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Tricks & Tools of the Day

If you’re anything like me, then you are constantly looking for better and/or more efficient ways of keeping up with the regular tasks of day to day life and ministry. Being that I was raised with technology, that typically means that I am looking for apps and services that make my life and ministry a bit easier. With that in mind, I’d like to share twelve of the tools (some you probably know/use and a few you may have never used or even heard of) that I use on a daily basis that just work.

Dropbox

dropboxDropbox is an essential tool for me. I’ve had an account with Dropbox since it became available, recommended it to dozens of people (which has increased my free storage) and purchased more storage (even though there are potentially cheaper or free alternatives) because it just works great. For more than two years now I’ve had nearly all of my data stored across all of my devices via Dropbox. I know that some people will decry potential security issues to this way of working, but I’m not majorily concerned. All the projects I am working on a always backed-up and up-to-date on each of my devices (laptop, desktop, phone and iPad) and accessible on any computer.

iCloud

icloud2I’ve been a Apple/Mac user since I was in second grade. At that time it was all 3.5” floppies, Oregon Trail and Carmen San Diego, but every year (in my opinion) Apple gets better and better at adding exceptional features. That’s definitely the story with iCloud. If you’ve been around Apple long enough then you’ve been through the growing pains of iTools, .Mac, MobileMe and even the early days of iCloud. But today iCloud is a major contender, and one I use constantly.

Besides synced contacts, calendars, notes and reminders across all of my devices, iCloud offers me the ability to easily work on documents anytime, anywhere. iCloud enables someone—like me—that uses Apple iWork exclusively (Pages, Keynote and Numbers) the ability to be typing notes in Pages on my iMac at home, edit them on my iPad or iPhone on the go, have the most current version available later on my MacBook Air (while at Starbucks no doubt), and then finish them up on my iMac at the office.

Yes, I know… I have an Apple disorder. People call our office “The Orchard.” If you’re an apple user too, iCloud is a no-brainer.

Google Drive

google_driveThere is certainly some redundancy in these first three (perhaps even with the 4th too). Google drive can do many of the same things that Dropbox and iCloud do. One could make the case that Dropbox is unnecessary if you are using iCloud or Google Drive and that you should choose between iCloud or Google Drive. That’s for others to fight about. For me, I like all three for differing reasons and have found all of them to be helpful to my regular work flow and habits.

If you work with a 501(c)(3) nonprofit (i.e. most churches and para-church organizations) then you really should look in to Google for Nonprofits (http://www.google.com/nonprofits/), which makes Google Apps freely available to your whole organization. At our church, Cross Connection, we’ve had an authorized Google for Nonprofits account for several years, and we use it extensively.

Our office uses shared calendars and Google Drive/Apps daily. We regularly collaborate on documents and spreadsheets, and share project files and folders. Google Drive has also been a huge help in the work that I do with ministries outside of our local church. Whether it’s the Church Planting Network, our Online School, or individuals that I am mentoring or working with in the church. It is becoming more and more essential.

Evernote

evernoteI started this post in Evernote on my laptop, and now I’m continuing it on my iPhone. I use Evernote constantly throughout my day. When an idea comes to mind or a new thought for a message or article, I reach for my iPhone and jot it down in Evernote. If I’m readying an article that of like to tag and save for later, I email a copy of it to my Evernote account from Safari on my iPhone, iPad or computer. The ability to attach pictures/files, tag, geotag, search and gather notes into notebooks makes Evernote my goto notes app.

Evernote is such a paradigm changer for some that books have been written entire websites dedicated to and seminars held on how to more effectively get things done using it.

Kindle App (for iOS)

kindleI don’t think I’ve bought a “real book” (unless it was not available as an ebook) since the Kindle app came out for iPad. I’m the type of person that reads several books at one time. Kindle makes this all the more easy. I love the ability to have my entire library with me everywhere and at anytime. And to have highlights, notes and bookmarks synced across devices is a huge plus!

 

 

Goodreader

goodreaderThere are many reader/annotation apps for the iPad/iPhone (and other sub-par handheld devices), but I prefer Goodreader. Although I use it for all kinds of document files (PDF, Doc, XLS, PPT, etc.), my primary use of Goodreader is as my teaching notes tool.

The final draft of my teaching notes is always saved to Dropbox as a PDF. Then, when I’m ready to teach/preach I download the file from Dropbox in Goodreader, make any final highlights and annotations to it and step up to the pulpit.

Like I said, this is just one of many such tools, but it has a ton of features I’ve not seen in others.

Mantis Study Bible & Blue Letter Bible

mantisOk, so this is really two different apps/services, but they accomplish the same task, so I’ve grouped them together.

I downloaded and purchased add-ons for Mantis Study Bible the first day I had my very first iPad. Although there are (now) other options available (even at a better price), I’ve stuck with Mantis because it works great, and I have got a bit of money invested in it. The only downside is that I wish there was a MacOS version available to use on my laptop/desktop, but that’s where Blue Letter Bible comes in.

I have Logos study bible, but I rarely open it. It has some great features and tools, but it has just never really fit into my workflow too well. I began using Blue Letter Bible as my primary Bible study tool more than 10 years ago. Thankfully they updated their user interface in the last year, but even before the update it was a topnotch tool that is totally free. I like it so much I’ve happily donated to the ministry of Blue Letter Bible. While it doesn’t have near the features of a fully featured Accordance or Logos, it’s spectacular for getting a study done.

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Mailchimp

mailchimpLike several of other apps/services, Mailchimp is one of many options available to send mass emails to a large list of subscribers.

We use Mailchimp both at Cross Connection and the Calvary Church Planting Network. Each Friday I send out an email to more than 500 subscribers at the church to update them about what’s happening at our weekend services or about what’s coming up the following week. It’s a no-cost (for the first 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails/month), easy to use tool, that returns great metrics/reports.

Mailbox App

mailboxSpeaking of email…

It’s a first-world problem that all 21st century first-worlders share… too much email (Yes, I know, with Mailchimp we’re contributing to the problem). I have way too much of it on way too many accounts. On average I get 100-200 emails a day (during the week). In all honesty, only about a quarter to a third of them are of much importance (side note: I’m testing sanebox to deal with the other 66%).** Not only do I have too much email, but I check my email mostly on my iPhone and I routinely see emails there that need more attention than just a quick response from the phone. The problem is that those emails often get buried by the time I get back to my computer and then, they get are missed… which is a huge problem.

Enter Mailbox App. With mailbox, when I see an email on my phone, I can swipe to the left and bring up a prompt to (essentially) hide it till later today, this evening, tomorrow, next week, etc.

[one_half][image source_type=”attachment_id” source_value=”5396″ caption=”slide left…” align=”center” icon=”zoom” quality=”100″ lightbox=”true”] [/one_half] [one_half_last][image source_type=”attachment_id” source_value=”5395″ caption=”slide right…” align=”center” icon=”zoom” quality=”100″ lightbox=”true”] [/one_half_last] A swipe a bit further to the left and I can easily move the email to a designated folder (CCPN, Cross Connect, etc.).

A partial swipe to the right immediately archives the message and a full swipe to the right deletes it. Don’t understand? Watch the video…

Expensify

expensifyExpensify has made my (and our Cross Connection Staff’s) life so much easier! Expensify has a very clear and simple statement about what they do… “Expense reports that don’t suck | Simple, hassle-free expense reporting.”

In the past (until about 6 months ago that is) all of those on our staff that have credit cards would receive their monthly statement with something like a spreadsheet attached on which they would identify what each expense was and which ministry/account it was attached to. In addition they would attach their receipts to it and return it to our Quickbooks master in a timely manner. Problem was, it never actually happened that way… in a timely manner.

Lets face it, I lose receipts, and I’m terrible at getting things done that I just hate doing. But Expensify has completely transformed that. Now, when myself or one of our staff members make a purchase with their church card, they take a picture of the receipt with the Expensify App on their iPhone, record the info of who the payee was, how much it cost and which accounting category it falls under. Then at the end of the month, what use to take me a couple of hours has been reduced to minutes. I just check the statement with the data on Expensify’s website and if everything checks out I hit send and it emails a PDF expense report to our Quickbookie. AWESOME!

img_Expensify_laptopphoneExpensify is mostly free for the first 2 people on a team and then $6 for each additional individual. Well worth the cost, at least for us.

The Table

tableMany churches use church management software (CMS) like Active Network’s Fellowship One, ACS Technologies or Church Community Builder; some prefer a church social network like The City (which is now owned by ACS). All of these are great services. Each of them have their own pros and cons, and all of them come at a cost. If your church is not using anything for administratively managing the work, you should at least look into it. We (at Cross Connection) have looked at several and are in the process of implementing Fellowship One. The only problem was that we wanted something that would also decentralize certain aspects of administration, community and church life. Facebook is a definite option, and many churches use it effectively, but for us Facebook has too much noise. The City offers some great features, but (1) doesn’t integrate with our CMS and (2) it would be an additional cost on top of our management solution with F1. Which is why, about a year ago, we implemented The Table at our church.

The Table is a church focused/oriented social networking platform. It’s free, easy to setup and use, and has proven super useful for us. Also, The Table integrates with Fellowship One and shares user data across the platforms. So, when Joe Average updates his contact info on The Table, it is updated in our church management records.

1Password

1passwordIt’s another 21st century, first-world problem. We have accounts for Amazon, Google, iCloud, Blue Letter Bible, Dropbox, Evernote, Expensify, The Table… and that’s just the apps and services mentioned in this post. At present I have 198 accounts with individual logins and passwords (I know, that’s insane). Enter 1Password.

Like Apple’s original Keychain (which I could never get to work properly) and now iCloud Keychain (which works pretty well), 1Password offers saving and syncing (using Dropbox) of your login and password information for your many accounts. Then, with a simple hotkey (Command+) it prompts you for your single 1Password password (only once while logged in) and then inputs the unique username and password for whatever site you are on.

iCloud Keychain is accomplishing the same basic functionality… I’ve just become accustomed to using 1Password over the years, so for now I’m still using it.

What apps or services are you using that are a help?
Share them in the comments below.


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logo-sanebox-2013-blue-fac53d24ba90186c66c7db3c260609f1**After a few days using SaneBox I can say for certain that it’s worth a look! Although there’s a monthly cost for the service, it does a great job of reducing the clutter in my inbox. Check out the 14 day free trial, you may find that you like it.

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Can we tolerate intolerance?

At this moment, just days from Christmas, a whole lot of noise has been stirred up in American pop-culture, resulting from the “Duck Commander’s” words that are to be printed in the January issue of GQ Magazine. The Twitter-sphere, blogosphere and mainline newsosphere are all a buzz, which of course means I have something to say too 😉

Two blog articles have stuck out to me in the last 24 hours. One, a post from Brandon Ambrosino at Time.com and the other from Andrew Sullivan on his own site, dish.andrewsullivan.com. Interestingly, both men are openly gay. Thus, their views are particularly interesting.

Both writers essentially agree that Phil Robertson’s firing is unfounded. Sullivan rightly observes that A&E has fired the reality star for doing the very thing that has made the network a boatload of money, speaking his stereotypically southern, redneck mind. Ambrosino closes with a great question, “Why is our go-to political strategy for beating our opponents to silence them?” Amidst all the chatter I find myself continually landing upon the same reoccurring thought: can we tolerate intolerance?

The collective voices of progressive pop-culture tell us “fundamentalist Christians” that we must be more tolerant of the LGBT community and lifestyle. By tolerance I can only deduce that they mean accepting and in many cases celebrate too. At this moment—barring changes that will likely come in the future—the definition of tolerant (according to the New Oxford American Dictionary installed on my MacBook Air) is “showing willingness to allow the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.”

As far as I can tell, myself and most of the Christian pastors and church goers that I know, have been (according to the above definition) doing their best to be tolerant of the Homosexual lifestyle, whether they want to be or not. We’ve tried to show a willingness to allow the existence of opinions and behavior that we—and we believe the Scriptures—do not agree with. However, it does not seem that groups like GLAAD and others within the LGBT community are willing to offer the same tolerance to fundamentalist Christians like Phil Robertson.

My answer to the question is “no.” I cannot tolerate the LGBT and progressive pop-culture’s intolerance of our opinions that they do not agree with. I wish that they were a little more tolerant, and something tells me that Sullivan and Ambrosino would probably agree.

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Give Thanks!

The famous scholar, Matthew Henry, wrote these words in his journal after being robbed of his wallet, “Let me be thankful first, because I was never robbed before; second, because, although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, because, although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.”  Have you ever wondered how some people can be so thankful regardless of their situation?  I know I have!

To be quite honest, I’ve always been a “the glass is half empty” kind of guy.  I don’t like this bent of mine, but because of this hard wiring I notice those thankful types of people.  I’ll never forget one man I met while going through Navy SEAL training.  We were a few days into the miserable rigors of Hellweek (a grueling test over 5 ½ days where only 4 cumulative hours of sleep are given) and he always had a smile on his face and was thankful every minute during this miserable week.  I never asked him why he was so thankful, but his joyful attitude was noticed by all and very contagious.

The older I grow, the more I appreciate Thanksgiving.  As a Christian, I believe this holiday celebrates a virtue followers of Christ are to embody—thankfulness! In First Thessalonians 5:16-18, the Apostle Paul instructs Christians to, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  How do these verses become reality in a person’s life?  I think perspective is everything as it relates to thankfulness.

God desires you to be joyful and to give thanks!  In thinking about this it seems that thankfulness is the antidote to discouragement and ultimately produces joy in a person’s life.  There’s an old hymn titled Count Your Blessings.  The refrain instructs the hearer to, “Count your blessings, name them one by one, count your blessings, see what God hath done!”  There is great power in simply naming things one is thankful for because it forces the individual to back up and take the larger picture into perspective.

Whenever a wave of discouragement comes in my family, we play the “Thankful Game” with each other.  What is this game?  I’m glad you asked.  We simply work our way through the alphabet giving thanks for something that starts with each letter. For example, I would say, “A – I am thankful for my wife Anna.  B – I am thankful for the Bible.  C – I am thankful for chocolate covered doughnuts at Petersons, etc, etc.”  I know it sounds silly, but it never ceases to amaze me how much better we feel after intentionally giving thanks for the many ways in which God has blessed us.

God has blessed us each tremendously whether we acknowledge it or not.  My prayer is that we each would cultivate a spirit of thankfulness in our hearts.  I’m convinced that as we express our thankfulness our joy will increase.  Ultimately God is pleased with our spirit of thankfulness and others are blessed.  Albert Barnes, a theologian from the 1800’s, once said, “We can always find something to be thankful for, and there may be reasons why we ought to be thankful for even those dispensations which appear dark and frowning.”  Regardless of your present situation, what are your thankful for today?

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Misericordia Por Favor

Those illegal aliens are driving me…

How did you answer that question?  I have a rant that’s been brewing in me for a while.  I really don’t know where I’m going with this blog, but I have some things that I feel need to be said from a biblical perspective.  I also think this post may get me into some hot water, but that’s okay.  I am a patriot of this country, but my allegiance is to Christ first and foremost.

I feel that racism is growing in my part of the United States towards Hispanics.  From my perspective it seems that the majority of Hispanics are viewed as being illegal regardless of their actual status in the United States.  I’m not sure that the things I hear and the attitudes felt towards Hispanics is glorifying to Christ.

I understand that this is a complex situation.  Don’t let your mind run wild.  I am not speaking of those trying to enter our country to do us harm.  Citizen or not, we must defend and protect the innocent from evildoers.  Period.  The irony is the terrorists who have done us harm in recent years have all been here legally, but I digress.

Yes, I agree that laws should be obeyed and honored.  We see this throughout the Bible.  We have a difficult political and financial situation on our hands.  I have no intention on trying to resolve these problems in this blog.  I resist bringing up the history of how we obtained California or how we treated the Native Americans securing our land.  I don’t have the answers, but I do believe there are two issues here: 1) How should this situation be handled politically with laws?  2) How we as individuals should treat other human beings.  This, in large part, is the part that has been bugging me.

How should a Christian respond to this difficult situation?  I like what our Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  I believe this statement applies to all humans regardless of their citizenship.  Quite frankly, the illegal immigrants that I have met are extremely hard working and are trying to make a better life for themselves and their families.  I don’t blame them and I would do the same thing if I were in their shoes.  It pains me to hear Christians speaking poorly towards these people just trying to survive.

One passage that has planted itself in my heart is Leviticus 19:33-34, “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.  The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD you God.”  Interesting passage as it relates to this subject.

One complaint I hear often relates to immigrants and the medical system.  First, I would encourage you to go to a community health clinic.  View the conditions and care they are receiving.  Hardly world class treatment and certainly not better than any American citizen would receive.  I like traveling.  I like experiencing other cultures.  I’ve never been really hurt in another country, but I certainly hope that I would receive the care I needed because I am a human and not based on my citizenship.  I hope that we as a people would care for other people in need to the best of our ability, yet sadly, in our nation people seem to care more about animals than people.

My prayer is that we who follow Christ would be a merciful people.  For it was Jesus who said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matt. 5:7) and “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).  I don’t know about you, but I’ve received a ton of mercy from God.  May we come to see people as God sees them (2 Cor. 5:16-21).

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Boston Observations

Like virtually every American I was glued to the news this last week as a result of the Marathon Bombing. I was however somewhat detached being that I was teaching at a small international bible college in Ireland. That said, I did have a few observations in light of the happenings.

Bravery

Quite honestly it is awesome to behold the bravery of “strangers” in the face of the atrocious acts of cowardice displayed by the bombers. The bombers dropped their packages and briskly waked away, leaving destruction in their wake. But immediately following the explosions loads of people ran to the aid of the injured. My heart broke and was warmed all in one moment.

Brave men and women, knowing not whether other bombs were awaiting them, risked their lives to hurry to those that were hurt. Individuals tired after running 26 miles continued to run to nearby hospitals to donate blood. The cowards hid and [apparently] planned future acts of terror. Fortunately, aside from one other terrible act, their reign of terror ended quickly.

Solidarity

In Europe, upon hearing my accent each individual I encountered instantly expressed their sincerest sympathies. Their hearts hurt for the pain of our nation. They didn’t have to be American, they’re human, and the heart of any individual with a modicum of compassion, breaks in the face of such suffering.

Efficiency

The Law Enforcement and Emergency Medical communities are to be lauded for their expertise and efficiency. EMS workers worked with brave professionalism. I imagine that they would have prior to 9/11/2001, but all the more since. The Law Enforcement agencies [apparently] worked harmoniously together to identify (with the aid of many witnesses) the alleged terrorists and effectively remove them from the streets within 4 days of their conscienceless act.

Idiocy

The press displayed (almost as expected) absurdity. If they would limit their scope of practice to reporting the facts, it would be bearable. But in a day in which “that which bleeds leads” and he who is first to the story wins the ratings game, stupidity abounds. In addition flows the constant drone of editorializing and and biased interpretation. I’d much rather know what they know and not what some uppity news correspondent thinks it means.

I realize that at this point I’m editorializing too, but quite frankly that’s what a blog is.

Normal Church

NORMAL CHURCH: How should the Church ‘do church’?

I have no wisdom to share, no hobby horse to ride, no burning coal of encouragement or rebuke. Rather, I have a question that I admit I have no answer to. This is not a Rob Bell-esque attempt to stir things up by posing a question and pretending I have no opinion on the matter while secretly pursuing an end. I truly want to know more about something, and hope that those who read, comment, and lurk on this blog will jump in and share their Biblically educated thoughts that I may be further enlightened; that we all may.

Does God reveal a specific design in Scripture for what the Church should look like? To this I say “yes”. I actually could write a post on that: the Biblical description of who the Church is, our position, our calling, our purpose. But that’s not the question I’m curious about.

I’m wondering if God reveals specifically how the Church should worship, meet, pray, and go about being and doing those things we know that Scripture calls the Church to be and do. Was it intended to be the same for all time, or to change and adapt? Have we ever done it right? What is “normal church” supposed to be? Are the guidelines loose enough to allow for many different cultural expressions of “doing church”? I hope I haven’t muddied the water in trying to ask the question. Let me get really specific.

It’s clear from the Biblical record of the Acts of the Apostles that the earliest gatherings of the local Church bodies met in homes, open-air locations, and other convenient places held by members of the body of Christ. We see the earliest church praying together daily, and sharing their resources for the common good of the body of Christ. This was in Jerusalem. But we also see small glimpses into the lives of local Church bodies in Antioch, in Asia, in Greece. We see the weekly “love feast”, the sending out of missionaries, the appointing of elders and deacons. The call to teach and shepherd and discipline the Church.

As stated above I don’t have definite answers to all my questions, but from what I have studied it seems that the Church meeting together in “church” buildings didn’t begin until the mid 3rd century. Now it’s considered “normal” and even required by some groups. In fact, when I affiliated as a Calvary Chapel pastor it was a requirement that the local Church body I was pastoring met in an official building of some sort and specifically on Sunday. And yet the Church grew and thrived for over 200 years in homes, open spaces, and other properties they had access to through members of the Body. Was this God’s plan all along? To build up His Church in these places until the day when legal ownership of their own building would be possible, and then that would become the new “normal”?

Was it God’s plan that the individual members of His Body would meet together daily until such a time as they were able to get by with Sunday mornings and maybe a mid-week meeting? Is the bi-weekly meeting God’s plan for the new “normal”?

Was it God’s plan for His Church to share things in common and send aid to other local Church bodies in desperate need until they became big enough to have so many of their own issues that they need only worry about themselves? Was this His design for the new “normal”?

The Church in Jerusalem met daily. The Church in Corinth had love feasts and communion on Sundays. Was it His plan for those things to be temporary until we figured out a better way that would become the new “normal”?

Is our “normal” of today (and the last several centuries) just as flexible as the “normal” recorded in Acts? Or is our normal the end all? How can a pastor or elder have confidence that they are leading His Church in a way that He intended? In other words… how do we KNOW that a Sunday morning service with 30 minutes of singing/music/worship, followed by 30-60 minutes of expositional teaching, the collection of offerings, announcements, and maybe a potluck is how God truly intends for His Church to accomplish the mission of making disciples throughout the world? Or is it simply one of many ways?

Please don’t turn on the assumption afterburners and think that because I’m asking the questions I’m against these things or being contrary for the sake of stirring up conversation. I’m not entertaining some kind of dangerous doubt, or loosing the faith. If we can’t question and reaffirm why we do what we do in the name of Christ then we have no business claiming to do it in His name!

So, are these things done the way that we do them because God revealed that His Church should do them thusly? Or are they our interpretations of BIble and history and custom, tailored over time, institutionalised, and made comfortable via the vehicle of cultural adaptation?

If God never intended for there to be a specific Biblically mandated liturgy (beyond baptism and communion and the making of disciples throughout the world), then I’m okay with that. In fact it’s quite freeing to know that we can truly be lead by the Spirit within the bounds of common sense, cultural compatibility, and Biblical principles to carry out the work and ministry of the local Church body in the way He leads.

But if God gave us a specific design then what is it? If it’s what we see in the early church, then where in Scripture is it taught and why don’t we still do it that way? Why would a movement that typically decries the influence of Constantine’s legalisation of the Christian faith as “marriage to the world” then also cling to one of the chief results: the Church owning property and meeting in official buildings of worship rather than believers’ homes and other properties and open spaces in the community? Why was communalism okay then, but so heavily guarded against, and even sneered at now? Why was daily prayer and worship normal then, but beyond even the ability to imagine now (because people are busy with “their own lives”)?

If it’s what we see in the “normal” of today then where in Scripture is it taught and why didn’t the early church figure it out?

Or is it that those things were never normal and we’ve just misunderstood the record?

Or maybe they truly weren’t intended to remain “normal”, and the bi-weekly meetings of busy Body members with little to no real knowledge of each other and love of one another was always God’s goal? (Okay, I admit that one was opinion and a bit of bitterness masked in the facade of a question).

The thing is, it’s not normal in other places I’ve lived and spent time in. It’s not normal in many places I’ve heard from others about. What should the daily life and liturgy of the Church look like? Who got it right? The early Church? The African Church? The Indian Church? The Western Church? The Catholic Church? The Orthodox Church? The Chinese underground Church? Or is there a “normal” or “right” way at all, other than just doing what is truly Spirit lead and best for the Body of Christ in each local Church body?

I know… lots of questions. Let’s here some of your answers. I’m really very curious and hope that many comment and share what they’ve learned from Scripture, prayer, research, and experience.

Thanks!

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Merry Christmas!

On behalf of Cross Connection Network, I would like to wish you a Merry Christmas.  I assume that many of the readers are men who serve Christ sacrificially in the ministry.  I’m typing this blog Saturday night.  I’m swamped.  I am ready for Sunday morning, the event Sunday night, family is coming over Monday, and I’m planning on preparing for the Christmas Eve service sometime between now and then.  I’m looking forward to Christmas morning, as it will mark the beginning of a couple days off.

If you are reading this on Christmas morning, enjoy your day of rest…I’m sure it’s long overdue during this busy season.  I’d like to encourage you to shut down your computer, your phone, your iPad, and all electrical devices.  Disconnect with the world for a day and enjoy your family.  That’s my plan!

Merry Christmas brothers have a blessed day!

A Sobering Look Inward as a Parent

The tragedy from last Friday in Newtown is still bouncing around my mind. When I saw images of the children I literally lost my breath. It’s unexplainable and so sobering. We have seen tragedies like this at college and high school campuses but never something like this at an elementary campus with children so young. It provoked emotion in our nation that  hasn’t been seen in awhile. My heart and prayers go out to this community because it will be a long recovery.

Events like these always spark a debate nationally over things like gun control and mental health. I am not going to wade into that. What I would like to discuss is the personal level of this event.

On Friday I was spending the day with my wife down in Santa Barbara while my children were in school. No sooner had I arrived downtown that my phone started blowing up with texts, tweets, and emails about this event. It was hard to get an understanding because we weren’t near a TV but we got the kist of what was going on. You could almost feel the mood switch on State Street from jovial rushed holiday spirit to one of sobering reality.

When I got home they were reporting on the shooter and his family. They described his troubled youth, withdrawal from school, and his very quiet but brilliant nature. They were associating him with previous shooters at places like Columbine. As a person who has been in ministry close to twenty years and worked with youth for over half of that I recognized this type of kid immediately. What the news described as mental illness resides in millions of teens today. Sadly many young adults feel the way this young man feel but almost all of them don’t act on it. Many harbor thoughts of doing harm to people who have hurt them but never follow through.

I am of the belief that this could’ve been prevented. I am not talking about counseling or even intervention. The seeds of this behavior are planted early. Let me explain. You often see the beginnings of this type of behavior early on. Left on it’s own it only manifests itself. There are some things that can trigger it later in life, like in this situation the divorce of parents, but often you see the acting out of the child from the early stages.

This results a lot from the behavior of the parents. What I am about to say is probably controversial and even offensive but needs to be said. There is a lot of selfishness in parenting today that produces a lot of acting out by children. Let me give you an example. Tuesday night I was at my son’s basketball game. There are several players on the team that are behavioral challenges. The coach spends as much time chasing after these boys as he does coaching the team. On Tuesday the team was on the floor playing and these three boys were on the bench. They decided they were bored so they left and wandered into the lobby. The coach had to chase after them. The funny thing that all three parents were sitting right by the entrance to the lobby and didn’t stop them. Shocked? It’s really becoming the norm in youth sports.

There was a mother who was totally disinterested and by her body language didn’t want to be there. There was the mother who had her nose in her phone and wasn’t aware of anything going on. Finally there was the mother who had a glaze over her eyes and had checked out. There wasn’t one father present.

I think these three are perfect examples of why children are turning out the way they do. Whether it be disinterest, distraction, or disengagement all point to a parent that is more interested in themselves than anything else. I am not naive, parenting is the hardest work anyone will ever do. It totally wipes you out and never stops requiring more. I think that is what catches many of these parents off guard. For some reason they think they can go on living like they did before they had children. You Can’t.

Parenting takes everything you have and then some. If you don’t rely on the grace and power of God you aren’t going to make it. That said there are some things need to be done by parents that only parents can do. I want to suggest three:

  1. Discipline: What I mean by discipline is not punishment but consistency. I heard a great definition of discipline the other day; “Discipline is the consistency of actions and values over a long period of time.” Children need that kind of discipline. They need constant reinforcement of action and values to produce consistency. That means that they go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the right time every morning. They complete their school work and show up to commitments on time. Actions like these produce discipline that produces improvement.
  2. Behavior Modeling: Every child that I see who could fall into the dangerous category has behavioral issues. By this I mean that they tend to be shy and reserved. This is normal in most children but can be improved. They do this by watching their parents talk with adults and when they interact with adults they are made to respond. If an adult greets your child make them respond in a polite and respectful way. Shyness can be an excuse that many deviant behaviors are rationalized.
  3. Expectations: I am blown away at the lack of standards children have today. Hold your children to expectations. This may mean behavior, academics, sports, relationships. Parents are becoming more and more weary of confrontation with their children and so let them do whatever they want. When my children are playing a sport we have certain expectations of how they should play. It has nothing to do with stats but with effort. We have the same expectations with how they deal with their peers and adults. If you fall before these expectations we are going to tell them. Children are always testing to see what they can get away with. As parents we have to maintain a level of expectations with our children. They may resist but every rebellious soul resists what is right. We have to be that standard bearer in our children’s lives.
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Cemetery or Seminary?

In my spiritual journey God has used a number of things to shape me.  I think I accepted Christ at a Tuesday night Bible study that was at a Vineyard church.  From there I started attending Horizon, then to The Rock when Miles McPherson launched it, then to a little Mexican church in National City, then to help with an Evangelical Free Church, then I planted a church with my father-in-law that became Southern Baptist, to my current church which is Southern Baptist…this flyover covers about 17 years of my church life.  During the early years, 1996-2001, I traveled extensively as a Navy SEAL and would often find myself in different places on Sundays…I would always land at a Calvary Chapel because they were fairly consistent with their franchised product.  I know you guys are not a denomination, but nobody on the outside buys your claims. :)

As I was growing in the Lord and starting to sense God’s call, I wasn’t sure what the next step was or how I was to pursue this vague feeling inside.  I remember many of the pastors in Calvary Chapel bashing, or subtly making jabs against seminaries by referring to them as cemeteries.  I sort of found this funny because from the outside looking in it appeared as though many of the pastors didn’t have college degrees let alone any time at seminary.  Where was this attack coming from?  Why would they be critical of something they never actually participated in or completed?  Maybe it was a chip on their shoulder?  Maybe.  Maybe there was some truth in what they said?  Possibly.  I know that I may be treading on dangerous ground as the majority of the writers of this blog are Calvary Chapel guys.  I am the outsider, the black sheep of the group proudly waving my Southern Baptist colors…which feels weird as I don’t really feel connected deeply to this group, but I digress.

As God led me away from Calvary Chapel circles, I was exposed to a variety of very godly pastors who all had graduated from seminary.  Different seminaries all conservative, but with different flavors.  It was during this time that God’s call became very strong and my desire to study the Bible at a deeper level continued to grow, but I didn’t know how I could satisfy this as I was preparing to deploy to the Middle East.  Thankfully, I was informed of Moody Bible Institute’s distance learning program.  I immediately enrolled in a number of courses like “Old Testament Survey”, “New Testament Survey”, “Elements of Bible Study”, and “Advanced Bible Study Methods.” Oh, my soul was getting nourished in ways that I couldn’t have imagined.  I ended up completing a year’s worth of coursework through Moody’s program.  This whole experience opened up the door for me to complete my Bachelor’s in Biblical Studies and Master’s of Divinity degree through Southern California Seminary.  From there, I would go on and work on my Doctor of Ministry degree through Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, but I withdrew from the program when I was “All but dissertation” because I felt like it was interfering with the present ministry I was called to.

I had a wonderful experience through Bible College and Seminary.  I would not be able to handle the Word of God as accurately as I do now without my training there.  I understand that not every seminary is created the same, but that doesn’t mean that all are bad and ineffective in training people. Here are a few reasons why I support and encourage men called to the ministry to go to seminary:

You will grow and mature through the process.  Seminary is challenging.  Juggling life with coursework is challenging in of itself, but a good seminary is going to forged you to be handle the ministry–whether you are preparing to enter or are already doing the work.  To hunker down and to do the work will shape you in your walk with God.  This difficult season in my life definitely prepared me for the rigors that pastoral ministry would bring.

You will be equipped in handling the Word of God.  I often am asked, “Did seminary really help you?” I laugh and respond with something like, “If I wasn’t in seminary, I would not have been digging, researching, and writing about topics that forced me deep within the Word on a daily basis.”  Seminary will sharpen and expand you knowledge and application of the Word of God.  There is no way around this, you cannot experience this demand on your own.  I have often heard, “Seminary is like trying to take a sip of water from a fire hydrant.”  This is so true!

You will be exposed to others schools of thought.  I can already hear some Calvary guys jumping on this point saying, “Ahh, you will be brainwashed and wander into bad doctrine!  Beware!”  An assumption of mine is that we are talking about a conservative, Bible believing and proclaiming seminary–which there are many.  Within this context you will rub shoulders and discuss biblical things from different vantage points.  This is iron sharpening iron in its truest sense.  For example, when I wrote my thesis on “The Christian and Combat” we brought in a pacifist, who deeply loves the Lord, to challenge my position.  I am better because of this experience of being exposed to other views within Bible believing Christianity.

You will develop deep friendships and broaden your network.  Outside of the coursework, I developed deep friendships with others in the ministry from a variety of denominations or non-denominations respectfully.  These friendships have been very meaningful and helpful to me in my service in the ministry at large.  I am thankful for these men that I can go to for support and outside consultation by men who are outside of my circle.

Concluding thoughts.  First, if you are debating going to seminary choose well.  The price is the least important factor.  Seek out graduates and examine the doctrinal position of the school.  If you don’t feel comfortable with this, ask someone who can guide you and give you wisdom for not all seminaries are created equal.  Second, if you haven’t been, or graduated from seminary, I would ask you to refrain from the bashing of them through subtle comments like letting “cemetery” slip out of your mouth when “seminary” was the intended word.  It makes one look like they have a chip on their shoulder for lacking something.  Of course one doesn’t need seminary to go to the ministry…we simply need to meet the requirements of 1 Timothy 3:1-7.  Finally, whatever your background, I encourage you to read, grow, and study intently as you lead the body of Christ.

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An Uncomfortable Comfort

Yesterday I finished preaching through the book of Jonah (listen here). In the last couple verses, there is a powerful contrast where God says to the comfort-seeking prophet, “You pity the plant…” In the next verse God then says, “I pity Nineveh…” The word pity (ḥûs) used here in Hebrew carries the idea of teary-eyed compassion (a great example of what this looks like can be seen in Ezekiel 16:4-5). It’s the idea of a heart that is internally affected by an external circumstance.

Jonah’s heart was internally shattered for the death of his external comforts (the plant). He sought his comfort outside of God, which caused him to be apathetic to the things that matter to God. This is a major cultural sin in the United States as well as here in the United Kingdom. We console our soul with creation fixing our hearts on the temporary pleasures of created comforts. The plant God appointed was here today and gone tomorrow. Life is thus poured out on the momentary and the height of our passions and affections are warped around aspects of creation. The idol of the god of comfort is seen today in Romans 1:25.

At the same time, 2 Corinthians 1:3 tells us that we serve “the God of all comfort” (different from the god of comfort). The God of all comfort comforts us, but his comfort moves us to extend what we are given to others (2 Corinthians 1:4). In other words, when we are comforted by God, we are moved to share in the afflictions of others. We are changed. Instead of apathy and indifference, there is God-reflecting passion and engagement.

Maybe this is why our churches sometimes seem disengaged and apathetic to the call of the gospel as well as some of its social outworkings (i.e. abortion, AIDS pandemic, fosters/orphans). God had pity on the 120,000 of Nineveh. Jonah had pity on a plant. We love our comforts and “can’t be bothered”.

God appointed the dismantling of the altar of comfort in Jonah’s life by appointing a worm and a scorching east wind. It seems in the end, Jonah did repent since the book was likely penned by his hand leaving Jonah as the books anti-hero. It has been said that God comforts the afflicted (as seen here in the Ninevites) and he afflicts the comfortable (as seen here in Jonah). May God do so in our churches until we find that our comfort comes from the God of all comfort and our teary-eyed compassion is shaped by God’s own passion.