Thursday, December 29, 2005

Top 5 for 2005

Top 5 blog-posts of 2005...

Again this year, Bob Carlton (The Corner) is collecting Top-5's around the blogosphere. Makes for best-in-class reading here at year-end.

And maybe it's a good exercise for all of us -- whether it's a family newsletter at Christmas or blog-posts -- what were some of this year's items worth reconsidering?

#5 "Why Blog? Top 50 Reasons"
"Truth at the speed of light will prevail at the speed of Light."

#4 "What Keeps YOU Awake At Night?"
The devil's scheme: 'Pride & Divide'.

#3 "An Open Letter to our City Councillors"
'Human Rights Ordinance 622'

#2 "The Ultimate Win"
By one of Jesus' closest Jewish friends

#1 "Transforming the Evangelical Meme"
Debunking the Barna Divorce-rate Myth.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Job Description

A friend emailed me today...

"I am really waiting to see what God is going to do next! I am really pressing Him for direction --- it would be nice to have a JOB DESCRIPTION! haha. A Blue print please Lord."

So I sent them one. LOL...


  • Go.
  • Make disciples.
  • Baptize them.*
  • Teach them to obey everything I've shared with you.
  • Love me with all your everything.
  • Love your neighbors as yourself.
  • Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly.
  • Keep in mind I'm with you all the way.
  • Other duties as assigned. LOL.
  • Remember: I'll be back.

* Connect them to the family of professing believers.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

'Human Rights' Ordinance 622

Generally I prefer to work toward positive change... especially within the Church itself... and spend little time with 'issues'... and especially not civil-governance issues. I'd much prefer accentuating and encouraging those who are in the trenches everyday, joyfully serving their Lord and our neighbors, and sharing the gift of eternal life with whomever would like to have it.

Occasionally though, if we really love our neighbors as ourselves, and want the best for them as we want for ourselves -- including a great community to live in -- we have to stop and speak to societal issues... sharing what God clearly says in His scriptures. He loves us and wants the very best for us. So we share His Word not from a platform of personal piety or our perfection in living it out. Often we share it from a platform of personal experience... that 'flying in the face of God' never works out well. And the fact remains, that although the Bible is the world's most used book (despite the claims of SBC Yellow Pages, LOL), way too few have ever read it cover-to-cover... much less studied it over-and-over.

Recently, two pastors stepped to the microphone at the Indianapolis City Council chambers, and advocated on behalf of this bill which extends beyond the constitutionally-protected classifications, and now would specially confer 'non-discrimination status' to others based on sexual-orientation and gender-identity.

I've corresponded with one of those pastors, and much of the following was developed from that email-conversation. [Btw, many, many other pastors of course spoke out against such special legislation.]

I offer the following as food for thought for all of us -- or perhaps to challenge everyone to prayerfully reconsider just how faithful we're being to the Church's historic position of looking to scripture as the rule for faith & practice.

Btw, none of us can in this lifetime fully live out what we know to be true from scripture -- for example, the Apostle Paul exclaiming 'what a wretched man I am'. So please do not take this as being anything other than a challenge from one sinful-but-professing believer to another, to pursue the higher standard, God's standard.... and encourage others to do the same.

And yes, it probably does very much come down to "how we understand the message of God which comes to us through the Bible". I'm not 'the last word' on how to do this. But it seems at face-value... that we should be able to take God at face-value.

Easy to say, but is it easy to do?

At the very least we might agree to take Jesus at his word and prioritize what He prioritized... "Love the Lord with all your everything and love your neighbor as yourself." Or follow the OT prescription to "Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly." Again, these perhaps are easy to say, but how should we live them out?

Walk humbly? Not easy to do for those of us born in sin, with propensities to pride. Nonetheless, through the power of the Holy Spirit, I must seek to be conformed to His will. So I need to try to take the accusatory tone out of the issue at hand -- we're not the judge of others. [But neither are we entitled to re-judge and find as innocent those behaviors which God has judged as sinful.]
Love mercy? You bet. We're called to be imitators of God. He's self-sacrificing by nature, and exudes love and patience.

Act justly? God's sense of justice is equally called for. He's made perfectly clear what He finds as honorable and glorifying, and conversely, what He finds abhorrent. And there are enough examples in the Bible to make us all blush -- thus our personal need for the Savior.

Love our neighbors as ourselves? If we've found peace with God through redemption and forgiveness of our sins, then similarly we should hope & pray for our neighbors to likewise enjoy that availability. If we enjoy housing and job opportunities, we should hope for that for our neighbors as well.

Love the Lord our God with all our everything? The highest command of all. We need to prioritize His standards, not our own. Let us not consider evil what God calls as good. Or vice versa. God has clearly laid out his decrees and design for the world. Few disagree about which behaviors God calls 'sinful'.... including all sorts of sexual sin.

I suspect to this point, we agree on all the above. So how do we then apply it to the issue at hand? May I suggest for consideration...

* Leaders preaching the Word of God faithfully -- including clearly condemning immoral sexual practices. Let people clearly know God's standards, and thus, where our churches stand on the standards. And thus delineate the chasm which calls for a Savior.

* Admitting we're ALL sinners. We were ALL born in sin. John says we were all born-liars, for instance. We all have a propensity to offend God. Yet we've no 'right' to simply say to God or to each other, "Get used to it." We're called to a higher standard, and are greatly in need of a perfect redeemer... and the power of the Holy Spirit to help us overcome some of our propensities.

* Extending mercy -- including offering the gift of eternal life, and the peace & joy of life that accompanies it. Rescue the perishing. Jesus quickly came to the defense of the adulterous woman being confronted by religious leaders who did not have the legal authority to stone her. Yet his mercy did not exceed his perfect sense of justice -- he required her to 'go and sin no more'.

He in no sense advocated on behalf of her sinful lifestyle.

Likewise He's forgiven me of much, but in no sense advocates for licensing it.

Our watershed question in the issue at hand is, are we rescuing the perishing or are we giving the impression of advocating for legal recognition and acceptance of a sinful lifestyle?

My hope and prayer is that everyone will take a careful, prayerful look, at which we're doing the most loudly.

And if the latter, where does it end? Who will go to bat for special protection of 'oppressed' born-liars because they lied on job-apps? Oppressed born-thieves because they stole from previous employers? Oppressed born-murderers because they have a hard time finding a place to live? The list goes on & on, and could easily include all of us -- shall we all obtain special rights to live out a sinful lifestyle without sanction?

Pastors, I'm sure that you prefer to speak God's joyous positive message from the pulpit and encourage your flocks with the good news of Jesus Christ. But do you occasionally condemn unhealthy habits such as smoking? Or how about biblically condemned actions such as excessive drinking? How about speeding? Prostitution?

Certainly secular society effectively does speak their sense of morality into such issues... and then even legislates their sense of morality into law because such things negatively impact society. But by no means have they (yet) developed a smokers bill of rights or special protections for prostitutes in their pursuit of happiness.... and then imposed it on the rest of us.

Whether choice-based or intrinsically a part of a person's human propensities toward these actions, society does not specially protect them in matters of jobs or housing. So why singularly yield to a line of thinking that equates homosexuality as entitled to "civil rights"?

One might conclude simply that indeed there exists a homosexual agenda that some very well-intentioned people are falling prey to. Even inside the Church.

Again, I challenge you to reconsider what it is you're leading your flock toward, not to mention what you would lead our city toward.

That being said, there is Christ-like love and advocacy for 'the oppressed' -- just visit Wheeler Mission and you'll see Christians housing homeless murderers, thieves, and other human beings who have lost homes & jobs -- often due to all sorts of immoral behaviors. Job training occurs. Christian employers take on folks based on mercy, not merit. But at no time does Wheeler advocate for changing society's rules toward godliness. Instead they help people recognize sin and its consequences. They help lives get truly transformed by preaching the Word carefully, and practicing it lovingly.

To love our neighbors as ourselves, is to want a godly set of rules to live by that will tend toward godliness and great opportunities to know a personal redeemer & friend... forever.

To do otherwise, is to want something less for our neighbors than for ourselves.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Pastors, leaders... as networkers

"Christian Community Development sees the church must be involved in every aspect of a person's life. It is important to network with other churches and organizations in communities. In order to accomplish the wholistic aspect of ministry, pastors and leaders must be networkers."

From the foundational article... "Theology of Community Development Ministry", by Wayne Gordon, Co-Founder of CCDA.

"10 Rules for Life"

I don't often pass along cute emails, but this was too good to pass by...

"Ten Rules for Life"

1. Tell the truth -- there's less to remember.
2. Speak softly and wear a loud shirt.
3. Goals are deceptive -- the unaimed arrow never misses.
4. He who dies with the most toys -- still dies.
5. Age is relative -- when you are over-the-hill, you pick up speed.
6. There are two ways to be rich -- make more or desire less.
7. Beauty is internal -- looks mean nothing.
8. No rain -- no rainbows.
9. Never judge a day by the weather.
10. The best things in life aren't things.

[Apparently Kimo Krogfoss, a philosophy professor living in Hawaii, came up with these rules for living. The inserted link is my doing.]

Sunday, December 11, 2005


Just wrote another section of our U.B.bloggin' curriculum online for our new friends who are publishing... free & easy. Especially this section helps bloggers with 'connecting code'. [continued at]

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

"Grassroots Growth"

I thought I'd blog a few notes (LIVE!) from a presentation at the Unleavened Bread Cafe by a set of Butler students in an honors course called "Grassroots Growth". [continued at]

Sunday, December 04, 2005

A day at the cafe...

The cafe was hopping, Saturday. A job-wage group was meeting in the back room. So several of us just used the front part of the cafe for "Surfing Saturday" -- a regular time each week that the neighborhood can count on opportunities to learn a few computer skills, or how to get onto the internet. [But don't tell anyone -- the biggest value for any of us is meeting new friends... often NOT like ourselves. It takes us all outside the box a bit.]

[continued at U B]

Target Missed...

As you contribute to the various relief agencies, perhaps you'd be interested in the stark contrasts between what some of them pay their top executives. Here's a special report that has even drawn White House attention... [continued]

All this simply reminds me, it's time again to send surfers to...

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Been There, Done That

[The article below, "Been There, Done That", is a helpful set of observations by Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner a former board member of CCDA. I came across the article after re-reading "Black and Free", the classic by her late husband, evangelist Tom Skinner. If you've never read it, let me highly commend it to you.]

"Tom Skinner’s book, Black and Free was both timely and powerful. It shows the power of the gospel to transform ones life, and it came at an important time in our struggle to be black and free. I believe that same message is needed today..." --Dr. John M. Perkins

"Been There, Done That" -- Why many African American Christians have trouble getting excited about reconciliation.
Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner

"These days, white Christians getting inspired to do reconciliation often wonder, "How come black folks aren't showing up?" I believe there are four main reasons why many African American Christians don't get excited about racial reconciliation today. And while there are no excuses for any Christian, black or white, to ignore God's call to reconciliation, there are real obstacles. If true, biblical reconciliation is going to happen, both Blacks and Whites are going to have to understand these obstacles and work to overcome them." [continued at Skinner Leadership Institute]

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

An Open Letter To Our City Councillors

City Councillors...

We appreciate the hard work that you all do... and the situations you often have to deal with. So please know every Friday when you hear the "Community Prayer Siren" sound at 11am, that many many Christ-followers are praying for you and for our community.

To love one's neighbor as himself includes the desire that our neighbors also benefit from creating a great community. We know the turmoil and strife brought on because of evil in the world -- it's no surprise. And we're anxious to help do something about it. For instance, several of you were present last summer at the westside townhall meeting. The entire evening was focused on SOLUTIONS, not the problems -- everyone there already knew the problems. One public official after another presented some great answers. Then churchmen. Then neighbors.

Interestingly, if my memory serves me well, not one single voice was heard to say... "We could cure some of our problems if government would grant special protection for the homosexual lifestyle." Actually, we heard just the opposite -- more focus on helping families, more mentoring of young men, greater impact by churches and the good news and compassion that Christ offers our communities.

Increasingly, our Bible-believing pastors, leaders and congregations in the city are not only working hard to bless the community, they're now crossing lines that may have formerly divided us, to partner together for impact here. The Transform Indiana ministry network is reaching out to build urban partnerships with suburban pastors and congregations... bringing resources to Indy... at no cost to the city/county government. And together, Christ-followers are bringing hope.

Not only are our own metro Christians working toward a great community, over a year ago thousands of Southern Baptists came to Indy from all over the U.S. for their annual convention. Most came a week early and did all sorts of servant-works in our neighborhoods. Similarly, last summer, the Indianapolis Star cited the 25,000 Nazarenes who came to Indy with their money in hand for supplies & tools, and many with gloves on, to help rebuild inner city homes, etc... a blessing with no price-tag for Indianapolis. And very recently the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) brought over 2,000 'inner-city driven' Christians to the Racing Capital of the World for their annual conference -- including all sorts of workshops, tours of Indy ministries in action, special speakers inspiring further inner-city development -- focused on helping our community and their communities become more and more impacted by the love of Christ.

Why do you suppose Indianapolis is so attractive to them? They didn't come for a Colts game. We're not a first-tier convention city. They didn't come for the great weather or our beach. They came because our city is family-oriented and a cut-above what they see elsewhere.... and we're working hard to improve it all the time. [And btw, even the Colts seem to be benefiting greatly because of the quiet, godly character of an inspiring coach.]

So as you address the special-rights issue contained in bill #622 which again surfaces before you, let me encourage you to govern toward godliness -- you can't go wrong. We all need to work together toward a greater sense of morality that builds a strong fabric in society.

And if you consider your task simply a political or business decision, then at least decide prudently. Prioritize the types of bills that need your attention most. Consider how to empower those who love living here and building this community. And consider who else brings to your city their time, talent and treasure to help make it great.

We're praying for each of you. Indianapolis is a great community model that others come to see. Keep up the good work.

Blessings in the name of Jesus Christ, who wept over the city because He cared for the people in it.

Neil Cox

Monday, November 21, 2005

Networking at CCDA Indy 2005

Just a note to say I'm looking forward to the moment that I'm caught up, after CCDA Indy 2005. Wish you could have been with us -- hopefully next year in Philly.

What a blur! Record attendance (up nearly 70% from last year!), great cyber cafe and internet connectivity, GREAT PRAYER ROOM, great spiritual temperture, great networking and real relationship-building, and great everything. It was so awesome I scarcely had time to post anything at all. So we'll be doing it this week as we reflect back. We're already getting some neat blogs posted as people return home to make a difference in THEIR cities.

Had a great time with Jarvis Ward (Mission America's City-Reaching Division ), and enjoyed 'connecting him' with so many others here and around the country. Likewise Andrew Sears and all the young folks from -- great partners for the 50-state network. It was good to hook up again with our NYC/Indy friend, Glen Kleinknecht ( Here's Life Inner City) and Phil Olson and his Network 9:35. And of course I enjoyed working fevorishly with Indianapolis folks as well... including Eldon, Ray, Scott, Tom, Mike, Merlin, Maria, Tia, Dr. Ware & soooooo many of his students and faculty at Crossroads Bible College... and all the 200 others helping locally. And of course... all the neat, neat folks in the Chicago headquarters of CCDA -- what an awesome bunch! Also, our "City Blogging" workshop went well -- Jeremy Del Rio, a new blogging friend and co-presenter -- and I believe will help to stimulate yet further connections around the country. You can read about it at you-know-where...

God bless you brother for all your encouragement and help in creating the 50-state network of "driven Christians".

Notice that Barry has now started creating an ability to aggregate all those 50 states' feeds... at Now we just need to get busy filling in the best-in-class bloggers from their various states across the country.

Awesome work, Joe... and all of you copied! Who knows just where God might take all this, as a result of driven Christians humbly working together at the speed of Light, to make a difference in our cities for Christ.


City Blogging...

[I'll expand on this later, but here's our "City Blogging" workshop, given with Jeremy Del Rio at CCDA Indy 2005. Continued at]

Thursday, November 03, 2005

"Well done"...?

"We must acknowledge that the Church during the past nineteen centuries has been extremely negligent in her duty, and that the crying need of our time is for her to take seriously the task assigned to her. Instead of discussions of social and economic and political problems, book reviews and entertaining platitudes from the pulpit the need is for sermons with real Gospel content, designed to change lives and to save souls. The charge of negligence applies, of course, not only to ministers, but equally to the laity. Every individual Christian is called to give his witness and to show his faith by personal testimony, or through the distribution of the printed word, or through the generous and effective use of his time and money for Christian purposes. Christ commanded the evangelization of the world. That is our task. Surely He will not, and in fact cannot, come back and say to His Church, "Well done, good and faithful servant," until that task has been accomplished." [Boettner]

Sunday, October 16, 2005

GodBlogCon 2005...

I greatly regret having to miss this key event (due to the pressures of the upcoming CCDA conference here in Indy next month). But I can hope to glean some of gems of 21st-Century thought & ideas by reading the related blogs from during/after this first conference attempt.

There's enough reading here to last a life-time. But it's high-quality Christian bloggers, having just been sharpened by other high-quality Christian bloggers... and thus very thought provoking -- the very intent of the conference.

Ready, begin.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Christian Emergency Networking...

Stay tuned at -- currently connecting Christian networks in the Indy/Indiana area, and to national Christian networks involved in emergency relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Likewise, visit for further great links.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Secrets to High-Speed Learning

"What’s the secret to high-speed learning? Most discussions of learning are very cerebral i.e. all about brain, but the reality is that high-speed learning is all about a combination of brain and heart. We learn quickly when we are passionate about learning, slowly when we're not."

"Another reason why the heart is important is that there are two types of learning - one that takes place within the existing set of assumptions and one that involves a change of a basic set of assumptions. The latter is the more important kind of learning and it's the harder one to accomplish because the passion to learn is generally absent. "

[continued at]

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Steve Jobs: "You've got to find what you love."

"Death is very likely the single best invention of Life.
It is Life's change agent. "

"I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots. "

[continued at Stanford University]

[hat-tip, Richard Bond, EE]

Friday, July 15, 2005

"The Ultimate Win"

My personal story may or may not be of significance to you.

But reading the story of John... one of Jesus' closest Jewish friends who:
  • traveled in his 'gang',
  • heard his teachings,
  • compared them to the Jewish scriptures predicting a coming Messiah,
  • saw a friend raised from the dead after 4 days,
  • saw his many other miracles of mercy,
  • saw him die on a cruel Roman cross,
  • Jesus asked John to take care of his mom,
  • John even ate breakfast with Jesus after he'd risen from the dead,
  • saw Jesus ascend into the clouds, saying he'd be back someday,
  • received the promised Holy Spirit into his own life,
  • saw other disciples martyred for their faith, and
  • did a 'life term' in prison rather than recant his eye-witness testimony of Jesus.

Now there's a story that's worth a lot more than mine.

"The Ultimate Win"

I'd be happy to snail-mail you a personal copy of John's eye-witness account about Jesus... the 'Gospel of John'... in a little racing-theme booklet called "The Ultimate Win". Just email me where to send it. My gift to you, no strings attached other than your promise to read it.

And while you're waiting for it, here's a link to where you can start reading online.

[...or hear it read, by clicking the audio-icon on that page.]

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Neighborhood by Neighborhood...

"Sum it all up for us, Jesus.", they asked Him.

"Ok, how about this: Love the Lord your God with all your everything... and Love your neighbor as yourself."


How about you? Are you enjoying 'peace with God'? And do you plan to inherit an eternity of unimaginable bliss?

And if so, do you plan to enjoy all that pretty much by yourself? Or do you love your neighbors enough to share that opportunity with them too?

Or let me rephrase the question before us...

How do we see the Great Commission ever getting accomplished, if not neighbor by neighbor, by neighbor, by neighbor? All of you share the good news with your neighbors, and we'll share it with ours?

Hmmmm. Let's do some simplistic math for a moment... Barna Research says that 40% of the population is 'born again'. As well, 7% of the population are 'evangelical' (who readily acknowledge their responsibility to share Christ with others). So let's say that in a neighborhood of 14 homes, you're the evangelical home, 5 others are 'born-again'... leaving you only 8 homes with which to share the Good News.

In an optimal setting, you would of course want your neighbors to hear the best possible presentation of the gospel; and you'd want to let them see it being lived out by you and the other born-again folks in your neighborhood, right?

8 homes to reach. 4 to the left; 4 to the right. Not rocket science.

The only remaining question is... will we go? Do we really love our neighbors as ourselves?

Do we even have a plan? Peyton Manning would never think of going into a game without a game plan -- do you have one? In fact, he even has what he calls a '2-minute drill'... for the late going. Are we in the late part of 'the game' now? Do you have a 2-year drill?

Our churches say they're 'equipping us for service'. Are they? Are they focusing on neighborhoods close-by? Helping us work alongside of other Christians in our neighborhoods?

How ironic is it that evangelicals are in the news these days, lobbying for a fair hearing for judicial nominees... and demanding they at least get an opportunity for an 'up or down' vote. But will our neighbors get a fair hearing, and an opportunity to make an 'up or down' choice?

Or are we letting them 'die in committee'?

Approximately 400 people die in our metro community each week. How many will we let die this week, 'in committee'?

Alternatively, how many of us will start working together, neighborhood by neighborhood, to offer our friends a clear 'up or down' opportunity?

If you'd like to get started with a 2-year plan for your small community.... visit In fact, you'll see there's a great opportunity to get involved shortly in the "Faith, Hope & Love" community initiative listed there, to take place July 24th through the 30th.

Fair's fair. Our neighbors deserve a clear chance to experience peace with God... which was paid-for long ago. Will you give them that chance?

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]