Thursday, April 19, 2007

Family in the Internet Age

I discovered that my mom has a blog. How cool is that?

Check it out!

March Madness Media

Finally (I think I've said that before....)

Some have asked about Journey's March Madness media coverage.

Video from WCPO is available here
The transcript of my brief appearance is available here.

March Madness 'criticism'

Several have asked me to expound on any "criticism" that we received over our March Madness campaign.

And really - when I wrote what I did I didn't have a lot of specific examples in mind. I was thinking of conversations I've had - all healthy dialogue. I'll point you all to these two posts that someone pointed me to. The posts don't reveal criticism, but some of the comments do. Again - I don't see this as particularly argumentative or inflammatory - this is good dialogue about "what does it mean to be the church?" For Journey, I think it begs questions of "what kind of church are we going to be?"

These are good questions that we hope to be asking for a long time...

So here are a couple links:

God Gas
How Should Churches Use Their Money

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

March Madness reflection (final one)

Part III: Theology & Marketing

I think this is my last post on March Madness reflection. You might want to see post 1 and 2 for some context.

The idea for our March Madness campaign started small. What if our church raised some money and gave it away in nearly random places in our community? It was a guerilla-style plan, with little planning. There was little strategy. Our tactic could be summed up as "let's do something cool."

I'm not ashamed of that. Cool things are fun. Cool things provide some fantastic teaching moments. Cool things get people involved that would never otherwise be involved.

Now - any idea that gets just a little bit of publicity will have some criticism.

Here's a summary of some of the darts:
* is it biblical to pay for gasoline?
* weren't there people who needed our money more than rich West Chester residents?
* doesn't the fact that we were on TV make it extremely self-serving?
* aren't we just trolling for new church members?

Here's the deal. On a rainy Wednesday night we were paying forty cents for every gallon of gas. The gas station wouldn't let us change their light board signs, so we had people by the curb with quickly hand-drawn poster-board signs: "Cheap Gas!" It's the cheapest advertising ever. And the intersection was jammed. People were lined up to get gas.

And then a TV truck showed up. And then a second.

We did not ask for media attention. A local reporter happened to drive by and buy some cheap gas. She talked to one of our volunteers and then called for a video-truck saying “we have to share this.” We don’t know how the second truck got there (I’d guess that Channel 5 just monitors Channel 9’s CB and then follows them around – but that cannot be proven). Tom was brilliant. I was long-winded and got edited down to ten seconds. And humiliated by my name being butchered - but anything for the cause...

Anyway, the Wednesday night coverage brought some attention to us that we never anticipated. One local news station did a follow-up feature on our Thursday night Chipotle event - even broadcasting live to open their newscast. We had people calling the church telephone line asking how they could stakeout our upcoming giveaways. It was weird.

And it creates a dilemma. Because as I've said, our goal was pretty simple:
1) Simply tell a whole bunch of people that God loves them with some simple gifts. Like a random act of gracefulness kind of thing, and...
2) Give our volunteers an opportunity to learn some practical lessons about faith and love and neighbor and all that.

That's it. And then we're on TV trying to explain what we were raising money for (we weren't, we were giving it away).

And then we're justifying why we're not giving money to Over the Rhine, or Africa .

So let me run through a few ideas. These aren't official " Journey Church " ideas, these are just mine. Very humble ideas, these:

Asking who is the absolute, most neediest seems a dangerous question. I don't see that in the bible. I don't see Jesus being sure to call out that the woman who was bleeding had bled longer than anyone else, or that the victims of leprosy had suffered the worst, or that the hungriest listeners on the hillside got the biggest hunks of fish and bread. Jesus went around helping and talking to and healing whoever he was around.

Now - this begs us to ask who we're around and if maybe we shouldn't broaden our horizons just a bit. And yes, yes we should broaden our horizons. But the great commission challenges the disciples to work from the inside out, locally and then globally ( Jerusalem , Judea and beyond). Likewise we're starting locally.

Did we just enrich the gas station - or the petroleum companies? Well - I doubt the number of gallons that we discounted will make OPEC blink. And truthfully, people's gasoline purchases are fairly inelastic - we Midwestern Americans tend to drive the same number of miles whether gas is $1/gallon or $4/gallon. We saved some people a few dollars and maybe they filled up a couple days before necessary, but in the grand scheme that gasoline was getting bought one way or another. We didn't change the gas station's profit margins - we just provided a steady stream of customers for a few hours. Of course, we probably leeched their sales for the next day or so - so I imagine that it's a wash.

But I'm done with grad school and don't want to think about the economic impact of this very deeply.

Is it Biblical to give away gasoline?

Perhaps I'm simplistic, but I don't understand this line of questioning. Is it biblical to drive a car? Is it biblical to own a computer? Is it biblical to tell people that God loves them? Is it Biblical to give gifts? Is it biblical to try and foster a spirit of generosity and compassion? I'm not sure that I like the implication that if it isn't explicitly called out in scripture then it isn't a "biblical" idea. Just because the gospels don't mention Chevrolet doesn't make my car "unbiblical".

When it comes to media coverage things get dicey quickly. As I mentioned in my last post, some cycles are hard to deconstruct. I have no intention of having a faith that I hide in the corner. Nor do I want to participate in a church that hides in the corner of my city. Additionally, I think that those attitudes are likely attractive. Might people come check us out because of a business card that they received or from seeing us on TV? Of course. Is that the point of our efforts in March? Absolutely not.

I saw a comment somewhere saying something mean along the lines of "Vineyard did servant evangelism and got huge and now every church thinks that if they do servant evangelism they'll get huge."

Maybe. I can't speak for every other church. But you've got to be careful with these things. Churches get huge for all kinds of reasons - and some of the factors aren't causal. There are some mega-churches with great bands. We like music and want to have a great band. But I'm sure that there are many small churches with great bands. I'm sure there are big churches with relatively modest music. It's all over the map.

Journey Church growing is clearly important to us. If we believe that sharing gospel truth is important (we do) and that people desperately need Christian community (we do) then of course we hope that we provide opportunities for people to connect who aren't currently connected to a church. But that should be a natural by-product - that should be fruit - from our own manifestations of faith and love. It's real easy. If all we cared about were having 1000 people in our auditorium then we'd just pay people to come.

But church attendance (or growth, or whatever) by itself isn't the point. The point is allowing people to experience grace, allowing people to pursue holiness, allowing people to learn and experience discipleship, allowing people to internalize and own and live out their faith and their doubts. The point is pursuing genuine experiences with the power of Gospel and the person of Jesus.

And, yes, we think that sounds attractive.

We're not going to trumpet that and beg for people to come. That wasn't the point of March Madness.

But yet, we get asked all the time where we meet...

Lakota East High School . Sundays. 10:30 am


Friday, April 13, 2007

March Madness reflection (second of three)

Part II: Discipleship

I'm thinking about Journey Church 's March Madness campaign. For back-story be sure to read my post from yesterday.

Yesterday I scratched the surface of the public impact. Today I want to talk about what practical discipleship means.

You see, Journey is a new church - barely over a year old. One significant impact of our March Madness campaign was that we had over 50 volunteers participate throughout the week. Remarkably many of those have never participated in a Journey event beyond Sunday morning church service. That alone is huge - just meeting people outside of a Sunday morning context helps us build relationship and community in a profound way!

Also remarkable is that most of those volunteers weren't involved in any church at all a year ago. Coming to church regularly is a big step. Coming out to give stuff away "in the name of Jesus" or "on behalf of a church" is a really big, risky step. We're asking people to put themselves out there in a dangerous way.

Frankly, the giveaway stuff is just fun. I think it's certainly meaningful - but I almost don't care about what "impact" it has. If nobody is saved by it, if nobody thinks "wow, I'm intrigued", if nobody responds at all - I'm OK with that.

Because the impact that cannot be ignored is the cultural impact that happens within our church community.

As a young church we're still trying to forge our makeup and identify. We're trying to become a community of faithful disciples that yearn and question and learn and live the redemption story. We want to be known as loving, generous, compassionate disciples.

But these traits don't happen overnight - they are learned, modeled, trained, given. As a young church we are taking baby steps and giving people the opportunity to grow in these ways.

And above all I think that internal impact is most significant. We asked people to give money - not to help our budget, or pay salaries, or buy more sound equipment - but to give away to something totally external. We asked people to give time and energy to do something totally outward focused - to look at people and interact with people that they would otherwise never see.

These are not unimportant lessons. In many ways that is the very point of March Madness - to say to our Journey people "it's not about you."

(Yes, I get that my whole post today is saying "the impact is about us." It's a circular argument - I get that. I think it's one of many paradoxes of practical faith - change inside leads to change outside which leads to change inside and the cycle continues. We don't spend a lot of time asking where cycles begin and end.

But we love encouraging people to join the cycle.)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

March Madness reflection (one of three parts)

I've been spending a lot of my driving time recently thinking about Journey's March Madness campaign from two weeks ago.

In case that name doesn't mean anything to you, here's the deal. In the spring we kick off a campaign where we raise money from within our church community for the express intent to give away. The programming team brainstorms different ways to give this money back to our community - some ways are trivial and frivolous, some are actually fairly significant.

This year our goal was to raise $6,600. And then every day of the week we had a giving event. We gave away keychain lanyards at the high school. We gave away Chipotle burritos. We gave away gift certificates at the local movie theater. We paid forty cents off every gallon of gas for a few hours at a local gas station.

The whole event was fun - it's fun to raise money for a special cause (like most churches we take offerings every week - but it always feels different when it's for something special). Likewise it's fun to see people volunteer to come out and give stuff away - it's rewarding to provide opportunities for people to get involved.

A lot of crazy stuff happened this year. We easily exceeded our goal for financial contributions. We ended up getting some media exposure. We had some of our events far exceed our expectations (the gas buy-down and the Chipotle giveaway). And then, after it started to wind down we've heard some criticism.

Part I: Impact

Here are some numbers. We estimate that we directly impacted 2,600 people (or households). We gave away 250 envelopes with $5 bills in them. We gave away 500 air fresheners. We gave away 300 lanyards to high-school students. We had approximately 360 customers at the gas buy-down. We gave away 820 burritos at Chipotle. We gave away 400 gift certificates at the Rave.

And what was the point of all that? Quite simply we set the bar low. Our only goal was to turn the tables a bit by giving away some cool stuff. Do we think that will change people's lives? Probably not. Do we think that makes any kind of significant impact on curing the social ills in our area? Not really. What we do think is that part of Gospel truth is that God is a loving God and that we are called to live that out in our daily lives. And giving generously is an easy application of that.

The thing is, if instead of handing something to those 2,600 people we would have polled them about what they though defined or represented Christians I doubt "generous" would have scored very high. What would we have heard? Irrelevant. Probably a common refrain. Judgmental. yep. Loving. Probably not.

Jesus instructed his disciples to go out and heal in his name. Now - don't get me wrong - nothing we did remotely approaches healing. But, in a small way, we went out and loved (peculiarly) and gave (generously) in the name of Jesus.

I am convinced that there is immeasurable power in cracking the window that maybe, just maybe, there are people out there who need to see evidence of that.

Will it work? We likely will never know. But we sowed seeds. We'll leave the concerns of the soil to the holy spirit and to the teller of parables.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Thoughts for January

Like many of my Journey peeps, I've committed myself to a year-long Bible Reading plan. I'm gonna knock this thing out in a year.

In the back of my mind I thought this would also provide a good launchpad for some blogging topics. I've had all kinds of ideas rattling in my head but, uh, it's January 17. No blog post yet.

'til now.

I've also committed to going to bed tonight. So my first installment will be "thoughts" from my reading to date - in outline form:

  • Wickedness amongst beauty: (see Genesis 13.8-13). I'm intrigued with the narrator's description of the Jordan plain - it sounds beautiful. And yet the author notes significant foreshadowing: "it's before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah." And in case you didn't get the hint, v.13 states that the people of Sodom were "great sinners." I saw the movie Blood Diamond a few weeks ago which brings me back to this notion: wickedness amongst beauty. That's life, isn't it? Profound beauty, but evil so close by. I wonder, even, if my own life is like that. In some ways the most beautiful aspects of my life have been the most besieged. I suspect that, like Lot, my heart settles in places - in dark corners - that are beautiful but dangerously close to nefarious things.
  • Crazy families: (see Genesis 19.30-38) I love the story of Abram and Lot, Abram and Sara, Isaac and Rebekah. I can't quickly articulate the inbred relationships - but if you're intrigued try keeping track of a family tree. And how much will we read in the coming books of battles with the Moabites and the Ammorites, stories of Ruth the Moabite and so on? I'm reminded again that these people, these nations, these stories - they all stem from broken relationships. Abram's weaknes is highlighted (Abram & Sara juxtaposed against Hagar and Ishmael). The separation between Abram and Lot will also echo for generations. And we're back to that "wickedness amongst beauty" idea all over again.
  • Common-sense Psalms Sometimes single sentences from the Psalms strike me as painfully obvious. Psalms 4.4 says "When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent...." (Please note: I linked NIV but quoted NRSV.)When I am disturbed - hurt, angry, down, bitter, lonely, furious, frustrated - I am more likely to stray. When we are in those places, those dark, weakened places we should watch out and be ever vigilant. It's OK to curl-up and hide at home ("ponder it on your bed..."), but don't go make matters worse by sinning in that moment. I shouldn't pop-off at my friends or chase relationships that aren't healthy or....any of the myriad self-destructive tendencies that I (and all of us) often tend toward.
  • Jesus on the Cross - in the Psalms: How have I missed this? Many times I read something and realize that I once was aware but have since forgotten - but I've never noticed this. Jesus' last words before dying on the cross are recorded as Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?, or "my god, my god, why have you forsaken me? (see Matthew 27.45-47)" This I know - I've read, pondered and preached on this. But I've never noticed that these words are a direct quotation from Psalms 22. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O, my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest." But the Psalm continues with a big transition......Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them..." Wow. Is Jesus' cry of lament really a prelude to worship? Wow...

  • Wednesday, November 02, 2005

    A thought for today...

    That's how you know when you have thought too much--when you become a dialogue between You'll probably lose and You're sure to lose.

    ~Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

    Thursday, October 13, 2005

    Healing without Understanding

    Any good pastor will speak to God's redemptive qualities and God's power to heal and to reconcile.

    This is good, because we all need healing, reconciliation and redemption--especially me.

    But I'm wondering if in matters of the heart and spirit we could have been healed and yet still FEEL wounded? How do our spirit, mind, emotions and heart interact?

    It's reported that the critically wounded often report phantom pain. A person who has lost his legs may feel an agonizing ache long after the wounds from amputation surgery have closed (and long after his legs have ever been around). While this person's loss is real his injuries have healed. And yet the mind and emotions continue to respond to a pain that--for all practical purposes--isn't real.

    Even in minor cases we can favor an injury long after it is necessary. After I had broken my arm in high-school I went years before I could comfortably carry a suitcase with that hand. Though the doctors assured me the bones were strong I could always envision the fissure splitting again; and imagining even the possibility of re-injury made me cringe (still does). It was easier to just carry my bags with my left hand and not have to even worry about it.

    And so today, in deep spiritual realms, I struggle with these notions of pain, injury and healing. I believe in a healer-God. I find it hard to believe that I am as wounded as I still feel. Perhaps God and time have indeed been faithful and yet I still cling to the memory of those painful injured legs? Perhaps I continue to protect myself from activities that would not in fact be threatening?

    I do not know.

    "Life IS pain, Buttercup. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something."

    It's no wonder we often want to go hide.

    May God continue daily to set us free, to lead us to places where we live faithfully and wholly. May I learn to look forward instead of continuing to reflect backward.

    I have been healed (indeed). May I feel so...

    Saturday, May 14, 2005

    Treasure in Heaven?

    These thoughts have been echoing in my head the past few days. I don't know if I even agree with the direction my questions lead. But that's always a fun place to be.


    We are to store up treasures in heaven. To hoard the spiritual. To continually live our lives with one eye on present behavior and the other eye on future reward.

    Is this right, and just, and appropriate?

    What if there is no heaven? What if there is no future reward?

    Now, don't misunderstand me, I believe there is an afterlife of paradise or emptiness. I believe there will be a new heaven and a new earth. But do I "need" it to be thus? Do I depend upon it?

    If God is as holy and righteous and transcendent as both He and we claim He is, then why must we demand or expect reward? What right have we?

    The promise of heaven sometimes simply disturbs me. It leads people to a "tit-for-tat", quid pro quo approach to life that is less than holy or spiritual in my opinion. We are trained as good Christians to suffer today for our crown in heaven; and we expect to hold God to this bargain down to the smallest scar and most inconsequential inconvenience.

    And this promise of heaven seems to be the hinge upon which we swing all of our decisions. Many of us--perhaps all of us--are likely to live our lives differently if God were to say "there is no reward--I am the Lord your God and I have given you birth, and life, and death. There is no more reward, there is no more punishment beyond that."

    I'll admit it--there is a part of me that thinks "well, then I won't be sleeping alone next Friday night..."

    If God is who God is--regardless of the whole aspect of the afterlife--shouldn't we strive to live lives in the here and now that are pleasing to God? What if that--the pleasure God might experience in watching us live well (and there is an idea worth exploring...)--is the only reward at our feet? Is that good enough for us? Are we willing to honor and worship a God like that?

    Would I take pleasure in someone's behavior when I know their choices are fueled only by some future benefit that I will provide? I am not usually pleased and delighted by a favor given when I know a future favor will be expected.

    How often do I face some trial, some frustration, some disappointment in my life and follow up with the thought "I will endure this, but only because it will pay off eternally once I croak"? Is this what God wants of us--for us to structure our choices, our values, our very being solely based upon a cost/benefit analysis with an eternally long future value?

    I may choose well in that context but I doubt that God is pleased or delighted with my mutterings.

    Does God want us living our lives simply wishing to die so we can get on with the reward?

    (Certainly I'm not the only one to think "Lord, just take me now..." Is God pleased by us devaluaing his gifts of life and creation and experience?)

    Thursday, May 12, 2005


    Time ticks by; we grow older. Before we know it, too much time has passed and we've missed the chance to have had other people hurt us. To a younger me this sounded like luck; to an older me this sounds like a quiet tragedy."

    Douglas Coupland, in Life After God

    Thursday, May 05, 2005

    Christians in college

    A surprisingly interesting take from Time magazine:

    College is traditionally a time of transition and new freedoms, the years when young people have to figure out for the first time who they are. The task is even more complex for the growing number of devout young Christians on secular college campuses who feel called to approach this time in a way that sets them apart. They draw inspiration from Paul's letter to the Romans:"Do not be conformed to this world." But the Bible gives few details on how to navigate the collegiate world in 2005, leaving Christians to grapple with tough questions as they try to integrate their beliefs--and themselves--into college life..