Friday, October 31, 2008

The USA and Constitutional/Liberal Democracy

I posted this article by Fareed Zakaria on my Facebook page, but I also wanted to post a small section here. These quotes are an outline of the kind of government we are designed to have in the USA.

As I re-learn some ideas about our constitutional democracy, I'm also being challenged to re-think the role of the church within that kind of government. The church is primarily concerned with moral issues - how does the church address morality issues when the church is in the minority, and is one of many competing voices for the mass public?

These quotes (and the whole article) were very helpful to me as I continue to process my understanding of how the church and the state work together for the Good.

It has been difficult to recognize this problem because for almost a century in the West, democracy has meant liberal democracy -- a political system marked not only by free and fair elections, but also by the rule of law, a separation of powers, and the protection of basic liberties of speech, assembly, religion, and property. In fact, this latter bundle of freedoms -- what might be termed constitutional liberalism -- is theoretically different and historically distinct from democracy.

As the political scientist Philippe Schmitter has pointed out, "Liberalism, either as a conception of political liberty, or as a doctrine about economic policy, may have coincided with the rise of democracy. But it has never been immutably or unambiguously linked to its practice." Today the two strands of liberal democracy, interwoven in the Western political fabric, are coming apart in the rest of the world. Democracy is flourishing; constitutional liberalism is not.

He goes on to quote Samuel Huntington:
Elections, open, free and fair, are the essence of democracy, the inescapable sine qua non. Governments produced by elections may be inefficient, corrupt, shortsighted, irresponsible, dominated by special interests, and incapable of adopting policies demanded by the public good. These qualities make such governments undesirable but they do not make them undemocratic. Democracy is one public virtue, not the only one, and the relation of democracy to other public virtues and vices can only be understood if democracy is clearly distinguished from the other characteristics of political systems.

I think it's been helpful to be more precise about how we are governed - democracy in and of itself, apparently, isn't good enough:
This definition also accords with the commonsense view of the term. If a country holds competitive, multiparty elections, we call it democratic. When public participation in politics is increased, for example through the enfranchisement of women, it is seen as more democratic. Of course elections must be open and fair, and this requires some protections for freedom of speech and assembly.

But to go beyond this minimalist definition and label a country democratic only if it guarantees a comprehensive catalog of social, political, economic, and religious rights turns the word democracy into a badge of honor rather than a descriptive category. After all, Sweden has an economic system that many argue curtails individual property rights, France until recently had a state monopoly on television, and England has an established religion. But they are all clearly and identifiably democracies. To have democracy mean, subjectively, "a good government" renders it analytically useless.

This brief recounting of where our constitutional/liberal democracy originated from is really helpful:
Constitutional liberalism, on the other hand, is not about the procedures for selecting government, but rather government's goals. It refers to the tradition, deep in Western history, that seeks to protect an individual's autonomy and dignity against coercion, whatever the source -- state, church, or society. The term marries two closely connected ideas. It is liberal because it draws on the philosophical strain, beginning with the Greeks, that emphasizes individual liberty. It is constitutional because it rests on the tradition, beginning with the Romans, of the rule of law.

Constitutional liberalism developed in Western Europe and the United States as a defense of the individual's right to life and property, and freedom of religion and speech. To secure these rights, it emphasized checks on the power of each branch of government, equality under the law, impartial courts and tribunals, and separation of church and state.

Its canonical figures include the poet John Milton, the jurist William Blackstone, statesmen such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, and philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Adam Smith, Baron de Montesquieu, John Stuart Mill, and Isaiah Berlin. In almost all of its variants, constitutional liberalism argues that human beings have certain natural (or "inalienable") rights and that governments must accept a basic law, limiting its own powers, that secures them.

Thus in 1215 at Runnymede, England's barons forced the king to abide by the settled and customary law of the land. In the American colonies these laws were made explicit, and in 1638 the town of Hartford adopted the first written constitution in modern history. In the 1970s, Western nations codified standards of behavior for regimes across the globe. The Magna Carta, the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, the American Constitution, and the Helsinki Final Act are all expressions of constitutional liberalism.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Wise Christian Politics

Christianity Today has an excellent article by John G. Stackhouse Jr. titled: A Variety of Evangelical Politics. The point of the article is to review some books that reveal how diverse evangelicals are when it comes to political thought and action. What I found really helpful was the last part of the article, a section which I have copy/pasted here. Here Stackhouse outlines three typical approaches Christians take to political involvement - the third way best describes what I have been trying to figure out. It was helpful to me, it may be helpful to you. Read the pasted section below, and then read the whole article at CT.

A Mixed Field
Jesus once described the world as a field full of both grain and weeds (Matt. 13:37–43). So what should we expect in this weedy world?

We should expect sin. We should expect some politicians to accept graft, and some executives to sell out their companies and shareholders and customers for personal gain. We should expect drunk driving and drug pushing and cartels and sexual assault and stock manipulation and terrorism and a hundred other evils.

Beyond outright sin, we should expect waste. It should not shock us that governments and armies and corporations and schools waste money. It should not shock us that institutions waste people's time and waste people's talents and waste the earth's resources. Indeed, beyond sin and waste, we should expect stupidity and absurdity, vanity and promiscuity. And we should also expect a certain amount of confusion in which it is not always clear what is weed and what is grain.

Furthermore, we must reckon not only with what is bad out there, but also with what is bad in here: in our individual selves and in our most sacred institutions, whether families, churches, or other Christian organizations.

Reckoning means "acting accordingly," thus structuring and conducting our lives so as to restrain the evil within us and the evil without us as best we can, and responding properly when those restraints give way, as they so often do. Such reckoning also means that we do not wait until our motives have resolved into perfect purity before we attempt to do God's work, since few of us consider ourselves "entirely sanctified" as of yet. Furthermore, such reckoning means that we not only are not shocked by impure motives in others, but also that we presume impure motives in others. Doing so, we yet will decide sometimes to support them, cooperate with them, and praise them for their successes, since we do not demand of them an unrealistic purity.

We will always wish it were otherwise, and we will demand legality at least and high principle at best. But we will not merely wring our hands and despair of politics until a truly good political option appears. For we would then have to wait for Jesus' return and remain useless politically in the meanwhile (except perhaps in the limited role of chiding everyone else for failing to be as good as he is). We will expect our leaders—in state, commerce, the professions, and also the church—to be tempted by power, money, and fame. So we will construct the healthiest possible hierarchies, which will both help them resist temptation and protect the rest of us from their expected failures to do so.

All of these negative expectations, however, arise not out of despair, which enervates and immobilizes, but out of both clear-eyed empirical analysis and our own theology, which illuminate and motivate. For our theology, which contains a robust doctrine of sin, includes also robust doctrines of both providence and redemption. God set up institutions to bless us, despite their corruption, and he continues to work through them. God also rules history and aids those who press for greater shalom in those institutions. God is not discouraged by the evil evident in ourselves and our world. He is sad about it, angry at it, and grieved by it, but not discouraged. He works away at it, knowing that his labor is certain to produce fruit. And he has called us to do the same as human beings and as Christians.

Wise Christian Politics Is Complicated
In the light of this reality, we can now see that there are three kinds of people who undertake political action. The ideologue has it easiest. He simply asks himself, in any situation on any issue, what's ultimately right. Then he does everything he can to realize that ideal.

That's the way many Christians have engaged in political action, whether on the Left, Right, or whatever. If we believe that abortion is wrong, then we work to outlaw it. If we think that gay marriage is consonant with Christian values, then we should make it legal. Graphic movies, globalization, immigration, climate change—whatever it is we believe is right on any issue, we simply seek to universalize by whatever means are available.

The pragmatist also starts with the question of what's ultimately right. But then she carefully appraises the situation and works for what she deems currently possible. If abortion is wrong, but the best she can do is get a ban on partial-birth abortions, she works for that. If gay marriage is wrong, but the best she can do is see "civil unions" instituted instead, then that's what she aims for.

The pluralist asks what's ultimately right and what's currently possible. But he interposes a third, admittedly odd question between those two: What is penultimately (second to last/second-best) right? Might it be God's will that what is ultimately right not prevail immediately?

The pluralist Christian might have strong views about x. He is also pragmatic enough to know that a total ban on alternatives to his views of x is unlikely in his society. But he is also willing to consider the possibility that in God's providence, it is better for there to be more than one view of x allowed in society. He might see that, yes, ultimately God's will is to get rid of this or that, but penultimately it serves God's purposes for society to allow this or that to remain.

Let's consider an easy example. It is ultimately better that all speech be accurate, eloquent, and edifying. But most of us Christians think it's best for our societies to allow for considerable freedom in speech. For some good things to happen, we concede, some not-so-good things and even some bad things must be allowed to remain.

Thus, wise Christian politics has a difficult three-fold task: to determine what is ultimately right, to determine what is penultimately best, and to work for what is politically possible.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

ecclessiology, missiology, and political philosophy...

Big fancy words for the ideas floating around in my head as I try to work through my thoughts on what's the church supposed to look like these days, what does that mean for our mission/purpose, and how does that intersect with our nation's obsession with how to use power.

What does the church care for who is in power? Would that actually stop the church from proclaiming and living out the good news? No. From feeding the poor, caring for the orphans, loving the widows, visiting prisoners? No.

If the church is to be the good news it is proclaiming, then obviously this good news ought to affect our participation in the economy, the military industrial complex, the justice system, education, etc. And to what extent do we rely on the elected officials to help make happen what we are convinced of is necessary to come to pass because of the Gospel?

Since nothing is perfect, and power often leads to some form of corruption, and since we must use power and thus partner with imperfect politicians to infuse the good news into the economy, education, environmental issues, health/life issues, etc, then how do we process our frustration at the compromises and betrayals that result from working with politicians?

Liberal Democracy is seen by some as the final form of governance to emerge out of our human history; it's obviously been tainted in our country. Where are the Christians who are seeking to live out the good news of the kingdom in partnership with people who seek to establish liberal democracy in its best form?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Every Huckleberry is Precious in the Lord's Sight!

This is Huckleberry Season #4! And this is the picture of the long-awaited Huckleberry Pie! It is so tasty!

Here's what's different about the huckleberry season this year: we have bags and bags and bags of huckleberries! Woohoo! Last year we had maybe two quarts (see those little plastic containers - last year we had the harvest equivalent of two of those containers)! This year we had over 50 quarts!

Look upon the beautiful, bountious harvest of huckleberries! I've never seen so many in my whole entire life!

I'm smiling now because the task of de-stemming each berry had only begun. It took me over three hours to go through that whole bucket of huckleberries. Ugh. My thumbs were pretty sore by midnight.

This is all that's left of my father's huckleberry harvest! It took us over an hour to cut down the huckleberry stalks and then cut the clusters off of the stalks. Each of the boys did a great job of helping!

This is what the huckleberry patch looked like before the harvest! I laughed in utter disbelief - it was like a dream come true! Despite my father's great skill at gardening, I just never imagined he'd be able to grow this many huckleberries! Oh the joy!

The boys are helping carry their harvest of huckleberries back to Papa Ger's truck.

Eli was a super helper - he carefully picked each individual huckleberry off of the cluster and then carefully placed it in the box. He took his job seriously!

Grandma Rozer's strategy was to cut down huge stalks and throw them in the big box. Then she sat down and pulled out a stalk at a time to cut off the clusters and then de-stem them. Just like Henry Ford - she has to find a better way!

Isaac and Levi made a great team - even when they got tangled up in the oversized stalks!

Papa Ger was glad for the help - the boys floated back and forth between grandpa and grandma. Did they offer to help me? Of course not. I'm chopped liver when the grandfolks are around!

Here Eli is showing off his handiwork: an individual huckleberry that he has carefully plucked from the stalk.

Eli floated all over the place: he'd help Papa Ger, he'd help me, he'd help Grandma Rozer, he'd wander around, he'd try to help his brothers - but they weren't too keen on him butting into their space.

Mr. Isaac taking a break from harvesting!

Mr. Levi and his cheesey grin!

Grandma Rozer leads the way to Papa Ger's heavenly huckleberry patch: I am totally unprepared at this point for the bonanza of berries I am about to behold with my eyes. All I can say is this: Dad knows how to grow huckleberries! Way to go Dad!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sunday Sermon Notes 10.26.08

Grace and peace to you
from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

3 I thank my God every time I remember you.

4 In all my prayers for all of you,
I always pray with joy
5 because of your partnership in the gospel
from the first day until now,
6 being confident of this,
that he who began a good work in you
will carry it on to completion
until the day of Christ Jesus.

When I first started Anchor I was very excited and very nervous. Eventually the excitement mellowed out, but the nervousness/worry/fear/anxiety continued to go up. My insecurities and lack of experience were overwhelming my confidence. I constantly was asking "What if..." questions from a negative point of view. What if no one comes? What if no one's life is changed? What if I'm a failure, etc.

A couple of weeks ago, while reflecting on some Jesus-wisdom, I was convicted of my worry/fear. I was so afraid of failing at Anchor that all the fun was sucked out of it. I read the part where Jesus gives permission to his followers to not worry. He says: Do not worry! Instead of worry, seek God's kingdom - with confidence. It's been a huge release to not worry/be afraid about how my work will turn out. It's alot more fun to have confidence in God's work in and through us.

Paul is very confident - based on his trust in God, his belief about Jesus, and his experience in the past - that the good work God has begun in the world will not be in vain. Paul is confident because he knows what kind of failure he was - despite his best efforts to do good; but the LORD got a hold of him and began using him for good. Our worst failures are still capable of being used by God to further his good work in this world.

Paul reminds us that the good news is this: Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the gospel, this is the good news, the good work that God is up to in the world by Jesus through his Spirit. If crucifixion of His Son can be used for good, if God can give grace to the soldiers and citizens who crucified his son, if God can make peace with rebel on a cross, then he is definitely willing to give you grace, to make peace with you.

And odds are that he is wanting to give others grace and peace through you. Which is one of the best attributes of a church: a community of people giving and receiving grace from one another - and having that grace and peace overflow into their homes, school, work, the neighborhood.

Are you afraid of how your life is turning out? Worried about how your marriage, kids, job, schooling, neighborhood etc. is going? Jesus gives you an invitation: don't worry about it. Instead, trust God to help you figure out what is the next best step to take. This way of dealing with the problem makes possible some confidence that God will give you some grace - open some doors of opportunity, and give you some peace - a way for things to work out "all right".

When enough people start seeking grace and peace from God so that it affects their everyday life, it will be alot easier for more people to see God at work in the world. I don't know about you - but I'd really like to see more of God's grace and peace at work in this crazy, violent, beautiful world.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Isn't there a better candidate to vote for? Please?

Why is it that I think that my fellow Americans who are running for president of our country ought to hold to a higher standard of discourse, reasoning, nuance, etc.? A small rummage through the history books of past presidential races in the past century or two reveal much worse experiences - gross slander, outrageous lies, immoral conduct, obvious media why do I think today should be different? Running for president seems to bring the worst out of presidential candidates...especially the closer they get to the voting day. The final criteria comes down to: out of two terrible candidates, who is likely to do the most acceptable damage to our country. a Christian - do I bring a unique set of decision-factors to my voting choice? As an American citizen, I have a right and a responsibility to vote. I intend to exercise that right and fulfill that responsibility. As an American citizen, I am pretty much confused over who will do the most acceptable damage. The Democrat is accused of being a big fan of inducing socialism...this coming from the Republican candidate who's party has just nationalized a bunch of really, really big banks (otherwise understood as a form of socialism). Oh the irony. The Democrat is accused of being untested and too then the Republican brings on a VP who has less. Oh the irony. The Republican is accused of being very, very negative - and my wife has received a negative piece of mail everyday for two weeks from the Democrat. Not a single one from the Republican. The Republican is accused of being too much like Bush, having all spent all that time with him, but the Democrat is from Chicago politics! a Christian, what else should I consider when it comes to my vote? Moral stuff?

Since presidential campaigns pretty much use lots of fear to scare votes their way, and since they constantly worry about the polls, and since their rivals are full of anxiety about losing, and since many, many, many, too many Americans are on medication because they can't handle their overloaded fears, worries, and anxieties...maybe the major difference for Christians is that they cast a vote for either candidate totally worry/fear/anxiety-free. And this is not because the Christian is naive, narrow-minded, or stupid. It's just that worry, fear, anxiety have a powerful dulling effect, they cloud one's ability to see reality. Could it be that one of the big gifts Christians could give to the next president is not a voting bloc, but action-oriented citizens who seek to serve and work and strengthen their neighborhoods with a certain confidence, generosity, and wisdom that seems...well...better rooted in reality and less rooted in fear.

Really, does it matter who is elected?


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Did You Know...?

Tomorrow Anchor celebrates Anniversary #10! It's the last Sunday of our first decade; Sunday #521!

Did you know that there were about 120 people at Anchor on that first Sunday?
Did you know that there are about 20 people still at Anchor from those first couple Sundays?
Karen Lauer; Joanna Herrick; Jeff Jacobs; Laura, Brianna, Brandon Pence; Tim & Alice Bauman; Terry, Joe Leatherman, Steve & Pam Dennie, Wendy, Taylor, Tyler, Alyssa Vergon; Amy Saleh, Karen Johnson, Tim & Tara Hallman.
Did you know that there were about 20 people from Emmanuel Community Church that met for the first time in the Dennie's living room one month before our launch date? There are four of us left from that group. There were over fifty people that came over from ECC to help get Anchor going - there are six of us left from that group (thanks Amy and Karen!).
Did you know that the Leathermans had been attending ECC for a few months until they felt the Lord prompting them to start attending Third Street UB. A few months after that ECC began the process of planning out the restart there! Terry and Joe were ahead of the curve!

Did you know that Anchor has averaged almost 100 individuals a Sunday in the past decade?
Did you know that Anchor has baptized about 30 individuals unto Jesus Christ?
Did you know that Anchor has dedicated about 30 infants to the LORD?
Did you know that Anchor has supported five missionaries?

Did you know that Anchor has worked hard to bless our neighborhood?
We hosted a huge summer carnival the first four years; we've hosted a popular Halloween MAZE every year! We've walked the neighborhood picking up trash, we've landscaped homes, Christmas caroled! We opened up a youth center: had an after-school program, a youth cafe, a concert ministry, and a bible study. We've partnered with the other local churches, other local non-profits, and other neighbors to meet the needs of the community. We've helped families at Thanksgiving and Christmas, we've provided community service projects for juvenile's on probation, and visited those in prison.

Did you know that Anchor sponsored four mission trips: Laurel Mission (KY), Reynosa, Mexico, South Dakota, and the Bahamas! We even had some Anchorites go serve in New Orleans following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Our youth went to DC/LA 2000 and 2003; and the very first youth group in 1999 went white-water rafting! The youth have helped raise food for the hungry, school supplies for the needy, and raised money to buy Christmas gifts for kids going without. In 2000 we had over 70 kids and youth get together for a very fun night at LazerTag! In 2002 and 2003 we had over four hundred youth come for a concert-fundraiser at the church! One time Tony Biard had almost 700 youth at a concert at our church!

Did you know that Anchor and Emmanuel have joined together every year the past ten years to form a softball team for the summer? Anchor also had a indoor soccer team for a couple of years at Tahcumwah - with some friends from Fellowship Missionary (and some other churches too)! Anchor partnered with Grace Presbyterian, First Mennonite, and North Highlands Church of Christ for a VBS in 2006, and again in 2007 - this time with Trinity Presbyterian and Spring Street Wesleyan! In 2008 Trinity Lutheran joined the crew for a Walk-thru-the Bible event! Anchor's music team has played events at Union Chapel Church, Corruna UBC, and several other churches.

Did you know that there have been lots of kids, youth, and adults who have been a blessing to Anchor? They've also along the way been blessed by Anchor...may God continue to bless the world through Anchor...and all those who've been part of Anchor along the way.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tim @ REVEAL - Post-Afternoon Two

My confidence about Anchor is going up with the REVEAL information - it gives objective data/tasks to do which we know to do, but now we can do with more focus, clarity, and boldness.

To summarize REVEAL and FOLLOW ME:
There are four segments of people in the church
Exploring Christ - interested but not following
Growing in Christ - made a choice to follow, but still new to the beliefs and practices of being a disciple
Close to Christ - consider Jesus their friend who they rely on to help them get through their day, their trials, their plans for life.
Christ-centered - consider Jesus to be the most important person in their life to whom they have pledged whole-hearted loyalty and seek to obey everything He has instructed them to do.

With these four segments, there are then three major movements people need to make to move forward in their life as a disciple
Movement 1 - from Exploring Christ to Growing in Christ: this includes a decision to become a disciple of Jesus
Movement 2 - from Growing in Christ to Close to Christ: this includes increased intensity of belief and action
Movement 3 - from Close to Christ to Christ-centered: this is the hardest movement to make, the total abandonment of self and complete surrender to the Way of Jesus.

The three movements are made through participation in four key categories of spiritual catalysts that cause movement from one segment to the next.
Catalyst 1 - Core Spiritual beliefs and attitudes
Catalyst 2 - Organized church activities
Catalyst 3 - Personal spiritual practices
Catalyst 4 - Spiritual activities with others.

What the two books then detail is the identity of the four segments, and then how each catalyst works in each movement for each kind of disciple. It gets a little overwhelming, but there are some key catalysts that emerge:
1. Spiritual Friendships are very important for people to move forward.
2. Personal engagement in Scripture for purposeful action is key.
3. Serving others is a good way to move forward as a disciple.
4. Choosing to give myself away in imitation of Jesus is crucial.

Churches are strongly encouraged to take the REVEAL survey, identify how many are in what segments, and then identify the key catalytic actions that need to be taken to get people moving. And even if you don't take the survey soon, now we know with greater assurance and boldness what we'll be preaching on for a very long time.

Oh, and lest we forget: if the pastor is going to work hard at getting his congregation to move forward as disciples, then the pastor must also make the move towards Christ-centeredness. You can't lead people where you won't go. The pastor ought not to focus on making disciples if he is going to then neglect his own need to become a disciple. The more a pastor focuses on becoming a Christ-centered disciple, the more capacity he will have to let the Spirit work through him to do the catalytic tasks that help make more disciples.

Tim @ REVEAL - Afternoon Two

What a great event!

For the benediction Greg Hawkins had most of the fifteen pastors who spoke at the event come up for a special word to us. What struck me most about this line up of speakers was this: they weren't chosen because of their special speaking ability, for the national reknown of their church, or their charismatic personality - they were chosen because the empirical data revealed their churches to be some of the best in the country at making disciples. I found myself listening with extra intensity to what they shared about their ministry, their church, their best practices - they were sharing not so that they'd be invited back to the next conference, but because they were wholly devoted to being a disciple and making wholly devoted disciples. Very refreshing and inspiring.

The two sessions this afternoon were very different from each other. The first afternoon session had two very different parts to it: the first included an interview with Eric, the guy who was the brains behind the REVEAL implementation, and with two of his clients from the marketplace.

Takeaways from their input: accept the data (facts are your friends!), make compelling change (no half-hearted stuff), the senior leader has to support it 100%. Jump in with both feet, look for long-term results, and be innovative in making disciples - make it work within the realities that you are immersed in.

The second part of the session included a panel of pastors who shared how their churches were working through the current (and extended) economic hardships.

Takeaways from their insights: economic hardships ought to be a spiritual formation opportunity; tithing in the hard times reveals what you believe about God's provision for you, churches are never immune from the economic realities of their members - churches need to be prepared to weather the hardships, and to prepare their members.

The last session of the day was spent with John Ortberg. His words were nourishment for the soul. He asked us: are we focused on making better Christians or more disciples?

Takeaways: people move from being a stranger to Jesus to an admirer of Jesus, and some then become a follower. But what often happens is that people move from being an admirer of Jesus to a User of Jesus. Usually Jesus is used as a way to get into heaven when they die.
John noted three different kinds of faith: public faith - what we want others to think we believe; private faith - what we think we believe; and then core faith - what we actually believe. How do you know what is your core belief? Your actions reveal what you actually believe.
The Bible doesn't teach us that we should trust Jesus in order to get into Heaven; rather the Bible reveals that to trust Jesus is to believe to the core of us that He is right about everything and thus we act accordingly.
According to Dallas Willard, Life Transformation comes from Vision, Intentionality, and Means. We must have a vision of God that causes us to intentionally take action using means/methods to experience that kind of life with God.
And: only the love of God secures the vision of God.
Finally: no one can become a disciple because you think you should; you have to want it.

Tim @ REVEAL - Morning Two

To the one who has ears: Hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches/Anchor/me.

That's a paraphrase of John's refrain to the seven churches of Western Asia - and to America - and to the world.

I hear the Spirit speaking...this conference is so good for me. There are some great churches in this country - let me repeat that: there are some GREAT churches in this country! It is so inspiring to hear their stories of what they are doing to make disciples. It's also inspiring to know: I/we can do it too! It's there...right on our fingertips...Anchor can be a great church too...we're almost there...but we're a few strategic steps from getting there...big steps...but steps we can take.

Takeaway from this morning's two sessions here at REVEAL:
* Preach with a burden. Robert Morris from Gateway Church shared how this works for him...beautiful and compelling.

* Plan Sunday Mornings around experiencing God: make the morning include three sections: worship singing/preaching the word/a time of ministering. People want to experience God...why not when they gather on a Sunday morning? God's Spirit must show up for this to happen, but God's people who oversee the event must make sure they do their part to help make it happen.

* Consider what people are bringing in with them on Sunday mornings - and thus what you must then do to address the baggage they bring: what are the things they bring in with them that God wants to do something about.
Things people walk in with on a Sunday morning: fear, anxiety, worry; boredom, stress, distraction; brokenness, shame, guilt; doubt, questions, confusion; despair, depression, hopelessness.
The question is: how does our time of worship singing take into account this reality? How does the sermon? The response time of ministering (prayer, counseling, etc)? How can our time of worship, hearing the Word, ministering help facilitate moments for God to meet those needs?

Worship/Church is not about observing God, but about meeting/experiencing God.
Provide an atmosphere where as many people as possible can experience God.

Have the last line on the Sermon Outline be: What is God saying to me through this message?

* Make sure people understand that they don't go to church, the are the church!
Have a very high standard for membership - it equals leadership/discipleship. All the churches here that are noted for doing a GREAT job of making disiciples all have very high expectations of involvement/commitment. They believe that people want to be inspired/challenged...but those people also have to be held accountable.

* Instead of counting morning attendance, figure out ways to count touches: touches = touching lives for God. The pastors on the platform all agreed that this is a very hard transition to make - it's hard to count what matters most.

* Get everybody who is part of the church to be serving somewhere, somehow with their skills, passions, natural opportunities.

* Churches need to build bridges to the community! Disciples must have an avenue for actually being good news to the community within which they live!

Tim @ REVEAL - Pre-Morning Day Two

Last night I spent a couple of hours reading through the book FOLLOW ME; here is some stuff that I found revealing.
The focus of this book is spiritual movement: specifically what moves a person from one stage of spiritual growth to the next. pg27

Spiritual Growth is a highly individual process, full of mysterious moments that crystallize and catalyze our faith. 47

The Top Five Spiritual Catalysts for Movement 1 59
~ The top five spiritual catalysts out of the more than fifty factors evaluated are listed in order of importance for Movement 1. These five factors represent the combination of catalysts that are the most predictive of movement from Exploring Christ to Growing in Christ.
Movement 1: from Exploring Christ to Growing in Christ
1. Salvation by Grace (Spiritual Belief/Attitude)
2. The Trinity (Spiritual Belief/Attitude)
3. Serve the Church (Church Activity)
4. Prayer to Seek Guidance (Spiritual Practice)
5. Reflection on Scripture (Spiritual Practice)

The Top Five Spiritual Catalysts for Movement 2 62
~ The top five spiritual catalysts out of the more than fifty factors evaluated are listed in order of importance for Movement 1. These five factors represent the combination of catalysts that are the most predictive of movement from Growing In Christ to Close to Christ.
Movement 2: from Growing In Christ to Close to Christ
1. Personal God (Spiritual Belief/Attitude)
2. Prayer to Seek Guidance (Spiritual Practice)
3. Reflection on Scripture (Spiritual Practice)
4. Solitude (Spiritual Practice)
5. Evangelism (Spiritual Activity with Others)

The Top Five Spiritual Catalysts for Movement 3 75
~ The top five spiritual catalysts out of the more than fifty factors evaluated are listed in order of importance for Movement 1. These five factors represent the combination of catalysts that are the most predictive of movement from Close to Christ to Christ-centered.
Movement 3: from Close to Christ to Christ-Centered
1. Giving Away My Life (Spiritual Belief/Attitude)
2. Christ is First (Spiritual Belief/Attitude)
3. Identity in Christ (Spiritual Belief/Attitude)
4. Authority in the Bible (Spiritual Belief/Attitude)
5. Reflection on Scripture (Spiritual Practice)

If you don't know anything about REVEAL or FOLLOW ME, click on the links, or send me an email. If you are interested to know more, click on the links, or email me, or let's plan on getting together to figure some stuff out.

It's worth noting that the one common catalyst for all spiritual movement is Reflection on Scripture for application. The more often someone does it, the more it is a catalyst for following Christ. Think about's so simple...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tim @ REVEAL - Afternoon One

One full day of REVEAL under my belt. I'm starting to get a headache. Maybe it's from the 1am bedtime lastnight. Or the junk-food I ate to stay awake on my trip. Nothing a good nap can't solve! But I think that maybe the headache is coming because my brain's been on overdrive today - so much good stuff to absorb and process and review.

Both sessions this afternoon were based on some selected pastors of churches that according to REVEAL are doing alot of things right. In the spirit of sharing best practices, these pastors agreed to come and reveal what they are doing right. It's important to note that these are humble men - no inkling of pride or ego. Refreshing.

Takeaways from this afternoon (you'll note that there is nothing revealed that is new or novel...):
* getting people into God's Word so that God can get into people is central, primary, crucial to people moving forward as disciples. Get creative, help remove obstacles/excuses, model, raise the value - do what it takes so that more people are living out the Scriptures, so that they are getting a fresh understanding of God's Word, and then taking responsibility for fusing their faith and works.

* raise the level of intentionality about making disciples in through the local church. Making disciples ought to be THE thing a church does - and how it does it ought to be OBVIOUS to the whole congregation, and not only obvious but understandable. The Senior Pastor has to be a huge factor in this, whether it is personally leading the charge, or always waving the flag for it. The church needs to discern how it will make disciples - the HOW will take time, not because it is hard to figure out, but because it is hard not to make it complicated and misleading. And this is where REVEAL comes in: through empirical data you can discern best practices from other churches for how your church, regardless of size/location/resources can start making more and better disciples.

* did I mention the high value of getting Scripture inside people to catalyze the work of God in helping people become disciples of Jesus? Apparently it's a pretty big deal...

Tim @ REVEAL - Morning One

Morning Number One is finished at the WCA REVEAL Conference.
Very Good STUFF.

One point they repeatedly stress: they have not come up with new ways to make disciples. What they have done is come across strong empirical facts for how certain biblical ways contribute to making disciples. What Bill, Greg and Dave all testified to was the increased boldness and confidence they gained from having these facts in front of them when it comes to leadership and disciple-making.

At Anchor we've simplified our mission, focusing on making disciples who love God and others. The big question is: HOW?

That's what REVEAL is going to get into more this afternoon and tomorrow. I've read the first book on the subject: REVEAL, and I just purchased the other one: FOLLOW ME (which has all of the 'best practices' ideas).

Takeaways from this morning:
Leaders must know what is God's part in making disciples, Leaders must know what is the church's part in making disciples, and Leaders must know what is the individual's part in becoming a disciple.

Leaders must understand what are going to be the catalytic experiences/events that people need that will help them move forward in their discipleship journey. The top four catalytic experiences? Increasing in useful knowledge of the Scriptures; Increasing in reliance upon Jesus Christ for everyday life; Increasing in meaningful service opportunities; Increasing in meaningful community experiences.

Leaders must understand the basic four stages of the people who are part of your church: Explorers (not know much of Jesus); Beginners (know some about Jesus); Close to Christ (consider Jesus a close friend); Christ-centered (reliant upon Christ in everything). Leaders need to know that that the hardest transition to make is from Close to Christ to Christ-centered. Leaders also need to know that it is the Christ-centered people who bring the most passion, resources, energy, maturity, and love to the church community. Leaders need to know how to use Christ-centered people to help those in the other stages move forward in their journey with Jesus.

Good STUFF. The question is still for us in our community: HOW?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Levi & Isaac: First Day of Preschool!

Note: this post is overdue by a month!

September 8 was a mighty big day for our boys! The long awaited day for preschool had arrived!

Isaac is eating his lunch using the only Today Is a Special Day plate, so Levi came up with the idea of using one of Tara's China plate from China! Clever boy! Also, Levi is showing off his Spongebob Squarepants watch that he insisted on wearing to the first day of school. Isaac is also wearing a watch - a Homer Simpson watch with sound effects "Mmmmm...burgers!"

Isaac's thinking he's ready to go...though he was a bit apprehensive.

Levi's all ready to go!

Tara snapped a photo of the boys crossing the parking lot with their bags in tow, she had a hunch that upon entering the building, the boys may not let her take a photo.

Hanging up their bags in the right spot. Step One of the afternoon.

On the first day, it's important to get some time to play - they seemed attracted to the magnets!

Painting with the opposite colors, the boys told Tara to go sit in the van in the parking lot and wait until school is over. They seemed to be adjusting well. Following a successful afternoon, Tara took them to Dairy Queen to celebrate. While there, she asked them if anybody mixed them up. They explained that if kids did it was okay because "Some kids called Miss Jill Miss Traci, and Miss Traci Miss Jill, so it's okay."

This wasn't Emma's first day of kindergarten - more like day 14. Going full-day is finally wearing her out - she hasn't even had supper yet!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Why Americans Hate Politics - 1

On my last day at TEDS as a student, I spent my last hour on campus in the bookstore browsing for a deal or two. I found several gems - and one of them was the book by E.J. Dionne Jr. - Why Americans Hate Politics.

It's a good book. If you care about politics, about understanding what forces have shaped the current realities of liberalism and conservatism - this is a must read book. There are so many sentences in this book that I've underlined. I must share it with you in the hopes that you will get the book yourself and read and learn. There will likely be many posts on this book. It's that good.

Here's the new emerging questions for me: What is the proper role of government? And how ought a Christian participate in that government? Does the Scriptures envision a Christian government? Could a government be "good" without being created by Christians? Should Christians keep trying to make our government more "Christian?" Should Christians keep trying to influence our government as it is so that the government reflects more Christian values?

Or, should Christians soberly assess the current status of our government, brutally assess how it got here, and think strategically about how our nonChristian government can operate more effectively in our nonChristian country to further its nonChristian goals? (nonChristian doesn't mean antiChristian; nonChristian doesn't mean nonreligious; nonChristian doesn't mean athiest)

It doesn't seem to me that Christians have been that effective in improving the effectiveness of government in our country. Could it be Christians of our generation need to rethink the whole thing? To learn from the past couple of generations and then think through a new course of action for the new century? Somethings need to change...

The central argument of this book is that liberalism and conservatism are framing political issues as a series of false choices. Wracked by contradiction and responsive mainly to the needs of their various constituencies, liberalism and conservatism prevent the nation from settling the questions that most trouble it. - pg 11

Many of the things conservatives bemoan about modern society - a preference for short-term gratification over long-term commitment, the love of things instead of values, a flight from responsibility toward selfishness - result at least in part form the workings of the very economic system that conservatives feel so bound to defend. For conservatives, it is much easier to ignore this dilemma and blame "permissiveness" on "big government" or "the liberals." - pg 13

The liberals often make that easy. Liberals tout themselves as the real defenders of community. They speak constantly about having us share each others' burdens. Yet when the talk moves from economic issues to culture or personal morality, liberals fall strangely mute. Liberals are uncomfortable with the idea that a virtuous community depends on virtuous individuals. - pg 13/14

Over time, when people stop saying things publicly, they stop believing them privately. And when they stop believing them, they will, over time, stop acting on them. - pg 20

The new center I have in mind would prefer problem-solving to symbolism. It would rather govern than polarize the country around contrived themes and empty slogans. it would take the economic challenges the United States seriously as the country took the challenge of totalitarianism.... - pg 27

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Apocalypse of Christ - Part Six

Last message on Revelation...for awhile.

Wanted to do a wrap-up of a major theme running through Revelation: how does God see the Church (with a capital "C"). See, Revelation is a book of...well...revelation: it is revealing reality as God sees it...which is...well, reality. Revelation is not about when the world will end (chronologically) or how the world will end. What Revelation is about is a revealing of who God is, who Jesus is, who the Spirit is, who the Church is, and what they are up to in this world.

Anyway: the last seven messages have been a brief look at what God/Jesus/Spirit has to say to seven different churches located in the western region of what is modern day Turkey. Seven churches with a letter reflecting the political, cultural, political, geographical, economical, religious, military, historical realities of their city/church. Very fascinating.

Here's how I see it: chapter one is crucial to understanding chapter two and three (the section of seven letters), and the first three chapters are the key for understanding the next nineteen chapters. If you skip chapter one, or skim chapters two and three, you'll come up with some pretty interesting yet weird interpretations for Revelation.

Here's what I think is the key verse of chapter one to understand chapters two and three (my translation from the original language):
To Jesus Christ who loves us
and has released us from our sins by his blood
and created us to be a Kingdom and Priests
unto Jesus' God and Father -
To Jesus Christ be glorious splendor and mighty power
Unto the ages!
So be i

The letters to the seven churches are calls for each one of them, in their unique situations, to reorient themselves to being a kingdom within the Empire, a kingdom within the city they dwell - the kingdom of God amidst the Emperor of Rome. To be part of the kingdom is to be under the rule, authority, protection, and grace of the king - in this case God the Creator of Heaven and Earth. The letter is also calling to each church to live up to it's calling to be priests of Jesus' God and Father - a priest is a go-between, a mediator between God and the people. In this case, the individuals of the church are a priest between God and the world. As a priest, individuals are the means by which God makes known his will, his works, his words known to the world. And as a priest, you are how the world will know God and what he wants to give them.

Using this framework of kingdom/alternative Jesus society and priest/go-between, it opens up the letters to the seven churches in a fresh way that taps into very old themes found in the Torah and the Instructions of Jesus - and even Paul.

God created Israel to be his Kingdom and Priests; and the Church is the New Israel ruled by Jesus the High Priest. We are God's people, instructed by Jesus to carve out a new society where His right/just/merciful way's prevail - and where those part of this new society are individuals who are used by God as conduits/instruments/vessels of truth, love, freedom, beauty, good, etc.

Wouldn't you want to be part of a people who are marked by justice and mercy? Wouldn't you want to become a person out of whom truth, love, freedom, reconciliation, goodness overflows?

Monday, October 06, 2008

The U.S. Civil War and the Holy Scriptures

I finished watching Ted Turner's Gods and Generals, based on the book by Jeff Shaara. My brother Jerm encouraged me to read the book several years ago - which I did. Someone let me borrow the movie a year or so ago - I just recently made time to watch it. The story bothered me. I'm bothered by how terrible the Civil War was for so many people. And I'm bothered by the use of Scriptures on both sides to justify actions.

Included on the DVD is an extra section where one can watch, amongst other things, several historians discuss the person of Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. One of the side comments that made me think was this (paraphrase): the secular north was motivated to end slavery due to adherence to the Constitution and basic human rights; the religious south was motivated to keep slavery due to adherence to Biblical passages and support.

While this is admittedly a simplistic summary, there is enough truth in it to bother me: how is it that secularism seemed to lead the way in freeing slaves, and religion was a primary force in enforcing slavery?

Now I have another historical/religious issue to track down.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Some Good Bonhoeffer Stuff...

I believe that I know inwardly I shall be really clear and honest only when I have begun to take seriously the Sermon on the Mount. Here is the set the only source of power capable of exploding the whole enchantment and specter [of Hitler and his rule]. The restoration of the church will surely come from a sort of new monasticism which has in common with the old only the uncompromising attitude of a life lived according to the Sermon on the Mount in the following of Christ. I believe it is now time to cal people to this.
- from A Testament to Freedom, 424

God is gracious above and beyond all our sins. Those who want to take God seriously should look upon Christ. In Christ God's wrath is revealed as nowhere else, yet at the same time God's grace is revealed as nowhere else. If you think you are under God's wrath, than cleave to Christ!
- from A Testament to Freedom, 181

Everything must be judged by God. Anyone who evades this judgment of God must die, those who subject themselves to it will live; for to be judged by God is the grace that leads to life. God judges in order to have mercy and humbles in order to exalt. Only the humble will succeed.
- from A Testament to Freedom, 446

The Apocalypse of Christ - Part Five

Laodicea is the last city in our tour of the seven churches of Revelation. It's the famous city where Jesus says he'll puke the Christians out of his mouth because they're a waste of water - neither hot or cold. (As an aside: I've always heard that what Jesus meant by the whole hot or cold thing was - he'd rather you be on fire for him or be cold and dead to him, and thus bound for hell - on fire or hellbound were better than lukewarmness.
That, my friends, is a ridiculous point.).

Anyway: lukewarm water in this context is equal to uselessness. The spewing from the mouth is the result of expecting one thing and getting unpleasantly surprised by reality. The Laodiceans were blessed beyond measure, you'd think with all that wealth and resources they'd be blessing the socks off of the poor (well, onto the poor), caring for the sick and dying, and putting the elderly in good hands. Nope, instead the Laodiceans were using their wealth to pamper themselves. What an unpleasant surprise. Kind of makes you want to puke when people with power and plenty of possessions keep piling onto themselves.

Jesus has nothing good to say about the Laodiceans -but guess what? He still considers them his beloved! He comes to them to rebuke them (meaning to call a spade a spade in such a way as they'll get what he's saying and accept it as true) and to discipline them (meaning instruct them in the new way to go in light of the Way he has laid out for us). He comes to them - distasteful as they are - because he loves them nonetheless. He call for them to repent, to hear his voice as he knocks on the door.

Here's the really beautiful piece: to all who hear his voice and open the door (even a crack) he'll enter when you're ready and dine with you - and you with him. For Jesus, the best sign that you are welcome is to feast with him. He's ready to chow down with you if you'll have him.

Anyone who hears his voice - he'll come to you.
He keeps knocking...He just keeps knocking...

Love is patient...Even for rich and poor Americans alike...