Monday, April 27, 2009


Is our society on the brink of collapse? Could that be a good thing?

Ok, I know there's enough bad news out there. And I also know that it's a pretty cheap thrill to predict the demise of the world (Y2K anyone?). But it does appear that our present system is not sustainable. We cannot be great unless we're good, and the goodness is gone. Shortsightedness and greed have conspired to bring about an explosive cocktail. Those in control are apparently going to ride this horse until it drops. And drop it will. In James Kunstler's The Long Emergency he says, "(Those in control) will not surrender to circumstance until it is simply no longer possible to carry on...meaning there is not likely to be any planning or preparation for change." Abba Eban counseled, "History teaches that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives."

Once, when he was stuck in a cab in a traffic jam in London, G.K. Chesterton began musing on the breakdown of civilization. "Comunications may break down, and men may be forced to live where they are as best they can. I think how probable, after all, is the prospect of a relapse into barbarism." A sign that we might be getting closer? The rapid rise in gun sales. Gun shows are crowded. Gun prices are rising. Vigilante law may be lurking around the corner. Depressing, isn't it? Not in Chesterton's estimation. He suggests in The Outline of Sanity, "by this broken road simplicity may return." He is hopeful: "Man has before now broken down in the elaborate labors of empire and bureaucracy and big business and been content to fall to a simpler life. He has been content to picnic like a tramp in the ruin of his own palaces....We will not be downhearted. Our cities may also be deserted and our palaces in ruins; and there may be a chance yet for humanity to become more human."

A couple developments that may speed humanity becoming more human: the end of the age of cheap oil, and the escalating pricetag (either environmental impact if we let it go, or in cost if we don't) of coal-generated electricity. Just imagine in the next 20 years being priced out of these commodities. Bye-bye American way of life. Kunstler suggests that American suburbia be retrofitted "into the kind of mixed use, smaller scaled, more fine-grained walkable environments we will need to carry on daily life in the coming age of greatly reduced motoring." In Hope for the Coming Collapse, Robert Moore-Jumonville says, "Those places to which we can jog...may soon define the parameters of community." By the way, if CTK can continue to keep the main thing the main thing, and continue to break down into smaller communities of caring, we may be ideally positioned for what is about to come.

In any case, it's not if our civilization will collapse, but when. Kingdoms come and kingdoms go. Christ's kingdom is forever. It is the rock hewn out of the mountain that strikes at the feet of the statue, crumbles it to the ground, and then becomes the mountain that fills the earth. I'm glad it's not my job is not to prop up this world's system. As author James Baldwin remarked, "I'm optimistic about the future, but not the future of this civilization. I'm optimistic about the civilization which will replace this one."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Communication isn't what it used to be. My mother kept my grandmother updated with letters (sent one of those lately?). My father used to complain about the length of our phone calls. Now we have Facebook, email, texting, blogs and Twitter (where you can send periodic "tweets" about your day). I contend that there is still nothing that beats a face to face conversation, when you get to enjoy one of those. But those conversations can actually be enhanced digitally. Here's how:

1. Speed. When you stay in touch digitally, you can more quickly catch up personally. Instead of having nothing to talk about, or fiddling around and wasting precious time with the "What's up?....Nothing much really" conversations, you can get right to the heart of life: "I saw that you are getting baptized this weekend" or "What's this about your kid getting a CT scan?" Now we're talking! Our friends have done us the favor of providing the topic. Now we can engage, share and pray with each other.

2. Depth. When you stay in touch digitally, you can take your personal conversations deeper. In an ironic twist, people are more apt to share something significant in a blog posting than they will across a coffee table. The sense of anonymity and safety that comes when you are hiding behind a computer screen can seduce you into a vulnerability that is unusual. How many times have you heard a concerning report about someone and thought, "I just saw them and they didn't say anything about that!" With digital, there's a greater likelihood that you'll know the skinny.

3. Constancy. When you stay in touch digitally you can avoid long intervals without any contact. With the various digital outlets, you can maintain at least a trickle of information between personal visits. This reduces the need to get "caught up" and allows you to both talk about the present more than the past when you see each other. My sister uses the phrase "ambient awareness" to describe the benefit she receives by being connected to others on Facebook.

The digital revolution is not a very good replacement for face to face community, but it is a pretty good enhancement to it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Jesus not only came to save us from our sin, but to teach us how to live. Some have called their commitment to Jesus' teaching being a "red-letter Christian" (red-letter edition bibles highlight the words of Christ in red). The most extensive record of Jesus' teaching comes from the Sermon on the Mount. In that message Jesus said:

- You have to have the right spirit to make it into God’s kingdom.

- Even if you go through tough times here, you are going to be all right, because you’re looking forward to heaven anyway.

- To a certain extent you need to stick out in this world, like salt, or a light on a hill, so that other people can see the difference.

- God is mostly interested in what is going on inside of us…..that’s why the ante is going up, from not just murdering someone, to not even hating someone; and from not committing adultery, to not even looking lustfully at a woman.

- If you are wanting to do something religious, but remember that you have a conflict with someone else, go resolve the conflict first (this is first priority) – try to solve these conflicts without going to court.

- You may have to take drastic action to keep from succumbing to temptation….do what you need to do

- Divorce is sometimes the only thing that can be done, but if people are breaking up for reasons less than that, I’m not just going to hold them accountable, but anyone else who enters into that relationship and shouldn’t be there.

- Don’t get into swearing and oaths, just make sure your yes is a yes, and your no is a no.

- If people are going to take advantage of you, so be it. Go the extra mile, turn the other cheek (God’s keeping track).

- Don’t just love the people who are easy to love…anybody can do that. – love like God loves, regardless of how much they deserve it.

- Don’t be a performer with your good deeds….if that is your intent, you’ve already got your applause. The people who are going to get my applause are people who were willing to serve without recognition, and pray without anybody knowing.

- When you pray to me, address me as your father….then ask for what you need – everything from the food you need for that day, to forgiveness.

- Remember that the stuff of this world is temporal and temporary – it’s either going to rust, rot, or be stolen. The stuff that they can’t take away, is the stuff you should invest your life in.

- Don’t worry so much about physical things – I’m taking care of the birds with no worries….I’ll take care of you.

- If you are going to be the judge of others, be careful. I may just turn around and use the exact same standards to judge you.

- If you ask me for something, know that I’m going to give you my best. I’m not going to withhold what you need. You can count on that.

- If in doubt about how to treat others, ask yourself this question: “How would I want to be treated if I was them?”

- Not everyone is going to be able to stay on this path. It’s hard. It will be easier for people to go down the same path as everyone else. But the path I’m laying out actually leads you somewhere.

- You can tell a lot about what’s inside of people by what you see come out of them (kind of like fruit on a tree). Just keep watching….you’ll see.

- There are going to be some folks who in the end will stand before me and act like they were my buddies all along. I’ll wish they had been. I’m going to put it straight to them, and honor the choice they made to live their life without me.

- Be careful about what kind of life you are actually building. Some buildings don’t stand up when the storm comes. Make sure you build on the right foundation.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Resentments. Don't have any big ones. But lately the Lord has been revealing to me that I may have a thousand little ones.

With a men's group I've been going through the workbook "Twelve Steps - A Spiritual Journey." There is a section in that book that states "Resentment is an underlying cause of many forms of spiritual disease. our mental and physical ills are frequently the direct result of this unhealthy condition. No doubt others have harmed us, and we have a legitimate right to feel resentful. However, resentment doesn't punish anyone but ourselves. We can't hold resentments and find healing at the same time. It's best released by asking God for the strength to forgive the offender. Learning to deal with resentment in a healthy way is an important part of our recovery process." As I reflected on that statement, I was satisfied that I am not harboring any big resentments at this stage in my life. But I felt the Holy Spirit speak to me, "Little ones count too."

When we resent we may be feeling injured, violated, left out, angry or bitter. The ministry is filled with opportunities for these feelings to arise. Remember how Jesus asked us to "take up a cross" and follow Him? Yup. It's going to be painful. Remember how Paul spoke of "the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings"? Uh-huh. Some of us have the wounds to show for it.

In Iran they still do stonings for political dissidents and criminals. They bury the person so that only their shoulders, neck and head are above the ground. Then the government provides special-sized rocks for the public to throw. Not just any rock will do. If the rock is too big, it could kill the person immediately and ruin the stoning. If the rock were too small, it might not inflict sufficient damage and pain. I never really thought before about the art of stoning someone, but it makes sense when you think about it.

Sometimes ministry can feel like death by a thousand cuts. You might think back over the criticisms, the departures, the disappointments and find that they were just the right size. Not big enough to kill you. Not small enough to shrug off. The perfect size to cause you maximum pain short of death. Go ahead and feel it. Then let it go.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


Would groups be better off without a defined leader?

You hear sometimes about "leaderless organizations." I'm not buying it. Oh, I agree that there are leaderless organizations! I just don't buy that they are going anywhere, or that this is what we want. Everything rises and falls with leadership.

There is much being written these days about collaboration and teamwork. Truly, there is nothing more exciting than seeing a group of people come together to accomplish something extraordinary. But make no mistake. There are no great teams out there without great point guards, quarterbacks, coaches or captains. Leadership is to a group what a spark is to a flame.

One of my earliest memories helped me define leadership. The little Alaskan church I attended as a boy called a new pastor after a protracted vacancy. The church lacked morale and momentum. We were occupying a half-finished church building, having run out of funds to complete the project. The surroundings were crude – floors without carpets, unfinished walls, rudimentary furnishings. Our numbers were small. But the first action of the new pastor put in motion a virtuous cycle. He removed the makeshift communion table (a flimsy garage sale castoff) from the front of the church and raised money for a solid, wooden one. It was a symbolic act, but a powerful one. As a boy looking on, this made quite an impression on me. It was a microcosm of leadership. He saw what needed to be done and he did what needed to be done.

CTK takes a different approach to leadership in a couple respects. First, we see the role as more important than most. Second, we see the personality as less important than most. So we differ, not in regard to leadership's importance, but its implementation. We want to be a leaderful organization. We just don't want to be leader-dependent or leader-focused.

There is no question that leaders are sometimes self-absorbed, domineering jerks. But in an effort to avoid that distasteful possibility, we don't want to throw out the baby with the bath water. We still need leaders. They just have to be humble, servant leaders instead of pompous, selfish ones.