Monthly Archives: December 2006

Pancake Breakfast – New Beginning

This morning we had a pancake breakfast in the fellowship hall, followed by the service there. Pastor Tim Hallman spearheaded the pancake-making. During his sermon, he thanked everyone for coming for pancakes, and explained why it held such significance for him.

A number of us remembered.

Five years ago, on the last Sunday of that year, Tim was getting ready to make pancakes when he was told to go upstairs. His wife, Tara, was waiting for him in the office with terrible news: Tim’s brother, Matt, had just been killed in an auto accident. MattsGrave.jpgA drunk driver–a young mother with two young children in the backseat–hit Matt’s car. Only the children survived.

So holding this pancake breakfast was a big deal for Tim. He told how the accident took away much of his passion for ministry, and he thanked people for hanging in there with him. He said this pancake breakfast was somewhat of a new beginning for him.

Yesterday, on the actual anniversary of Matt’s death, the family visited the Pilgrim’s Rest cemetery in Huntington where Matt is buried along with Tim’s youngest brother, Ben, who died in 1994. That’s Tim’s family in the photo, and I’m trusting Tim doesn’t mind me stealing this photo from his own blog entry about the day. Sometimes stuff like this drives people out of the ministry. I’m glad Tim is still with us.

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Making the “Best Church” Lists

There are a lot of “Best Church” lists. The “Fastest Growing Churches” and the “Largest Churches in America” lists are always popular (PDF of 100 Fastest-Growing in 2006). A few months ago I came across a list of the “50 Most Influential Churches in America.” Wikipedia has a list of the “Tallest Churches in the World,” tallness being an obvious factor in church health. And now I’ve discovered a list of the “25 Most Innovative Churches in America.” They are mostly megachurches with high name recognition.

I’m sure there might be, somewhere in America, a fellowship of 50 believers laboring in a slum amidst tremendous poverty and adversity, doing things that no other church in the country is doing, and getting by on pocket-change resources. But can that church rank among the country’s most innovative churches? Absolutely not. Not with a mere 50 people. Heck, they don’t even count. Might as well not exist. Fifty people? Who gives a rip?

These lists are not “the 25 Most Innovative Churches with Over 2000 Attenders,” but just the most innovative churches in general, and the results imply that smaller churches either don’t count or just don’t cut it. Now, I’m not big-church bashing. Many of these churches display an incredibly focused passion for reaching the lost, and we can learn much from them. But the adulation, hero worship, and self-congratulation that often surrounds megachurches is not necessarily a wonderful thing which thrills the heart of Jesus.

While there are about 400,000 churches in the United States, the “Best Church” oscars generally get circulated among the 1200 megachurches. For example, 15 churches placed among both the “25 Most Influential” and “25 Most Innovative” churches. How cozy. Over 400,000 churches to choose from, but they round up the usual suspects.

Around 20 years ago, people thought of megachurches as having at least 1000 people. Now, membership in the Megachurch Club requires at least 2000 people. I guess way too many churches were crashing what had been an exclusive party, so they raised the admission fee. Riff-raff churches with a mere 1400 people (most likely non-innovative people) became bouncer-bait. It’s good to have high standards. Even then, the club is swelling and becoming less intimate. In 1990, the US had 350 megachurches. By 2000, there were 900 megachurches. Among the current 1200 megachurches, the average attendance exceeds 3800. So now there’s a Premium membership–the Gigachurch, for congregations with 10,000+ people (currently, about 35 members).

The 1200 megachurches represent .3% of all congregations (not 3%, but three-tenths of a percent). But they get all of the kudos because, as James 2 tells us, we should go out of our way to recognize the rich and influential and famous. But I’d like to suggest some other “Best Church” lists that nobody will bother crafting, because it would entail recognizing those inconsequential 99.7% of churches that don’t qualify for the Megachurch Club, and therefore do nothing meaningful for the Kingdom.

For example, these lists might be interesting:

  • Churches that don’t have lots of money and their pastor isn’t the most gifted fellow, but they have a great heart and try real hard.
  • Churches least interested in entertaining themselves.
  • Churches that best integrate evangelism with a keen social conscience.
  • Most effective landlocked churches–no room for more parking or building–that refuse to leave their community to build a new campus on farmland with highway access, so that they can become a megachurch and make a Best Church list.
  • Churches that, per capita, give the most money to missions (small churches would dominate this list).
  • Churches with the smallest proportion of worship attenders who are just spectators, rather than active Christians.
  • Churches that intentionally locate themselves in poor communities, rather than merely “go to the poor” on mini mission excursions and feel really good about themselves when they return to their suburban cathedrals.
  • Most innovative churches with less than (choose one: 100, 200, 500) people.
  • Churches located in wealthy suburbs with the largest number of low-income people attending regularly.
  • Churches with the largest proportion of people actively involved in ministry.
  • Churches with the lowest average income among its lay leaders.
  • Churches that have maintained a positive reputation and influence in their community for the longest period of years.
  • The smallest churches that have intentionally given away the most people to start other churches.

When I write this kind of stuff, people assume I’m just a traditional small-church guy who is insanely jealous of large churches, and takes gratuitous potshots at highly visible targets. I have never attended a church that wasn’t innovating and reaching the lost and growing; I could never be satisfied sitting in the pews of a status quo church, of which there are legion. But I don’t think megachurches are the final word in faithfulness, nor the only qualified candidates for “Best” lists.

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Best Sites for Christian Communicators

OutreachMagazine.com lists the Top 20 Websites for Christian Communicators. Several of these sites are already among my regular stops.

I’ll put some of the other 20 on my custom launch page and check them out, see if they’re worth regular attention.

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Christmas 2006 Wrap-up

Another Christmas season is over. This one will probably rank as the most memorable Christmas Pam and I have spent together. That’s because of having Allen, Carolyn, and Conner living with us, and being entirely outward-focused. Pam and I spent very little on gifts for each other, instead agreeing to focus on getting gifts for our three houseguests. Heavens, that’s sure a lot more fun!

On Saturday, my family came over to our house. That means my parents, Rick and Doreen and their two kids (from South Bend), and Stu and Joyce and their four kids. Curt, Stu’s oldest, was working at the airport and couldn’t make it. First time we’ve been short for a number of years. But then, we picked up Tom, Paula’s husband of six months.

Carolyn had to work, but Allen and Conner spent the first couple hours with us before going to pick up Carolyn and then heading to Carolyn’s aunt’s place. Of course, everyone took turns holding Conner. Mom and Doreen got Conner presents (Doreen made a neat baby blanket).

On Sunday afternoon we headed west, toward South Whitley, where Pam’s brother, Jim, has a house. The whole crew was there–Jim and Kelly, with their four kids, Jody (Pam’s sister) with her two kids, and Pam’s dad, Chuck. Jim has a big-screen TV, which made it extremely convenient to watch the latest meltdown of our beloved Colts.

We got back to our house around 7 pm, and then Pam and I got busy wrapping presents–for each other (basically just stocking stuffers this year), and for Allen, Carolyn, and Conner. All five of us had a stocking hanging from the fireplace. We filled those, and then our houseguests returned. Allen and Carolyn started wrapping their gifts. Allen is really, really careful and exacting in wrapping. I’ve seen that same detail-consciousness in watching him put together model cars. I imagine he’s the same way in assembling bicycles at Dick’s Sporting Goods.

So we got all the presents wrapped…and then commenced opening them. It was fun, just the five of us sitting on the floor with Welch’s Sparkling Grapejuice. Pam had found a Led Zeppelin hooded sweatshirt for Allen, and he loved it. She also found a gray Chicago Bears hoody for Carolyn. Carolyn is an avid Bears fan. I got some tools for Allen, looking toward the day when I see him working as a mechanic. He brought his toolbox inside, and we cleaned the grease off his toolbox and his assortment of sockets.

There were other gifts. Allen got me a nice, heavy folding knife. You can’t go wrong getting knives for me. Carolyn got Pam a set of three ceramic bears (Pam has lots of bears in the house).

Pam had to go to work today, but I had the day off. Allen and Carolyn just got back about an hour ago. They’ve been running around town all day, spending Christmas money they got from various sources. Carolyn showed me a cute outfit they got for Conner at Kohl’s, using a gift card my Mom gave them. They also got a chair for Conner that rocks and has things he can grab and play with. And the chair vibrates. Very cute. He’s been sitting in it, and seems to enjoy it.

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The World’s Best Christmas Paper

Tonight I wrapped a present using Christmas paper which, on the back side, had a printed grid. It was easy, with scissors, to cut a square piece out simply by following the lines. I don’t know where Pam found this roll of Christmas paper, but I love it.

This is one of the greatest inventions in the annals of Christmasdom, and should become a requirement for all Christmas paper, even if it requires an act of Congress. Such is the depth of my feeling about this.

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Donald Vs. Rosie

rosie.jpgI’m torn. In the monster feud currently captivating The Big Apple, should I take the side of Donald Trump or of Rosie O’Donnell? Two fine, exemplary people of unmarred moral integrity. I just can’t choose. It’s like seeing Iraq and Iran go to war. Who do I root for?

The Donald rants at length and blasts everything about Rosie, practically salivating with disdain. Meanwhile, our favorite lesbian merely says, “Here’s my comment to him,” and makes a sour face into the camera.

Donald, take note: humor always wins. Unfortunately, The Donald can’t buy any of this commodity with his alleged billions. He’s in for a pummeling. And it’ll be fun watching.

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Our Weekly Bandidos Date

Pam and I have a Wednesday night tradition of stopping at Bandidos after prayer meeting. A new Bandidos opened up near us sometime during the past year. We usually get their after 9 pm, and we can be in and out in a half hour (depending on what we order). Though we have houseguests for the foreseeable future, we still want to keep this Bandidos date for ourselves.

We rarely find more than a few other patrons at that time. The same server greets us, a youngish guy with blonde hair who knows that Pam wants a diet Mountain Dew and I want Sierra Mist, and he brings them without asking. His low-key, non-intrusive approach fits what we’re after–a quiet, comfortable time to debrief about the day and enjoy each other’s company.

We often order a medium nachos with just the beef and cheeses, and we share it. That’s what we did last night. I’m also partial to their three-taco meal, though I can’t remember off-hand which Spanish name it goes by (Ramona? Eva? Juana?).

I don’t know our server’s name yet. I should ask. I always tip him 20%, which last night would have come to $2. But, the Christmas spirit upon us, Pam and I decided to tip him $4 last night. I wrote “Merry Christmas, Steve and Pam” on the bottom of the bill. It’s fun doing stuff like that.

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Amazing Events in My Life

I’m experiencing a lot of firsts, and most of them revolve around Connor. Allen and Carolyn let me borrow him regularly. I call it getting my “Connor fix” for the day. I just must hold the little guy.

Tonight, Allen and I were left with Connor while Pam and Carolyn were out getting Carolyn some new shoes. He began getting fussy, so I picked him up and held him. But he didn’t stop. I asked Allen what I should do to calm him, and he said, “I don’t know.” Allen is real good with Conner. But I guess babies are not an exact science.

So I stood and bobbed up and down, like I’ve seen mothers do. I felt like a total idiot. I kept my bob to a minimum, trying to retain some dignity, but enough motion so that it counted for something. And gradually, Connor settled down. And then, suddenly, magically, he was asleep. In my arms. His head pressed into my shoulder. I couldn’t believe it. I felt like I had just scaled Mount Everest, such was my sense of accomplishment. And I didn’t want to ever let that moment stop.

I eventually sat back down on the couch, with Connor laying on my chest, and he slept soundly, right there, for a good hour. Maybe more. No way did I want to put him down. When he began stirring, I cradled him in my arms, and he went back to sleep. Thus did we dance for two hours tonight, until I finally gave the sleeping tot to Allen.

This is all run-of-the-mill stuff for most people, who’ve either had babies or been around babies. For me, this is all quite new.

Here are some more photos:

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The Whole Point of Christianity

Entertainment magazine had a short piece about the movie The Nativity Story, and the fact that Keisha Castle-Hughes, the 16-year-old actress who plays Mary, is pregnant out of wedlock. The article wondered if her pregnancy would turn off Christians.

Catherine Hardwicke, the director, doesn’t think so. She says, “The whole point of Judeo-Christianity is not to judge others.”

Now there’s a ridiculous statement. There is a wee bit more to the faith than that. Plus, the fact that all of us will one day be judged is a pretty big “point” of Christianity.

What is the point of Christianity, in a few words? I’ve been thinking about that, and nothing comes to mind. Which is good. I prefer that the Christian life be more complicated than a bumper sticker.

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Jesus and the American Revolution

I was reading in Titus 3. Verse 1 says, “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient…to be peaceable and considerate.” Other New Testament passages say similar things, including Jesus’ own words. And it got me thinking, again, about the American Revolution.

Did God prompt the American Revolution? Was he pleased when we declared war on King George? I think not. But I’m really puzzled about this, because I also think that until recent years, America has been used by God as a light to the nations. So the implication is that for God, the end justifies the means. And obviously, that’s not the case. Thus my befuddlement.

The traditional view is that the Revolutionary War was, somehow, a religious cause fought in the name of Christ. A holy cause to create a Most Favored Nation for God. Or something like that. People like James Kennedy and other Jesus-Created-America advocates talk as if the Founding Fathers all held a prayer meeting, and God spoke to them and said, “Verily verily I say unto you, go overthrow the British.” That may be the majority view among my fellow United Brethren.

But I can’t see Jesus being in favor of the war. What were our grievances? There was the “taxation without representation” issue–a matter of an unfair political process. The Jews in New Testament times had that problem. There was the forced billeting of soldiers in private homes. The Romans no doubt did similar stuff, in addition to making you carry their backpacks for a mile whenever they wanted. And those early God-fearing Americans feared that the English might inflict on us some of their liberal anti-slavery nonsense. Those Colonials wanted to keep their slaves, just as today’s conservatives insist on keeping their assault rifles.

The Revolution didn’t meet any criteria for a “just war.” The revolutionaries already possessed plenty of freedom to pursue life, liberty, and happiness, but wanted more of the liberty part than any citizens had ever been accorded. So they went to war, and they won. I’m a beneficiary of that.

What’s more, what those Founding Fathers did next–create a democracy with religious freedom and so many characteristics which all countries should have–showed incredible wisdom, vision, and principle. The Constitution they put in place provided the foundation for America’s later greatness.

But does the end justify the means? I can’t possibly accept that God prompted and favored the Revolution, because the idea directly violates Scripture. Romans 13 is very clear in stating that the American Revolution was not something God would sanction: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established….Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. Unless it’s the American Revolution, in which case it’s okay.” Oops, I added that last line.

God doesn’t violate his own rules. How could he tell us to be subject to rulers and authorities, and then say, “Okay, we’ll make an exception in this case. Nobody should have to pay this much for tea.” Jesus would not have signed the Declaration of Independence, and he would have reprimanded Simon the Zealot for picking up John Hancock’s pen.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my country. I believe we’ve been enormously blessed by God. I’m just puzzled. Because Scripture indicates that God would have been saddened when we violated Scripture by going to war against our rulers. And he is no doubt further saddened that, instead of showing repentance for what was clearly an unbiblical course of action, we continually give him credit for somehow inspiring the war and leading us to victory. And yet, once the deed was done, God got behind us as our biggest supporter.

Or did he? Is America’s greatness more a product of a model governmental system, vast national resources, Judeo-Christian values, and a high percentage of God-fearing citizens (at least early on), than a product of God’s blessing?

There’s a big picture which I suspect only God can see.

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