Who Sets Your Standards?

On Sunday night, Pam and I started a new home Bible study. We had 19 people there, and one person was missing. I believe we are stretching the “small group” definition. But there’s a reason. Last spring, we did a group with a dozen people–a good size. However, many of them had to miss various weeks–they had good reasons–and a couple weeks we were down to just four people. So I decided I’d rather start with a large group, and if everybody showed up, I could just divide them into smaller groups to get the good interaction that a small group needs. So that’s what we’re doing. On Sunday night, I divided us into three different groups for one particular exercise.

We are a “kids free” group. We have a woman in her 70s, and four college-age whipper-snappers. Most of the couples have kids, but they’re grown or at least old enough to leave at home. Two other groups in our church have the young couples with kids. That’s the way I like it. Don’t I sound like a grouch?

In my previous church (before 1998), Pam and I were part of a highly fertile group of young couples. We had a bunch of young’ns running around, and it was hard to get any good study/discussion done. During our snack time, the women were always talking about kid-related things, so Pam wasn’t all that thrilled. (Guys, whether they have kids or not, will talk about sports, so I was okay.)

That group was in a large suburban, rich church. The group included a number of doctors and business owners. They had money, and they had big houses. When Pam and I bought our own home after living in an apartment for four years–a one-story with a basement–I remember feeling at times like it didn’t measure up. It was smaller than everyone else’s home, not as fancy, not in as nice a subdivision. Here was this nice home God had provided for us, and because of my associations at church, I sometimes felt discontent with our new home.

But then we joined a group which helped restart a church in a low-income neighborhood near the city center. Now, we have one of the nicer homes in the church, and I couldn’t imagine “trading up” to a larger house. It would just seem inappropriate, greedy, to do so. I’m totally content and delighted with our home now, but I had to change churches for that to happen. And now I worry that other people in our current not-so-rich church will, upon visiting our home, feel some degree of discontent with their own home. Because I remember how I felt a few years ago.

Peer pressure is alive and well in the 21st century church. Which is why I continually ask myself, “Who sets my standards?”

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Archie Cameron — One of My Heroes

I’ve written biographies for three people, and all three have now died. The latest was Archie Cameron, a missionary in Honduras. He died last Thursday morning at age 87. Still living in Honduras. Since 1952. An amazing guy.

Archie CameronI spent four years on his biography, which is wrapped around a history of our mission work in Honduras. It was the most satisfying piece of writing I’ve ever done, and I’ve done a lot of writing. I interviewed 40-some people for it, and did huge amounts of research beyond that. We unveiled it during the 2001 US National Conference, which Archie was able to attend. It was a big, big deal for him–and his family–and it wouldn’t have happened without the book. So it’s highly satisfying on that level, too.

My heroes have always been missionaries. Archie ranks right up there. He’s one of our United Brethren giants. He started the Spanish work in Honduras–before him, we were affiliated only with an English-speaking group of about five churches, which withdrew from us within a year of Archie’s arrival. Numerous villages throughout northern Honduras first heard an evangelical witness as a result of Archie and his band of new Christians from La Ceiba. It’s a great legacy for us.

When I say I’ve written three biographies, that’s not entirely accurate. One was a matter of rewriting (someone else did the hard work of interviewing and compiling info). That one was on the life of Orville Merillat, founder of Merillat Cabinets and a major-league philanthropist. The book was shipped down to me to rewrite. I reorganized all of the material into different chapters, converted it from third person to first person, and rewrote large sections of it. Dr. James Kennedy’s organization published it, after first including a lengthy, highly self-serving and (to me) inappropriate introduction.

My name isn’t mentioned anywhere in the book, and that’s totally okay with me. But I must say: at Orville’s funeral, it was a bit surreal hearing one of the speakers read a long passage from the book which tells of Orville’s conversion experience. That was one of the passages I rewrote entirely. In fact, I think I mostly used material from a separate interview I had done with him a year or so before. Anyway, it was surreal listening to that and thinking, “That sounds pretty good.” A bit like an out-of-body experience.

The same thing happened at the funeral of Clyde Meadows, the most prominent UB of the 20th Century. I spent four years on his “as told to” autobiography. I would go to Columbus, Ohio, and we’d retire to his office in the basement, where I would throw questions at him and he would tell me stories in response, stories which were duly captured on my mini tape recorder. His book was published in 1993. When he died in 1999, a part of the book was read at the funeral, and once again, it was very gratifying.

And so, you know what I’m wondering now. Was part of Archie’s book read at his funeral? Even in Spanish? (Yes, the book was translated into Spanish.) I don’t care if it was. That’s not why I write these things. But I’m curious.

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Uh…Hello? Anyone Still There?

So what happened? Did I just get bored with this thing? I haven’t posted in, like, three ice ages (or one global warming). What, now, causeth my prodigal return? And do I intend to stay?

I started this thing for my own amusement. Plus, a blog was “the thing” to do. The new thing. Something every early adopter was adopting, most of them earlier than I did.

My stated passion is the local church, and that’s what I liked to write about. Particularly about my church, Anchor Community. But during the past year, my writings drifted occasionally into venting about my denomination’s (alas) failed effort to join the Missionary Church. Some pretty cynical stuff there. Then I wrote about Promise Keepers, and it was drawing PK people from across the country. So I didn’t want to put up stuff that was too in-house or would turn them off.

Plus, in June, my denomination chose new leaders and new initiatives and embarked on an ambitious plan to create a new future. It’s a very big deal, and I’m in the thick of it doing communications stuff, since I’m the Communications Director. I’m still neck deep, and can’t blame FEMA. And suddenly, two months passed with nary a post.

I think about this thing a lot. Miscellaneous ideas float around in my head as I drive the 25 miles to work. But when I sit down at a computer, whether at work or at home, I always have a zillion other things clamoring for my attention, and I just don’t get around to typing in the Blogger address. I guess it means that this blog isn’t a high priority for me. And why should it be? It’s for my amusement, after all, and amusements take a back seat to the urgents.

But I’m gonna give it another good try. Because, frankly, I miss doing this thing. I miss rambling into the cybersphere, as I’m doing right now. This is a totally content-free post. I’m just blabbering. And I’m sort of amusing myself, which means I’m succeeding in my lowly goal.

So, for those of you out there who, for reasons of your own choosing, pop in now and then and wonder why you never received an obituary notice…well, as Fast Eddy announced to the twerp played by Tom Cruise, “I’m back.”

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50 Years of Marriage and Great Parenting

Last week was great, despite the heat wave. My whole family got together in Gatlinburg, TN, from Sunday July 24 to the next Saturday. The occasion: my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Fifty is a big deal. We rented a huge chalet able to hold all 18 of us, and just hung out together. We did puzzles, hit outlet malls, visited Gatlinburg’s wonderful Aquarium, went hiking, went swimming, made big breakfasts and suppers at the lodge (lots of grilling), and generally had a wonderful time. That’s the whole bunch of us up below, in front of the chalet. Pam and I are on the far right, and my parents are standing beside us.

Gatlinburg

I’m the oldest of three brothers. From my family, it was just me and Pam, because that’s all there is, beyond Jordi and Molly, our cats, who wouldn’t have enjoyed the trip. Stu, the middle brother, was there with his wife, Joyce, and all four kids. And those kids all brought “someone special,” that being two girlfriends, one girl friend, and one boyfriend. Then there was Rick, with wife Dorene and two young children.

When I told people about this trip beforehand, it wasn’t unusual to hear, “Do you get along?” Mom said she heard that question several times, too. Yes, we all get along. I guess that’s unusual. Which is sad.

The trip was probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Before long, Stu’s kids could be going different directions, and work schedules can be an issue. But last week, we pulled it off. And it was a hugely memorable vacation.

On Thursday night, we sat around reminiscing about our childhood years, and generally just affirming Mom and Dad as parents, grandparents, and as a couple. And a lot of what we talked about concerned spiritual matters. All of us are Christians. All of us are highly involved in local churches.

As I told my parents on that Thursday night, to an extent they “lucked out.” I’ve known other great Christian parents who had kids go astray. The fact that me and my brothers turned out right and didn’t go through rebellious periods doesn’t mean they were better parents, necessarily. There are no doubt issues with our personalities that made us easy to raise or more passive than most, and perhaps other factors. But there was still a bedrock of darn good parenting. And for that, I’m extremely blessed.

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Paul, Ping Pong, and Peru

Last night at the ping pong club, there was a new guy named Paul. College age. Probably 6-foot-five. Tall, skinny, long hair. I thought it was Dirk Nowitski when he first walked in. Others guys said he used to attend the club when he was a kid, but the family moved to Colorado. Now they’re back in Fort Wayne.

Everyone always wants to play new guys, especially if they’re any good. And Paul was pretty good. I beat him 3 games to 1, but it wasn’t easy. He has some wicked serves.

Before starting our match, I asked some questions to get acquainted. He said he was actually on summer break from college, and that his parents had moved back from Colorado. What college? He said it was in Wisconsin. What’s it called? He said “New Tribes Bible Institute,” and said something about how it specializes in training people for missionary work.

“Sure, I know about New Tribes,” I told him. “I have a cousin who went to Liberia with New Tribes. Her husband was a pilot, and they escaped with their lives when Charles Taylor took over the country.”

Paul’s eyes lit up at the fact that I knew something about New Tribes. To him, it was just a small mission organization. But I was familiar with it.

After we played, we sat down and talked more about missions. His fiance is an MK whose parents serve in Venezuela. Paul says they have their eyes set on going to Peru. He initially wanted to be a pilot (I know Kareem squeezed into the pilot’s chair in “Airplane,” but that was a major airliner; I’m not sure Paul could fit in a four-seat Cessna), but he had kind of ruled that out and was now looking at other forms of ministry.

I’m just delighted that guys like Paul exist. He showed to me a real heart for missions. He comes from a Christian home, but would be the first missionary on his side of the family (obviously, there are missionaries among his future inlaws). I told Paul that missionaries have always been my heroes, and he understood that I was affirming him. Here’s a guy who is looking at missions as a career, not as a work trip. And from everything I saw of Paul, he’s a good catch for New Tribes–smart, likeable, athletic, articulate, and fully confident that missions is where God wants him.

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Moms and Dads

Dad says the hardest message for him to preach each year is Mother’s Day. Typically, churches talk about how wonderful all mothers are, all the great abd selflless things they “do for us,” blah blah blah. But Dad didn’t have that kind of mom. He loved his dad, but didn’t have much of a relationship with his mom, from what I understand. So he has trouble preaching one of those “aren’t moms great” messages.

Some people have trouble hearing them, too. Same for Father’s Day. Not every father is great, every mother wonderful.

My pastor recognized that on both days this years, because he knows that in our congregation, there are people who don’t look up to their parents. So he cut out the purely laudatory stuff, and instead preached more balanced, realistic messages. But there’s still the issue of “honoring” your parents. The Bible doesn’t say to honor your parents if…. It just says to do that. So it can be a trick for sons and daughters whose parents aren’t worthy of honor, except that the Bible says they should receive it.

I don’t need to work all that out, because I do have superb parents. Dad says that when he preaches about mothers, he pictures my mom, not his own mom. He gets his example of what a mother should be not from his own mother, but from his wife. That’s pretty cool.

At Starbucks this morning, the lady at the cash register asked me if I had a good Father’s Day yesterday. Before I could answer, she asked, “Are you a father?”

“I have two cats,” I replied, “and they did get me things.”

“It all counts,” she told me. “It all counts.”

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The Congressman Comes to Church

A week ago, Congressman Mark Souder spoke for about ten minutes at Anchor. He goes to the Emmanuel Community Church, which is sort of the parent church for Anchor, so there was a connection. A member of Anchor found himself sitting next to the Congressman on an airplane recently, and that led to his appearance at Anchor.

Mark Souder is the real deal. He doesn’t need to don a Christian persona. He’s a genuine, highly committed Christian. I’ve also found him to be remarkably approachable. When I attended Emmanuel, one Sunday I went up to him and asked him a question about something happening in Washington. He didn’t even know me, but immediately opened up with some very frank responses, more frank than I expected from a politician. He was the same way at Anchor two Sundays ago. He stayed around for a long time talking to people, and was amazingly honest about things, regardless of how they reflected on his party, the Republican party. He is extremely refreshing to listen to. And he has your full attention. With some “important” (or self-important) people, they’re half listening to you, but also looking over your shoulder to see who else they’d like to talk to. Not Mark.

And his wife, Diane, is a gem. Turns out they live in the addition across the street from us. Good people,they are.

Their son, Mark, is a very good guitarist. One of my strongest memories from Emmanuel involves him. We were doing the song Blind Man, kind of a stretch for Emmanuel, but it seemed like it would be okay. I was on the piano, Glenn Flint was leading, Nate was on the electric guitar, Wes on acoustic. The song starts out moderately, but then kicks into high gear. And Nate was responsible for changing the gear by switching to a high-distortion setting. I don’t think we’d ever used guitar distortion at Emmanuel until Nate broke the barrier in spades. I thought the song was great fun, and I got an energy rush out of it. But the comment cards were overwhelmingly negative. It didn’t quite go over well.

Oh well. We can get away with anything at Anchor. So when Glenn Flint became music pastor at Anchor, we “redeemed” Blind Man. We did it several times, in fact, and it always went over well. Even with two electric guitars and drums louder than Emmanuel ever played them. And me pounding on the electric keyboard. I think Nate would have enjoyed it.

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Friday Night Ransacking

Kelly and Annie, two young adult women who are new to Anchor Community Church during the past year or so, volunteered to do the groundswork this summer. They’re very good at it. We baptized Kelly last September. Both she and Annie bring a whole truckload of teens with them every Sunday. They fill Kelly’s cab and the bed of the truck. It’s pretty incredible how many people these women have brought to Anchor.

Kelly and Annie were at the church Friday night when suddenly a bunch of cop cars converged on the house across the street from the church, the house on the corner where Faye, a senior citizen and former attender, lives. The cops pulled out their guns, and demanded that whoever was inside come out with their hands up. You know the drill.

Our Friday night youth center was in progress. Kelly and Annie went over there to make sure everyone stayed inside, just in case lead started flying. Nobody was inside Faye’s house. But somebody had been.

As I left church this morning, I saw Faye pull into her garage, returning from her church. “I hear you had some excitement on Friday night,” I said. “I sure did,” Faye said, and she told me about it.

Faye figures somebody was watching her house, waiting for her to leave. Because she was only gone a half hour, and when she returned, her house had been ransacked. Someone slit a screen to break into the house (“It cost $11 to replace!” Faye told me), and then went through the small house evidently looking for money. All of the drawers were open, the cushions removed from furniture, the bed mattress turned over. Faye went to her daughter’s house, where the police were notified.

Terry, one of our guitarists, is kicking himself. He was out walking his dog, and saw a large woman in the back of Faye’s fenced-in yard. He waved, and the woman waved back. It was kind of an automatic thing. Only later, after he heard about what had happened, did he think, “I should have known that woman didn’t belong there!” The police provided a sketch artist so he could describe the person.

As far as Faye can tell, nothing was taken. She had some valuable things around, but it was all still there. The person went out the back door, leaving a large footprint. Maybe Faye scared the intruder off when she returned home. Still in broad daylight, I should add.

Yes, it’s interesting ministering in the city.

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More on PromiseKeepers

I thought I’d point out a few other things about the PromiseKeepers event I attended last weekend.

  • They didn’t use big-name speakers. When I attended in Indianapolis a number of years ago, the speakers included John Maxwell, Bill Hybels, Joe Stowell, Bill McCartney, and other big names. This year I was familiar with Dave Roever and Ken Davis, though I had never heard either of them speak, and they are both B-level speakers (in terms of celebrity). Nevertheless, all of the speakers were very, very good. There were no celebrities, no show-men, no motivational speakers–just men of depth. And a number of them were pastors or former pastors. I like that. (Plus, none of them plugged a book or some other event.)
  • PromiseKeepers, as an organization, stayed in the background. I don’t know that anyone who appeared on stage was actually employed by PromiseKeepers. The focus was entirely on the purpose of the event. There was a short video from the new PK president, which I appreciated, and other little promos, but very low-key. That was another change from Indy, though in that case, the organization was just taking off nationally, and I’m okay with the prominence they gave to PK as an institution at that stage of its life.
  • There were a lot of teens and younger kids, and I think PK intentionally aimed at them. The Newsboys is one example. At least, they were trying to appeal to younger males. With the Newsboys, they were actually appealing to me, at age 49, so I’m not sure what that means. Maybe I lack a clear understanding of this. But the presence of teens and younger boys (including one from my church) was a definite change.
  • By coming to Fort Wayne, they were definitely hitting a smaller market. I understand that they’re doing a lot of that this year. I think there are 20 PK events, but many are in second-tier cities. Sounds like they’re doing the same thing next year.
  • In Indy, PK (the institution) presented grand visions, including the coming event designed to draw 1 million men to Washington DC. There were no such grand visions this time. Just a focus on awakening men at the local level to being men of God. Those early years were no doubt days of some amount of headyness, of explosive growth and interest. But perhaps, with the initial interest cooled to some extent, they have dialed back their grand designs. I, for one, approve. I think PK has its act together.
  • There was less idealism about male discipleship. In Indy, and in other things I’ve heard, they put out a vision of what God wants a man to be, but it was a bit gilded. Too far out there for me, and no doubt many others, to consider attainable. Like the “perfect wife” in Proverbs 31. But in Fort Wayne, I continually heard about how a man of God may regularly fail and fall flat, but what distinguishes him is that he’ll get back up and try again. That if we just inch forward in Christlikeness, God will be pleased. I think that connected with a lot of men. It did with me.
  • The use of technology, particularly video, was absolutely outstanding. Maybe it’s been that way for several years–I woudn’t know, because it’s been a while since I attended a PK conference. But I was really impressed.
  • The music was out of this world. PK7 is the best worship team I’ve ever heard–several absolutely superb worship leaders out front, backed up by an amazing, musically tight band. I’ve been listening to the “Awakening” CD over and over. There are a number of songs we absolutley must do in my church.
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PromiseKeepers — Fort Wayne

I attended PromiseKeepers over the weekend. This year’s slate of PK events started in Fort Wayne, and it’s the first time Fort Wayne has hosted an event. Neat. I attended many years ago in Indianapolis–I think it was the first year they took the conventions national. But I haven’t been to one since. Didn’t care to fight the traffic in Indy. But Fort Wayne–hey, Fort Wayne is easy.

When I signed up online several months ago, I bought a second ticket to give away to somebody, though I didn’t have anybody in mind. As we got into May, I began asking some people, probably five different guys from my church. None could go, or they were already going. Finally, on the Sunday before PK–crunch time; I needed to find somebody that day–I looked out on the congregation as I played the keyboard and my eyes stopped on one fellow with whom I don’t think I had ever spoken. I had one of those “heart promptings” that God likes to inflict on people. So as soon as the service ended, I walked up to him, tapped him on the shoulder as he headed down the aisle toward the door, and asked him if he was interested in going to PK.

You bet he was. Joe was wanting to go, and a friend in some other town said he might be able to get him a ticket for $5. But that hadn’t come through, and Joe figured he wouldn’t be able to attend. So I offered him a FREE ticket–a better deal than $5–and he gladly accepted.

On Friday, we met at the church to carpool. Joe and I had 20 minutes together just to get acquainted. Turns out we lived about 60 miles from each other for a while in the 1970s, when we both lived in California.

The Friday night kick-off was outstanding. My new friend was evidently very moved by it.

And now I’ll give an example of how God’s economy works. How he multiplies things.

PK had 1000 tickets left. Somebody bought them all, and offered them to the crowd–go invite a friend and bring them on Saturday, gratis. Joe came back on Saturday morning with two others. Not only that, but they evidently came VERY early, because they had seats on the very front row on the floor. Premium seats. The rest of us were up on the second or third level, but we spotted Joe. My heart leaped during the afternoon, when an altar call was given, and I saw Joe leave his friends, walk into the open area between the seating and the stage, and kneel on the concrete floor.

Back to God’s economy. I bought one ticket. God multiplied it, turning it into a ticket for three people who otherwise wouldn’t have attended PromiseKeepers. Pretty cool. Only God pulls off stuff like that.

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