Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Chuck Colson on Community... & the Church

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.

Here's why.

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

Best. Family. Christmas. Movie. Ever.

Highly recommended! We'll be quoting it for days... again...

"He must be a South Pole elf."

"I'm a cotton-headed ninnymuggins!"

"I think you're really beautiful and I feel really warm when I'm around you and my tongue swells up... So... do you wanna eat food?"

"Why are you smiling like that?" ... "I just like to smile! Smiling's my favorite." ... "Make work your favorite. That's your new favorite."

"I want to make shoes!"

"He's an angry elf."

"You did it! Congratulations! World's best cup of coffee! Great job, everybody! It's great to be here."

"You sit on a throne of lies!"

"This, is the North Pole." ... "No it isn't." ... "Yes it is." ... "No it isn't." ... "Yes it is!" ... "No it's not. Where's the snow?"

"Watch out, the yellow ones don't stop."

Friday, November 25, 2011

Night of Prayer for the Persecuted Church

In Hebrews 13.1, the church is given this command: "Let brotherly love continue."

In the next verse this command meets its first concrete application: hospitality.

In verse three it meets its second concrete application: "Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body."

A few weeks ago DPC gathered on a Lord's Day evening to enter into a Night of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Why would we do that in our day? Many people don't realize or think about it, but THIS is The Age of Martyrs. Not back when the Romans used Christians as lion food, but now. More Christians were killed for their faith in the 20th Century than in the previous 19 Christian centuries combined.

Do yourself a favor. Make a donation to The Voice of the Martyrs. And with that donation request that they send you their magazine. Get yourself informed. Pray. Remember those who are in prison. Remember those who are mistreated. Remember that you also (if you are a believer) are in the same body.

Consider this short piece that Suzanne Eller wrote in 2001...

"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 are
burned 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 stomachs

Another 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

Giving of Thanks

I am thankful for such an experience in this life that literally everywhere I lay my hand I am touching a blessing from God.

I am thankful for a wise and wonderful and beautiful wife whom I do not deserve.

I am thankful for three sons and two daughters who -- by the grace of God -- are following Christ with the sincerity of a child-like faith and yet with the joyfully confident aspirations of a maturing faith.

I am thankful for a loving broader family, of whom we have the pleasure of spending this Thanksgiving holiday with many.

I am thankful for the amazing church that it is my honor and privilege to pastor in Decatur, Alabama.

I am thankful for true and steadfast friends who look past my faults with the eyes of kindness and goodness.

I am thankful for the gift of health and strength in which I can enjoy this delightful world that is constantly singing the glory of its Maker.

I am thankful for the gospel / good news of my King's triumph over sin and death, in which I am not treated as my sins deserve. Rather, I am treated as a beloved son of God for all eternity, world without end.

I am thankful for the forgiveness of my sins in this life and for the hope of a world in which pure, undiluted righteousness dwells in the next life.

I am thankful for the awesome mystery and beautiful simplicity of the Triune God -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -- who has revealed Himself to us all in world and Word and wonder.

I am thankful that as I trust this God I can know that even the trials of this life are intended for my ultimate good (James 1.2-4).

I am thankful for godly teachers whom God has gifted to reliably point us to Him. Enjoy this little quote from C.S. Lewis' book Mere Christianity...

"If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and help others do the same."

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Calvary's View

Recently we had a wonderfully-gifted man in the congregation (an ordained pastor in our denomination, currently ministering through Hospice) preach a sermon that dealt with many of the profound mysteries of the faith.

One of the newer members of the church family was so moved by the sermon & the thoughts it spurred on in her that she went home and wrote a poem that was born of those reflections. I asked her if I could post it here...

Christine Rowlette

dedicated to my daughter, eleanna

Unable to hold up His head any longer
He slowly drops His chin, allowing tired shoulders to slump.
A cry of agony escapes with precious breath.
The weight of His body tearing hands and feet once more.

Blood trickles down His forehead – into compassionate eyes.
The sting stirs Him to once more lift His face to Heaven.
Warm liquid streaming down cold cheeks onto His neck
brings a faint smile to His taut face.
Dry lips crack once more.
Blinking to clear His eyes, His vision pans across the disbelieving crowd
all of whom now stand, as this “King of the Jews”
gives each face an enduring, piercing look.

As I gaze on the multitude, I behold unparalleled events.

With mystery and wonder, His strength seems renewed.
His breathing less labored
His expression speaks compassion, shouts mercy, and proclaims grace.
Tenderness flows from His eyes into theirs
and after His gaze, their faces are luminous
their conduct transformed.

I stand amazed
I stand still
I hide in the shadows
hoping not to capture His vision.

Focusing again on the happenings around me
my eyes lock on one small group of people gathered near Him.
Why has He overlooked them?
He has not even given them notice,
yet they seem to be the most subdued
pierced to the very core of their being
hearts mourning earnestly, but quietly.

Others stand jeering, mocking, laughing
Despising this man, who, by others beside Him
has been declared innocent of any wrong.

Why then such love?
Why such impassioned venom?

Inexplicable conflict
A clashing blend of harmony
Integrated contrast
A choral arrangement for one
The orchestra plays on.

One final look to the group huddled near.
Did I hear Him say ‘Mother’?
Seconds seem like hours
Then again, hours were but minutes.

Remember this.
Remember this.
I stare at the silhouette before me
etching the scene in my mind
Repeating over and over again
Never forget Calvary’s view
Never forget Calvary’s view

Suddenly I find myself drawn…
driven to survey His face.
Closer…come closer.
Forgetting all others,
oblivious to all
His eyes meet mine

Weary, yet firm. Exhausted, yet steadfast.
His face absorbs me.
His pain softens me.

Unspoken words ring out

Three final words
‘It is finished’
all is complete.
finally, over too soon.

Dark and dreary, gloom permeates the air
A moonless, starless, sunless sky
Wind whirls, thunder rolls, rain falls

Unexpressed emotions now cripple me

Deafening silence
Tears flow, hearts break
A roaring peace settles.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Lifecycle of Pastors, by Thom Rainer

Someone just pointed me to this brief study on The Lifecycle of Pastors by Thom Rainer. Some good thoughts here. I think pastoral cycles are just one of the ways that God is always bringing development and maturity to his church... sometimes that's fun for the pastor & everyone else, sometimes it's not... but it's always good if we're all keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.

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

Welcome Sophie-Paige!

Welcome to Sophie-Paige, who was born yesterday morning around 8:25 am! She weighed 5 pounds, 14 ounces, and she was measured at 18 inches. I just visited her, and she's beautiful! In the picture to the left she's being loved on by her big brother Jack.

"Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward."
~Psalm 127.3

Gardiner Spring -- a Presbyterian pastor who died in 1873 -- once said this about these little images of God:

"The poorest, the weakest, the simplest child, is born for immortality. This value outweighs the entire material universe, no matter how small a mark this child makes on it. The tiniest infant owns a deathless intellect, and is as immortal as the Father of spirits. No one can tell what this child will become."

We're glad to meet you, Sophie-Paige!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Presby Dunking Booths

DPC hosted a great Fall Festival a couple of weeks ago. It was awesome! Thanks to everyone who helped put it together. It was a wonderful night with the neighbors.

But I do not thank those who threw balls at the "dunking booth." That water was COLD.

More pics from the Fall Festival may be forthcoming... if I can get them.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Chuck Colson on Crime-Fighting Fathers

Courageous Fatherhood
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.