Tuesday, January 24, 2012

You Lost Me Book By David Kinnaman

Recently, I had the privilege of reading David Kinnaman's new book, You Lost Me. David is the president of the Barna Research Group, one of the most well known research firms in the country.  David illuminates current trends being seen in both Protestant and Catholic arenas of the church as people in their twenties and thirties are disconnecting from the faith practices of their youth. As I read the book, I couldn't help but think about how exeperiences during eight years I spent in vocational ministry coupled with the seventeen years I have been a Christian seemed pretty congruent with Kinnaman's research findings and conclusions.

In the book, he talks about three distinct groups of people who are leaving classic expressions of faith, and landing in significantly different places, Nomads, Prodigals, and Exiles.

Nomads--Make claims to a basic truths of the faith but don't engage in outward expression of the faith. 
Prodigals--Have completely separated themselves from the faith in which they were raised. 
Exiles--Hold closely the basic truths of the faith, engage in outward expression of faith, but in very non-traditional ways.

And what has lead to this array of departures? According to Kinnaman's book the biggest problem is that these youth who are raised in the church are not being equipped with the tools they need to make sense of the world in which they live through their faith communities.

For instance, although there are many scientists (myself included) and workers in the realm of science and technogy who have little difficulty seeing their engagement with science, medicine, health, and technology as an arena in which to express their faith, many young people are raised in the church with either an anti-science background (at worst) or little thought being given to how faith and science work together (more generally).

Aside from being antiscience, Kinnaman notes in his research that these young nomads, prodigals, and exiles also consider the church to be overprotective, repressive, shallow, exclusive, and doubtless. While Kinnaman shares these concepts with the data to back them up, he also paves a way for the church to navigate going forward to course correct amid these problems. For me, this was the most encouraging part of his book.

Why was it encouraging? Well, the reason was two-fold. The first reason is because it would be very easy for a researcher to simply just lay out the findings and walk away to let the reader engage with the data and figure it out. David doesn't do that. He cares so much about this issue that he is willing to share examples of bright spots amid these negative trends. The other reason I was encouraged by this book was more personal. I read the book and felt affirmed in the way in which I went about my work in vocational ministry on the campus of West Virginia University and in the city of Morgantown, WV while I worked for Great Commission Ministries at Chestnut Ridge Church.

I highly recommend his book; particularly for church leaders and others who are wondering why they are seeing a decrease in attendance among those in the 18-35 year old range in their congregations. I would also recommend reading it if you are a person in this age group period. It is well written, not preachy, and Kinnaman writes from the position of a fellow journeyer.

Monday, January 23, 2012

My 2011 Goals

No, the title of this post is not a typo. In separate posts, I will be sharing my 2012 goals and some reflections on some of my favorite moments of 2011, but I thought I’d take a minute and examine how I fared with some of my personal goals from 2011. For instance, I had hoped to run the Parkersburg Half Marathon, but it did not happen. I had set a few other goals as well, and I’d like to share how I fared in each of these.

Lose Weight—I started 2011 weighing 211 pounds. I ended 2011 weighing 197 pounds. I hit my low weight for the year during the week before getting married, and I weighed in at 183 pounds. I had hoped to hit 170, but didn’t make it; nonetheless, I am glad that I could measure progress, and perhaps my goal of 170 pounds by May 25 was a little unrealistic.

Spend Less—Well this was a bit of irony. I actually spent more in 2011, but a major part of that was a result of unforeseen medical bills, and expenses associated with getting married. What I’m happy about is that separate from these expenses, I did hold fast to my goal of spending less.

Blog More Consistently--Over the last year, I had started the year with a goal of writing three to five blog posts per week over the course of the year. Had I accomplished this goal, I would have written around 150 posts for the year.  Unfortunately, I did not meet this goal, and, in fact, only posted 83 times in 2011 which accounts for the lowest number of posts of any year since I started this blog in 2005. (Although, I did have another blog on another now obsolete site from 2003-2005, that probably had fewer posts).

Get Outdoors—I’m really happy about this one. I spent such a small amount of time outdoors in 2010, there was nowhere to go but up.  From October to the end of the year, Jamie and I made a habit of visiting Cooper’s Rock for some hiking at least once per week to hike when we were in town.

Exercise—I joined a gym in September, and spent most of the year getting exercise of some sort 3-5 times per week.

Parkersburg Half-Marathon—Injury prevented me from training properly for this event, but it is in my sights for 2012.

Reflect—I started the year well with this goal, but as the year lurched forward, I found less and less time available for this discipline. This will change in 2012.

Say “No”—I did improve in my ability to say no over the course of 2011, but I can still improve in this area.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Martin Luther King Day 2012

Today we remember the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and his legacy of working toward justice in America and in the world. It's pretty amazing to think about the fact that less than a century ago, the civil rights movement was in full sway. Less than a century ago, schools were segregated, restaurants were segregated, and even bathrooms and water fountains were segregated. Our nation has come a long way since Dr. King's death but there is still much work left to do in the realm of justice.

This weekend, I pulled a book off the shelf called "A Testament of Hope." It is a collection of the writings and speeches of the late Dr. King. I read a sermon, which was Dr. King's last Sunday sermon and it was given at the beautiful National Cathedral in Washington DC on Passion Sunday 1968, just a few years before I was born, almost to the day.

As I read the sermon, all I could think was that it could have been given yesterday just as easily as it could have been given 34 years ago. The words ring as true today as they did in 1968. Here's a small section.

"First, we are challenged to develop a world perspective. No individual can live alone, no nation can live alone, and anyone who feels he can live alone is sleeping through a revolution."

And another.

"Something positive must be done, everyone must share in the guilt as individuals and as institutions."

And yet another.

"There is another thing closely related to racism that I would like to mention as another challenge. We are challenged to rid our nation and our world of poverty. Like a monstrous octopus, poverty spreads its nagging, prehensile tentacles into villages and hamlets all over our world."

Dr. King, in this sermon centered the message around these words of Jesus, "Behold I make all things new--former things are passed away."

And as a closing remark, may the closing words of Dr. King's sermon be our prayer today, and every day, until Jesus returns.

"God grant that we will be participants in this newness and this magnificent development. If we will but do it, we will bring about a new day of justice and brotherhood and peace. And that day the morning stars will sing together and the sons of God will shout for joy. God bless you."

Saturday, January 14, 2012

My Thoughts About Tim Tebow

Tim's First NFL Touchdown from Tim Tebow on Vimeo.

It seems like everywhere people are talking about Tim Tebow. Sports pundits wonder if he has special favor from God because of some of his team's amazing victories this year. The faith community seems divided, some thinking he is a great proselytizer and others thinking he is drawing too much attention to football. Others, somewhat cynically work to remind the masses that he is just a man, and what he is doing is being overly hyped.

Now, historically I'm a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, although I have a nephew who is a huge Denver Broncos fan and has been since he was a little boy. I'm not writing as a sports pundit. Of course, those who know me know that my faith is very important to me, and that I strive to learn how to best live this life from Jesus Christ, and I seek to follow his example, but I'm not being so bold as to claim to be an expert as to how Tim Tebow should incorporate his faith into football. This post is about Tebow, but it's really about all of us.

This morning after I woke up, I read an article about Tim Tebow that really touched me. There's been a lot of ink used on Tebow in recent months, and as I referenced earlier, it has been a mixed bag with regard to what people are saying about him. As I thought about whether I should write anything at all, I figured that if I did, I should definitely write it before tonights game, as regardless of one's perspective on this guy, lots of people will be writing about what he did or didn't do tomorrow.

That's a lot of pressure on any human being, but Tebow seems to deal really well with it. I mean tomorrow there will be thousands of tweets and facebook posts talking about the game and his faith, and his prayers, and his life, but the article I read this morning on ESPN really brought a different angle to his story.

You see, even though all eyes are on Tebow before and after games, each week, he has his eyes elsewhere.   He has his eyes on someone who has been suffering, whose life he is attempting to make a little brighter. Rather than re-tell the story of the ESPN article I read, I'm just going to post it here, and let you read it as well.

This post has made reference to Tim Tebow multiple times, but it's not because of his accolades on the field, or the way he talks about Jesus every time he gets the opportunity. It's for what I saw in the article, and what I hear from time to time from others. Sure, he's just a man, but in spite of having all eyes on him and having all eyes expecting him to fail, expecting him to shout about Jesus, expecting him to pull-off a miracle play, he is looking to care for others. He is spending time with the hurting, and trying to make others lives a little brighter.

And so although this little ditty started as a post about Tim Tebow, it's really about you and me. You see, the majority of us will never rise to the celebrated status of this or any other professional athlete or rock star or writer or hollywood mogul, but, we have an opportunity every day. Every day, we have an opportunity to serve others, to make someone else's day a little brighter, to love our neighbor as ourself. It's really about what we are going to do with the time we have to make this world a better place.

And so, whatever you do, whether it's playing professional sports, or some less celebrated activity, remember that your time, and your day is really not about you, but rather it's about how you can serve, bless, and/or improve the lives of other people. May we each make the most of the limited time we have on earth, and learn to love well. When we love well, we make the world a little more beautiful. As I read and learn more about Tim Tebow and his off the field exploits, I see the beauty he brings into the world. And as I close this post, I pray that he, and you, and I can grow in our love and service for others.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

National Human Trafficking Awareness Day 2012

For the last three years, I have written a post about National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. And as I write a post about the day this year, I'm excited about the growing number of people who are committing their time and efforts toward working toward an end to human trafficking, and for the steps taken last year to eradicate modern day slavery.

Just a week ago some of my friends attended the Passion Conference in Atlanta, GA. Over 40,000 college students attended the event and raised over $3 million dollars to fight human trafficking. They also made a commitment to work toward the end of human trafficking and modern day slavery. Did you know that there are over 27 million slaves in the world today? Did you know that this is more than at any other point in history?

Numbers like this can be overwhelming, but I would love to share some more positive numbers from an organization my wife and I proudly support, International Justice Mission.

  • More than 1600 men, women, and children were rescued from violent oppression, like sex trafficking, forced labor slavery, and illegal detention.
  • Nearly 1000 members of Thailand's hill tribes received citizenship documentation critical to protect them from trafficking and other violence.
  • More than 100 traffickers, rapists, and other criminals were convicted as a result of IJM casework; hundreds more were charged or face trial.
  • More than 4000 men, women and children were served by IJM aftercare.
  • A dozen bars and brothels were ordered to shut down permanently for human trafficking crimes.
But there is more work to be done. Will you consider taking a step this year to help bring an end to human trafficking?

May we each take steps this year to help make this world a better place.