Posts Tagged ‘blog’

So the original goal for this blog was to do four or five posts a week. And for several months, we did it. Then, in January, and for no particular reason, we just stopped. Sort of like Forest Gump.

We restart this week with a more realistic goal: one, maybe two regular posts a week. Plus the return of Idiot Friday. We’ll try to be topical and journalistic with most posts. It’s easy, and sometimes fun, to sit at a keyboard and ruminate. But, as a journalist friend of mine said last week, the real stories require real reporting. We’ll try to do that whenever possible.

Speaking of which: The people of tornado-ravaged Alabama and Georgia need your prayers and, if you are available, your help. Lincoln is accompanying a TouchGlobal team to Madison, Ala., where he’ll be reporting this week on relief efforts.

The church is often maligned – sometimes deservedly so – for being out of touch. But it’s interesting how after a major disaster it’s the churches who are among those rushing to the scene. And then they keep going there, long after the public’s attention has turned elsewhere. I’ve had the unbelievable privilege of helping with relief efforts in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Ask people in those places what they think of Christians, and you’ll get a very different response than if you asked the question in too-comfortable suburbia.

More to come this week.


Costly Faith

Posted: January 11, 2011 by Jim Killam in church culture, missions, persecution
Tags: , , , ,

What if your faith cost you something? I mean, what if it really cost you something … like your sense of safety, or even your life?

On new Year’s Eve, as a worship service ended, a suicide bomber struck a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria, Egypt, killing 21 people and injuring about 100. The video above shows some of the aftermath.

Christmas on the Coptic calendar falls on Jan. 7, just a week after the bombing. Across Egypt, churches were packed – even the one that was bombed. According to a Catholic Online story:

Refusing to cower to Islamic terrorists, members of the Coptic Orthodox Church attended Christmas services in droves. An official for Egypt’s Catholic community said, “We fear no one, and nothing will prevent us from going to our churches in this country of the martyrs.”

Elsewhere in the Middle East, Christians are being quietly driven out of Iraq. Others are being arrested in Iran. This NPR story describes the roundup of 70 Christians today in Iran, then makes this observation:

“In the West, the followers are drawn to house churches because of the intimate sense of religious fellowship and as an alternative to established denominations. In places such as Iran, however, there also is the effort to avoid monitoring of sanctioned churches from Islamic authorities — who have kept closer watch on religious minorities since the chaos after hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed election in 2009.

Groups monitoring Christian affairs in the Islamic world say Iranian authorities see the unregulated Christian gatherings as both a potential breeding ground for political opposition and suspect they may try to convert Muslim in violation of Iran’s strict apostasy laws — which are common throughout the Muslim world and have at times fed extremist violence against Christians and others. …

“It’s the nature of the house churches that worries Iran. It’s all about possible converts,” said Fleur Brading, a researcher for Middle East and North Africa at Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a British-based group the follows Christian rights issues around the world. “It’s a very specific and pinpoint strike by Iran.”

 We ignore news stories like these at the risk of alienating ourselves from the heart of God.

It’s so easy here in comfortable, isolated America to approach church as a consumer: This one has good music, but that one has better teaching and kids programs, and I like the coffee better. Persecution to us means people make fun of us or think we’re weird, and that makes us uncomfortable.

Can you imagine any of those Iranian house churches splitting because of disagreements about whether to sing traditional hymns or Chris Tomlin songs? Can you imagine explaining to Egyptian Coptics how their American brethren sometimes don’t attend church because it meets at an inconvenient time?

Better, imagine the faith required to worship in a sanctuary still splattered with the blood of fellow believers. Imagine life with the real possibility of being blown to eternity because you choose to identify with Christ.

At the very least, this could prompt us to spend a little less time praying for our own safety and comfort and more time praying for the persecuted Body of Christ around the world.

Melt Nazis at Your Desk

Posted: January 7, 2011 by Jim Killam in Idiot Friday, pop culture
Tags: , , ,

We’re too late for Christmas, but next time you need a little something special for the person who has everything, we can pretty much guarantee they don’t have this. It’s a miniature Ark of the Covenant for the home or office, it’s only $12.95 and the Archie McPhee company promises “you’ll have no more trouble from Nazi archaeologists if you keep your Ark handy.” It’s not intended for children. Later, though, comes the disclaimer, “Wrath of God not included.”

The web page for this fine product lists other products they think we may like, based on this selection. These include not only the Moses Action Figure, but also a latex stuffed rat, horse head wall decoration and conehead mask. This shapes up as one memorable party.

My kids grew up in a world missions-oriented church. For those with the financial means to go – and that was many in our affluent church – short-term missions trips helped build churches and other facilities around the world – particularly for a sister church in Eastern Europe.

It would be impossible to make a biblical argument argue against foreign missions. Jesus specifically called us to take the gospel to the whole world and make disciples. I think we have to be careful, though, about assuming that sending teens overseas is a sure way to seal their faith.

Sociologist Christian Smith has found that teens who take short-term missions trips are, statistically, no more likely than teens who don’t go to have a strong religious faith after age 18. It’s a proven non-factor (this from a Christianity Today webinar in 2009).

When one of my sons was 16, he went on a two-week missions trip to Scotland. The organization that planned the trip has an impeccable reputation; its leaders love God and care deeply about both the teens they’re traveling with and the people of the cities they visit. The trip represented a significant financial sacrifice for our family, plus months of fundraising from friends and relatives. But foreign missions were a huge part of our church’s culture, and were heavily emphasized in the youth group. We believed this could be a defining time in our son’s life.

“I really wanted to see the world,” my son told me recently. “So for that reason, I’m glad I went. But I felt like I had a quota. There was a certain number of people we were supposed to persuade to make a decision for Christ. While we were there, some people would raise serious questions that I couldn’t answer. And afterwards, a lot of that sank in.”

Five years after that trip, a significant number of people who went on that Scotland trip have either placed their faith on a shelf somewhere or have abandoned Christianity altogether. For my son, for now,  it’s the latter. I don’t place any blame on the organization or its leaders; just as many kids from that trip are solid in their faith today. But I do believe the research: The trip was a nonfactor in predicting what those kids did with their faith as they reached young adulthood.

The real factor, I think, was how real they saw their faith and their churches once they got home.

“High school was terrible,” my son says today of his youth-group experience. “Cliques formed and the leaders seemed OK with that. It was obvious they were separating kids into groups – by their looks, by their attitudes. The problem kids were separated from the others.

“Church is a lot more centered on what you shouldn’t do than about how to cope with life in modern times. Everybody was trying to be something they weren’t. I saw kids who supposedly were the model Christians, from the model families, and they were doing stuff you wouldn’t believe.”

He saw all of that more and more clearly, and he became disillusioned. It’s tough for anyone, let alone a teenager, not to equate a bad experience with church to a bad experience with God. So, when he didn’t like what he saw, he chucked it all.

Knowing what we know today, would we still send our kids on missions trips? I think so. Some offer amazing experiences serving the poor and needy, both in America and abroad. Christ can be far more visible in those situations than here in comfortable, middle-class America. But our expectations would be a lot different.

Proverbs 22:6 says “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”  Honestly, I’ve had a hard time with that verse the past few years. I do know that God is faithful – just not always in a way that’s to my immediate liking.

A church youth group can be the greatest thing in a teen’s spiritual development. For others, that same youth group can send them off the tracks. The same goes for missions trips. We parents wish there were bullet-proof guarantees on our kids’ spiritual lives. I’m here to tell you, there aren’t. At least not that I can see from this vantage point.

One spring day about 20 years ago, I went to Menard’s to buy paneling for a basement project. Then and now, I typically go for the cheapest product available if it looks good in the store. So I chose a wood-grain pattern in $6.99 sheets the approximate thickness of a business card. I loaded the 4-by-8-foot sheets onto one of those raised, flat carts, paid and wheeled everything outside.

I’d forgotten that this was a blustery April day. As soon as I reached the crosswalk between the store and the parking lot, a wind gust of about 40 mph whipped the top sheet of paneling off the cart and sent it sailing just over the heads of two elderly women on their way toward the store.

I don’t know if there are any documented cases of decapitation by cheap paneling, but this came horrifyingly close. The soundtrack still plays in my mind:


The paneling landed harmlessly in the parking lot. The ladies didn’t seem like they’d even noticed – they were both wearing those plastic rain bonnets sold at Walgreen’s for 79 cents; consequently they had no peripheral vision.

My basement project proceeded with scratched paneling and no court date.

And then, in a damp basement, within a couple of months the cheap paneling warped and got moldy. I ended up tearing it all out and throwing it away. The paneling that had looked so good under the protective store roof lasted only a couple of seconds when exposed to the outside world. And then, even surviving that shock, it quickly became useless and embarrassing when permanently placed in a hostile environment.

I thought of that brush with infamy the other day after talking with a college student. He grew up in a small town far from suburbia, went to the small church there and lived a sheltered life. When he arrived at a large state university, he quickly realized that a majority of people there saw life very differently than he did. Things weren’t as black and white as he’d been led to believe. Good people did some pretty bad things. People he’d been taught were bad were actually pretty nice. The people having the most fun didn’t seem to hold any faith at all.  Exposure to the bigger world made his faith seem irrelevant. The other small-town values he’d grown up with seemed irrelevant, too.

Two issues here. One, his faith wasn’t very deep. He’d been living his parents’ faith, which also wasn’t very deep – more cultural than spiritual. And two, he’d never tested it in the culture he’d eventually live in as an adult. So a big part of it blew away like a piece of cheap paneling in a windstorm. The remaining part was unsuitable for its new environment, so he soon discarded it as useless and irrelevant.

In the current issue of Relevant magazine, Barna Group president David Kinnaman observes:

“The ages of 18 to 29 are the crossroads – the time in life when people – if they are going to do it – are most likely to rethink their spirituality. Though people often become more spiritually minded as they get older, they don’t change very much in terms of spirituality. They tend to stay committed to faith perspectives that have served them for decades.”

Here’s what this looked like in the not-too-distant past: Most Americans, like my student, grew up with some Christian experience – anything from twice-a-year church attendance to devotedly following Christ. During their college and young adult years, many placed their faith on a shelf – or saw it shredded in a cultural hurricane they weren’t ready for. A fair amount eventually would pick up that faith again – often when they had young kids of their own.

Today, a huge proportion of American youth have no church experience – none. Their spiritually disillusioned parents never took them. Faith has absolutely no role in their lives and Christianity is no more than a punchline on a cartoon show. This has happened quickly – within one generation. Too many churches failed to recognize the scale of the problem until it had snowballed. Now it’s a crisis.

In a blog post titled, “This is Why We Plant Churches,” Scott Thomas of Mars Hill Church in Seattle cites Barna research in noting that, in the past 20 years, the number of Americans who don’t attend church has nearly doubled. At last check, only 18 percent of Americans are attending church on any given Sunday – and that’s projected to drop below 15 percent in the next decade. The largest unchurched population? Twenty-somethings.

I realize that church attendance and Christian faith don’t necessarily co-exist for everyone any more. But generally they still do. And that means Christianity has little to no role in the lives of a heavy majority of Americans today – especially those under 30.

So, while spiritual rethinking still likely happens between ages 18 and 29, it now occurs, for many, without any Christian context. The usual end result is wishy washy, inclusive theology (all roads lead to some concept of heaven) that has no basis in anything other than good feelings. That kind of world view, when truly tested, gets whipped into the street like a sheet of cheap paneling. And people are left looking for better answers.

Churches that focus heavily on reaching and discipling young adults – even at the expense of other ministries – are likely to become part of a new reformation that’s already begun. Those that fail to do this may find their doors closed. Very, very soon.

I took some time this morning to reflect on 2010, which in many ways appears to have been a year of preparation for my wife and me.

Last summer, I went through the popular book, “What Color is Your Parachute?” which includes a hidden jewel of a section about finding your mission in life. Here’s what author Richard N. Bolles says that means:

  1. To seek to stand hour by hour in the conscious presence of God, the one from whom your mission is derived.
  2. To do what you can, moment by moment, day by day, step by step, to make this world a better place, following the leading and guiding of God’s spirit within you and around you.
  3. a) To exercise the talent that you particularly came to earth to use – your greatest gift, which you most delight to use; b) in the place(s) or setting(s) that God has caused to appeal to you the most; c) and for those purposes that God most needs to have done in the world.

Bolles adds: “We also need to unlearn that our unique Mission must consist of some achievement for all the word to see…”

Then there’s this, from Frederick Buechner’s “Wishful Thinking – A Theological ABC” :

 “The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work a) that you most need to do and b) the world most needs to have done. If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve presumably met requirement a), but if your work is writing TV deodorant commercials, the chances are you’ve missed requirement b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you probably have met b), but if most of the time you’re bored and depressed by it, the chances are you haven’t only bypassed a) but probably aren’t helping your patients much either. …The place God calls you to is the place where deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

In “The Next Christians,” author Gabe Lyons puts it this way: “Where your talents and your heart come together, this is where God has called you to be. … Where your gifts and natural skills collide with your deepest burdens, you have calling.”

Bolles’ “Parachute” book is updated annually and is a wonderful resource for anyone contemplating a career change — and that’s a whole lot of people right now.

I think we also should be careful not to get so caught up in calculating and planning and finding the career that fits us best, that we don’t leave room for God to totally surprise us, calling us to something / someplace we never would have thought of.  Solomon wrote: “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” (Prov. 19:21)

 It’s easy to begin strategizing about life and career, and quickly forget about prayer and earnestly seeking God. When both sides of that equation are done in proper balance, God’s calling can start taking shape.

Idiot Friday: Angels and Snuggies

Posted: December 9, 2010 by Jim Killam in Idiot Friday
Tags: , , ,

So I was working on a talk for church this Sunday, Week 3 of Advent, and I read Luke 2 in the New Living Translation. The angel says to the shepherds:

“And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

Except I misread it as: “You will find a baby wrapped in snuggly strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

Which got me thinking: Could the Snuggie have been biblically inspired? Could I have stumbled onto material for the next Dan Brown novel?

So I Googled “Jesus” and “Snuggie.”

Here is the search result:

As mentioned before: We call it Idiot Friday for a reason.