As Mississippi State heads into its BCS bowl appearance today, I'm remembering something from a couple of days ago...
Friday, December 30, 2011
As Mississippi State heads into its BCS bowl appearance today, I'm remembering something from a couple of days ago...
Thursday, December 29, 2011
Restore Our Fortunes, O LORD
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
"It would be easy to leave our church right now. Things are difficult and it is not easy to persevere through difficulties; it is not attractive to come to a church that is having difficulties. But churches [that] are working through difficulties... are the true churches of Christ... If we do not have problems then we are either not dealing with reality or God has been exceptionally gracious. Problems are normal."
"Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For,'Yet a little while,and the coming one will come and will not delay;but my righteous one shall live by faith,and if he shrinks back,my soul has no pleasure in him.'But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls."
Monday, December 26, 2011
I love what Pastor George Grant has to say about children in worship in the paragraphs below. This is pretty much exactly my theology... & philosophy... & even methodology.
After worshipping with us at Parish the first few times, people will often comment on how delightful, among many other things, are the sights and sounds of our "lively family atmosphere" and our wiggling, squirming, and murmuring children. These are the sights and sounds of life. These are the sights and sound of the past meeting the future. And these are the sights and sounds of authentic community and covenantal worship. Indeed, these are what Charles Spurgeon once called, "the sweet sights and sounds of a holy hubbub."At Parish we want to be very careful never to smother out that "holy hubbub." That necessarily means that we very much want our children in the midst of us during worship. We want them to learn to worship by watching their parents, siblings, friends, and covenant family members worship.Sometimes that may mean that things will get just a little distracting. Sometimes it may mean that a mom or a dad (or perhaps a grandmom or uncle or sister or next door neighbor) will have to slip out the back and into the foyer for a little "time out". But, this is what life in the Kingdom should look and sound like.So, we are happy to embrace our children in our services--even as we are sensitive to and considerate of all those around us. We will encourage families to worship together--whenever possible and practical. We want to graciously, invitingly, and purposefully help our covenant children to learn of the beauty, goodness, and truth of the Gospel as they approach the throne of grace with all the rest of us in the Body of Christ.So, bring on the "wiggling, squirming, and murmuring."
Thursday, December 22, 2011
If you're in Decatur on Christmas Eve at 6:30 pm, I hope you'll join us for DPC's Candlelight Christmas Eve service. After six Christmas readings (read by various members of the church family) & six Christmas songs, I'll briefly tell one of the greatest stories in all of world history illustrating how God's drawing near to us in Jesus brings peace out of conflict.
Saturday, December 17, 2011
British bishop N. T. Wright says there are such markers; he calls them “Echoes of a Voice.” He says, “I'm talking about voices that I believe virtually all human beings, in virtually all cultures, listen for and know, but are puzzled by.”
Wright shared his views at a New York City gathering called Socrates in the City — arranged by my friend and colleague Eric Metaxas, author of the amazing biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Metaxas put the Socrates in the City meetings together to help sophisticated New Yorkers think about the bigger questions of life. I’ve spoken there twice, and they’re great.
Referring to C. S. Lewis, Bishop Wright says the first “echo of a voice” has to do with an understanding of justice. Even the youngest child is aware of this — which is why, if you spend any time on a playground, you'll hear cries of “That's not fair!”
Adults have this same awareness; we make endless efforts to create justice around the world, but tragically, in a fallen world, we so often fail.
The second “echo” has to do with spirituality. Go into a bookstore, Wright says, and you'll find a “spirituality” section that covers everything from New Age teachings to Buddhism.
These books represent the haunting “sense that there are more dimensions to life that what you can put in a test tube or a bank balance ... So this, too,” he notes, “is like an echo of a voice, a voice that is calling us to a different dimension of human life. We all know — unless we shut our ears to this voice — that we were made for multidimensional human living.”
The third echo has to do with relationships. We sense that we are made for one another, and yet, we constantly mess up these relationships, both on a personal and international level. We all sense that living in chaos, relationally speaking, is not the way things are supposed to be.
The fourth echo is beauty. But Wright says there is “a haunting quality to [beauty], as though it's not just complete in itself.” This phenomenon is, he says, “a signpost to a larger truth that is just around the corner, just out of sight. We can't grip it, can't get our hands on it. It's as though we're hearing the echo of a voice, and we'd love to hear whose that voice is and what story it's telling.”
It's impossible to run an experiment and “prove” the existence of God. But when we are discussing with unbelievers the question of whether God exists, what we can do is bring up those “echoes of a voice,” or signposts. After all, these are universal human experiences, Wright says, “which at least raise a puzzle, ask a question, and force us to confront issues” — issues that point to the existence of a holy God. I’ve devoted several chapters to these human yearnings in my book The Good Life.
In order to reach a larger audience with messages like this, Eric Metaxas has put together some of the best of the Socrates in the City talks in a book titled, appropriately enough, Socrates in the City. It features talks by Peter Kreeft, Sir John Polkinghorne, Alister McGrath, Os Guiness, and others, including mine.
I highly recommend it as a Christmas gift, especially for unsaved friends. You can order it at our bookstore at BreakPoint.org, and you can also order my book, The Good Life.
It will help you identify the mysterious daily markers of life for what they are: cosmic signposts to the living God.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
After an opening illustration about a confusing jumble of a jigsaw puzzle -- in which you have no edge pieces to provide borders & boundaries... oh, and someone's thrown in similar-looking pieces from a different puzzle that just won't fit this puzzle no matter how hard you try to force them... and by the way you have no picture on the box cover to go by, etc. -- this is what Tim Kimmell says about parenting in the first few pages of his book Grace Based Parenting:
"I have just described the job of raising children. You labor for many years to put the right pieces all together, but when your children grow up, they often don't resemble what you thought you were creating. Even with the disappointments, however, raising children is still the greatest thing you'll ever do. It's greater than any milestone you can hit in your career. It dwarfs any fame you may receive for your ideas or your inventions. You've been handed a piece of history in advance -- a gracious gift you send to a time you will not see -- and you play the biggest role in how that history will ultimately be recorded. That's why, in spite of the challenges, you need to have a plan for parenting that works."
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
- Only Jesus comes into this world to save us. He enters into this world as both God and man, living the life we should have lived (perfect obedience to the Father) and dying the death we should have died (under God's curse for sin). Thus he alone gets us out of the pit.
- All the other systems have this in common: YOU are the person responsible for getting yourself out of the pit... YOU are the person responsible for salvation. Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Islam, atheism -- they are all forms of self-help, self-salvation, self-rescue. With Christianity, the person who does the work of salvation is Not You. It is Jesus. Not you. That's a huge and evident contrast. Who rescues you?
- In all the other religions, the pressure for "right practice" is upon your shoulders. If you get it all right all the time, you might get out of the pit. If not, you won't. Everything is staked on your thoughts, your beliefs, your actions, your obedience, your record. The pressure on you is enormous. In the gospel, the pressure is all on Jesus, completely on Jesus. You are rescued by his thoughts, his beliefs, his actions, his obedience, and his record.
- Here's a huge difference... In all there other religions, this is the order of events: You perform (obey, think, do, etc.) and THEN you might get out of the pit. It's always your obedience that is leveraging your acceptance, your salvation. In the gospel it's just the opposite: Jesus performs. He delivers. He gets you out of the pit. THEN you obey. You don't obey in order to be rescued; you obey out of love, because he has rescued you. Your obedience doesn't leverage a thing. It's merely a response of genuine gratitude, because of what Jesus has done.
- That last point makes a universe of difference in how you live. IF you are thinking right & doing right & obeying right & doing all things right IN ORDER TO HELP YOURSELF... then, for whom are you doing what you're doing? You're doing it for you. To help and to love and to serve you.
- But with Christianity, you're already rescued. You're already delivered. You've already been brought out of the pit. And now when you "do right" -- give to the poor, sacrificially love someone else, welcome the marginalized, fix the injustice -- you're not doing it for you. You're doing it for God. And for other people. In the gospel you've already been saved. So now you're not giving to you. You're giving to others.
- Therefore... Christianity is the only religion that can set us free from bondage to self. Only the gospel can break us out of being self-centered and make us God-centered and others-centered. Yes, it's just that radically different.
Saturday, December 3, 2011
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
The Individual and the Internet
The Quest for Community
by Chuck Colson
Man was made to live in community. In Genesis 2, we're told it's not good for man to be alone. And in a classical world the worst punishment was to be banished from society, because you had no meaning once you were.
Our founders in America created a country that respected individual rights and liberties, but always in the context of the people. And the people united in communities and associations, which secured individual rights from an otherwise all-powerful government.
So you had a balance. And in the context of those communities, we prospered like no other nation on earth. Tocqeuville when he came to America praised the civic virtue of Americans -- their collective self-reliance in building hospitals, schools, churches, etc. But in recent times, not only in America but throughout the Western World, "individual autonomy," the code word of modern liberalism, has become ascendant outside the context of community. And not surprisingly, as radical individualism grew, the power of government grew as well, especially in the 20th Century.
Robert Nisbet argued in his 1953 book, The Quest for Community, that radical individualism caused communities to break down. Family, church, clubs, groups, associations, that came between the individual and the state, all weakened in the face of this desire for individual autonomy. So it's no wonder we've witnessed an explosive growth in government over the last fifty years. But as face-to-face communities decline, people are flocking to virtual, online communities. Many see these as "communities for a new generation."
A recent conference revisited Nisbet's ideas in light of online communities. The results were not encouraging.
Christine Rosen, senior editor of The New Atlantis, noted that in a face-to-face community, I come as I am. In virtual communities I come as the image I want to project. The resulting interaction is too tame to be called community. Instead, as Wheaton College professor Read Schuchardt added, we end up with narcissistic groups of false selves.
Rosen acknowledged that in the online world we may have more friends than we could have in face-to-face community. But the quality of those friendships is so poor that sociologists have coined the phrase “migratory friendships” to describe digital friends who have lots of information about each other, but don’t actually know each other.
The hard work of genuine community has been outsourced, she said, to technology -- so we become the product of our technology, shaping our image to meet the demands of the market.
Well, what are we to make of this? Virtual communities cannot replace real, face-to-face communities. They can't perform the function of providing meaning and fellowship in the same way. And they certainly can't serve as intermediate structures between the individual and an all-powerful government. Virtual community is really no substitute for the real thing.
For the sake of our well being and freedom as men and women created not to be alone, it is so vital now that the church be a catalyst for rebuilding real communities in a very real way.
Sunday, November 27, 2011
Highly recommended! We'll be quoting it for days... again...
Friday, November 25, 2011
"It is inconceivable to think someone would kill in a house of worship," Janet Reno said after seven people were fatally shot by 47-year-old Larry Gene Ashbrook at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Forth Worth, Texas. Think again, Janet.More Christians have been killed for their faith in the 20th century than have been martyred in the total history of Christianity. As you sit in a comfortable pew and worship this beautiful Sunday morning, there are Christian men, women, and children in sixty countries around the world who are imprisoned, tortured, and sold into slavery for the same privilege.In the last six months, more than 25 evangelical pastors have been killed and up to 300 churches destroyed in Colombia. In January of this year, Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons Philip and Timothy were brutally murdered. In Sudan, Christians are sold into slavery. In Sri Lanka, churches areburned and pastors fear for their lives.A few months ago, members of Voice of the Martyrs, founded by Richard Wurmbrand, who was imprisoned for fourteen years for his participation in the Romanian underground church, traveled to Sudan, Vietnam, and Indonesia to film testimonies. Their first interview was with a group of young boys whose village had been attacked by Islamic soldiers. The elderly and infants were killed on the spot. Twenty-seven children, 14 boys and 13 girls, were taken to a military camp about 9 miles from their village. That evening, the boy's hands and feet were tied behind their backs and they were ordered to deny Christ. Each refused. Burning coals were piled on the ground in front of the boys. As they refused to deny their faith, they were held over the burning embers. Still, they refused to deny their faith. The older boys escaped that night and were placed in a refugee camp. The younger boys died. No one knows what happened to the girls. These boys lifted their dirty shirts and showed the terrible scars on their stomachsAnother Sudanese Christian named Alex stopped the crew and begged for a Bible. He had been praying for two years to receive a Bible. He shared that in his village, there was one Bible for 200 believers. A difficult concept for American Christians who own several Bibles, which might be carelessly tossed under the bed or lie unread on the shelf. ...
Thursday, November 24, 2011
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Saturday, November 19, 2011
Almost twenty years ago, I began to note that the tenure of a pastor often follows a predictable pattern. Now, almost two decades later, I still see many of the same patterns, though I have refined the categories and time spans a bit.
I fully understand that these categories are not definitive, and there will certainly be exceptions to the rule. Nevertheless, I offer this lifecycle as a guide that I hope will prove useful to both pastors and congregations alike.
Honeymoon: Years 0 to 1
The new pastor is perceived to be the answer to all the needs and the problems of the church. He is often viewed as a hero because he is not his predecessor. Though some of his faults begin to show during this period, he is often given a pass. Expectations are high that he will be molded into the image that each congregant would like to have.
Crisis: Years 1 to 3
It is now apparent that the pastor is fully human. He has not lived up to the precise expectations of many of the members. This phase includes a number of conflicts and struggles. Indeed it is the most common time that pastors choose to leave the church or they are force terminated. This single epoch of a pastoral tenure contributes more to short tenures than any other time.
Realignment: Years 3 to 5
The number of crises begins to abate, though they do not disappear altogether. It is at this time that more and more new members come under the tenure of the new pastor. Some of the dissidents have left the church or the community. There is a realignment of loyalty and expectations of the pastor. Thus he is able to lead more effectively, and began to see some more productive years as pastor of the church.
Growth: Years 5 to 10
Not all pastors have productive and joyous ministries in this period, but many do. It is not unusual for the congregation to begin to appreciate the pastor more and to follow his leadership with greater enthusiasm. Many of the battles have already been fought; and many of the conflicts have been resolved. The pastor and the entire congregation are ready to move forward in more productive ministry for the glory of God.
Mystery: Years 10 and Beyond
There are relatively few pastors and congregations that continue their relationships beyond a period of one decade. Thus any perspective I have of long-term pastorates is inconclusive and limited. I am confident, however, that if we see more and more pastors entering their tenth year of ministry and beyond, we will see more productive and fruitful ministries in local churches across the nation.
The Quest Continues
The topic of pastoral tenure fascinates me. I see significant correlation between ministry effectiveness and longer pastoral tenure, though there are certainly exceptions to the rule. I do hope that we will do a more comprehensive and objective study of this important issue in the future.
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Monday, November 7, 2011
Thursday, November 3, 2011
by Chuck Colson
These men fight crime, maintain justice, and protect the most vulnerable in society. No, they don’t patrol the streets in squad cars or wear uniforms or badges (at least not the majority). But their job isn’t all that different from the job of law enforcement.
I’m talking about fathers and the roles they’re called to fulfill. The comparison is the theme of a new movie from Sherwood Pictures, the makers of Fireproof and Facing the Giants – actually a Baptist church doing a great job getting these kinds of films into popular culture.
It’s called Courageous, getting a real buzz in the Christian world deservedly, but what really strikes me about it is the lesson it teaches about something I’ve been working on for 35 years: those with the most power to prevent crime are dads.
The film is about four cops in Albany, Georgia, who do what cops do best: they deal on a daily basis with carjackings, gang violence, drug-running and shootings. They put on their badges, protect and serve. It takes courage, and they uphold their duty no matter what.
But when it comes time to head home, these same men find themselves lacking as fathers. Two have lost touch with their teenage children, one is divorced and hardly sees his son, and the other secretly abandoned his pregnant girlfriend after college.
These men don’t seem to notice their failures until tragedy strikes one of them. Realizing how little time they truly have with their children, these fathers decide to set it straight: They pledge to embrace the principles of biblical fatherhood, and live as courageously at home as they do at work.
The producers emphasize the connection between the failure of the fathers and crime. In a particularly chilling scene, a young man, as part of his initiation into the gang, allows his fellow members to beat him senseless before hugging them and calling them “family.”
“If fathers just did what they were supposed to do,” says one of the cops, “half the junk we face on the streets wouldn’t exist.”
Right! For 35 years working in the prisons, I’ve come to realize that the standard liberal theories about what causes crime — poverty, racism, environment — they’re dead wrong.
Our prison systems are full of people who never had the example of a courageous father — or any father at all. Over 70 percent of long-term prison inmates come from broken homes, and young men raised in fatherless households are at least twice as likely to be incarcerated as those from intact families.
One of the biggest reasons why I started BreakPoint 20 years ago was to sound the alarm to the culture. Worldview matters, as families break down, prisons fill up. As my colleague Shane Morris points out in his review of Courageous on our website, biblical fatherhood deals with crime at its source.
In the movie, this teaching takes the form of twelve commitments within a Resolution for fathers. You can read them by clicking on today’s commentary at BreakPoint.org. Then, I hope you’ll go see Courageous, and — if you’re a father — sign the Resolution within own your family.
Take it from someone who has witnessed the destruction of failed fathers for over three decades: You’ve got a duty to your children. And you can change the course of their lives and society.And if you haven’t been the father you’ve wanted to be, it’s not too late to start. Sign that Resolution today and change your ways.
Friday, October 28, 2011
Thursday, October 27, 2011
Remember the scene? Allow me to quote from Part I of this series (which can be read in its entirety to clicking HERE):
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Monday, October 24, 2011
Friday, October 21, 2011
I have sat in the front row of church now for many years, in all the different locations our church has met in, including a body shop back in the early years. (In those days the men had to move the cars, hose down the floors, and set up the folding chairs!) Lately I have been reflecting on the front row, with some practical and some symbolic thoughts about it.
First of all, in secular events, front row seats are prized. Think about concerts and sporting events: the front row seats are the most coveted seats. But at church, many people shy away from the front row. Now I’m not talking about a conference with a big-name speaker up in front. At that kind of event, the front rows are taken. I’m talking about church. (And I suppose, if a worship service is conducted like a concert or spectator sport, the front rows might be crowded.) But how often do most folks shy away from sitting in the front row Sunday morning? And why do they do that? What’s the difference between a rock concert and a worship service? A whole lot, that’s what.
Now from a human level, when you are the speaker, it’s difficult to speak over three or four empty rows. One of the duties of the speaker is to overcome the rhetorical distance so he or she can connect with the audience. But at church, the saints are not an audience; they are worshipers. But if the minister has to preach over a few empty rows, it is more of a challenge than if he has a crowded front row.
The front row is the most vulnerable spot in church. Not only are you under the pastor’s eye, but the rest of the congregation can watch you from the back. It’s much more comfortable in an obscure back row seat. The front row can make you feel like you are exposed. At a concert or a football game, this is not the case. Worship is when we meet with the living God, so it’s tempting to draw back.
But let’s look at this from a spiritual or symbolic angle. When we sit in the front row, we are crowding in to meet with God, eager to be near Him, hungry for His word. Consider these verses:
“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8).
“It is good for me to draw near to God. I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all thy works” (Psalm 73:28).
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13).
When we sit in the front row (or rows), we are drawing near to God. We are near the pulpit and near the table, eager to receive the Word, hungry for the bread and the wine. We are drawing near to God so He will draw near to us.
An empty front row suggests fear. Or apathy. It could also come from a false sense of politeness: Who am I to sit in the front row? But we are invited to come, so we should crowd in!
Of course we could sit in the front row for all the wrong reasons, and we could sit in the back for all the right reasons. But my point is this: feeling vulnerable isn’t bad. Draw near to God. Sit near the pulpit. Crowd in. Be eager to be fed.
We worship with our bodies: “Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1). We worship with our bodies, and this certainly includes where we put them. This implies a glad surrender, a sweet resignation to God.
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Fighting for Family Dinners
by Chuck Colson
The dangers facing young people today are many: premarital sex, drug abuse, suicide, and dropping out among them. And if you listen to the “experts,” there are no easy answers for protecting our kids. And of course they are right. But saying there are no easy answers is entirely different from saying there are noanswers.
I believe there is something moms and dads, aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers can do and start doing it tonight — that’s right — tonight — to make a real difference in the lives of our young people. It’s time to reclaim the family dinner.
I’m not saying this out of some kind of nostalgia for Ozzie and Harriet and the supposedly golden age of the 1950s. Families had problems back then, too. But I think a lot of families back then knew something many of us have forgotten: That it’s good to sit down together for a meal.
The dinner table is not only where we share good food and drink. It is also where we share our values, what happened to us during the day — the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s where we ask questions and learn from each other. In a relaxed atmosphere we can talk about our faith. The dinner table can be a great refuge from life’s hard knocks and stresses.
That’s not just my opinion. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University finds that teens who have dinner with their parents three or fewer times per week are four times more likely to smoke, twice as likely to drink, two-and-a-half times more likely to smoke marijuana, and four times as likely to say they will use drugs in the future as those who eat dinner five to seven times a week with their parents.
These findings mirror the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health, which is the largest longitudinal study ever done on adolescents. This study has some amazing statistics. Of twelve to fourteen year olds who don’t experience family dinners at least five days a week, 14 percent report drinking more than once a month. That’s kids twelve to fourteen. But for those who have family dinners, it’s cut to 7 percent!
Also, 27 percent of twelve to fourteen year olds who don’t have regular family dinners say they think about suicide, compared with only 8 percent of those who do eat with their families. Among seventeen to nineteen year olds, 68 percent without the influence of family dinners have had sex, versus 49 percent of those who have had family dinners.
I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Family dinners are vital — not just for food but for bonding and learning.
Now you’ll say: “Okay, having dinner with my kids is a good idea, but we’re just too busy.” Friend, believe me, I understand. In many homes, both parents work and have little time to cook food, let alone go to the supermarket and shop for it, and then clean up. And let’s face it: Our kids are just as busy as we are.
And look, I understand, instituting a welcoming and relaxing culture in the kitchen or dining room can seem daunting. Family dinners take planning, cooperation, and work. Your kids might protest at the new routine — at least at first. That’s okay. They will likely come to love it.
Get started, and see what works for you. But don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Twice a week is better than none.And I bet you’ll find being together as satisfying as a steak dinner with mashed potatoes and gravy. Bon appetit!