Nov 28, 2009


I trust you had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

There are many reasons to give thanks.

I am grateful for an amazingly beautiful wife who loves me and supports me. My life is so much richer because of her.

I am thankful for Karis, Kaitlin, Kailey, and Kaleb. They are such awesome kids. They make life so much fun and exciting. I love their passion for life and their budding faith in Jesus Christ.

I thank God for my sister Grace and her husband Miguel and my two beautiful nieces. Not only are Grace and Miguel my family, but they are my friends!

I thank God for an amazing church. The people at Trinity truly make serving Christ a privilege and joy. I love to see God working through a geroup of committed folk.

And this Thanksgiving, I must thank God for the gift of life. There was a time in February when I wasn't sure how many more days I might see. But through God's help, modern medicine, and a quadruple bypass later, I am doing better than I have in years. Every day is a gift from God.

And that is true whether you've had a close call with death or not.

Most of all, I thank God for Christ who gives me peace, purpose, and direction in my life. Because no matter what happens, I know that I'm good for eternity. And that's a pretty awesome place to start your everyday with.

So what are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?

James <><
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Nov 21, 2009

Christmas Dreams

We are days away from Black Friday and the craziness that we call the "Christmas" season.

What would happen if Christians decided to do Christmas differently this year?

Normally, Christmas is a frenzied free for all shopping spree to make sure we get the toys, clothes, gadgets, and trinkets that will soon be forgotten ho hum by middle of January. The U.S. Department of Commerce predicted retail sales of $287 billion in the fourth quarter of 2002. The way most of us do Christmas, it is rarely about the Christ of Christmas and all too often about the stuff of Christmas.

Why not do Christmas differently this year?

I know this sounds crazy and so un-Christmaslike, but just follow along just for a moment and dream with me.

What if we all chose to forgo - just for this year - our normal gifts for ourselves and our family and instead thought about using the money we would spent on Christmas gifts for one another to give away to the poor? What if every church in the US chose a worthy charity and every church collected the Christmas funds from our church members and gave it away in the name of Jesus Christ on Christmas day?

Could you imagine the joy such giving would create in...the world? us? in Christ

We always say that Christmas is about giving and not receiving. What if, just for this year, we made Christmas truly about the joy of giving this year?

What a joyous day that would be!

So how about it?

Could you imagine the joy around Christmas this year?

And I tell you what, if you really want to, you can do Christmas in this way every year.

James <><
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Nov 19, 2009

10 Years

Evangelical, theologically conservative, socially responsible, Jesus freak.

What does that make me?

When it comes to biblical authority and sexual morality, I am right there with the conservative evangelicals.

When it comes to being responsible and fair with our wealth and resources, where the church actually engages problems like the AIDS pandemic, the poor in our communities, the extreme poverty around the world, I am right there with the pregressive liberals.

When it comes to loving Jesus and the church of Jesus Christ, I am right there with all the Jesus freaks.

I am frustrated with the conservative evangelicals because all we seem to ever talk about is how to prevent gay ordination. That's what generates all the money and gets people moving.

I am equally frustrated with the progressive liberals because gay ordination is about the only thing they seem to be talking about too.

When will the church start doing church stuff? You know - evangelism, mission, new church development, denominational transformation, etc. What would happen if we took a hiatus from all the sexuality debates, and all the affinity groups that exist to prevent gay ordination and those that exist to promote gay ordination went away for 10 years, and all the money and energy that goes into keeping these groups going was instead poured into new church development, alleviating extreme poverty, working with the poor and homeless in our communities, and with evangelism.

Why can't we do that? Just 10 years.

And after that if the church still wants to fight about gay ordination, then we can pick it up again.

But can't we get some time so that the church can heal, organize for transformation and renewal? Must we continue to be held captive by the sexuality debates?

***Correction --- Richard Stearns - World Vision

Correction - In my previous blog, I mentioned Richard Stearns as the president of Compassion, when he's the president of World Vision. I knew that but just had a brain malfunction. As you can see, it's even on the cover of the book I was quoting from.

My bad. Sorry for the mistake and confusion.

Either way, great man and a wonderfully challenging book.

Rich Christians in a Hungry World

Josef Stalin said, "One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic."

There are 6.7 billion people living on the planet earth.

One out of two people make less than $2 a day. One out of two people.

According to Andy Stanley, if you make $37,000 a year, that puts you in the top 3-4% of the wage earners in the world. If you make over $40,000 a year, that puts you in the top 1%.

If you own a car, you represent 3% of the world's population. If you own more than one car, you are really rich!

If your car has its own house (we call them garages) and your car has to share that house with bicycles and lawn mowers and other stuff, you are really, really rich.

On average, study after studies show that American Christians give less than 3% of their income to charitable causes. And the studies show that the more you make, the less you give. This is almost always the case.

Richard Stearns, the president of World Vision writes:

The total income of American churchgoers is $5.2 trillion. (That's more than five thousand billion dollars). It would take just a little over 1 percent of the income of American Christians to lift the poorest one billion people in the world out of extreme poverty. Said another way, American Christians, who make up about 5 percent of the Church worldwide, control about half of global Christian wealth; a lack of money is not our problem (The Hole in Our Gospel, p.216).

Bottom line, here's what this means. American Christians continue to consume more and more of the world's materials, while remaining relatively silent about extreme poverty.

The average Christian gives less than 3% of their income. And according to Stearns, less than 2% of the giving goes to foreign missions of any kind. Here's what that means - The richest Christians in the history of the world is giving about five ten-thousandths of our income to the rest of the world.

Come on church! We can and must do better.

That is my hope. That is my prayer. And I want that to be my church.

Nov 18, 2009

Stop Obsessing About Who's Sleeping with Whom

When future generation of Christians and non-Christians alike look back at our generation, I think they will shake their heads in disbelief at how fractured the church is and how evangelical Christians obsess over who's sleeping with whom, while the entire time stuffing ourselves with consumerism and gorging ourselves with rampant materialism. All this when literally tens of thousands of people are dying of preventable diseases and unnecessarily starving to death everyday.

Just as we shake our heads in disbelief at the blindness of the slave owners and the silence of the Christians who stood by while the Nazis slaughtered the Jews, we will be judged by future generations for our excess consumption while we knowingly allowed thousands to die for lack of basic necessities. And the travesty is that we have more than enough food and more than enough medicine to treat the illnesses that is killing the great majority of the people by the thousands today.

Future generations will look back at our generation see our relative silence at this gross injustice all the while the church and evangelical Christians seem to obsess about who's sleeping with whom - silent about the injustices of consumerism and materialism all the while tearing the church apart with the sexuality debates.

It's not that Biblical sexuality and morality is not important. It's just that the sexuality debates are taking up way too much energy and resource while almost nothing is being done about the injustices and inequities of the disparity between the rich and the poor.

How much would our world look differently if evangelical Christianity had spent as much energy and passion about alleviating world hunger as we have been on the sexuality debate?

More importantly, how much more effectively could we be not only preaching the good news, but living out the gospel message of Jesus Christ "to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Luke 4:18-19).

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we must open our eyes to our blindness on this matter. This is our generation's clarion call.

This is the kind of church I want to be a part of.

I think you do too.
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Nov 17, 2009

About Forgiveness - Powerful Words from Stan Ott

Stan Ott has some powerful words about forgiveness and mercy. I want to share some of his words with you all. The words God spoke through Stan Ott convicted me and encouraged me. I hope it does the same for you.

Here's what Stan Ott wrote:

"How do you react when a fellow Christian grieves you, deceives you, hurts you?  Last week I bumped into a person who had let me down and later was upset to talk with a friend suffering because people were talking behind his back.

My own initial reaction in both cases was not very pleasant.  All sorts of negative thoughts and feelings began to stir when unbidden the words of the Apostle Peter popped to mind, "Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins."  I Peter 4:8*  

Indeed God's love covers our sins! The Hebrew word hesed is translated steadfast love, it is God's enduring love.  

We demonstrate hesed love ourselves when we are tempted to retaliate, criticize or withdraw and instead we choose to respond in the spirit of, "I will never withdraw my love from you - never!"  That is the love that covers a multitude of sins.  

Such love is very costly to us.  It cost the Lord his life on the cross!  In fact it is beyond our normal human capacity to demonstrate God's hesed love.  So love by faith - ask God to give you God's own hesed love for people so that God's love in you may cover the multitude of sins in your own life and in the lives of others." 
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Do Our Systems Encourage or Demoralize Volunteers?

I am down at the North Texas Food Bank to pick up the boxes of turkeys for the Thanksgiving baskets our church is making. I have been waiting for about and hour and have no idea when my number will finally be called to tell me that the turkeys are ready for pick up.

I know that we are getting the turkeys for free from the food bank - and for that I am grateful.

I know that in the grand scheme of things waiting most of the morning today is not that big of a deal.

I know that the people here at the food bank are doing their best with the tools they have - and for that I am grateful.

However, if I was doing this all the time I would find this experience incredibly frustrating and discouraging.

And the thing is. Most of the people waiting in the waiting room are people who do all the time in order to help their communities. These are people who ought to be lauded and thanked for their time and effort. These are folks that we ought to go out of our way to help and encourage.

I know the food is free, but that shouldn't mean that the experience and the service ought to be poor.

This is a systems and leadership issue.

And as I sit here writing this blog, I can't help but wonder if we at the church make serving and giving as difficult and frustrating as this food pick up experience is.

Do our systems for volunteers and members equip and encourage them to serve and give more or are our systems demoralizing and discouraging to our volunteers and members?

This has been a huge and wonderful learning experience for me.

We've got to do a better job of helping and encouraging folks who want to make a difference.
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Nov 13, 2009

Tragedy of the Balloon Boys

The parents of the balloon boy have admitted to fraud (,2933,574909,00.html).

Here's the thing that makes me so sad.

It's not that, I, along with millions of people across this country and world were genuinely and earnestly praying for this boy's safety and for the parents and family members who were in anguish as it seemed that the boy had fallen out of the balloon.

That's tragic. I could only imagine the horror and the guilt the parents must have been going through because I couldn't help but think, "What if that was my boy!"

The thing that makes this whole story so sad for me is that the parents not only lied to the public and to the authorities, but they made their children lie too.

What were they thinking? What did they think they were teaching teaching their boys by putting this horrendous act into play? That it was okay to lie and manipulate as long as it got you the exposure you wanted? What are they teaching their boys?

Those kids didn't know any better. They were just trusting and doing what their parents told them to do. They trusted that their parents knew what was best for them. They trusted that their parents loved them and wouldn't do anything to hurt them.

And what these parents did was to totally violate that trust.

That is what breaks my heart about this story.

Nov 12, 2009

Calvin's Geneva - a Pipe Dream? I Want that Pipe Dream Please!!!

Genuine Authentic Relationships.

In Calvin's Geneva, the company of pastors mutually covenanted themselves to one another to pray, worship, study, together on a weekly basis. And based on their mutual covenanted relationships, because genuine, authentic relationships could be built, once a quarter, the company of pastors met together to mutually discipline and hold one another accountable to doctrine and moral issues.

Here's a description of Calvin's Geneva from a paper from the Office of Theology:

After the public meetings of the preachers and their assistants, a session was held of just the compagnie des pasteurs, devoted to a discussion of current theological and ecclesial issues. The compagnie was also meant to be an instrument for censura morum (mutual censure), which was held once a quarter. Any office-bearer could take this opportunity to speak in a brotherly way about the doctrine or conduct of another. This mutual supervision, too, served the cause of unity in doctrine and life.

And the main reason why this worked in Calvin's Geneva is because they mutually covenanted themselves to meet weekly to pray, worship, and study together where genuine, authentic relationships could be built.

Flash forward several hundred years to today. Such accountability and mutual discipline is simply impossible in our current context in the PC(USA) because our presbyteries look and function so differently than the presbytery of Calvin's days. Because we do not know one another, the only way we know how to relate to one another is through rules - the Book of Order and the Book of Confessions.

Whereas in Calvin's Geneva it was a mutual consent to submit to the authority of the body, today we find ourselves bound and imprisoned by our rules.

Mutual discipline? Even though we've got the rules, because we don't have the genuine, authentic relationships where we have prayed, worshiped, loved on each other, we are impotent to disciplines one another.

There has got to be a better way of being the church than what we have today.

Could we get back to smaller presbyteries where pastors and elders mutually covenant themselves to worship, study, pray, and love on one another? Is that a pipe dream?

Why can't that be our reality?

Nov 10, 2009

It's Official 156-138 to Ordain Lisa Larges - What Does This Mean for us Now?

The presbytery of San Francisco voted 156-138 to ordain Lisa Larges. This means that for the first time in the history of the PC(USA), a presbytery is openly and willingly ordaining an individual they know to be gay now with the authority of the recent GAPJC decision.

This will have far reaching ramifications in the life of the denomination. Only God knows how all of this will shake itself out.

Perhaps this is not a bad thing. We know now without any shadow of doubt where some in our denomination are when it comes to human sexuality and more importantly the authority of scripture. We have been pretending that everything's hunky dory when we've known for a long time that there has been a chasm when it comes to the understanding of the authority of scripture. Maybe this will force us to decide what we really mean by connectionalism, by mutual accountability, and by being in communion with one another.

We've only been glossing over these issues hoping and pretending that things really weren't as bad as they seemed.

Well, the days of pretending are gone now.

We have to deal with these questions.

What does it mean for us to be a connectional church NOW?

What do we understand NOW about how the ordination of one presbytery is the action of the whole church?

How does what just took place in San Francisco Presbytery different any different than the actions of the Southern Baptist or the Episcopaleans?

Now we no longer have the luxury of pretense. We must begin grappling with these questions now.
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That's Why We're Debating

I have been following the twitter updates from the presbytery meeting at San Francisco Presbytery #sfpby for the past three to four hours.

The San Francisco Presbytery is voting on ordaining Lisa Larges (an openly lesbian woman who is the executive director for That All May Freely Serve. TAMFS' sole mission is "the ordination of qualified gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender candidates in the Presbyterian Church (USA)."

It's been amazing to hear the chatter on twitter. I am not sure if I heard a single evangelical twitter-er all night. Everyone tweeting seemed to be favoring the ordination of Lisa Larges. As I write this blog, they are still debating the issue and have not voted on Lisa Larges.

I had to stop watching the tweets and write this blog because of one of the tweets I read.

A tweeter wrote who favors ordination of homosexuals wrote, "Again with the biblical authority questions...I want to hear about something else!"

That pretty much sums up the problem with the debate. For those who advocate for ordination it really is about something else. Because it can't be about Biblical authority because the Bible is crystal clear about human sexuality and morality. The church has been clear on this for the last two millenia. But now, this is where the debate has come - it is no longer about what the Bible says.

How else are Christians to dialogue about life issues other than through the lens of scripture? What other authority is there for Christians than the word of God as recorded in the Bible?

Wow! I don't know what to say to "Again with the biblical authority questions...I want to hear about something else!"

I'm going to go pray.
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Leaving the World a Better Place than We Found it

I have a friend who is an amazing encouragement to me. Every time I am with him, I feel encouraged. Every time I am with him, he makes me want to be a better person and a better Christian.

A while back we were attending the Leadership Summit conference at Willow Creek Church in Chicago. There were about 10,000 pastors and leaders from all around the world at Willow. During the breaks, we would all make a mad dash for the restrooms. The Leadership Summit is about the only place I know - besides football games and rock concerts - where a guy has to wait to go to the bathroom.

During the breaks, we would all make a mad dash to the restrooms and wait in line. There would be lines 30-50 people deep waiting to use the men's room. Every time we would use the restroom and wash our hands, I would observe my friend taking the extra time to wipe down the sink with the paper towel. I never asked him why he did that, but I don't need to.

The reason why my friend did that - and why he was always an encouragement to me, why he always took the time to thank the waiter in the restaurant, acknowledged the guy who served our coffee, greeted the greeter at the hotel, etc. - is because his goal in life is to be like Jesus.

He wanted to make wherever he was a better place because he had been there.

And the reason why he lives his life like this is because that's how Jesus lived his life.

Could you imagine if all Christians lived with this simple philosophy - making the world a better place than we found it?

Should Christians live our lives like that, there wouldn't be such a need for apologetics. Christians would be the best reason for others to come to love Jesus Christ.

So you know what I find myself doing now? I am wiping down the sink in public places, taking the extra time to greet and thank the people serving and helping, doing my best to be like my friend - because he's so much like Jesus Christ.

Nov 6, 2009

Poverty of Wealth?

Why is more never enough?

Why is it the the more we have, the more we realize what we don't have.

I remember as a college student looking at people who made $40K a year and thinking, "Man! They are rich!"

But when I hit the $40K mark, I didn't feel rich at all. In fact, I felt pretty poor compared to all the people making way more than I did. I was living in an apartment with my wife and two kids while almost everyone I knew owned their own homes. We were driving around in beat up old cars while almost everyone we knew drove around in their fancy new cars. We were working on beat up, hand me down computers while everyone seemed to have the newest and fanciest laptops.

And I bet people making $100K, $500K, $1Mil all feel the same way.

It never stops.

The reason for this is what I call the poverty of wealth. Because our focus is always on what we don't have rather than what we do have, we have a never quenching need for more.

Only when we begin to focus on what we actually have, can we think about how to make the best use and enjoy what we do have.

Either the stuff will enslave us, or we will use our stuff as tools to make life better for us and for the people around us.

This is a whole lot easier said then lived. That's the reason why Jesus said, "It is easier for a camel to go through an eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into heaven."

Don't get sucked in by the poverty of wealth. Wealth is only a blessing when we see it as a tool to make life better for ourselves and others.

Nov 5, 2009

Six Characteristics of Effective Organizations

In his book, "The Fly in the Ointment" Russel Crabtree lists six characteristics of effective organizations.
  1. They recruit, develop, and retain effective leaders
  2. They are externally focused
  3. They are tactically nimble
  4. They engage in the whole person
  5. They are relentless learners
  6. They utilize best practices
So how is your church, presbytery, denomination, organization doing? 

Nov 4, 2009

Our Generation's Clarion Call

There are 6.7 billion people on earth. If the population could be expressed in a global village of 100, here's how the village would look.
  • 60 Asians
  • 14 Africans
  • 12 Europeans
  • 8 Latin Americans
  • 5 American/Canadians
  • 1 South Pacific
  • 51 men, 49 women
  • 82 non-white, 18 white
  • 67 non-Christians, 33 Christians
On a typical day, the 4 American spends $105/day.
40 of the villagers survive on $2/day.
15 of the villagers survive on less than $1/day.

26,500 children died today. 26,500 children died yesterday. 26,500 children will die tomorrow.

10,000,000 children will die within a year from now.


Because we already have all the food, medicine, money, and the resources to get the supplies to the dying.

We might not be able to solve all that ails our world. But we must do something about this injustice.

This is our clarion call for this generation.

Nov 3, 2009

Being Reformed - A Desired Uncertain Future

The average age of a Presbyterian in the PC(USA) is over 60 years-old. We are one of the oldest denominations in the country. Our shelf life is at best 20 years. I don't say that as a scare tactic or to shock folks. It's stated with sadness because this is just the plain truth.

The PC(USA) faces two futures: a certain future and an uncertain future.
  • a certain future: if the PC(USA) does nothing to change, it will die. This is absolutely certain. We cannot continue doing church in the same ways and hope that a bunch of young new Christians are going to just start showing up at our churches. That's just not going to happen. If the PC(USA) does not change, the PC(USA) will die.
  • an uncertain future: if the PC(USA) truly re-claims its heritage to take on the ministry and the mission of Jesus Christ even at the cost of losing its very life in order to connect and share the good news of Jesus Christ in a post-Christian, post-denominational, post-modern world - perhaps, in laying down our denominational and institutional ways, we may just discover life and renewal in ways we never imagined. But the risk is that it may not look, feel, smell much like the PC(USA) as we know it today.
And there's nothing wrong with that. If we have come to a time when the PC(USA) as we've known it for the last 30+ years since re-union has served her purpose, then that's okay. Neither God nor the world needs the PC(USA) to be rigidly the PC(USA) as we've known her the last 30+ years in perpetuity. As the needs and the realities of the world change, so denominations change. And this kind of change is not a bad thing or a good thing. It is just what it is - the times have changed.

Isn't this what it means to be reformed and always reforming? Isn't this the essence of what it means to be reformed?

We need not be afraid of change. God is always at work. God will work in such a way as to receive the glory and honor even in a post-Christian, post-denominational, post-modern world. And the instrument God will use is the church of Jesus Christ.

It is my prayer and hope that the PC(USA) will so position herself in such a way God can use her to be an instrument of ministry and mission for the Kingdom of God in the imminent uncertain future.
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What would happen if like minded churches decided to combine their assets and resources together in order that they could minister more effectively to the local community?

What would happen if we placed effectiveness of ministry and outreach above our commitments to denominational loyalty?

What could like minded churches do for the Kingdom of God together that they couldn't do separately on their own?

I know what the Book of Order says about who owns the property and the asset of a congregation. But if local churches could do greater ministry together in a post-denominational, post-Christian world, than in isolation, then what is keeping us from pursuing this vision?

We are already living in a non-Christian majority world who distrusts the church and sees the church as irrelevant. Could it be that God's new work in our communities will begin with the local churches coming together for the sake of Jesus Christ? That when the local churches start to live into the vision of a church that is greater than the local church, that the communities would begin experiencing a renewal and revival?