Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sharpen Your Saw

While working out in Mennville I learned several important lessons about how important it is to “sharpen the saw” as leadership guru Stephen Covey says. Sharpening the saw can really only be described by Covey's word-picture:

Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree.

"What are you doing?" you ask.

"Can't you see?" comes the impatient reply. "I'm sawing down this tree."

"You look exhausted!" you exclaim. "How long have you been at it?"

"Over five hours," he returns, "and I'm beat! This is hard work."

"Well why don't you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?" you inquire. "I'm sure it would go a lot faster."

"I don't have time to sharpen the saw," the man says emphatically. "I'm too busy sawing!"

Sharpening the saw is about renewing yourself - physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. Self-Improvement (or Self Growth) is one of my favorite themes. What can you do to sharpen your saw? Do you need to start exercising? Do you need to start challenging your mind with new ideas? Do you need to spend time serving or connecting with God? Do you need to choose to courageously sit with someone and explore some of your emotional issues? Or do you need to set aside time for friends or family? Whatever it is, I encourage you – sharpen your saw. Investing in your growth is not a bonus in life – it’s a necessity!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Billy Story

After reading Franklin Graham's biography recently I thought I would also read his Dad's story titled Just As I Am. Though he wasn't perfect, I'm a big admirer of Billy. He is a good example of what someone sold out for Christ looks like. Anyway, I'm reading and I came across this story (p. 123-124):

It was October 1948 and we were in Augusta, Georgia about to conclude a fairly successful two-and-a-half-week citywide Campaign. Though I had recently taken on the presidency of Northwestern Schools, I was still on the road a great deal, speaking at YFC rallies, conferences, and evangelistic campaigns.

Our Augusta Campaign clearly was not having any impact on the people in the hotel. An automobile dealers' convention was in town that Saturday night, and around one in the morning a wild party erupted in the next room, awakening me from a deep sleep. Grady came to my room to complain.

"I can't sleep."

"I can't either, and tomorrow's a big day," I said to him. "I'm going over there to put a stop to this." I wrapped my bathrobe around me and went out and pounded on their door.

"Whad'ya want?" asked the drunken man who responded to my knocking.

"I want to speak to this crowd!"

I had intended just to tell my neighbors to stifle the noise, but I guess the preacher in me took over. I yelled for silence into the crowd of thirty or forty carousing man and women behind him. Startled they quieted down.

"I'm a minister of the Gospel," I began. Pin-drop silence. This was a bunch of South Carolina auto dealers who knew a Bible Belt evangelist when they saw one, even in his bathrobe.

"I'm holding a revival Campaign in this town. Some of you may have read about it in the paper."

Not a reasonable assumption.

"I daresay most of this crowd are church members. Some of you are deacons and elders. Maybe even Sunday school teachers. I know your pastors would be ashamed of you, because you're certainly not acting like Christians."

I got bolder: "I know God is ashamed of you."

"That's right, preacher," one of them piped up. "I'm a deacon."
"And I'm a Sunday school teacher," a woman confessed.

Well, I stood there and preached an evangelist's sermon to the crowd. I don't know what happened to the party after I left, but there was no noise for the rest of the night.

That was not my usual pattern, of course, although I have endured more noisy hotel rooms than I care to remember. But sometimes an evangelist has to be bold, and sometimes he comes across as brash!

The image of Billy Graham in his bath robe breaking up a late night party makes me chuckle. May we all have the guts to confront our brothers and sisters in Christ when they forget that being a Christian means acting like one.

May Light increase!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Real Estate Musings

Ah, winter. The time of year when a young man's fancy turns to . . . real estate! This is my favorite time of year to buy. There is kind of a lull in the market which means that there are some houses sitting on the market that have been there for a couple of months. Sellers get desperate. I'm getting the itch to pick up another rental property and have looked at a few places recently.

The market here in Winnipeg has cooled off - there is still demand for houses but the supply has increased dramatically in the past few months. Here in Winnipeg we have a very diversified economy so we are relatively safe from the radical swings in prices that other one source economies (Alberta - oil, Ontario - manufacturing) get but house asking prices have started to stabilize and in some cases go down. I've seen some houses drop their asking price by 20 or 30K in the last month. I'm happy because this means properties will be easier to find and buy, sad because the equity in my properties that I use to buy them will decrease as well. Soon I will have to find private investors to work with me. I also have someone who wants to formally partner with me (create a small company) so I am exploring that option as well.

The question is: buy now or wait? I talked to the head of the Winnipeg Realtors Association last week and she counseled me to wait, maybe until spring. Prices should keep dropping and supply should go up she says. The thing is that I don't like to give in to fear when it comes to investing. Most potential investors don't take action and the ones who do (wisely) are the ones that realize profits. Fear and greed drive the market and I would rather just pick up a property or two a year as deals become available then hold off simply because I'm afraid. Perhaps she is right, maybe I should wait until there is even more fear out there and then buy? I'm thinking of starting another blog that will just focus on Real Estate stuff, but I thought I'd just update you a little bit. Also, if you're interested in taking your money out of a terribly performing asset (say, mutual funds or stocks!) and put them into something more stable let me know. Also, if you are interested in learning more about investing in a slow market, feel free to visit this site ( and download a free ebook with lots of strategies. I'm reading the ebook right now and find it fascinating. Also there is an amusing campy video that made me laugh!

P.S. Looking at houses can be tough because you sometimes run across places you'd like to get for yourself. Here's a cute one in North Kildonan close to my work . . .

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The French Paradox

Lately I've been thinking alot about my health and wondering what I need to do to improve my long term outlook. Yesterday I stumbled upon this link found it quite enlightening. How is it that the French can eat a diet that contains large amounts of butter, cream, and other foods rich in artery-clogging ‘unhealthy’ saturated fats, yet nationally their rates of heart disease are quite low? The French don’t diet and don’t spend hours working out in the gym. This is, of course, seen as a paradox because conventional wisdom has it that such a diet should increase heart disease rates - but they are actually among the lowest in the world. The article cites a few theories on why the French do so well with their unhealthy diet. These include:

1. Associating food with pleasure, not health.
2. Small portion size.
3. Red wine habit.
4. Food quality over quantity.
5. Home cooking tradition.
6. "No snacking" habit.
7. Water instead of pop.
8. Walking and naturally active lives.
9. Self discipline.

Most of these I have heard before and are sense but it's interesting to see how when they all come together into shared cultural values and lifestyles and what the benefit is to overall health. Number one was especially interesting: maybe instead of fixating on food's health value we should instead look at it's pleasure value? Obviously if you eat too much of a certain food (everything in moderation) you begin to enjoy it less. Also, in the article it expands on each of the 9 theories and the insights on self-discipline and the eschewing of diets (number 9) strikes me as very different understandings of such ideas then we would have in North America. I think the French have lots to teach us. For more food paradoxes, check out this article.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Going Solo

One of my goals this year was to go on at least three 24 hour "solos" before the year is done. A solo for me is a personal retreat where I get away from people (usually in nature) and just be with God. When I was a youth pastor/camp director in Mennville I usually did it at least once or twice a year. It was easy; I had flexible ministries that encouraged such things and I had a plethora of cabins and places I could go that didn't cost me anything to use. I still had to book the time off, but it wasn't that difficult.

Fast forward to now that I live in the city. If I want to go on a solo, it actually costs me something! I now have to sacrifice on a larger scale my family, time, and especially money (which is on the tighter side at this stage in our lives). And so . . . I have put it off. Even though I know how good it would be for God and me.

Recently though I have been feeling more and more the desire, nay, the need to get away. Spending extended time with God does not just seem like a "good thing to do" but a necessity. My soul is crying out for it. Just like I feel occasional retreats are necessary for my wife and I's relationship, I need these times away with God as well. I have justified not doing it because of all my life stuff but now I need to just do it. I think it was Gandhi who said there was no worship without sacrifice so I suppose the fact that it costs you is itself a part of the experience.

I guess I just need a place to go. Anyone have ideas? Or know anyone who has a cabin that they would let me borrow (or rent at a reasonable cost) and that isn't too far from Winnipeg?

In the past I have talked to people about this solo thing and many have said "That sounds so awesome, I wish I had the time to do that." I used to think something like "Well, you have to make the time!" and feel a little spiritual pride. But for the past few years I've been saying what they did (oh, the irony)! It's humbling but true. I encourage you - if you think or know personal solos would be enriching for your relationship with God, don't be like me - make the time.

May Light increase!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Book Review: The Year Of Living Biblically

Book Review: The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs

Thanks to Lee who saw this on my Amazon Wish List and offered to let me borrow it. This book has had a fair amount of buzz to it, so I'm not sure exactly what I can add to the many reviews out there but I will try. First of all this book is quite unique. I mean it really is different. The story is about an editor for Esquire magazine (definitely not a Christian magazine) who decides to spend an entire year trying to follow the Bible as literally as possible. A liberal agnostic who is Jewish in, it is humorous to see him attempt to not just follow the commands but to attempt to be open to a faith that he fully admits he does not have. If you hear the premise of the book you can see two possible dramatic conclusions: an eventual embrace of faith or a passionate rejection of it. I don't want to give too much away from the ending of the book but neither of these happens. I liked that.

What makes the book so different and so unique is the tone of the author. You keep bracing for negativity and criticism but instead you are met with something else - respect. The book is witty and pokes fun at much but even as he interviews and considers the fringe elements of Judaic and Christian fundamentalism he treats them all with respect. Christians could learn something from this respectful tone! I also liked his honesty as he grapples with complex issues of religious observance and the difficulty of keeping even the simplest of commands (ex/thou shalt not lie). Some of his attempts to keep the commands about cleanliness, circumcision, and stoning had me both laughing out loud and thankful for the freedom that Christ followers have from the Law. His attempts at things like prayer and faith made me think about my own spiritual journey quite a bit and at times I felt myself quite moved. All Christians can fall into the trap of outward expression of religion for religion's sake and this book helped me to see how empty that really is (especially at the end).

The author spends 9 months trying to observe the Old Testament and then 4 months on the New Testament. It was interesting to see how he noted the major difference in Judaism and Christianity; Christianity to be truly embraced is the belief in Christ. The author fights this. All in all, I found his embracing of the last 4 months to be a bit lackluster but he is honest about it. How can he truly embrace it when he has not truly embraced Christ? I found his honesty refreshing.

I recommend this book to those looking for something a little different. I read portions out loud to Jobina some night and we both laughed hard. I was also challenged as I felt some of my own views towards God challenged and sifted. This book is not for everyone but it's a great way to see the Bible through the eyes of a honest spiritual seeker (albeit it one who admits his own impure motives in doing this experiment). It would be a great book club book or a nice break from all the sanitized and squeaky clean Christian books that you see in your local Christian bookstore. To hear/read a sample of the book go here. I rate it 4.4 stars out of 5.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Logo Feedback: And The Winner Is . . .

Hi Everyone, thanks for all the great feedback. I have forwarded the link to my previous post to the designer who has already told me he has appreciated the input. Of course I said I would give away a book prize to one lucky commenter. So using a totally random generator which I found online the winner is . . .

Jay Boaz!

Congratulations Jay! You have just won Mere Christianity, one of the classics of modern Christian thought (and an excellently serious yet witty read). I will contact you about getting the book to you. If others are bummed because they didn't get it, feel free to pick up a copy from my bookstore. Thanks again to everyone who left feedback, stay tuned for more giveaways!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Logo Feedback Wanted (and Contest)

Riverbend Counselling, the plucky upstart counseling center that I work at has someone working on some temporary logo designs for us. They have sent us two designs so far and I'm wondering if I could get some specific feedback on which ones you like (if any), and specifically what you like/don't like about them. After a few days I will go through the comments and randomly choose one commenter who will get a free copy of C.S. Lewis's bestseller "Mere Christianity!"

Logo 1

Logo 2

Thanks again for your thoughts!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Warning About Slowly Fading Away

I was very touched by this video and its words (even though I'm not particularly in to the music of Casting Crowns). I thought of it was a good warning, kind of like the warning the author of Proverbs gives to his son . . .

P.S. I first saw this on Lena's blog.

Monday, November 17, 2008

No Courting!

Being a camp director for several years, one of my sacred duties was to read the Beaver Creek staff manual to our staff. This was always a favorite part of our Sunday night training (OK, not really) but one of our rules was something like this:

Staff must not spend time courting. Necessary as that may be, it must be done elsewhere. Staff are at camp to serve the Lord. Any staff that does not help to build a healthy atmosphere at camp should be expelled by the camp director. It is better to be short staffed than to be wrong staffed.

In other words, no new exclusive and/or romantic relationships at camp. There are basically two approaches to the whole "dating" thing with short term ministries: yay or nay. Beaver Creek Bible camp has always been strongly on the "nay" side.

Staff usually snickered at this rule but most did not seriously object to it (although there was plenty of mocking of it, much to do with the old English word "courting"). Some staff did honestly think it wasn't necessary and there were a few who even thought it inhumane or unChristian. I suppose when I came on as director I could have changed that particular rule but I thought of it as a pragmatic necessity. Why the rule?

1. Exclusive romantic relationships upset team balance and often make others feel awkward.
2. Camp ministry is short term and spiritually intense. Staff need to be focused. Romantic relationships usually distract staff from their ministry to the campers. This can be subtle, as in a mental and emotional distraction. Or it can be physical as the couple find more and more time to be together and less time with their campers.
3. The appearance of evil. Staff, visitors, and campers can all have bad reactions to watching couples form in the midst of ministry opportunities.
4. Distraction to the campers.

Camp (and missions) are emotionally intense places to be. In this kind of atmosphere it is exceedingly easy to fall in love. Seriously, do you know how many guys I've had in my office confessing to me that they are in love with the lifeguard? Or that cute LDC leader? Or even the nurse? And don't forget those wonderful kitchen helpers! I have seen it happen so many times before, a person comes to camp with every intention to give everything they have to the campers for 6 full days and mid week they are "out of it," swept along by an intense chemistry reaction to another staff member. Of course such attractions are normal and to be expected, the problem is if they are sanctioned and encouraged they can quickly get out of control. That is why most ministry teams that I have encountered also have non-dating rules. It just makes thing much easier. I even coined a great phrase which no doubt encouraged many staff: camp is a great person to meet the person of your dream but a bad place to persue them. Oh yes, many staff have expressed great joy when they heard these wise and encouraging words!

The funny thing is that whenever we had to talk to someone about the fact that they were breaking the courting rule, they always seemed shocked. "What? No, you must be mistaken. There's no attraction here. We're just friends." Somehow what was obvious to every other staff person escapes the view of those directly involved! Usually (I'd like to think) these people are not so much lying as they are self-deceived. Very humorous though.

Not to say there isn't a place for people who are already dating at camp. I have seen some of the best examples of mature and balanced dating by staff who came to camp as a couple. The way they handled it all was a witness to many. But if it was completely my choice, I will always suggest no new romantic relationships for ministry teams. I know a few other camps that operate differently (Camp Arnes being a notable example) and I even know at least one couple who met at camp, dated at camp, and got married. These folks are the exception to the rule. And the rule is this: No courting at camp! What do you think about this topic?

P.S. The image is from our staff canoe trip from a few years ago (2004). I don't think Viola and "Slash" were courting here, but it was my best camp staff pic that kind of encapsulates the idea of it.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


I was blog surfing last night and found this inspiring poem at Lena's blog (Lena, by the way, is the talented designer who made up the custom header for this site):


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!

-Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Book Review: It's Not About The Bike

Book Review: It's Not About The Bike by Lance Armstrong (with Sally Jenkins)

With all the bad stories we hear about cancer it is occasionally nice to hear a positive one. When it comes to accounts of fighting and beating cancer I can't think of one better then Lance Armstrong's. Lance Armstrong was an up and coming cyclist from Texas. A super aggressive personality with a tough background he was shocked one day when he went to the hospital because he wasn't feeling well to find out he had testicular cancer. He'd had it for awhile and his prognosis wasn't good. In a very honest fashion he chronicles what fighting cancer was like; the fear, the hope, the frustration, the pain, and especially the helplessness. For a driven man like Armstrong, cancer was the last thing he expected or wanted. He had to face not only the loss of his health (and possibly his life) but also his dreams and ambitions which he thought were about to be realized. What he experiences mentally and emotionally is brought to life in his simple prose and vocabulary. I felt along with him as he describes his fear and the reactions of those around him. This is gut wrenching stuff.

The book goes back into Armstrong's less then perfect upbringing and sets the stage to explain the persevering spirit, pure stubbornness, and willingness to embrace (and defeat) suffering that helped him so much in his fight against cancer. The fact that he survives the cancer physically is wondrous enough, but how he goes on to recover emotionally and then revive his career is pure inspiration. Cancer transforms Armstrong into a different person. I don't want to give too much away, but the new Lance is able to achieve things the old one was never capable of. He believes the cancer was his enemy but it also made him into a better man and in the end he is glad he got it. I tend to agree with him.

You don't have to enjoy cycling, stories of healing, or even biographies to really get into this book. I think that about 80% of the reading population would find something enjoyable and inspiring in it. I have read it three times now and every time I'm impacted differently. This time I was moved by what may have been his toughest battle of all, living after cancer. How do you live when others who fought the battle with you didn't make it? What does life mean now? These deep questions (and Armstrong's journey through them) are authentically explored and I appreciated it.

It's Not About The Bike is everything a book should be. It is absolutely fascinating, inspiring, emotional, and down to earth. Armstrong is not a saint (far from it actually) but his honesty is refreshing. In many ways it is one of the best books I have ever read. If Armstrong was a Christian, was more relationally savvy, and he swore less this would be one of those blanket "you have to buy this book" books. If someone you love gets cancer (especially testicular cancer) you should definitely consider buying them this book. I rate it 4.8 ninja stars out of 5.

Left Behind

Today I feel kind of left behind. Jobina is going to her Aunt Jean's funeral in Dalmeny but after some difficult discussion we decided that I would stay behind with the kids. There seemed to be some practical implications to consider but now that the day has come those practical things don't seem as important as they did before. It's terrible because I feel now like I made the wrong decision. I wish I had gone too. Ironically, many of the reasons I stayed behind (work schedule, clients, etc) have fallen away. Though it sucks I think I've learned a valuable lesson. Funerals of those close to us never happen at a good time (time wise, financially, personally) but they are a call to action. Family comes together. Sacrifices need to be made. Today I pray and spend time with my kids, but my heart is hundreds of miles away in Saskatchewan . . .

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Alternative Modes of Payment

Probably most of you have seen this already, but I just saw it recently and it made me laugh:

Broke Man Tries Paying Bill With a Picture of a Spider

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Secret To Healthy Churches

My grandpa Westman was a district superintendent in the Evangelical Free Church of Canada for many years. He didn't initially want the position, but the denomination needed him and he answered the call. Basically he was a resource to the "E Free" pastors in western Canada, a "pastor to the pastors" if you will. I have always thought that would be a cool job. Lots of stress, yes, but hugely challenging.

I've found that nurses are usually morbid people. They are fascinated by stories of blood, guts, puss, and other terrible things. I think this is what makes them good nurses - they are curious about the gross realities of people in physical peril. I am the same way . . . except with churches. I could sit around all day and listen to stories of church dysfunction, spiritual abuse, and all the terrible things that (unfortunately) churches often experience. What is highly distressing to some I find . . . well . . . fascinating! Not only am I intrigued with the ugly but I am also passionate about healthy churches. I see my grandfather's job as a district superintendent as the ultimate fun job - helping pastors and churches in their worst hours. I realize that not everyone would feel as I do but then again I don't think helping people bloodied and on death's door would be enjoyable. To each his own.

Gerry (our counseling director) and I were shooting the breeze about churches yesterday. We talked about why churches go wrong and also about what kind of church model is the best one. I have belonged to churches that were congregationally led (council and congregation have the most authority) and those that are pastor led (pastor has most authority). I have heard excellent arguments on both sides as to why their model is superior. Here's my theory: it doesn't matter what kind of model you have. Each model has strengths and weaknesses. Congregationally lead churches have more checks and balances and are safer, but slower moving and more impervious to radical change. Churches where the pastor is a strong authority can change quickly when necessary but are more prone to error and abuse.

So here's my theory: It doesn't matter what leadership model the church has, it matter what kind of people are in the leadership. No system or model can protect the church from people of low character or low spiritual health, the kind that too often make there way into church leadership. Thus if the board, council, pastors, or lay leaders are people of high character and spiritual integrity the church should be healthy. If there is even one person with low character/integrity and they are allowed to remain, eventually something will go terribly wrong. Bill Hybels in Courageous Leadership says there are three traits that he has learned must be necessary in any ministry team person her recruits: Character, competency, and chemistry. The problem that churches often make is that they see competency in a potential leader but don't do enough homework in the character department. But everything rises or falls on it. Look at most church problems and they can be traced back to people with lacking character and integrity. They betray the principles that people of integrity hold highly whether this is honesty, justice, kindness, self control, or a passion for the truth. A lack of character in a church's leaders is not the only thing that will cause churches to stumble (there are plenty of others) but it is the most important one. When leaders have character and integrity, all problems have the possibility of being rectified. Without it there is little hope.

May Light increase!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

When A Christian Comes Out Of The Closet

This is probably old news to a lot of you in the Christian community (well, those who know all the latest on the CCM scene anyway), but I just learned yesterday that on September 12th Ray Boltz publicly announced he was gay. Yes, as in a homosexual. According to the article published by the Washington Blade, he had been living a lie for 30 years. Boltz has several well known songs to his credit, many of which are tear jerkers about life and faith.

Read the article, it is well written. Before I took my counseling degree I sadly would not have had very much compassion for someone like Boltz, but I do now. Who (or what) you are attracted to sexually is not just a choice and for someone who is a Christian this makes homosexual ideation that much more difficult to deal with. Though I fully agree with the Bible that homosexual behavior is a sin I can also have some compassion for those who it is a constant temptation. Just like I can have compassion for alcholics, gossips, slanderers, spouse abusers, liars, angry people and gluttons. As I mentioned before in my post on reparative therapy, once a sexual preference is burned into one's brain it is extremely difficult to change.

The difficult thing is what to do when a Christian announces they are gay. How should one react? How should we treat them? The tension between not condoning sin yet loving the sinner is enormous. It seems to me that most people choose one of the polar opposites; condemnation or ignoring the sin problem. What is an appropriate Christian response? I'd be interested in hearing others thoughts/feelings on the matter . . .

Monday, November 10, 2008

Marketing The Church Like Starbucks: A Parable

I laughed but also felt uncomfortable as I watched this video from the guys at Uncomfortable? Why? Probably because as a youth pastor/camp director I probably used several of these marketing techniques (or ones similar to them). Personally I don't think all marketing by churches is bad, but it is interesting to see the disconnect between what believers think is effective with seekers (such as the infamous "first timer's welcome") and what most people actually would appreciate. How should churches "market" themselves to unbelievers? There are two extremes that I see often; the first is to not think of seekers at all. These churches believe they are "authentic" and "uncompromising" and often take pride in the fact that they don't adjust anything in their church service/practice to attract and make things easiers for unbelievers. These are the churches that often have culturally irrelevant music, speak in advanced Christianeese at their services, and have very few converts. The second extreme is the totally "seeker sensivitive" or "super relevant" church. Everything about the service is designed to be palatable to the unbeliever. Language, music, speaking, and greeting are all so seeker friendly that veteran believers can almost feel out of place. These churches are marked by high number of conversions, exciting (and almost always positive feeling services), and a revolving door of membership.

My personal opinion is that churches need to be somewhere in the middle. They must always be seeking to balance seeker friendliness with an uncompromising embrace of the radical life and message of the Gospel. Churches should be about evangelism, discipleship, worship, fellowship, and ministry (Rick Warren) and they should seek to fulfill these in the most authentic and relevant way possible. Of course this will mean a constant tension between the two extremes and I think that such tension is healthy even if it is often uncomfortable. Are there any examples of this done well? If there are I'd like to hear about them! In the meantime, I believe the church can get some inspiration from one of the para-church organizations that seems to be the most successful in this balance - Bible camps. Look to the camps oh churches!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Free Books For Bloggers!

Yesterday I stumbled upon a way to get books for free and get topics for things to write on my blog at the same time. Rachel Mote at Evangelical Outpost posted about a unique opportunity from Thomas Nelson publishers. Bloggers can get free books if they write a 200 word review of them on their blogs, send a copy sent to Thomas Nelson, and post the review on consumer retail web sites like If you are interested for more information or to sign up, check it out here. I have already ordered my first one, a book called Holding Fast: The Untold Story of the Mount Hood Tragedy. After you sign in, you must send them a link to your blog to make sure it meets their criteria. Once you are accepted you may choose from a variety of books but you can only review one book at a time. There are several different categories of books including Bible reference, theology, personal enrichment, biographies, children's books, etc. If you are a reader and a blogger, check it out. One shouldn't look a free book in the mouth after all.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Boy In The Striped Pajamas

This movie looks promising:

There is something about movies that have as the subject the holocaust. I think that we ought to honor the memory of such terrible acts and as remind ourselves of the evil that man is capable of. To remember that it was "normal" men and women like ourselves who were blinded and perpetrated such atrocities. It took thousands of people to do what the Nazi's did. And each one of them had a story and choices to make. Hopefully, like Shindler's List, this movie will examine the lives of those involved. We must never forget. For a full review of the movie, check out ysmarko.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Do Hard Things: Raising The Bar

"The complacency of fools destroys them." - Proverbs 1:32

In my previous post on Do Hard Things, I mentioned the first of five kinds of hard - getting out of your comfort zone. I have tried to embrace this principle and challenge myself over the past week and I hope that perhaps someone reading this blog may have also done the same (if so I'd love to hear about it). Anyway, the second kind of hard that the authors refer to is what they call "raising the bar." Raising the bar means doing hard things that go beyond what's expected or required. As soon as I read the first page I knew I was in trouble.

The authors say that "just doing your best" is a trap. Doing your best often accomplishes the opposite, it gives us an excuse to not push ourselves to the limits of growth. Being "good enough" can turn into a special hazard, one where we begin to coast because we believe that we are surpassing others. But where are others at? If they are so low down in the quality of what they are doing/producing/accomplishing, then being a little better then them means nothing. To be truly great and growing we need to take what is often a lonely path, that of surpassing what is required.

Complacency. Complacency has real costs; mediocrity, excuse making. Life gets boring and we don't see why. That's why we must instead rebel against it and choose to do more then is asked, required, or expected. The authors suggest three ways to accomplish this. I warn you, any of these could change your life forever if you would just begin doing one of them:

1. Do what's hard for you. Don't worry about what's hard for others (but is no problem for you). Instead choose to the things that you find difficult, distressing, or even impossible.
2. Be known for what you do (more then for what you don't). If your most notable qualities are based on what you don't do (drugs, swearing, losing your temper, premarital sex, being in debt, skipping church, etc.) what does this say about you? You need to get known for your good deeds, not your lack of poor ones.
3. Pursue excellence, not excuses. It doesn't matter if you're already better then all of your peers, what would excellence look like for you? Have you pushed yourself to find out?

Anyway, as I was typing this it came to my mind that today I had lunch with a friend and we talked about our lives. I realize now as I reflect on our stories that he was a man who was pushing himself to excellence and I was a man who was not. Ouch! Seriously, ouch! I have fallen into complacency in so many areas. I'm doing "good enough" but its not enough. I'm not growing, I'm coasting. I'm bored with so much of my life because I'm not pushing myself. It's time for change . . . and it's not going to be easy.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Consumer Gene Testing : Vice or Virtue?

If you had the money, would you pay $399 dollars to find out your predisposition for cancer, obesity, alcohol dependence and many other health related things? Would you really want to know? The reason I ask is that just such a service is now becoming available. It's called
23andMe and it is one of Time's Best Inventions of 2008. You simply pay the money, get a kit sent to you, spit in a tube, and then send it to them. After a few weeks you log in and you can find out from analysis of your DNA all kinds of crazy stuff about yourself. Some of it would be quite useful and some of it would be downright scary.

23andMe currently reports on over 90 disease possibilities and health traits and the number is growing. As I looked at it I got excited - wow, I could learn all kinds of interesting things about myself! But on the other hand it was unnerving. Would I want to pay to find out that I have a 70% chance of developing lung cancer, restless legs syndrome, or schizophrenia? I'm not so sure that knowledge would really improve the quality of my life. I mean it could extend it, but for chronic worriers this service would not be good! So I'm not sure . . . but I'm curious about what others would think:

Monday, November 3, 2008


So I was watching Braveheart today (one of my favorite inspiring movies). Now not everyone likes this movie. It is after all brutal and somewhat gory but everytime I watch it I find myself crying at some point. Maybe it's not for everyone, but this movie touches something noble at the very core of my being - some emotion that is raw and real. Today I was struck by the brevity, simplicity, and totality of William Wallace's wedding vows:

William: "I will love you my whole life; you and no other."

Murron: "And I you; you and no other forever."

That's it.

Isn't that beautiful? The power of simple and total commitment. I sat there thinking to myself, "Why don't we hear vows like this anymore?" Total commitment. "You and no other." Now that's romantic.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Serving Dilemma

Sometimes when you are a waiter you find yourself in an awkward situation that your really weren't prepared for. Usually they involve you figuring out "on the fly" how to handle certain customer situations were whatever you say or do has the potential to fix or destroy the dining experience of your guests. Last night one of the new waiters told me about a predicament he was recently in. An older couple came in and sat in his section. He greeted them and they seemed nice, if not a little bit eccentric. When he finally got around to asking them what they wanted it went a little something like this:

Dustin: "OK, so have you decided what you'd like today?

Both: "Yes."

Dustin: "Alright, what can I get for for you?"

Older Woman: "I think I'll go with the Tour of Italy."

Dustin: "OK . . . and would you like -"

Older Man: "She'll get the Fettucini Alfredo."

Dustin: (taken aback) "Sir?"

Older Man (to wife) "You always get the Fetucini Alfredo!"

Older Woman "I want the Tour."

Older Man "She wants the Fettucini Alfredo."

(Long pause as Dustin feels awkward and both patrons look at him earnestly)

Dustin: "Um . . . thank you. I'll be back in a few minutes . . ."

So the question is what should a server do in this situation? What should he write down as the lady's order? And what should he say/do (if anything) when he eventually brings the main courses? I'll let you know what Dustin said (and did) in the comments later on and how it affected his tip!

P.S. The painting is "Table For Two" by Michael Flohr.