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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Battle of the Bands, 2005

Friday night was our annual “Battle of the Bands.” This is the third year Anchor has hosted it. We had 12 bands of the Christian “hard-core” variety–lots of screaming and wild antics. Each had 15 minutes to do their very best stuff. Tony, our concert guy, has the system down pretty well. It only takes about eight minutes between bands–time for one band to tear down its stuff and the next one to set up.

We estimate the crowd at 600 kids, maybe more. We parked people at an old Ekrich factory and shuttled them to the church, so kids wouldn’t make our neighbors mad by taking all the parking spaces in front of their homes. That worked well. This year, too, we hired two off-duty cops for the whole event. But there were no problems. Well, one window in the sanctuary got broken from the outside–we don’t know how–and some band member had an eyelid split open (it happened while they were performing–probably hit by a flying guitar from a fellow band member).

We stack up all of the sanctuary chairs against the walls, since the kids always stand throughout the concerts. Stand, and bang around, and do their little hardcore jigs, which I find fun to watch. Flailing arms and legs, wildly thrashing the air. Banging into each other. A space in the center of the sanctuary cleared out as the makeshift mosh pit.

Most of the bands sounded pretty much alike to me. And to others. While I enjoy these concerts, I’m not a discriminating listener. Others can tell the difference between (I’m using terms here in ignorant ways) metalcore, hardcore, emo, and other types of music. I can’t. But I can, at least, tell if they’re together, if they need to be musically tighter, if the bass player knows more than three cords, etc. In other words, I can tell if the band members are musically good. Some are. Most are average.

Six hundred kids. They come from all over the city. We’re about the only place left in Fort Wayne that allows this type of music. I’m proud of that. Other places would get hung up about finding gum in the sanctuary carpet, about breaking windows, about people smoking outside, about T-shirts with unChristian things written on them, about all kinds of things that go on at these concerts. But it’s extremely easy for church people to communicate non-acceptance to kids. Many of these are already out of the mainstream, and they’re expecting church people to be non-accepting. Which is why I think they find Anchor to be a breath of fresh air. We like our building, but it’s not more important than people.

I think we have four windows to fix right now. Three were broken as a result of ministry events. We need to buy ash cans for outside, so kids have a place to discard their cigarette butts. The gum in the carpet is really difficult to get out. But hey–all of this is just the cost of doing business in our part of Fort Wayne. If the cost is too high, we need to get out and let somebody else give it a shot. But thankfully, we’re okay with it. And that makes me very proud to be at Anchor.

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Groundhog Day and Night

Wow, I feel like a groundhog sticking his head up out of the hole, just checking to make sure the world is still there. For several weeks now, my world has revolved around preparing reports for our upcoming US National Conference in June. And for the past ten days, I’ve been working on proposals for revising the Discipline, our “manual of operations,” to fit the denominational structure authorized last February. A hugely-different structure requires a huge array of changes in how we operate. I’m not the one who’s supposed to figure out the details. I’m just organizing things for the delegates to tackle once they arrive in this fair town in five weeks.

Lots of problems with that structure. Lots of issues that require hours and hours of face-to-face discussion to work out everything from philosophy to nuts-and-bolts issues–discussions that must happen either before the conference convenes, or that will happen on the conference floor. And it’ll be the latter at this point.

And Constitutional issues. To pull off this structure, we’ll need to fudge several times on Constitutional language. How many pieces of fudge will the delegates be willing to swallow? I don’t know.

But I’m immersed in this stuff right now, desperately trying to crank out the material so other people can see it. People know that two study committees were working on the details, but nothing’s been made available yet. At this point, I’m the bottleneck. Surely my closeness to this stuff is causing me to not see things straight.

But alas, with every word I type here, I’m prolonging the bottleneck.

So excuse me, as I pull my head back into the hole. I’m not being lazy or negligent. Really. It’s just that this blog has been forced not only into the back seat, but through the trunk and into the basket on the bicycle strapped to the back of the U-Haul trailer I’m pulling. Sometime, I’ll get back to this thing. For now, my fingers have other words to type.

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Smoke Over the Vatican

I thought the white smoke thing was pretty cool. All this tradition, going back a couple thousand years, regarding the selection of a Pope.

In 1999, Pam and I visited the Vatican as part of a larger two-week tour of Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and stop-overs in a few other countries. In every news report showing the Vatican, my eyes go right to St Peter’s Basilica. Of all the great sites we saw during that trip, St Peter’s was at the top for me. It was just so unbelievably massive. The pictures don’t do it justice. You can walk and walk and walk inside. There are all kinds of nooks and crannies, all kinds of great sculptures and paintings to see. Totally, totally impressive. The Sistine Chapel was unbelievably cool, too, but the Basilica transcended it, for me.

The Apostle Peter himself is buried under the building, which gives special meaning to Christ’s words, “On this rock I will build my church.” We Protestants would argue that Christ wasn’t referring at all to the Basilica or the Roman Catholic Church in general, but to the Church universal. But why couldn’t Jesus have been using a double meaning? I’ll bet he was. For a long time, the Catholic Church was THE church, pretty much. But since my knowledge of church history has serious gaps, I’ll stop here, lest I betray my ignorance by saying something stupid.

It’s pretty amazing, when you think about it, that the Catholic Church has remained so conservative. Sure, there’s lots of deadness, and I’m sure there are liberal pockets (like in the USA). But in the Vatican, where the buck stops, a conservative/orthodox spirit reigns when it comes to theology. This, after 2000 years. Think of some of the Protestant denominations, like the United Methodists, and how liberal they have become in less than 200 years of existence. What is it that we can learn from the Catholics in this regard?

This summer, our National Conference will elect a bishop–the same one, or a different one. I’m sure there will be jokes about white or black smoke, as the ballots are distributed and counted and reported. Maybe I’ll make such a crack. But I must admit–there is beauty in some of these rituals. I’m sure there is plenty of allure to post-moderns, who tend to be drawn to this stuff. If all of this attention draws unchurched people to the Catholic Church, that would not be a bad thing.

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Lessons from Nancy Drew

The legend is that the same man wrote the Nancy Drew mysteries and the Hardy Boys mysteries. That’s not quite true, as I just learned from reading a wonderful article in The New Yorker. A guy named Edward Stratemeyer, a superb writer, came up with the idea of book series aimed at kids, and with continuing characters. But he didn’t have time to write them all. So, being quite the entrepreneur, he developed the idea of a “publishing syndicate.” He would send a writer an outline for a book, just enough to get him going, that person would write the book, then Stratemeyer would edit it for consistency and quality. This started around 1906 with a series called the Rover Boys. He eventually had 14 series going at once, with a slew of writers cranking the books out.

The books were basically ghost-written, and then published under the same name. In the case of Nancy Drew, it was “Carolyn Keene,” although a young college grad named Mildred Wirt wrote 23 of the first 30 Nancy Drew books. That became Stratemeyer’s best-selling series, eclipsing the Hardy Boys, Bobbsey Twins, and Tom Swift.

I used to read some of Mom’s Nancy Drew books, and I thoroughly enjoyed them. My wife, Pam, has the whole series, too. Now I find out that we probably didn’t read the same books. In 1959, the whole line of Nancy Drew books was updated. Among other things, Nancy’s age increased from 16 to 18. Offensive stereotypes were expunged. Lots of stuff. Those are the books most of today’s readers remember. But I had Mom’s books, which predated 1959. I’m sure they were more pure and wholesome.

The Hardy Boys books, which came before Nancy Drew, attracted severe criticism from educators and librarians. They said “the harm done is simply incalculable.” The series would “debauch and vitiate” a child’s imagination. The books were simply escapist, with no overriding moral theme. Keep in mind that in the early 1900s, most kids were growing up on farms, and kids worked hard. For a boy to lay around reading a mystery book…that probably didn’t sit well with farm dads.

So I’m thinking of parallels. Despite the early condemnations, today people look at Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys as good, clean, safe reading for any kids. The TV shows I watched during my childhood were probably blasted by conservative Christian groups, though we now look back on 1960s TV fare and say, “That was good, wholesome entertainment.” People used to rant about how families didn’t converse with each other or do things together–they just sat in a room like a bunch of zombies and stared at the boob tube. So people claimed. But today, families don’t even do that together–each member of the family has a TV or computer or X-Box in his/her own room, and they part ways for the evening. I remember very fondly my whole family looking forward to Friday night, when we would don our PJs (with the built-in feet) and gather in the family room to watch “Friday Night at the Movies.” Mom would make her wonderful buttered popcorn, and we’d have Pepsi. Good times. Are there families today that spend the evening watching, together, “Desperate Housewives”? I hope not.

Until the mid-to-late 1800s, the United Brethren church had some strict rules against music. We outlawed choirs in 1861, reasoning that everyone was supposed to sing at the same time, not just part of the congregation. In 1865, we outlawed using instrumental music in church services. Those prohibitions were removed in 1885, and I’m sure people, being people, decried it as the liberalizing of the church.

In my lifetime, I’ve seen how shocked people are when we add drums and guitars to a traditional hymn. Imagine in the 1800s when people, for the first time, heard a mere piano used with a hymn, instead of singing only acapella. Maybe there were fierce debates about adding an organ along with the piano, and people who complained that the newfangled organ sounds just didn’t go right with a hymn. Of course, the piano-organ thing was the norm for me.

In my church, we’re doing some of the new songs that combine a hymn with a few new lyrics. Like Todd Agnew’s “Grace Like Rain” (Amazing Grace) and Chris Tomlin’s version of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” Today’s generation, having never heard the unadulterated hymnbook version, will assume that that’s how it was originally written. Just like readers of Nancy Drew after 1959 assumed they were getting the original book, when actually it was an older, more contemporary Nancy Drew.

I guess we shouldn’t be quick to criticize changes in society or the church. Because, 20 years down the road, we’ll probably wonder what all the fuss was about.

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