fish derives it from another moment in Paradise Lost, when the archangel Michael reveals to Adam a vision of "Just men" who "all their study bent / To worship God aright," who then are approached by a "bevy of fair women" and determine to marry them. Adam likes this vision; two earlier ones had shown pain and death, but this one seems to Adam to portend "peaceful days," harmony among peoples. But Michael immediately corrects him. This is in fact a vision of the events described in Genesis 6, in which, after the "sons of God" become enamored with the "daughters of man," God discerns that "the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." "Judge not what is best / By pleasure," Michael warns Adam, "though to nature seeming meet." Instead, Adam should judge according to the "nobler end" for which he was created: "conformity divine," that is, obedience to God. And when Adam hears this rebuke Milton tells us that he was "of short joy bereft." Of short joy bereft: for the joy which comes from judging according to appearances and immediate circumstances, according to what we now like to call "outcomes," is always short. Only the joy of conforming our will to God's is long.
Jacobs goes on to explain the application of this "long joy" principle to his job as a cultural critic. We would do well to consider its implications for our involvement, as Christians, in politics.

First, we are free to express our opinions on political topics, free to support and even campaign for our chosen candidates, and free to speak clearly about how we see political ideas and politicians in light of the truths of God and the interests of His people.

We're also free to keep our mouths shut and keep our opinions to ourselves. As I've said many times, there is no biblical imperative to have an opinion on every topic, nor is there any mandate to always share what opinions we do have. Our mandate is to be extreme and consistent in our love and to pursue God's mission above all else.

If we're bubbling over with the fruit of joy, we're also going to be guided by a fruitful perspective on the implications and impact of political elections and cultural changes.

It's so easy to get caught up in the "short joy" of putting all our eggs into the basket of a particular candidate's victory, or in the passing of a particular bill, or the nomination of a particular breed of supreme court justices.

By our frantic reaction to every event (or pseudo-event) during the campaign season, we're declaring to the world that our joy as Christians is dependent upon the shifting sands of national politics. We telegraph our fear of the "wrong" candidate and the "wrong" policies to our children, to the believers who look to us as mentors, and to both both seekers and skeptics who look to the Christians around them for a display of the "long joy" and confidence that comes from Jesus.

On November 8th - and the days following - will your family and friends and flock see you angry, distraught, or panicky if your candidate loses? Or will they barely see your disappointment because they're blinded by your dazzling "long joy"?

The world is indeed a mess. It has been since Adam and Eve first corrupted the glory of the garden. America isn't a godly nation. It never was, not to the extreme some would pretend. We are surrounded and have always been surrounded by sin, by wrongness, by failure.

Quoting Alan Jacobs again:
The truth of who we are, given the extremes of divine image and savage depravity, is hard to discern; perhaps we can only achieve it in brief moments; perhaps we only catch rumors of the glory that is, and is to be. But even those rumors can sustain us as we walk the pilgrim path.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Fruitful Politics: Love

No good tree bears bad fruit... (Luke 6:43-45)
The following plea appeared in my Facebook feed on primary day back in March:
To my brothers and sisters in Christ. Please don't vote in anger and frustration but vote for the candidate who will make God first again in our great nation.
I appreciate the sentiment, although I may not agree with the political assumptions behind the words.

To my mind, to really be fruitful in putting God first in our great nation, it's less about a list of opinions or platforms, and more about whether Spirit-driven Christians are bearing the Spirit's fruit in abundance as they walk with the Spirit through the minefields of politics.

The first among Paul's list of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) is Love.

During Jesus' three year ministry, his priority was always on loving God, loving your neighbor, and loving your enemies. On the few occasions when he was confronted with political questions or politically sensitive topics, he always responded in a way that demonstrated love for God, love for your neighbor, and love for enemies.

In 21st century America, even many Christians have bought into the either/or approach to issues and to people. If you are a supporter of this candidate, you must despise and believe the worst about their opponent. If you agree with this policy, you must believe the worst about people on the opposite side.

Believe it or not, it's possible to love the teachings about morality in God's Word and yet still love immoral people, whether they be homosexuals, liars, greedy, crude, or just plain flawed like the rest of us.

It's possible - and praiseworthy - to love both the sinners and the saved, to have loving compassion on the very real oppression experienced by black people while also loving and honoring law enforcement officials.

It's possible to have strong views about the politics of immigration and yet respond to immigrants - legal or illegal - with an abundance of love.

We would do well to read Paul's treatise on love in I Corinthians 13 on a daily basis during political season. His practical, down-to-earth description of love in action would us to bear fruit when we talk politics.

  • The fruitful Christian will respond to the belligerence of politically intense people with patience.
  • Rudeness and insult won't be a part of the kind demeanor of the fruitful Christian.
  • The fruitful Christian will avoid dishonoring others - even politicians who seem to have little honor - in our conversations and our social media posts.
  • The fruitful Christian is not easily angered, not even by people whose political viewpoints seem in extreme opposition to godliness and justice.
  • The fruitful Christian won't be constantly looking for every little slip-up an opposing candidate or politician makes, keeping a record of wrongs, amplifying the faults of the "wrong" politician and glossing over the faults of the "right" person.

Politicians and hot topics come and go, but love never fails.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Missional Politics: Kobayashi Maru

The 2016 presidential election presents a classic Kobayashi Maru scenrio - a "no win" situation.

For the non Trekkies who are reading this, the Kobayashi Maru, according to the Star Trek wiki, MemoryAlpha:
...was an infamous no-win scenario that was part of the curriculum for command-track cadets at Starfleet Academy in the 23rd century. It was primarily used to assess a cadet's discipline, character and command capabilities when facing an impossible situation, as there is no (legitimate) strategy that will result in a successful outcome.
Many voters see no legitimate strategy that will result in a successful outcome to this election. Both the Republican and Democratic candidates are repellent in their own ways. We're faced with the choice of voting for the one we're least scared about. The only alternative seems to be either a vote for a third party candidate or staying home and not voting at all, both of which choices would effectively help one or the other of the mainstream candidates to win.

For a Christian, though, there is no such thing as a no-win scenario.

In the fictional world of Star Trek, there was one cadet who found a way to win.
In the 2250s, James T. Kirk became the first (and only known) cadet to ever beat the no-win scenario. After taking the test and failing twice, Kirk took the test a third time after surreptitiously reprogramming the computer to make it possible to win the scenario. Kirk was subsequently awarded a commendation for "original thinking" and later commented, wistfully, that his stunt "had the virtue of never having been tried."
Some people have "reprogrammed" their minds to conveniently ignore the flaws and flubs of one candidate, while amplifying ever slip up and questionable comment by the other. For a Christian, this should never be an option. The Father of Lies is quite pleased when his opponents followers resort to spinning the truth.

As Christians, our mission is not to buy into the platforms and purposes of the culture, but to "reprogram" our minds. The scriptures don't use the term "reprogram", but they do talk about the  "renewing of the mind" (Romans 12:2), being "made new in the attitude of your minds" (Ephesians 4:23), and "taking every thought captive" (II Corinthians 10:5).

If we reprogram our minds to to see things the way God sees them, we'll understand, first of all, that God is in charge, and that no king, no president, no nation is more powerful or more important than the King of Kings. In the Old Testament, God frequently is described as laughing or scoffing at the pretensions of rulers and principalities. If God thinks so little of them, why do we, as people who put our trust wholly in God, allow ourselves to get caught up in the hysteria surrounding who will be the next president?

Having your mind rooted in the Word of God, rather than in the world's version of the Word,  will change how you respond to the way the culture around us is reacting to the elections. As I've said before,
While people around you are pushing the edge of the envelope in favor of an extreme, whether politically conservative or liberal, the missional believer will continue to stretch him or herself to sacrificially seek and save the lost. 
As we reprogram our hearts to love what God loves and hate what He hates, we'll be driven by His concern to seek and save the lost. We'll be eager to leapfrog past the political wranglings to eagerly be salt and light in the world, or as Eugene Peterson's The Message, puts it, to "bring out the God flavors" and the "God colors" in the world, in effect working to "reprogram" the way people in the world look at the world.

The alternative is to get caught up into the chaos of the no-win scenario, causing more harm than good. As one Star Trek cadet's poor performance in the Kobayashi Maru training exercise was described, "she destroyed the simulator room and you with it."

If my political obsessions lead me to argue to often and too vehemently with non-believers about political issues, I've become a stumbling block. I'm distracting them from the smiling and welcoming face of the Father who loves them. I also risk causing them to stumble when they look at me and, instead of seeing the love of Jesus in my actions and attitudes and words, they see someone scary, someone who only wants to convince them of some political opinion.

Our primary mission as Christians is not to win the battle for or against climate change, gun control, globalism, immigration, refugee settlement, political correctness, gay rights, racial equality, trickle down economics, a living minimum wage, or even abortion.

Our mission is play our part in reprogramming the minds and hearts of the people we encounter to honor god and trust Him as Lord, not to spin our wheels trying to win them to a political point of view.

So, go ahead and make the tough decision and vote for whichever candidate you can stomach. Or decide to not vote, if that's the only choice you feel you can live with. But don't let that choice push you into a no-win corner.

Yes, we're still, next January, going to watch one or the other of these less than perfect candidates take the oath of office. Even if the one you finally - if reluctantly - vote for is the one who wins, you're still probably going to be less than totally satisfied with having "won."

But if you're focused on Jesus' mission, you're always going to  be on the winning side.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Last Night: Moonlight Graham's Special Place

Archibald "Moonlight" Graham
NY Giants, 1905
Bumping this to the top of the blog in honor of the passing of W.P. Kinsella, who inspired me as a writer and baseball fan. His book 'Shoeless Joe' is one of my most treasured novels. I have quoted that book and the movie it inspired numerous times in my own writing and teaching. It breaks my heart that his older years had become so troubling as to lead him to choose assisted suicide.

If you've never seen the movie Field of Dreams, I feel sorry for you. It's my #1 favorite movie.

Baseball fan Ray Kinsella, at the urging of a mysterious voice, builds a ballpark in his corn field, drives from Iowa to Boston to take a famous writer to a ballgame, and  winds up in Chisholm, Minnesota, in search of an old ballplayer who played a single inning for the New York Giants, but never got a turn at bat.

They find Archie "Moonlight" Graham in Chisholm, but he's no longer the young ballplayer. He's now "Doc" Graham, the small town doctor who has devoted his life to the people of his town. While there's a small part of him that still wonders about what might have been, his heart is elsewhere.
Ray Kinsella: “Fifty years ago you came this close to your dream. I mean, it would kill some men to get that close to their dream and not touch it. They’d consider it a tragedy.” 
Doctor Archibald Graham: “Son, if I’d only gotten to be a doctor for five minutes, now that would have been a tragedy.”
(Field of Dreams, Universal Pictures, 1989) 

Ray Kinsella doesn't understand how he can say that, but the old doctor explains to him that Chisholm is where his heart abides.
“This is my most special place in all the world, Ray. Once a place touches you like this, the wind never blows so cold again. You feel for it, like it was your child. I can’t leave Chisolm. I was born here, I live here, I’ll die here, with no regrets.”

John, the apostle, uses the word abide fifty times in his writings.

For years John was quite comfortable abiding by the sea of Galilee, living the rugged blue collar life of  a fisherman. Family was important to him: he and Andrew were know as the sons of Zebedee, and their mother was a helicopter mom before there were helicopters.

His friends and co-workers were also important to him. Anyone who works at harvesting a crop lives a large portion of his life in the place where he works his trade. For John, his most special place in all the world would have been the boats. Sailing the boat, working the nets, battling the elements, alongside his brother and his friends, he would feel at home. That boat provided sustenance for his family, close-knit friendship, and purpose for his life.

And then he met Jesus.

He found eternal life in Jesus (I John 2:24-25). In Jesus he found fellowship (I John 1:3-7). And in Jesus he found purpose in loving the world Jesus loved (I John 3:11-20).

Once Jesus touches you like that, the wind never blows so cold again. Why would you eve want to go back to the life you once called home?
Abide in me and I will abide in you. John 15:4

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Flipside of Spiritual Gifts: The Rest of the Story

The September issue of Christian Standard magazine features my article on The Flipside of Spiritual Gifts. I encourage you to check it out, in paper or online, and read the article. As often is the case, not everything in my notebook made the cut to be include in the final published manuscript. Here's the rest of the story:

A few links about former University of Missouri Tim Wolfe, who I used as an example of derailers:

Mizzou News Daily Clips Packet, 10/10/2015
Some on campus said Mr. Wolfe was seen as stiff and aloof, and Mr. Middleton said a confrontation between the president and students on Friday outside a fund-raising event in Kansas City dealt a blow to those talks.
. . .
In a fateful encounter with protesters at a homecoming parade in October, members of Concerned Student 1950, a group named for the year the university admitted its first black student, surrounded Mr. Wolfe’s car. The police dispersed the students, and Mr. Wolfe did not come out of his car to address them, which he later acknowledged fed perceptions that he did not care about their issues.
University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe’s very telling resignation speech (Washington Post, 10/10/15)

Tim Wolfe's letter 2-1/2 months after resigning (Columbia Daily Tribune, 1/27/16)

A short list of common talents and associated derailers, from How to Spot a Derailer (Evening Standrad, 11/16/09)
Confidence / Arrogance Charisma / melodrama Energetic / Volatile Prudence/Paralysis Vigilance / Distrust and Witch Hunting Cool Headed / Aloof Spontaneity/Chaos Flair / Eccentricity Neutral / PAssive resistance Detail oriented / perfectionism Eager to please / at all costs
Two quotes about derailers in the ministry:

Lessons from Mars Hill (
We think of leaders falling to temptation around money, sex, power, and information which are temptations to vice, to lustful passions, to sarx. Wise leaders build accountability provisions around these vices. But the temptations to misuse of virtues often go completely unrecognized and therefore without protections of accountability. I think of many stories of leaders who ended up in sinful relationships – not because they were tempted to indulge sexual lusts but because virtues of pastoral helping were used beyond boundaries of godliness. Caring is expressed in a touch, then in touches, in holding . . . and misused virtue becomes devastating sin.
5 Lessons from Leadership Failures (
Rather, the absence of one or more of four dimensions of character is clearly tied to derailment: authenticity, self-management, humility, and courage. The full expression of the dark side of these qualities nearly always dooms us. . . 
Stress brings out what’s inside us. If you don’t think you have a dark side to your character, then you probably haven’t been under enough stress! Wise leaders manage their stress levels and mitigate its pernicious impact on our behavior.

Monday, September 5, 2016

In Print: The Flip Side of Spiritual Gifts

I met Jane in prison, where she is serving a life sentence. Her lifestyle of self-absorption had led her on a downward spiral of unspeakable cruelty and violence. In prison, she was led to Christ. Soon she developed the Spirit-driven gift of encouraging other people, much to the surprise of people who knew her before.

What surprised her, though, was the unexpected flip side that came with the unexpected spiritual gift. She kept sinking into codependent behaviors that pulled her deeply into the messy lives of others.

What Jane experienced is not uncommon. Along with every spiritual gift/talent comes a corresponding flip side—a susceptibility to specific temptations related to that gift. Psychologists and business theorists call it a “derailer” or a “dark side” to positive traits and skills.

Read the full article at

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Campus Ministry at the Crossroads: The Rest of the Story

The August 2016 edition of Christian Standard includes my article, Campus Ministry at the Crossroads.

Christian Campus House at 704 College Avenue
As always, there is information I collected during the writing of that article that didn't make it into the final version. What follows are some of those "leftovers" from the lengthy conversation I had with Lance Tamerius, Christian Campus House Director.

How is the religious climate different now than 20 or 40 years ago?

The number of [Christian] student groups on campus now is one indicator and the size of those groups. The visibility of groups on campus has greatly decreased in the last 12 years since I've been back at CCH, and even more so since I came here as a student 30 years ago.

We had a campus ministers’ meeting recently with the interim chancellor. Last year there were 70 people at the meeting. This year there were 20. That’s the religious leaders.

I know of several groups that have been contemplating leaving campus because they just don’t draw people any more.

I think it’s a reflection of a couple of things, one good.

A lot of students that at one time would have been involved in campus ministries are involved in local churches. So its not all a net loss.

But also there are fewer Christians coming to campus with faith to begin with.

All those are indicators and they’re no different than what we’re seeing in church attendance nationwide, than what we’re seeing in the morals of the society. It’s all saying the same thing.

We’re becoming less and less of a Christ- minded nation. I don’t know that we were ever a Christian nation, but we’re less and less Christ-minded.

It’s not universal. There is a great tolerance toward other religions, but there’s not a great tolerance toward Christianity.

It was probably six years ago that a young man came into my Bible study with big tears in his eyes. It was the first week of class.

I said to him, “What going on?”

He said, “Man, I just had the hardest class I’ve ever had in my life.”

I said, “Gonna be a tough one?”

And he said, “Not the work, but the atmosphere. The professor asked, if you’re a Christian stand up. And there were about a dozen of us, and the professor said, my goal by the end of the semester is to not have faith by the time you leave, and if you still have faith, I will have failed."

But he didn’t do that to the Muslims, he didn’t do that to the Buddhists. It was just Christians.

Some of it’s to be expected. The biologist will always teach evolution, the philosopher will always doubt God, and all that’s expected. But the class the teacher had the students stand up in was a Chemistry class. It’s probably more a reflection of the professor’s world view than of the course he’s teaching.

Overtly though, it’s the anti-Christian attitudes that most students have.

If you stand up for anything godly, it's considered offensive to other people, because we’re judging people.

On the other hand, we’re considered weak by a whole other group of people because we stand for something based on something that is as old as Christianity.

Maybe what’s changed more than anything is that the students have those attitudes about Christianity now, and it used to be just the professors that had it.

Twenty years ago you could speak and everybody here was on the same page, they knew what you meant. We’ve reached the point where Bible literacy is very shallow. We’re at the point where fewer students know what you know, much less believe what you believe.

Institutional attitudes toward Christianity

A.P. Green Chapel has been part of the Memorial Student Union for 75 years. It was set up to be a place of worship.

At one point the university wanted to take the pews out and just put down rugs, because all religions use rugs, I guess. Fortunately that was stopped.

It’s subtle things like that.

Most of the radical policies seem to start on the coast and make their way to the heart of the country. The University of California system has been in a battle with Christian groups and barred them from using space on campus.

Not too long ago the same thing happened at Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt was a Methodist college, started out to propagate the gospel.

Over the past five years I think it’s over twenty colleges have removed religious groups.

ACRA – the Association of Campus Religious Advisors – met with the chancellor at a luncheon.

He said, "I’ve had a hard year. This summer I re-read St Augustine’s City of God. I needed to be reminded of a lot of things.

He said the university has always been a place to acquire knowledge, but not wisdom. Knowledge can be taught, but wisdom has to be search out, modeled. People used to come with wisdom they’d gotten from home, church, school. Now people are coming without wisdom.

He told us the problems that are on the campuses will never be solved by the university. The only hope is from the people who are providing wisdom, and that’s where the ministries come in.

He said, "I can pass rules and laws to guarantee certain things, but in the end it will be the ministries that provide that."

I asked him a question: What can we do for you?

He said, "Pray for me, pray for the university and pray for the people who work here."

Christian Campus House and Race

We have people from different ethnicities, people from different countries, and different races living here. If any of us made who we were more important than who Jesus is, we’d have a lot more divisions. If we disappear behind who Jesus is, everything works out better and we begin to see ourselves and others more clearly.

CCH Building Project

It started out with the realization that if the point does come that we think will come, that we’re told we can no longer meet on campus, then we’ll need a place to worship. You have to be proactive.

From that, the a discussion began with alumni, local builders that are alumni, and board members. The suggestion was made, if you’re going to put that footprint on your property, why not go up. Which makes a lot of sense. We always have a lot more applicants than we have room for.

Click HERE for more information about the Christian Campus House ALL IN Building Campaign.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

In Print: On Mission Online

My latest article, On Mission Online, is in print today in The Lookout magazine.

It's a list of Do's and Don'ts, but really the only Do that is necessary is this:
DO be on Mission. 

Is the mission of winning to people to Christ more important to you than winning arguments?  Then let that drive everything you do, including what you post on social media.

Is God's truth more important to you than pushing your spin on the news, sharing your hot take on the trending topics of the day? Then talk about that online.

Are you more interested in drawing attention to God than drawing attention to yourself? Then make sure everything you post or share brings glory to God.

On the other hand, I worked really hard on that list of Do's & Don'ts, so go ahead and take a look HERE.

Meditation Metaphor: Facebook

The social media world was in a tizzy in 2014 when it was revealed that Facebook had allowed researchers to perform a mood manipulation experiment on their users..

For one week in January 2012, data scientists skewed what almost 700,000 Facebook users saw when they logged into its service. Some people were shown content with a preponderance of happy and positive words; some were shown content analyzed as sadder than average. And when the week was over, these manipulated users were more likely to post either especially positive or negative words themselves. (
I found the results of the experiment revealing, if not actually surprising.

I wasn't surprised or shocked that Facebook or any other online website would manipulate what their users see in hopes of manipulating behavior.  That's the basic business model of the internet:

  1. Collect every bit of data you can about each user
  2. Make use of that data to determine what ads and information that person sees
  3. The goal is to monetize the website by inducing the user to respond in some way that earns the internet company money through ad sales or direct sales. 

All of these companies are constantly tinkering and experimenting with the algorithms that manipulate the input and output of all that data, because the profit margin for all this electronic manipulation is extremely small. In the second quarter of 2014, Facebook reported an average profit per user of just $6.44.  That's just under six and a half bucks per Facebook user over the entire three month period.

One of the best arguments to be leery of the growing ability of Facebook (and other online sites) to manipulate the minds and emotions of the public is about how much we trust them to not manipulate things more important than our response to cat videos or even our interest in certain products. What if they decide to subtly push us toward positive emotional responses to certain candidates and against others?

I use Facebook and other social media as much as the average wired person does. Certainly less than those in the under-35 demographic, but probably as much or more than the average person over 55. Am I concerned about being manipulated?

Not all that much, actually.

If my Facebook or Twitter feed is my only input on how I felt about products or issues or candidates, I deserve to be manipulated. That's not how I approach the world, though.

I consume a wide variety of news, information and commentary from a broad range of viewpoints. I don't rely on rumors bandied about on Facebook, viral memes about culture, or the click-bait shared "articles" like "Five Things You Don't Know About the Militarization of the Police".

Moreover, I guard my heart. It's an old approach, but one worth rediscovering by your average Christian caught up in the social media manipulation-fest.

Constant exposure to the unreliable and possibly algorithmically skewed social media information cycle can alter a person's emotional responses to the world, a reality which has now been confirmed by that creepy Facebook experiment).

It's equally true that practicing the spiritual discipline of meditating on the Word (reading, studying, absorbing it) can train a person's heart to respond to the world in a way that honors. This is a reality that has been proven over several centuries of faithful people practicing the classic spiritual disciplines.

Wouldn't it be great if we could experiment on our neighbors, friends and everyone else we encounter, by subtly interjecting a Word-soaked perspective into every interaction? What would be the results of casually inserting God-flavors (salt) and God-colors (light) into people's lives? (Matthew 5:13-16, MSG)

We don't need a website or an algorithm to accomplish this.

We just need a simple "business model":
  1. Devote yourself to knowing the heart of God through his Word, and letting it change your heart
  2. Devote yourself to listening to people; find out what interests them, what makes them tick, where they hurt
  3. Make use of what you learn to interact with them in a compassionate, loving, missional way
  4. The goal is to be Jesus to the world, to win them - not manipulate them - to knowing God's heart like you do.
Updated May 2016

You also might be interested in my other Meditation Metaphor posts

Monday, April 18, 2016

Fellowship in a Small Town: Writer's Notebook

The April 17th issue of The Lookout magazine includes my story about Rocky Fork Fellowship in Hallsville, MO, titled Fellowship in a Small Town

Families find a place to worship together at Rocky Fork
Not everything I learned during my interviews and conversations with Rocky Fork leaders and members would fit into the allotted space for the article. 

Here's some of the rest that didn't fit, plus some photographs that didn't make it into print:

Rocky Fork's senior minister, Mark Butrum, was the subject of a 2006 Chrsitian Standard article, The Mark Project, by Daniel Schantz. The Mark Project by Daniel Schantz. More from my interview with Mark Butrum: Why do people drive from as far away as Columbia, Moberly, even Fulton, to attend church at RFF?
I joke about it. When we show up at a visitor's house we’re going to bring you a plate of cookies, to thank you. Because you passed up a lot of churches to come to church in a cafeteria that smells like a cafeteria. So we appreciate it.

I feel like if you find some place that’s got some good pizza, you’ll drive a little farther. You can get pizza anywhere that’s just OK. But if you want really good pizza, you’ll go get it. We’ve got to be able to provide that. Excellence in everything you do. That’s hard when you’re in a temporary building. It takes a lot of volunteers. It seems to be working.
Butrum on the size of the staff:
We have three full times staff. Besides me there's a worship minister and the youth minister. We're looking at adding a full time children's minister. We also have part time administrative help, which is currently my wife. We need to add another role there, too. We’re probably behind on full time staff members, for the numbers we’re seeing. But I get a lot of mileage out of the elders too. We work those guys hard.

Several Central Christian College students have been really involved in the youth ministry and children's ministry. Other people come early help set up chairs, equipment, lights, sound, etc.
Butrum on Sushi:
We have a group called Sushi – it has no meaning – for 20-somethings, for college students and others in that age range. We average about 40 attending, from Columbia and Moberly, MACC, plus some non college
Mark Butrum (in green) greets people as they arrive
Mark Butrum on how people find Rocky Fork:

We have a What We Believe class. They come to hear what our doctrines are, what are beliefs are.

We have people say, 'I’ve been going to Church X for umpteen years and I’m not sure what they believe.' So we teach them what we believe. Bert and I teach that and we lay it all out there, let them ask questions. And we ask them questions. One we ask is 'How did you find Rocky Fork? And what made you come back?'

So often it’s, well I found you because I was driving by the school on a Sunday morning and saw all the cars, or I heard about you through some friends. Predominately the answer of why they came back, it's, 'I liked it; I felt like I belonged, and the preacher was in the parking lot and shook my hand and he knew my name the second time I came back.'

I learned that by accident from Ben Merrold. I went to Harvester Christian Church one Sunday, my wife and I. It was a hot day, they were having a car show. This little man pulling a wagon full of water bottles comes along. He says would you like a water? I said, no thanks, we’ll just go inside.

And he said, I’m trying to get these folks from the car show to come inside. It’s Ben Merrold, pulling a little wagon through the parking lot. And I’m thinking, that’s an awesome idea. The preacher’s in the parking lot greeting people, getting them inside.

Well I talked to him since, and he said 'I’ve never done that again.' But now I do it every Sunday. I try to remember names. I know we’ll get to a point where I can’t do it. But names are important. People matter. They know that, it makes them feel like they belong.

I try to impress that all my folks, to learn their names. People respond to that. They feel like they belong if people know their names.
Butrum on plans for the new building:
One of the things we want to do when we get a building is to make it available to the community for non-church activities. My dream is that when we’re done with our first building would be turn that over to the community as a community center. It would be on our property, but it could be a community center. We’ve talked about putting in ball fields and outdoor tracks on the property so people can use it.
Rocky Fork elder Bert Adams on how he became involved with the church plant:
This idea was given to me, this wasn’t something I dreamed up. We were asked, are you interested in this? At first I didn’t jump on it. God gnawed at me, He said, listen, you gotta quit running from things that scare you. Obviously it scared me because I’m a country boy and I don’t feel like I can do anything. That’s bothered me my whole life.
Rocky Fork t-shirts provide a way for people to identify
themselves as part of the Fellowship
Adams on why Rocky Fork has grown quickly:
I think if you take the religious mask off and allow the people to experience what church should be about rather quickly, the church will grow. There’s not a fa├žade that you’ve got to work through and eventually if you might find it. It’s not masqueraded in something.
Corey Mehaffey,President of the Moberly Area Economic Developpment Corporation, on Rocky Fork's growth:
I think one of the advantages Rocky Fork has had is that this building is not something that intimidates people. Meeting in this community building makes this a community church and takes away that apprehension a lot of people have. People are looking for a place other than home where they can take their family and interact with other families.
Eric Pendell, president of Alpha Omega, a church assessment and campaign consultant service Rocky Fork has hired, on what's next for Rocky Fork:
This is one church that does so many things right. Typically we teach a church we consult a lot about how to do outreach, but Rocky Fork is just years beyond what most churches at this point.
Rocky Fork faces two very practical needs if they hope to continue to grow, according to Pendell:
They just don’t have the manpower to continue what they’re doing. Once they get a few more staff and more organized, they’ll start going forward. Also, the inability to have a place during the week. If you’re going to have church just on Sunday, don’t bother. They want to build a building they can use at least six days a week, with activities where the community can come and use the facilities.
I want to express my thanks to Mark Butrum and to everyone else at Rocky Fork Fellowship who welcomed me, tolerated my intrusions, and took time to answer my questions.