May 24, 2012

Conventional Thinking and Paradigms...Death Knell of Organizations

Poloroid, Kodak, Oldsmobile, Pontiac.


They once dominated the industrial world.


No longer in business.

The world around us is changing so rapidly and so radically that conventional thinking and conventional paradigms are the death knell to leadership and organizations.

There are core values that must never change, for in changing them we cease to be who we are.

However, outside of these core values, everything else must change.

It doesn't matter if you make the best film in the world when the world is taking digital photographs.

Churches and denominations, there are certain values that must never change. For in changing and compromising on these core values, we cease to be who we are.

  • That Jesus is still the way, the truth, and the life.
  • That the Bible is still God's authoritative word.
  • That the church is still called to be proclaimers of God's grace and holiness.
However, outside of core values, everything else is up for grabs. 

Not just to change for change sake.

But to use everything else so that we can be all about the core values in this rapidly changing world.

Churches and denominations that exist only to perpetuate its own existence, while the rest of the world is all about wanting to make a difference, our existence no longer matters if we no longer make a difference to the world. 

May 23, 2012

Reflections from the PCUSA Center

This is the view outside of the conference room at the Office of the General Assembly of the PC(USA).

I find this view to be telling in so many ways.

First, there is a beautiful view of the heavens right above the cross. It's beautiful there. Things are so peaceful, dare I say heavenly, there. That's where God is fully in control.

But down below here on earth, things are a mess. The view outside the windows are of an abandoned inhabitable warehouse. It's indicative of how broken our world is.

Right in the middle is a beautiful cross, the church. The beauty of the cross stands in stark contrast to the brokenness of the outside world.

If all you saw were the cross and the the broken down world, the picture would depict a church that is totally out of touch with the realities of the broken world outside. Inside of the PC(USA) headquarters and the church, things are clean, beautiful, and safe. That's wonderful but the disconnect between what's happening inside the building and the church couldn't be further from the dangers and decay of the outside world.

But if that's all people see, they're missing something.

The cross of Jesus Christ, the church, stands in the gap between heaven and earth so that the Kingdom of God can reach into the brokenness of the world so that God's Kingdom may come and be established here on earth as it is in heaven.

This picture depicts the ministry and the mission of the church.

That's why we exist.

The brokenness of the world is not the norm.

The brokenness of the world is the very reason why God sent his Son to earth.

And until Jesus returns to judge the world and to make all things right, the church is called upon to do the work of reconciling and healing the broken world.

Sometimes, pictures do tell the story.

May 21, 2012

Make-A-Wish Foundation and The Mission of the Church

This is the story I shared about Make-A-Wish Foundation on Sunday.

In Phoenix, Arizona, a 26-year-old mother stared down at her 6 year old son, who was dying of terminal leukemia. Although her heart was filled with sadness, she also had a strong feeling of determination. Like any parent, she wanted her son to grow up and fulfill all his dreams. 

Now that was no longer possible. The leukemia would see to that. But she still wanted her son's dreams to come true. She took her son's hand and asked, "Billy, did you ever think about what you wanted to be once you grew up? Did you ever dream and wish what you would do with your life?"

Mommy, "I always wanted to be a fireman when I grew up."

Mom smiled back and said, "Let's see if we can make your wish come true."

Later that day she went to her local fire department in Phoenix, Arizona, where she met Fireman Bob, who had a heart as big as Phoenix. She explained her son's final wish and asked if it might be possible to give her six-year-old son a ride around the block on a fire engine.

Fireman Bob said, "Look, we can do better than that. If you'll have your son ready at seven o'clock Wednesday morning, we'll make him an honorary fireman for the whole day. He can come down to the fire station, eat with us, go out on all the fire calls, the whole nine yards! And if you'll give us his sizes, we'll get a real fire uniform for him, with a real fire hat – not a toy one – with the emblem of the Phoenix Fire Department on it, a yellow slicker like we wear and rubber boots. They're all manufactured right here in Phoenix, so we can get them fast." 

Three days later Fireman Bob picked up Billy, dressed him in his fire uniform and escorted him from his hospital bed to the waiting hook and ladder truck. Billy got to sit on the back of the truck and help steer it back to the fire station.

He was in heaven.

There were three fire calls in Phoenix that day and Billy got to go out on all three calls. He rode in the different fire engines, the paramedic's van, and even the fire chief's car.

He was also videotaped for the local news program. Having his dream come true, with all the love and attention that was lavished upon him, so deeply touched Billy that he lived three months longer than any doctor thought possible. 

One night all of his vital signs began to drop dramatically and the head nurse, who believed in the hospice concept that no one should die alone, began to call the family members to the hospital. Then she remembered the day Billy had spent as a fireman, so she called the Fire Chief and asked if it would be possible to send a fireman in uniform to the hospital to be with Billy as he made his transition. 

The chief replied, "We can do better than that. We'll be there in five minutes. Will you please do me a favor? When you hear the sirens screaming and see the lights flashing, will you announce over the PA system that there is not a fire? It's just the fire department coming to see one of its finest members one more time. And will you open the window to his room?"

About five minutes later a hook and ladder truck arrived at the hospital and extended its ladder up to Billy's third floor open window. 16 firefighters climbed up the ladder into Billy's room. With his mother's permission, they hugged him and held him and told him how much they loved him.

With his dying breath, Billy looked up at the fire chief and said, "Chief, am I really a fireman now?"

"Billy, you are, and the Head Chief, Jesus, is holding your hand," the chief said. 

With those words, Billy smiled and said, "I know, He's been holding my hand all day, and the angels have been singing." He closed his eyes one last time.

In 1981, Frank "Bopsy" Salazar, a 7-year-old dying of leukemia, became the first "wish child" helped by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

What an amazing opportunity and privilege we have to be the feet and the hands of Jesus Christ, to help prepare and usher people for their place in eternity. 

The church, the body of Christ, is the uniquely positioned to be able to help people transition from this temporal existence to our eternal destinies. 

What an amazing privilege we have to be the church, the body of Christ.

That’s our mission.

That’s our purpose. 

May 19, 2012

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made...

Fearfully and wonderfully made...

God created the heavens and the earth and all that fills it with an utterance of His word.

All the millions and millions of stars in our galaxy, and all the millions and millions of galaxies in this universe were created just like that – with a word. God spoke it and it was done. I don’t know about you, but because I have a hard time even imagining what millions and millions of stars and galaxies look like, I need to bring things down to a scope I can grasp and understand.

For instance, if it were possible to travel at the speed of light, you would arrive at the moon in 1.3 seconds. But continuing at that same speed, do you know how long it would take you to reach the closest star?

Four years!!!

And that's just the closest star!

New York City's Hayden Planetarium has a miniature replica of our solar system showing the speeds and sizes of our planets. What is interesting is that the three outer planets are not even included. There wasn't room for Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto.

Uranus would be in the planetarium's outer corridor, Neptune would be around Eighth Avenue. And Pluto? Another three long avenues away at Fifth Avenue.

By the way no stars are included, for obvious reasons.

Can you imagine (on the same scale) where the nearest start would be located?

Cleveland, Ohio!

Wow! And remember, that's just our own local galaxy.

Chuck Swindoll in "The Finishing Touch" gives the following example:

A scientist once suggested another interesting analogy. To grasp the scene, imagine a perfectly smooth glass pavement on which the finest speck can be seen. Then shrink our sun from 865,000 miles in diameter to only two feet...and place the ball on the pavement to represent the sun.

  • Step off 82 paces (about two feet per pace), and to represent proportionately the first planet, Mercury, put down a tiny mustard seed. 
  • Take 60 more steps and for Venus put down an ordinary BB.
  • Mark 78 more steps...put down a pea representing the earth.
  • Step off 108 paces from there, and for Mars, put down a pinhead.
  • Sprinkle around some fine dust for the asteroids, then take 7,888 steps more and place an orange on the glass for Jupiter.
  • After 934 more steps, put down a golf ball for Saturn.
Now it gets really involved. 
  • Mark 2,086 steps more, and for Uranus...a marble.
  • Another 2,322 steps from there you arrive at Neptune. Let a cherry represent Neptune.
This will take 2.5 miles, and we haven't even discussed Pluto!

We have a smooth glass surface 5 miles in diameter, yet just a tiny fraction of the heavens, excluding Pluto. 

Now, guess how far we'd have to go on the same scale before we could put down another basketball to represent the nearest star.

We'd have to go 6,720 miles before we could arrive at that star. 

Miles, not feet!

And that's just the first star among millions upon millions of stars. In one galaxy among hundreds, maybe thousands. And all of it in perpetual motion...perfectly synchronized...the most accurate timepiece known in the universe.

Imagine all that! 

The universe and all that it contains.

And all it took was a word from God.

When God was creating you and me, you know that He could have uttered a word and it would have been so. Nothing wrong with that. Except one thing: that’s not the way you treat your children. Your children need extra care and that’s exactly what God did. 

God rolled up His sleeves and got His hands in the mud and shaped you and me exactly the way He wanted us to be, and then breathed His breath of life into our souls. 

You are God’s masterpiece and He delights in YOU!!!

May 18, 2012

Where is God?

The church - not the building or a particular location, but the gathered and sent people of God - is where God chooses to live.

Think on that for a while.

Let that thought sit with you for a while...The church is where God chooses to live.

When we see the pain, suffering, and the evil in the world today we can't help but wonder where God is.

Where is this God who is just in the world where terrorists kill?

Where is this God who is loving when there are people dying by the thousands even though there is more than enough food?

Where is this God who loves and wants what is best for people when there are children hiding from the very people who should be loving them and protecting them instead of abusing them?

Where is God?

It's not as if God didn't know what kind of a world we would find ourselves in 2012.

He knows.

He knew from the beginning what our world would be like.

So what was God's grand plan to deal with the hurting the tragedies of the world?

And this is what still gets me.

God's plan is two fold: there is an ultimate plan and a temporal plan.

God's ultimate plan is that he will come back to rule and judge. And upon his return, everything will be made right and all will be held accountable. I get that.

But this is what really gets me. In the mean time, until God returns, God's temporal plan for the suffering and the injustice of the world is the church.

The church - the gathered and sent imperfect, fallible, sinful people of God - is the body of Christ.

The church - the gathered and sent imperfect, fallible, sinful people of God - We are the hands and feet through whom God intends to love the world that is hurting.

I can't help but want to ask God, are you sure? Are you sure you want to do this?

And the question gets reflected right back.

Where is God?

Where is God when there is suffering?

Where is God? 

May 17, 2012

A Capital Campaign for Mission

My wife and I were recently at a neighboring church for a Young Life event. As we were leaving that church my wife asked me, "James, why would anyone in our neighborhood choose to come to the Little Church on the Prairie when there is this church right here in the same neighborhood and their facilities are so much more family friendly so much more modern?" 

I hate it when my wife asks me questions like that because it's so spot on.

It's not that our facilities are dirty or unkempt. It's just that our facilities were state of the art when it was built fifty years ago. But we haven't done much other than keeping this place clean, putting new carpet, and new paint. The place pretty much looks as it did fifty years ago, except that it is far from being a state of the art complex. 

To remodel our facilities, it would cost us at least a million dollars so that we can provide a facility that's on par and even with the other churches in the area.

Even if we were to raise a million dollars and improve our facilities, that would only get us even with what the other churches are offering.

And should we invest a million dollars on our facilities, it would be absolute foolishness to think that unchurched people would start packing out LCOP just because we remodeled. 

The question that begs to be asked is if we had a million dollars, how could we maximize the kingdom impact for those dollars? 

If we did a capital campaign, what would happen if we invested that million dollars back into this community for charity and for ministry? 

What does our community need more? 

What would impact the community more for the Kingdom of God? 

A million dollar capital campaign to remodel the church? Or a million dollar capital campaign to do mission and ministry in the community?

We have to continue to maintain a clean and safe campus. We wouldn't ever want to compromise on that.

But could you imagine how much fun our meetings would be if we were discussing how best to invest a million dollars back into the community for ministry and mission?

Could you imagine the impact God could make through a church that invested in the kingdom of God like that?

Why, I think I just might want to give my life to a church like that!!!

May 11, 2012

Giving People the Benefit of the Doubt - Sometimes What You See is Not What You See

There's a road I drive on everyday on my commute to the office.

Whenever the weather is nice (meaning any time it's not raining, temperatures don't matter, we're just looking for dry weather...this is after all the Pacific Northwest) I take my motorcycle to work.

As I near the office, this particular road has several businesses that...well...let's just say I wouldn't want to see anyone I know patronizing.

I was going home one day on my bike when I noticed that something was flapping against my motorcycle helmet. When I reached up with my hand to find out what it was I realized that I had put my helmet on but I had not strapped the the chinstrap on the helmet. And since the freeway was only a few turns away I decided to pull over to the nearest place and remedy the flapping against my helmet situation.

When I finished strapping the helmet I looked up to see where I was...and wouldn't you know it...I was at one of these adult video places.

The first thought that was going through my mind was, "Oh, man! If anyone from church saw me and my motorcycle pulling out this parking lot!!!"

It would be almost impossible to miss the short big asian dude on the motorcycle. One quick look and anyone who knows me would know that that was me pulling out of that parking lot.

So here's the moral of the story. Sometimes what you see is not what you see. It's best to give people the benefit of the doubt before jumping to conclusions. 

May 10, 2012

How Old Does He Think I Am?!?!?!

Yup, she's a beauty!

That's my Yamaha Roadstar...1700cc's of awesomeness.

Kaleb (my 7 year old son) was admiring my bike in the garage as I was taking him to school in the morning the other day.

"Your bike is so cool dad," Kaleb said.

"You're right little man. I think so too," I said. "Are you going to get your own bike when you get older?"

To which he replied, "Nah. By the time I'm old enough to ride you're going to be like 90 years-old and way too old and weak to ride, so I'll just ride your bike."


Just how old does he think I am?!?!?!?!

May 9, 2012

The Genesis of Institutionalism - and Why it Must be Avoided

I am not sure if you're familiar with a parable called "The Genesis of Instituationalism." I received this gem from a friend.

Start with a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a ladder under it.

Before long, one of the monkeys will go to the ladder and start to climb toward the banana. As soon as he touches the ladder, all of the monkeys are sprayed with cold water.

After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result – all the monkeys are sprayed with cold water.

Pretty soon, none of the monkeys will try to climb the ladder.

Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the ladder. To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him.

After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the ladder, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the ladder and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm!

Likewise, replace a third original monkey with a new one, then a fourth, then the fifth.

Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked. Most of the monkeys that are beating him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the ladder or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing all the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys has ever been sprayed with cold water.

Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs to try for the banana. 

Why not? Because as far as they know that’s the way it’s always been done around here.

And that, my friends, is how institutionalism creeps into organizations.

Here's the thing: institutions and organizations are necessary. They are necessary because as soon as two people gather, they are going to have to agree on some things:
  • What are we about?
  • What are we not about?
  • What things/behaviors are permissible?
  • What things/behaviors are not permissible?
  • etc.
Institutions and organizations are not bad and evil things. They are necessary things.

Institutionalism - institutions and organizations existing to perpetuate and protect itself - is what we want to avoid.

No institution deserves to exist merely to perpetuate itself if it does not serve a purpose or a common good. 

The institutional church, if it exists merely to sustain, perpetuate, protect itself it deserves to die.

However, if the church is willing to risk even its very own self in order to be about the mission and the ministry of Jesus Christ to bring life and wholeness to the world, that institution called the church is life-giving to the community.

It's not institutions we ought to be afraid of. It's institutionalism that needs to be avoided. 

May 8, 2012

It's All About Family - Parable of the Lost Sheep

The Parable of the Lost Sheep - where the shepherd leaves the 99 to go after the one lost sheep - has always confounded me.

If I hired someone to look after my sheep and they deserted the 99 to go after the one lost sheep, I would fire him.

It's such a dereliction of duty and responsibility. Who in their right mind leaves the 99 to fend for themselves while going after the one lost sheep?

I always saw the parable from a business perspective. A shepherd is hired to care for 100 sheep and one goes astray. It would be crazy to jeopardize the safety of the 99 to go after the 1 lost sheep.

The Parable of the Lost Sheep is found at the beginning of Luke 15 where there is a series of three Lost and Found parables: The Parable of the Lost Sheep, the Parable of the Lost Coin, and the Parable of the Lost Son (better known as the Prodigal Son).

The setting of these parables is set in by the gospel writer Luke, "Now the tax collectors and sinners (the "bad" people) were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law (the really "good" people) muttered, 'This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.'"

It is in this context where Jesus tells the three parables.

After 43 years, I think I finally get why the shepherd must leave the 99 to go after the one lost sheep.

I have four kids. Imagine if someone were to take one of my kids or if one of my kids got lost.

If my kids were in danger, if my kids were lost, I would turn over heaven and earth to get my kids back. That's what dads do.

Not only would I be all about getting my kids back, but I would expect the rest of my family be all about getting our lost child/sibling back.

The reason why God expects the church to go after the one is because we're not talking about sheep as in commodities, but we're talking about sheep as in God's sons and daughters. And God is saying, "Hey family, nothing is more important than the eternal well-being of my family. You who are already in the family, you need to get in the game and do your part, doing whatever it takes, to find and bring back your lost siblings. That's what families do!"

And when we get stuck at, "But the music is too loud. I like the choir music. Why can't the kids dress more modestly"'s got to drive our Father crazy!

Church, get out there. Be about the Father's business! Get your head in the game. It's never been about self-preservation.

It's always been about reaching every single person with the love of God.

Get out there!

There are way too many who are lost.

May 5, 2012

Desperately Seeking to Escape from an Either/Or Church

People prefer a either/or world.

Either/or world is much simpler to navigate. 
  • Either we are for democracy or we are not. 
  • Either we are fans of the Dallas Cowboys or we are not.
  • Either we are democrats or we are republicans.
Either/or worlds is much simpler to live in.

The only problem is few lives are so clearly either/or. 

We may be for democracy, but we may not like some of the things that our majority vote for. We may be republicans or democrats but there are things about our political parties that we don't like.

The tendency for either/or is alive and well in churches.

The evangelical wing of the church that I find myself in tends to be the holiness, righteousness, and truth advocating side. 

But when being right becomes more important than being gracious, no one outside the life of the church gives a rip whether the church is right or not. 

If the church can figure out how to be gracious and while being! That's when the church becomes the salt and light of the world.

May 4, 2012

Frightening Thought...What if Organized Institutional Churches Were Still the Best Way for People to Be the Body of Christ?

Organized religion or institutional church have been getting a bad rap lately.

Most blogs, posts on FB and Twitter, most emergent authors, most missional writers rail against both organized religion and institutional church.

I get why most people have issues with the church as an organized religious institution. There are legitimate issues and concerns that are unhealthy and destructive elements of organized religious institutions.

That's the neck of theological woods I typically hang out in.

But I had a very frightening thought as I was sipping on my coffee out at Starbucks just now.

What if the best way for people to experience God is still in......gasp.....organized institutional churches?

The only way a Christian can fully experience the body of Christ is in community.

And as soon as people gather in communities there needs to be some organization and ways of being to which people must adhere to.

And when that happens, organizations and institutions are birthed.

The only way to remain uninstitutionalized and unorganized is to remain in isolation.

But it is precisely in community where we learn to be loving, kind, patient, forgiving, etc.

I don't know.....Maybe it's just a weird batch of coffee beans at Starbucks today.