Saturday, June 18, 2005

"Neil's Story" ?

I really hesitate to write this -- it sounds so presumptuous, especially to those who know me best.

But it's not really a story about 'Neil' as much as it is about God's love & faithfulness.

And it's not for Neil's sake. The only one who can possibly gain value from continuing to read this... is you... the reader.

Real 'Community':

I grew up on a farm in Central Illinois... near "Farmer City", no less. We lived really close to our community's little country church... Bethel Church. All my relatives lived near Bethel, and attended there. It was back in the days when 'community' really meant something great. And Bethel Church was the heart of the community.

As the story goes, one day when I was only 3 years old, I wandered off of our farm and my family couldn't find me. Later they found me mowing the church yard with my little toy lawnmower. LOL. [I guess I was always destined to work for churches, huh?]

I consider myself extremely fortunate that my dad & mom always had us regularly in church. There we were regularly encouraged to read & learn the Bible. But the King James version was difficult for me to read... and it really wasn't until many years later, after buying a newer version (NIV) that I really was able to read it easily... and thus read whole chapters and sometimes whole books at a time... and thus be able to read the Bible over & over... to really understand it on the whole.

Treasure Hidden In A Field

As a boy growing up on a farm, playing in the woods or creek nearby, we many times buried, and dug up, 'treasures'. So you can imagine how much I enjoy this parable Jesus told:

"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field."

Or how about this from the wisdom of Proverbs:

"My son, if you accept my words
and store up my commands within you,
turning your ear to wisdom
and applying your heart to understanding,
and if you call out for insight
and cry aloud for understanding,
and if you look for it as for silver
and search for it as for hidden treasure,

... then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find... the knowledge of God."

When I was about 8 years old, during a revival one week, I recall being drawn to accept the great offer of eternal life... peace with God forever... and I went forward to make it public.

A few years later, I was baptized the good old fashioned way... the 'official' way... LOL... in a lake.

Yeah, yeah, yeah... Yada, yada, yada

Viet Nam 1971-72. Without going into detail... Bottom line... God is faithful. And I knew that even if I were to die there, He had something even better for me ahead.

As it turned out, even though it was a tough experience and a trial for my fiancee and I, in the end it turned out for our good. Upon returning, I received a Bronze Star. But better yet, I married this girl of my dreams, and we've now been married for 33 years.

And He's continued to always 'be there'.

Jesus Christ has always been there for me... and for us. Jan and I have been through some extremely tough times together. But He's never left us. He's always been there. And perfectly capable of meeting our needs. And yours.

And certainly it was not because I was a poster-child 'Christian'... I wasn't. It's so embarrassing at times. Jesus has been so good to me, paying the ultimate price for being my friend... exchanging His perfect life for my crummy one... just because He loved me (for who knows what reason). Further, He only wants the very best for me; His commands are not burdensome at all. How could I not then want to live a perfect life of obedience to Him? Yet I've failed to do so, many times.

So you can see why I greatly identify with the Apostle Paul who once wrote late in his life, "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do." (Romans 7) Paul even called himself 'chiefest of sinners'.

Yet, God knows 'the struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms'. (Ephesians 6) And God is faithful, even when we're unfaithful at times. Like a perfect Father, He's forgiving, when we repent of our sins. And I've seen Him in action... always faithful to forgive and to keep moving me toward the image of His Son, as he promises us.

John... a member of Jesus' gang

Perhaps His very closest friend... John recorded these excerpts about Jesus' simple plan...

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men." (John then made it clear he was talking about Jesus -- God himself -- as the 'Word', and the 'Son of God')

"The Word became flesh and lived for awhile among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes (trusts) in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

"Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life."

Dr. Luke, on the other hand...

Luke wrote of Jesus once telling a parable about a King...

"But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us."

And isn't that the main dividing point of life... whether or not we will accept the King of Kings... or absolutely refuse (insofar as we can) to let God be God of our lives?

Will we, or will we not, not have this 'man' as King? Take your pick. I've taken mine... almost 50 years ago... and I've never been sorry one single day.

Jesus finished the story... "But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me."

Dr. Luke later wrote of another account Jesus cited... this time using names of real people...

"In hell, where (the man) was in torment... he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'

"But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'

"He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'

"Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.'

"'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.'

"(Abraham) said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.' "

Thought: Why did Jesus describe all this so graphically...

...and talk about real people in such real circumstances?

Sometimes we need to hear things at point-blank range. I did.

Likewise, he was equally clear with the lawyers of the day, when they asked, "What must we do to do the WORKS God requires?" Jesus answered them clearly... "The WORK of God is this... to believe in the One He sent."

Believe. Trust. Not just believe ABOUT Jesus -- the demons did that, and shuddered. Trust 'IN' Jesus, as you entrust your entire well-being to someone when you scoot over and let them drive your car.

Does this make sense to you?

God loves you and doesn't want to punish you. Yet He's perfectly 'just'.... and must punish my/your sinfulness... one way or the other. But uniquely, this perfect judge who must declare you guilty, has come down from His high bench, lovingly stood alongside you, and offered to exchange His perfect life for your sinful life... thus Himself taking on the penalty for your sins. Or... you can pay for them yourself... and will... if you don't accept His offer now while there's still time. But why would anyone want to fly in the face of this loving God, King, and Judge, and not accept His 'offer of a lifetime'?

When you stand before God someday, and He calls you to account... perhaps saying something like, "Why should I let you into my perfect heaven?".... what will you say?

Is there any good reason why you shouldn't settle that issue right now? Accept His offer now while there's still time. Entrust your entire well-being, your eternal well-being, into the hands of a faithful God that loves you that much? And then get to enjoy all the benefits of peace with God even in this life, and being a part of His family... His 'community'?

It's simply done... just talk to Him as you would talk to any perfect Father. And a loving Father always loves... and accepts & forgives... if you ask Him to.

Take a moment and decide what you should do.

And not only for yourself... What you do may greatly impact the chances of your family ever coming to know Jesus Christ personally, and forever. Choose wisely.

[And if you seriously ask Him into your heart, repent of your sins and ask Him to change you, to 'drive your life' so you can enjoy an eternal relationship with Him...then click here afterwards.]

Sunday, June 12, 2005

On the lighter side: You might be an Evangelical if...

[LOL.... Continued at Common Grounds]

[hat-tip, JollyBlogger's "You might be a Presbyterian if..."]

Chef Barna's State of the Church 2005

[Excellent cover-article at Next-Wave]

Cover Story by Bill Dahl

What's Cookin'?

If you’re wondering wassup within U.S. Christianity, it’s a good idea to sample the fare George Barna cooks up every couple of years. His most recent entrĂ©e is entitled, The State of the Church: 2005. The Barna Group has served the results of this same survey, using the identical methodological measuring cup over the last fifteen years. The last time I devoured the results of this dish was in 2002. At that time, the menu item was called The State of the Church 2002. (Have you noticed that the name of a dish that has demand from the clientele doesn’t change?). Chef Barna’s research, writing, films and prophetic exhortations are as eagerly awaited and talked about by the U.S. Christian community as any new recipe Wolfgang Puck or Martha Stewart come up with. Let me explain.

The Taste Test

[continued at Next Wave Church & Culture]

Friday, June 10, 2005

"Transforming the Evangelical Meme"

[Subsequent Note: 3 years after I wrote the article below, Barna published newer stats on the topic... and surprise... they tell a completely different story (albeit without mention of our work below or a retraction of their now-legendary meme). See the updated story... along with my analysis of the numerous remaining issues with their divorce-rate research. And here's our newest attempt to put the meme to rest in 2010, as yet another high-profile evangelical publishes his (insightful) commentary at yet another high-profile site.]

Transformation is objectively evidenced in the lives of 'evangelicals'.

I realize this seems to run counter to the now ubiquitous meme playing in 'Christian theaters' near you. Very probably your pastor has even preached it...

"Christians live just like the rest of the world."

A distinction lies though, in the care we take when defining 'evangelical'... not to mention, 'Christian'. Self-descriptions are an illusion, dependent on a wide spectrum of motives. But a person's studied understanding of the Word of God makes all the difference in the world.

Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.
[Rom. 10:17]

While 'positional justification' happens immediately when a person is born again, 'sanctification' -- that is, being increasingly conformed to the image of God -- doesn't happen overnight. It's takes time. It's why Paul had to preach to his people (and us)...

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is -- -- his good, pleasing and perfect will." [Romans 12]

Change doesn't come easy, nor fast. Which of us doesn't identify with Paul -- even as he writes this late in his life -- when he says, "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do"?

But the Bible is true. And transformation is objectively evidenced in the lives of evangelicals... even if not quickly enough or extensively enough to suit any of us.

Recently a local church's blog led me to read Stan Guthrie's interview with Ron Sider in Christianity Today, coming on the heels of Ron's new book, "The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience". As it turns out, Ron had also done a previous article at CT publication "Books & Culture" on the same topic.

I've now finished reading his book, and it's absolutely excellent as he calls us to reexamine ourselves and our institutions and to take seriously our obligation to be distinctive from the culture around us. Get your hands on a copy. You'll be glad you did.

But Ron isn't primarily addressing 'Christians' in general. More specifically, he narrows his targeting to 'evangelicals' -- often meaning self-described evangelicals. Still I didn't wince. All sorts of people describe themselves as 'evangelical', but many of them don't even know what makes them 'evangelical'... it's simply a convenient, notional label.

But then he introduced Barna polls into evidence...

"What is the divorce rate among evangelicals? According to a 1999 poll by Barna, exactly the same as the national average! According to that poll, 25 percent of evangelicals -- just like 25 percent of the total population— have gone through a divorce."

Ouch. The divorce-rate thing again. It's the one handle that authors and preachers seem to most easily get their hands around... and repeat most frequently.

I especially bristled because over the years I've read George Barna's reports religiously and knew that he doesn't use self-descriptions in lieu of definitions. He's much more careful in defining an 'evangelical' according to 9 meaningful & measurable standards. I know how suddenly, when using George' methodology, self-described, notional evangelicals start falling like flies -- slimming their ranks from what is sometimes thought to be more than 20% of the adult population... down to only the 7% whom I refer to as 'Barna evangelicals'.

[Btw, Ron did acknowledge evidence of change as Barna narrows the field even further through a few more questions, to arrive at a tighter group (4% of the population) holding a 'Biblical worldview'. But that just whetted my appetite further. Surely we don't have to narrow it that far to start seeing any real transformation. Do we?]

Bottom line, it just seemed counter-intuitive that despite our sinful shortcomings, that Bible-believing Christians would be so generally 'just like' the rest of the population. Paul, the self-described 'chiefest of sinners', aside -- not to mention myself --it still just didn't make sense.

Did Barna really say what Sider said he said? Say not.

My adrenaline kicked in, and my fact-checking emails kicked out. Without diverging now into an ever-so-tempting diatribe about how 'guys in pajamas' are now also impacting the Christian MSM, let's instead stay on-point and cut to the chase.

Sider was accurate. Barna said it.

When asked why they've removed the (1999) documentation from, a spokesperson told me it is now old data. He went on to say though, that it had received a lot heat over the years from being so misunderstood. Frankly, I suspect they were just as glad when it finally died of old age.

A marital counselor once told me... "It's not so important that you be understood, as it is that you not be MIS-understood." That applies here. And thus my post today. That old data is still being very misunderstood.

Yes, in a Bill Clinton 'Define Is' sort of way, the data as presented is apparently accurate. Thus an endless litany of Christian opponents -- atheists, witches and gay advocates to name a few -- have enjoyed flaunting it in front of us as they chorus together...

"Christianity doesn't work as advertised."

But let's discover the real 'elephant in the room'...

...that the 1999 divorce metrics were stated
as a percentage of the ENTIRE population,
whether ever-married to begin-with, or not!

Statistically determining the overall rates of tarnished apples found in one bin of mixed apples & oranges... vs. another bin of mixed fruit... is... well... interesting but totally unhelpful. And worse, as we can see from the last 5 years of playing the 'telephone game', it's effectively contributed to a complete MIS-understanding of the data, and thus is suboptimizing the Church's ability to deal with the overall problem... the (slow) rate of transformation among believers. And if we're offering the gift of God, eternal life, peace with God now & forever.... and yet at the same time conveying that it really doesn't make a difference in this world... our mixed message is a disservice to truth. Worse, it helps send people to hell as they rest comfortably that the Church has no proof of any of this... and we're equally non-transformed.

So I applaud Barna for storing that loaded flintlock away in the gun-closet for now.

What is the meme that we should be conveying at the speed of Light?

That transformation through new life in Jesus Christ is objectively evidenced as we analyze Bible-reading, Bible-believing, Christ-followers... represented by Barna's category called 'evangelicals'.

How evidenced you ask?

I'm not a researcher, so I'll have to stick with the most obvious evidence, and leave my remaining concerns to the professionals... such as... the suitability of leaning so heavily on the 'ever-divorced' metric, versus a potentially better metric of measuring an 'annual divorce rate'. Likewise my concern about the somewhat older average evangelical being pitted against the younger average non-evangelical... and especially as they might be affected by this elongated time metric called 'ever-divorced'. U.S. Census and common 'census' bears it out -- the older you get, the more apt to eventually experience divorce. And wouldn't this also be true of eventually experiencing cancer, car accidents, dental visits and winning the lottery? But apparently we lack sufficient data to sift out how much or how little impact these have on the issue at hand.

Btw, I've challenged Barna Research to clarify the situation at their site and add yet more data there, especially now that Ron and others have inadvertantly popularized the misunderstanding at issue. But that takes money. If any of you have some money you'd like to contribute to help Barna fund more intense research, especially about underlying attitudes, practices, and misunderstood biblical principles that drive divorce rates even in Christendom, please join the effort for truth and making a difference in the world today.

Further, the blogosphere as you can see, adds to the pile of daily pressures on Barna's small but impactful ministry. But likewise, the Christian blogosphere could help them greatly by effectively transmitting truth... and helping raise funds for objective research. Personally, I'd love to be able to fund a regular measuring of transformation here in the Greater Indianapolis area. How about your city? Are we making a measurable difference as we increasingly come together across former dividing lines, to pray, plan and pursue greater prayer, care & share here in our community?

Although not a researcher myself, I do have pocket-protector and a bean-counter's certificate. I live in numbers daily. In our new information explosion, I have little tolerance for 'simply interesting' numbers. Interesting numbers could distract us all day... while we fail at our mission -- the Great Commission. But I find numbers extremely valuable when they're used as decision-support and symbols to drive us toward our goals... starkly measuring realities along the way and calling us to redouble our efforts. So let me sort out the apples and oranges a bit, and see if it doesn't form a much different picture about evangelicals amid transformation.

If our real objective is to level the playing field so we can make a head-to-head comparison -- and only compare the divorce-rate among MARRIED evangelicals vs. MARRIED non-evangelicals, then let's first find out who's MARRIED and even subject to divorce in the first place.

It's at that point that we realize from additional Barna numbers (Sept 2004) that evangelicals were appx 55% more likely to be married than their non-evangelical counterparts. (77% vs. 49%).

The effect of this clarification? [Is it obvious yet, you math wizards?]

77% of 14.6 million evangelicals = 11.2 million married evangelicals.
If 25% of all evangelicals are divorced, that's 3.7 million divorced evangelicals.
...which equals 33% of those eligible for divorce.

49% of the 194 million non-evangelicals =95 million married non-evangelicals.
If 25% of all non-evangelicals are divorced, that's 48.5 million divorced non-evangelicals.
... which equals 51% of those eligible for divorce.

Thus the now-obvious, head-to-head (51 to 33%) conclusion... In any given year...

Married non-evangelicals are 55% more likely to divorce than married evangelicals.

Transformation is objectively evidenced in the lives of (Barna) evangelicals.

But let's not get comfortable; even now seeing that Bible-believing evangelicals are 'distinguishably' different, Sider's point is well made... we're a long ways from being 'distinctively' different. And the Barna folks advised me that they believe new data will soon show the gap is even slimmer.

Bottom Line:

As we narrow the definitions and focus on those who read the Bible and take it at face-value, we start seeing evidence of transformation. If we want to see yet greater change in our lives & communities, then let's get out our Bible, read it more, study it more, and with more mature Christians who have read it more and studied it more. Begin & enjoy a personal relationship with the Savior found therein. Apply His teachings at face-value. As God intended, it will change the world, not to mention your eternal destiny.

"Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God."

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is -- -- his good, pleasing and perfect will." [Romans 12]

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Small is the new Big

"Big used to matter. Big meant economies of scale."

"And then small happened."

"Big computers are silly."

"I’m writing this on a laptop at a skateboard park… that added wifi for parents. Because they wanted to. It took them a few minutes and $50. No big meetings, corporate policies or feasibility studies. They just did it."

"Today, little companies often make more money than big companies. Little churches grow faster than worldwide ones. Little jets are way faster (door to door) than big ones."

"Small means the founder makes a far greater percentage of the customer interactions. Small means the founder is close to the decisions that matter and can make them, quickly."

"Small is the new big because small gives you the flexibility to change the business model when your competition changes theirs."

"Small means you can tell the truth on your blog."

"Small means that you can answer email from your customers."

[Complete article at Seth Godin's Blog]

[hat-tip, Unnecessary Pastor]

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Church Webmasters, Stop Working for Free!

Great article today at Boyink Interactive. [Hat-tip, OrangeJack.]

And be sure to read through the comments of some very high-profile Christian tech-bloggers. In fact, you'll also get some insight into why they call one of 'em... "MeanDean".

"Yo, Neil, dude, I want somma the crack your smokin!-)"


You can pick up the trail to this neat article at Wireless Coffee Blog, where you can also find a link to a podcast interview with MeanDean. Or what the heck, go straight to his

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Welcome Xagronaut fans...

At, one of my several 'Jeff-tech' friends has momentarily excelled the others by taking 'kissing up' to new levels at the speed of Light. **smile**

Thanks Jeff. And welcome Xagronaut fans. I love hooking up Christian techs who are out to make a difference in their cities today. And let me chime in on one conclusion that Jeff did get right: "God works in very cool ways." Amen? Amen!