Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Capturing Social Media For Christ

Dancing has never been one of my strong suits, but, that has not stopped people from putting me in positions where I had to do something that appeared to look like dancing. 
As a teen I was taught to dance in the Shona style and my Dad required I perform at my wedding in Zimbabwe by asking the Chief to make it a royal decree. During the Disco era Judi took me to dancing classes to learn the "Travolta" disco. Neither were all that pretty. So you can guess how I feel about Square Dancing. 
I do admire the callers "docy doeing" and "change your partners" cadence and marvel at the way the dancers seem to anticipate each sudden change of direction, but, after a brief trial run put it into the "not a Sherman thing" pretty quick. I realized as I watched from a safe distance that most of the changes being called were in some "Square Dancers Procedures Manuel" and therefore not sudden or unexpected at all. In fact there were no "make'em up changes" that could be thrown in on a whim. "Toss your partner an ice cold drink, now, slug it down before they can think."
I believe change in life is very similar. There are a limited number of options to chose from when faced with any given situation. The fact that those options may not be personally desirable, I believe, is the reason most of us resist change. We want to make up our own set of options and one of them is almost always to reject the change or to to reject the personal responsibility to adapt to the change. 
Social media is a big change for many of the "boomer" generation and not a few of the "buster." I have learned, the hard way, that rejecting it on the basis of my age only leaves me disconnected from family and friends (and even workmates) who have adopted its use. I have had quite a bit of time to adapt to this new reality and am therefore "without excuse" if I persist in rejecting texting, tweeting, facebooking, and, linkdening. 
The core outcome sought by these media are the same as the ones I desired first as a completely "unconnected" person in the bush of Zimbabwe and later as an early adopter of email. Relationship, communication, and inclusion are universals among God's sentient creation. I reject the new methods at my own peril of being left out of the loop and on the side lines.
For that same reason the church, God's tool for administering God's Gospel, resists adapting to the changing environment around us. We do not face extinction but the far worse fate of irrelevance. We have something far more precious than a video of cats meowing the theme from Wolverine - if there isn't one I am sure there will be one soon enough. Capturing our culture for Christ requires that we put our technology where our hearts are. I am trying - I encourage you to do the same.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Without a Vision We Cannot Win

In sports the win/loss record determines the success and/or failure of the team. A win is pretty clear cut for most games. If the basket goes through the hoop more times for the highest score at the end of time, the team wins. In golf if the ball goes in the cup more times with less swings, the golfer wins. However, each season of every sport there are teams that redefine their win. The coach may claim that a win for the team is to rebuild the team from veterans to young players. The win may be to end the season with a 500 win/loss record. The win could also be to fill the stands xx% more this year than last year. When the win is redefined the approach is also redefined.
The same can be said of the church. Knowing what we want people to "go and do" allows us to focus our energies on the most important aspects of our ministry. This last week the Elders approved the following "win" for La Habra Christian Church in the coming months and years.
“LHCC is the place for people to come and hang out and be encouraged to take their next step in growing closer to God."
There are a couple aspects of this vision statement I particularly like. The focus is on people. Our Mission Statement has always caused us to think in terms of people rather than projects as we Share Jesus by Caring for People. Peter reminds us that God is not willing that any should perish but that all come to eternal life (2 Peter 3:9). To that end we focus on the crown of God's creation, people.
"Hanging out" may not seem all that strong a focus until you realize that people do not attach to someone or something unless they believe it is worth while. John Maxwell has said, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." Creating an environment where people are willing to "hang" around long enough to hear about God in a context they are prepared to accept or reject is critical to our ministry. As we develop our action steps we will want to find multiple ways for people to "hang out" and be "encouraged to take the next step in growing closer to God." 
May God continue to guide us on our vision to help people grow closer to God and make a choice to follow His Son Jesus. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Siezing the Opportunity

I have heard the phrase "carpe diem" which means to seize the day and it used to encourage us to use every day as an opportunity to succeed in our efforts. However, what is an opportunity? The Apostle Paul encourages us to, "Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone" (Colossians 4:5-6). What opportunity is he referring to?
The etymology of the English word "opportunity" comes from the Latin "ob portu." It was used by ships Captians of the right time to pull into a harbor when the vessels had no motor and had to rely on the currents and the wind. They would wait outside the harbor until the tide was coming which was considered the "ob portu" (literally "into port") knowing that missing that moment would mean another day's wait.
There circumstances must align for "ob portu" to be utilized. First there had to be a port to enter. Second something on board worth docking to deliver. Finally, the right conditions to enter the port.
Looking at Paul's observation I believe we can see three conditions for us to make the most of every opportunity. First we need to see the need among the people who do not follow Jesus in our circle of influence. Once we find the area in their lives that would be most affected by choosing to follow Jesus we look for the second condition.
The second condition seems to be the one we feel less likely to recognize in ourselves which is the ability to be able to demonstrate through our lives and words that Jesus has what they need and can fulfill their lives. Jesus promised he would give us the words even if we were arrested - so relying on the Spirit to supply will allow us to meet condition two.
When we accept the truth of the first two condition - we have what they need and we are able to help them to see that - then we must set sail as soon as there is an opening. We tend to look for opportunities and then try to look for the need and the words. When we have the first two in place we will be ready to respond to the opportunity no matter when or where it occurs.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

How Important is Prayer Really?

Lake City, Arkansas' elementary school canceled their sixth grade graduation ceremony after a parent complained about the inclusion of a Christian prayer at the event, according to Christy Barritt ( The school had received letters from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Freedom From Religion Foundation threatening legal action. Parents then found a church willing to host the graduation and invited all students to participate.
Why would they take such drastic measures for lack on one prayer? 
It turns out that prayer is far more than a ceremonial reference to God. Florida State University released results of five compiled studies that showed praying for close friends or romantic partners can lead to more forgiveness and overall cooperative behavior (also from Barritt). Dr. Frank D. Fincham of FSU said, "The value of the current studies is that we have objective measures to show that colloquial, intercessory prayer focused on the partner changes observable behavior." 
What is true for partners must also be seen as true for one's children. Prayer is a force for God's good being done in the world. When parents pray for their children there will be less anger and frustration. This is not a devout hope but a verifiable truth. In a world in which we are asked to "think positive thoughts" to improve our relationships the FSU study found that positive thoughts combined with prayer led to higher levels of cooperative tendencies and forgiveness.
The parents who canceled a ceremony because it lacked a single prayer were saying the ceremony had no efficacy without the force offered by prayer for the children and the family.
When you pray today take heart that your time with God will positively affect your time with those for whom you pray.