Monthly Archives: June 2006

Hippies, Tongues, and Missing the Point

My first real exposure to the Jesus Revolution came in 1972, sometime during my 9th grade year. That experience also taught me that sometimes, even the wisest adults don’t know squat.

I lived in Lake Havasu City, Ariz., and attended a vibrant, growing UB church that was doing most things right. I loved the youth group, and loved my youth pastor, Jack Wade, a former Campus Crusade worker who influenced me significantly.

One night we all bundled into cars and traveled the 40 miles to Needles, Calif., where a Christian rally was being held. That’s Needles as in, “Well I headed for Las Vegas / Only made it out to Needles.” Pastor Marvin Price, Jack Wade, my dad, and probably several other adults accompanied us to Needles High School, where a bunch of sound and music equipment occupied the middle of the football field.

The music was loud Christian rock music, something new to Sheltered Stevie. Our church was progressive in many ways, but not in music. But it was not a concert. It was more of a worship service. For probably the first time in my life, I sang worship songs to the accompaniment of a full rock band. I tell you–it really grabbed my heart, like nothing I had experienced before. It connected. The preacher, probably just another hippie who found Christ, spoke not necessarily with eloquence, but with conviction and urgency. Again, my heart leaped with something I couldn’t explain. I caught glimpses into a whole new level of Christian living, and my heart yearned for it.

An altar call was given. As people went forward, the band sang and the preacher prayed and talked. And as he talked, he occasionally lapsed, just briefly, into another language. It was my first exposure to speaking in tongues. He didn’t make a show of it. A few words, then it was gone. And I remember the words, burned into my mind like it was yesterday. It sounded just like this: “Shone alamos.” Whatever that means.

But that was a sideline, not something I focused on. Rather, I found myself overwhelmed with the newness of this whole experience–the drums and screaming guitars, the long-haired hippie preacher, the urgency and depth of his message, and the overwhelming way in which I sensed the Holy Spirit’s presence in that gathering. It was incredibly real to me, unlike anything I had experienced before (though I’ve had many such experiences since then).

Well, afterwards we headed back to Lake Havasu and were directed into the fellowship hall, where we sat around on the floor. Dad told me, while we were still outside, “Pastor Price wants to talk to everyone about something.” “What?” I asked. “About speaking in tongues.” And I wasn’t even sure what he meant.

Some denominational tussles over tongues in our California churches had embroiled Pastor Price to some extent. Now his whole youth group had just been exposed to someone speaking in tongues, and he felt compelled to talk to us about that. So he did. Now, I heard years later that Pastor Price himself prayed in tongues, but it was purely a private thing; he never emphasized it, never preached about it, never encouraged it publicly. He just privately practiced it. So he knew what he was talking about. We teenagers received a doctrinally sound, balanced presentation about speaking in tongues. Pastor Price did a fine job. He beautifully answered questions I wasn’t asking.

You see, this incredible man of God totally missed the point. So did Jack Wade and my dad. The three most influential men in my life at that point. My mind was still back on that football stadium, still wondering:

“What was that?!?”

I was thinking about the incredible new way I sensed the Holy Spirit in that meeting, and how much I loved experiencing worship with my generation’s style of music. The adults totally missed this. Lousy antennae. The style just wasn’t their cup of tea, or maybe the Holy Spirit simply didn’t target them.

I think about that as I’m around today’s teens and young adults. I may participate in a gathering and find myself concerned about some theological issue, or perhaps a lack of Bible content, or something else. That may be all I see, as a 49-year-old, and I may downplay the event’s value. Meanwhile, a 20-year-old could be experiencing direct contact with the Holy Spirit and wondering, “What’s going on here?!?” Where I see shallowness, he may be thinking, “Wow! They are so genuine! So real!”

So on one hand I can take some pride in five decades of accumulated wisdom, experience, theological knowledge, and general spiritual discernment. But on the other hand, I need the humility to recognize that in contexts related to today’s emerging generations, I can sit amidst them and yet be totally blind to what God is actually doing. If a spiritual giant like Marvin Price can miss it, then I sure can.

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Those Who REALLY Fought for Freedom

We’ve all heard about the slaves who fought against the British during our War for Independence. But since victors write the history books, we haven’t heard much about the thousands of slaves who fought for the British. Slaves were well aware that slavery had been outlawed in England; if they could just reach the British Isles, they would be free at last.

The British offered freedom to any slaves who came to their side to fight against the American revolutionaries. An estimated 100,000 slaves (one out of five) fled the US by the end of the revolution. One was George Washington’s slave, Harry Washington, who ended up dying outside of Freetown, Sierra Leone. When the defeated British departed after losing at Yorktown, 15,000 former slaves went with them. Two new books, one by an English historian and one by an Australian historian, tell this forgotten piece of America’s story and what happened to these slaves, who were dispersed to England, Africa, Australia, and elsewhere.

So here’s what’s interesting. We celebrate our forefathers for fighting for freedom. They were not exactly “unfree,” but did have grievances about taxes and other issues. Meanwhile, here were these thousands of slaves who were, absolutely, fighting for freedom. And when the British lost, thousands were returned to a life of slavery (while their masters could celebrate the lower cost of tea).

But there are other interesting twists. Why were they slaves to begin with? Because of the British slave trade. While slavery was illegal in England itself, they hadn’t outlawed the slave trade on the high seas. The US, in 1808, outlawed the overseas slave trade, but still permitted slavery on US soil. Ah, what a web. Thomas Jefferson originally wrote about this in an early draft of the Declaration of Independence, criticizing King George for violating the “sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery.” In addition, he said King George had vetoed efforts in the colonies to abolish or restrain slavery, and was now offering these slaves the “liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people on whom he also obtruded [imposed] them.”

Alas, some signers felt that paragraph was too harsh, some felt it was too soft, and so they struck it from the final document which landed on King George’s desk.

Ironically, at war’s end, five of Jefferson’s own slaves were recaptured as they tried to flee behind British lines. Now who was imposing slavery on whom? Don’t ya just love this stuff?

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Trivial Quote

I liked this. Someone on the ChurchMedia.net forum uses this as a signature:

God is good, all the time
Sometimes it’s obvious

This is a reminder that sometimes, God’s goodness is not obvious…but he’s still good.

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Nine Web Design No-Nos

One of my seminars at the Church Media conference last week dealt with web design. Frankly, I didn’t learn a whole lot; after all, this is something I do professionally. But I did get a kick out of the leader’s “Six Things Never To Use in Web Design.” I agreed with all six, and added three of my own. So that’s nine items. I’ve been trying, hard, to come up with a tenth thing, but though I’ve had some good candidates, nothing has surfaced as a rock solid “definitely don’t do this.”

So, I’ll run with the nine. Most of these were popular in the 1990s, and should have died in the 1990s, the early days of the web. And most of these are very common on local church websites, a fact of life which pains me greatly.

1. Frames. Don’t design web pages with frames. It is so 1990s. Some browsers have trouble with frames. And if you care about Google rankings, definitely avoid frames. (I’ve never designed with frames.)

2. Scrolling banner text. This comes under the heading “Don’t do it just because you can.” Designers see that their program enables them to scroll text, so they do it. It’s just annoying. Like the similar FX in Powerpoint, where letters come flying across one at a time to form words. Don’t do it just because you can.

3. Animated GIFS. I hate sites that are plastered with cutesy animations that the designer stole from somewhere else.

4. Hit counters. Don’t put these on your website. They look amateurish (from a design standpoint), and “hits” are not like the more accurate “visits” (by accessing my blog homepage, I got probably a dozen “hits” as you accessed pieces of artwork, plus my javascript and CSS pages).

5. Patterned backgrounds. You can download gobs of square patterns to use as backgrounds for your pages. In general, avoid them. They look cheap.

6. Template buttons and art. You can buy a CD with thousands of graphic buttons; you just add your words to it. Plus lines, shapes, stars, symbols, and all kinds of other things. All of which look cheap. They also take extra time to load, as opposed to using textual links and buttons, which is the current standard (in tandem with Cascading Style Sheets).

7. Midi music. If I come across a site with music playing on it‚Äîthat’s the quickest way to get me to close the page. Especially if I’m at work. Music is especially annoying on ebay.

8. Splash screens. This is a page you’re forced to endure before getting to the actual page you want. You certainly don’t want to see it every time you visit that site. Instead of directly entering the store, it’s like being forced to come through another entrance with a special waiting room. Splash screens kill you on Google rankings, and studies show that up to a third of people never go beyond the splash screen. I click out of them as fast as possible.

9. Under Construction pages. I constantly have pages under construction‚Äîbut I don’t advertise that fact. I only link to a page or a section when it’s done. Nobody wants to be taken to an “under construction” page. It just wastes your time. When you have something there, then give me a link. I’m not interested in your master plan or good intentions.

Any candidates for a 10th item?

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Photos from Paula’s Wedding

I put up a bunch of photos from this Saturday’s wedding of my niece, Paula Jo Dennie. There are three pages on my Mac.com account.

Wedding Photos – Page 1
Wedding Photos – Page 2
Wedding Photos – Page 3

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Tabatha Lamb – Back from Vietnam

Tabatha and BikeTabatha Lamb spoke briefly at Anchor this morning. That’s her on the left. Anchor supports three Taylor University-Fort Wayne graduates, all girls, who now serve on the mission field–in Azerbaijan, Haiti, and Vietnam. Tabatha spent a lot of time at Anchor doing volunteer work during her college days. Last summer, she went to Vietnam–to Hanoi. Tabatha is one of my heroes.

The work is very difficult–very few Christians, deep cultural opposition to converting to Christianity. She told me of one young woman who had become a Christian and was involved in Bible studies, growing in her faith. But because of opposition from family and friends, she gave it up, renounced everything, and will now state sincerely that while she used to be a Christian, she is not anymore. Stuff like that must be highly discouraging.

Tabatha spoke for only a couple of minutes, and then showed a nine-minute DVD, a collage of photos from her time in Vietnam (she’s going back, by the way). I viewed those photos through two filters, which I should explain first.

1. I grew up during the Vietnam War, and the constant barrage of information from the government and media implanted, deeply, certain impressions of the Vietnamese, especially those in the North with whom we were at war. They were barbaric, psychotic even. No regard for human life. Cruel, primitive, fearless. No hint of being civilized. Attacking with reckless, wild-eyed frenzy. As an adult I know those descriptions aren’t accurate. But that’s what I picked up as an impressionable, patriotic kid.

Tabatha with 3 others
2. A few days ago I finished the novel “The Sorrow of War,” written by a former North Vietnamese soldier. The author, Bao Ninh, entered the war in 1969 as part of what was called the Glorious 27th Youth Brigade. Of the 500 who went to war, only 10 survived. Bao Ninh’s novel tells the story of a soldier. It is a bit tricky to read, since it jumps back and forth from pre-war, to post-war, to the present, to the war years itself. The book is non-partisan, neither pro-Vietnamese nor anti-American (actually, they do much more fighting with the South Vietnamese than with American troops). The book stirred controversy in Vietnam, since it didn’t portray Vietnamese troops as heroic and noble. But the book achieved international acclaim because of its honesty. The protagonist, Kien, deals with family issues, a girlfriend, the post-war effects of years of bloodshed, fear, despair, hopes and dreams, earning a living, and much more which left me feeling a kinship with Kien. He was just a normal person and a normal soldier (neither bloodthirsty nor particularly heroic), a man who survived the war and had to get on with life. At heart, Kien wasn’t unlike me.

So I watched Tabatha’s photos with a eye for the everyday humanity of the Vietnamese people. Most of the photos were of young people. The Vietnam War ended in 1975; they fought in Cambodia in 1978 to remove the Khmer Rouge from power, and then fought off an invasion of nearly 100,000 Chinese soldiers. But all of that was nearly 30 years ago. Most of the people in Tabatha’s slides appeared younger than that. They smiled a lot–much more than even American kids smile, I thought to myself. They played games, danced, ate, dressed up, mugged for the camera, and laughed.

Tabatha - party

Tabatha labeled this photo “No Electricity Party”

I looked at some of the young men in her photos, and thought of news reports from the 1960s and 1970s showing American soldiers herding captured Vietnamese soldiers. These guys in Tabatha’s photos, so full of smiles, could have been those so-long-ago POWs, whom I viewed as barbaric, uncivilized, bloodthirsty, and hateful. What was I to do with these pictures of young men who seemed wholly likeable?

I’m not passing judgment on the war and our involvement. That was an entirely different time. You can’t lay the present over those years and render analysis. The Vietnamese did horrible things, and American soldiers did horrible things. That’s what war does to people.

But in Tabatha’s photos, I was looking at peace. As I watched these fun-loving people with the ready smiles, I mused that this was the natural state of people. To laugh, to enjoy each other, to live in peace. Whether they are Asian, African, Palestinian, Russian, or American–young people yearn to smile. We are made for peace. We are made to smile. But we are also made to love Christ, and that’s the crucial element that the Vietnamese are missing. I’m glad Tabatha’s trying to do something about it.

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Paula Jo – She Got All Growed Up

Tom and PaulaPaula got married today. That’s my brother Stu’s daughter, the second of four kids (the others all guys). Of my six nephews and nieces on my side of the family, Paula Jo is the first to get married. Now she’s Paula Merkle, wife of Tom. And this new guy, Tom, has now invaded our family. Fortunately, Tom is a great guy; I liked him from Day One. He and Paula have dated for a couple years now. Tom’s a solid guy–talented, hardworking, a great sense of humor, smiles easily. He’s far more than a welcome addition to the family. And he’ll take real good care of Paula.

Stu and Joyce.jpgMy Dad and my brother, Stu, both conducted the ceremony. Mostly Stu. That’s him on the left, with his wife, Joyce. Stu walked Paula down the aisle, and when Dad asked who’s giving away Paula, Stu did the usual “Her mother and I.” Then Stu walked around the groomsmen (five of them) and took the center place while Dad moved aside. Tom then brought Paula onto the stage, and the ceremony continued.

Stu did a great job. Others said they thought he struggled in a couple places, but I didn’t detect it. He joked later that the trick was to not look at Paula. He would look down, up, between them, around them, but knew that if he looked at Paula and their eyes met, that it would be all over.

So this was a big day in the Dennie family.

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The 1300

Yesterday at the ChurchMedia.Net conference, I heard an amazing message which, even now, chokes me up. A guy named Paul Clifford, a techie who says he speaks in public probably three times a year, talked about developing a passion for evangelism. Paul is a skinny guy with long gray hair and sincere eyes. I sat in an earlier seminar in which he spoke for a bit, and I glimpsed a man with a real heart for God. As Paul began this keynote, I shot up a quick prayer, asking God to inspire me through Paul. My goodness, did God deliver on this one.

Paul mentioned that he spends Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at the church or doing church-related things, and then comes to church on Sunday at 6 am and doesn’t leave until 2 pm. He’s working behind the scenes. That’s where you find the techies. The “Men in Back.”

Paul said, “People ask why I follow this kind of schedule, why I give so much time to my church.” He said he produced a little video which explained why.

The video was entirely text, no pictures. It began with a brief message saying that Quest church, during its seven years, had seen 1300 people come to Christ. Then the screen changed, and all you saw was the month. I think it started at “June 1999.” Then it switched to “July 1999.” Then “August 1999.” At some point–I don’t remember the month–a name flashed horizontally across the screen. That was a person who had found Christ. This continued, month by month, and while there were still months with no names, they became infrequent, and the number of names in a single month might be 20, 30, or more. The names would quickly cross the screen, both left-to-right and right-to-left. Month by month, year by year, we watched‚Äîspellbound, in my case‚Äîas we saw the names of people who had come to Christ. Sometimes it was just a first name, usually a whole name.

By the time we came to 2006, scores of names were flashing across the screen every month‚Äîjust a big blur of names. In March, during two Sundays, over 100 people found Christ. We finally came to “June 2006,” and the video ended. We all looked at Paul. He was choked up, but after a few seconds he got control of his voice and told us, “That’s why I do what I do. It’s such an honor to be part of something like that.” Paul told us that 89% of their converts are adults. Wow.

Even as I write this, my eyes are watering up, and I could probably just start bawling without much effort. Who wouldn’t want to give everything they had to be part of something like that?

FYI, this is Quest Community Church, in Lexington, Kent. They describe their passion as “transforming unconvinced people into wholehearted followers of Jesus.” The website says, “Today at Quest you’ll find people at all points along their spiritual journeys: cynics, skeptics, seekers, and followers of Jesus. Most are attracted by several things: authentic relationships, people who live beyond themselves, creative communication, and a ‘come as you are’ spirit. Do these things appeal to you as well? Welcome to Quest.”

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The People in the Background

This Church Media conference can be a crack-up. It was supposed to begin at 10 am with a worship band, but the event leader said, “In true media ministry fashion, we’ll start a little late because some new songs are being added at the last minute.”

This is a conference of techies, guys who really know their stuff. But they had sound hiccups, some video issues, a guitar that didn’t want to connect with the sound system. I even spotted a misspelling on a PowerPoint slide.

But I tell you–we had a great time of worship. I loved it. The bass guitarist reminded me a bit of Adam Clayton, the way he moved. And speaking of moved–I was. Moved, that is. It’s nice, occasionally, to be in the audience.

Pam and I both love this conference. Today was superb. I heard three messages dealing with using metaphor in worship. Just outstanding. We’ll head back down to Indy in the morning for the final day. Again, it’ll start with worship, and I’m really really looking forward to it. The band wasn’t anything special–I’ve heard better. But there’s something about it….

A thread I’ve heard several times from speakers concerns servanthood. These tech guys serve behind the scenes, out of the limelight (unlike us musicians, whom they make sound good). They emphasize having the right attitude, doing it for the ministry, not for recognition. Several have told about how they get to church at 6 am and don’t leave until 2 pm. And hardly anyone is aware of the time they put in. These are extremely capable people, volunteering gobs of time out of passion, and not caring about getting credit. What a wonderful example.

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Skyline and White Castles – Tastes of Heaven

Yesterday Pam and I ate at Skyline Chili before leaving Indianapolis. Today, we stopped in Anderson on the way home from Indy and got a ten-pack of White Castles. Life doesn’t get any better than this.

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