Pre-release celebration

It’s finally here! After months of waiting, my book is finally set to be released. I am really excited about this opportunity to share the message of freedom and grace with a wider audience. I’m praying that it finds open hearts in all who read it.

While the official release date is October 1st, I was able to have a shipment of books delivered directly from the printer which means that we as a church can have a pre-release celebration this weekend between services. Because Christ Community has played such a vital role in this whole process, I am thankful for the opportunity to make the books available to our church family before the official release date. What this means is that the book will be available at cost ($7) between services. The elder board has organized some refreshments as well as a book signing area in the lobby so that we as a church can celebrate together this occasion.

I am so thankful for the way God has orchestrated this whole process–from the initial “Gospel awakening” experience four years ago to feeling His hand upon the writing to actually seeing the book in final  form. Thanks for the encouragement and prayers of so many. Please keep praying for the impact of this book and message. Thanks!

Multi-Site Stuff

I’m in Chicago for a few days attending a church conference on Multi site ministry. This idea is one that has resonated with me for awhile now–what would it look like for our church to be one church but in multiple locations? We have recently purchased a property downtown to begin to explore this possibility.

One of the speakers today, Dave Ferguson, described a mathematician named Fibonacci who completely changed the way we count. Up until that time, people used Roman numerals for counting. But as Fibonacci began wrestling with a mathematics problem involving reproducing rabbits, he discovered that the Roman Numeral system was completely inadequate for the task. It was clumsy and cumbersome. This frustration with the current approach caused him to invent the 10 base notation we use today.

In a similar way, reaching the world for Christ or even our city for Christ is a task that requires a different way of doing ministry–one that is rooted in reproduction rather than addition–where churches, ministries, etc are intentional about reproducing themselves. It is in reality nothing new. This is the way Jesus urged us to do ministry (“Go and make disciples”) Paul utilized a similar strategy as well. (“The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” 2 Tim. 2:2). Multiplication. One becomes 2 which becomes 4, 8, 16, 32, etc. Exponential growth!

I’m excited about our moving toward this vision for multiplication in our church and in our city. Will you pray with me that we would embrace this kingdom-sized method for impact?

Five Things People Need to Say Before They Die

I was at a pastors’ meeting yesterday where two hospice chaplains shared about ministering to those facing death. It was very helpful information. But my interest was particularly peaked at one point when one of them quoted from an author who described the five things people need to say before they die. Here they are:

1. I love you.

2. Forgive me.

3. I forgive you.

4. Thank you.

5. Goodbye

When I heard this list, I had one thought. Why wait until right before we die to say these things that are so important to be said? Other than #5, every other one is something I hope I’m saying often to those around me whom I love…

Life From Tragedy

As I write this, I along with many others are grieving the death of Cinnamon Wells. Cinnamon was a 29 year old mother and wife who was killed last week when a vehicle struck her while she was riding a scooter. Cinnamon had recently experienced a dramatic transformation in her life when she embraced the gospel. She truly exemplified 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” She exuded a new sense of joy and life as well as a hunger for God, reading Scriptures, diving into ministry, sharing Him with others.

A few weeks ago, Cinnamon was baptized at Christ Community and shared her story of how Jesus had changed her life. It was an awesome thing to hear and to then see her publicly demonstrate her faith in Christ through baptism. Now she is gone to be with her Savior, while our hearts are filled with grief and so many questions and emotions. 

In the midst of all of this, as family and friends were gathered for hours at the Intensive Care Area of the hospital, I witnessed a powerful demonstration of life and hope flowing from this tragedy.  Cinnamon was an organ donor. So while we were grieving her loss, we heard word that her kidneys, a lung, her liver and other parts of her physical body were being transported to various places around the country, bringing life to people desperately in need. Her death meant life for others.

Please pray for Matt, Cinnamon’s husband and for Jacoby, her 4 year old son as well as all the grieving family and friends. Cinnamon’s memorial service will be held this Tuesday at 10:00 am at Christ Community.

This is Cinnamon, after being baptized by her mom and Matt

This is Cinnamon, after being baptized by her mom and Matt

The Gospel and Politics

I confess. I’m struggling at several levels with the whole election season we are in. It raises all sorts of issues for me personally and as a pastor. I find myself getting into intense conversations and having all sorts of negative thoughts about those with whom I disagree. For me, what is most disturbing is not the political process but rather why it is affecting me as it is.

While I am acutely aware of the danger of mixing religion and politics, I am starting to think that in my own heart I need a healthy dose of the gospel IN my politics. As Tim Keller often teaches, when a desire–even a good desire–becomes an inordinate desire (ie something we can’t live without, something that consumes our thinking and feeling), we are actually wrestling with a much more foundational issue than the surfacing problem. We are breaking the first commandment–“You shall have no other gods before Me.”

At times I’m sure the intensity I feel in this process is related to righteous anger about moral issues that I believe God cares deeply about, but I also wonder if many times my intense emotions are actually an indicator that I am looking to something other than Christ to be my Savior, my life, my sufficiency. My political positions can easily become my ‘god’ as evidenced by my anger when those ideas are criticized or threatened.

Once again, I am acutely aware of how desperatey I need the gospel today–especially in my politics!

Birthday

I’m celebrating my 46th birthday today–actually “celebrating” is a bit of a stretch. I’ve been working like a dog on my sermon for this weekend. Having Monday as a holiday definitely puts the pressure on. Someone sent me an email letting me know several famous people with whom I share a birthday: Terry Bradshaw, Jimmy Conners, Keanu Reeves (He’s 2 years younger than me so I don’t feel too old) and Christa McAuliffe who died at 38 in the Shuttle Disaster.

I remember a friend telling me that his roughest birthday was number 46 because it put him on the upper side of the 40’s. I’m really not bothered by being 46 (except the thought that this day actually represents the beginning of my 47th year of life!) I spent some time in prayer this morning thanking God for all of the blessings He has given me. I’m extremely grateful for His grace and Presence in my life. I’m extremely thankful for my incredible wife and kids. And I’m also thankful for my job, which I really enjoy as well.  Speaking of my job….better get back to work!

Blessing Your Children

This past weekend in our worship services, I talked about the opportunity we as parents have to speak a blessing over our children. This is something I have done ever since my kids were born. Before they go to bed, I pray for them and then speak the Number 6:24-26 blessing over them.

I just got an email this morning from a dad in our church who tried it last night with his kids. He said that “It really made my kids feel special.” Cool! He also asked me for some other specific blessings in Scripture he could use with his children. Here are some other blessings that I suggested to him: Romans 15:13, 2 Corinthians 13:14, I Thessalonians 5:23, 2 Thessalonians 2:19 and also 3:16, and Hebrews 13:20. The book that I referenced in my message is called The Family Blessing by Rolf Garborg.

If any of you have some cool stories to share about trying the blessing in your family, let me know!

Rite of Passage

 

One of the greatest privileges for me in the last few months has been the opportunity to participate in a few “Rite of Passage” events for some 13 year olds in my life. The basis for this kind of event is rooted in a desire to help call our sons into godly manhood. The idea for this event came from a couple sources. One is a colleague, Daniel Steitz, who has done this sort of thing with his boys. The other was a book I read by Robert Lewis, entitled “Raising a Modern Day Knight.”

I loved the idea when I first heard about it because so often, we do such a poor job in communicating to our sons what it means to be a godly man. The idea of genuine manhood in our society is so rarely being communicated. Manhood is often exemplified by one of two extremes: the macho, angry man or the passive, apathetic man. Without any clear vision, our sons will inevitably drift toward one of those extremes, leaving a wake of relational and spiritual devastation behind them.

What a privilege and responsibility fathers have to instill into our sons a vision of authentic manhood. The rite of passage experience provides a great way to open the door for this to begin happening.

The ceremony itself can look any way you want it to. Here’s what I did for my 13 year old son. I asked 5 men whom I respect and who know my son to be a part of the event. I asked each to share for a couple minutes what they felt it meant to be a godly man. I also prepared a description as well of the things I wanted my son to pursue as he grows into manhood.

On the day of his 13th birthday, the 6 of us men gathered in a room at church. At the same time, I had my wife Raylene take Joel from home to church. On the way, Raylene shared with Joel about how significant this birthday was and how, while she loved him as a mom, it was important for his dad (me) to call Joel into the journey of manhood. She dropped him off at church and I met him at the door. We then went to the room where the men had gathered. He knew something serious was up!

I explained that we were there to help Joel begin this important journey. Each man shared for a few minutes what they had prepared-which was really cool to listen to. I had invited my dad to be a part of this and as I was sitting there, I realized that I had never ever heard him share specifically about manhood. It was a really cool experience to listen to his words as well as the combined wisdom of these men and to hear their affirmation of Joel.

After they spoke, I then shared 4 key qualities of the heart of a godly man (Humility, Passion for God, Compassion for others, Courage). I then gave Joel a plaque that Raylene and I had had made for him with Joshua 1:9 on it-a verse we had picked out for him. We then gathered around Joel and each man prayed for him. At the end of the prayer time, I spoke a blessing over him. Then we had root beer floats.

It was a great experience for Joel and for me. For Joel, there was great wisdom shared and a realization of the importance of pursuing godly manhood. For me, it ‘forced’ me to begin thinking about how I defined godly manhood and it also opened a door for me to start being more intentional with Joel about this journey. I highly recommend it.

In Lewis’ book, he points out that it doesn’t have to be at 13. If your son is older than that, you can do it at 16 or 18, or you can do it all three of these significant transitional birthdays. Please leave a comment if you have other ideas or things you have done with your sons, or if you have any questions about any of this.

A Helpful Perspective on the Election

A pastor friend of mine recently sent me an email from a Christian friend of his who ministers in the Middle East and the United States. I thought his thoughts were a very helpful perspective as the presidential election draws near. Here’s what he wrote:

The question I’m most often asked by friends or those who hear me speak are about the politics of the Middle East. They go like this:

“Carl, I know you just talked for an hour about Jesus and how his Kingdom is growing – and that’s very nice – but what we want to know is what do you think about our troops being in Iraq? Should we withdraw them or leave them? And while we’re at it (they say in a soft voice, looking around to be sure no one is listening), who will you vote for – McCain or Obama?”

Second most asked question I get these days is about Iran’s leader- Ahmadinejad. “So….what do you think about HIM? Pretty crazy huh? I think he has nuclear weapons already. Probably going to bomb us, or at least Israel. What do you think we should do?” (As if I know). 🙂 Questions then range from Sudan (Darfur and the so-called “Muslim-Christian” war there), to the Hezballah, Hamas and the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

In some ways, I totally understand. I’m the “Middle East expert” dude. I know some of these people. I’ve been in and out of the Arab world since 1983. Lived in Beirut for 12 years. I’ve immersed myself in the lives of these people for a long time. I do understand them.

What I don’t understand is our fascination with the politics of earth. I get several emails a week from friends who know me well, asking what I think about this or that article or email from someother friend that they received. Usually (almost always actually) these emails which they are forwarding to me, are alarmist in nature. “The Muslims are taking over.” “Beware of the REAL agenda behind such and such group.” They are full of fear and suspicion.

And these are the ones I get from believers. Lovers of Jesus. People of another Kingdom. I think the emails are generally innocent, sometimes even well-meaning. They’re not mean or nasty. They’re just not the point. This may surprise you!

1. Iran probably has the largest and fastest growing church in the Muslim world? Shi’ite Iranians are turning to Christ in huge numbers.

2. Likewise, there is a significant move of God in northern Iraq among the Kurds.

3. Sudan has an incredibly strong and growing church among Muslims- even in Darfur.

4. The Hezballah of south Lebanon and the Shi’ites they represent have always been the most open to the gospel of all the peoples of Lebanon. Remember back in the early 90’s it was they who gave me permission to speak in Mosques about Jesus.

5. The Hamas continuously invite Brother Andrew to speak to them about Jesus – hundreds at a time.

Let’s not lose focus. Ahmadinejad is a puppet in God’s hands. God will raise him up and lower him as he wills. Sadam was nothing to God. The Hezballah have been and are currently being used by God to fulfill his purposes in South Lebanon. And as much as I and many of you think the Iraq war was a bad idea, God has used it to open up a nation to hear his Word!

Jesus is the answer! Not Obama or McCain. Not troops in or troops out. And even the worst of the terrorists can never stops the plans of the King of Heaven!  Let’s stay on track – don’t get sidetracked into idle and silly arguments this election season that don’t really matter. Do vote for the ones who you know and trust – do be involved. But know that politics is only a temporary salve to the great issues of our day. The only solution is living within you and I. The powerful Spirit of the living God.