A Butterball Gift

butterball-hotlineThe Butterball company staffs a hotline to help puzzled consumers cook their famous turkeys. You might guess that not all of the callers have equally reasonable questions.

One man didn’t have an electric carving knife, so he made a simple substitution: he carved the bird with a chainsaw. He called wanting to know if the chain grease and oil would affect the turkey’s flavor.

An irate woman called complaining that her turkey had no breast meat. After several questions, the Butterball staffer realized that her turkey was upside-down, and that’s why she couldn’t find her favorite cut.

My favorite story is of a caller who announced that she found a turkey in her freezer that had been there for 23 years. She wanted to know if it was still safe to eat. The employee told her that it probably wouldn’t kill anyone, so long as it had actually stayed frozen, but it would have deteriorated so much that it wouldn’t be worth eating. The woman replied, “That’s what I thought. Well, I guess I’ll just give it to our church.”

Her comment betrayed a frightfully common attitude. She believed this turkey wasn’t fit for her to eat, but it would be quite fine to give to the church. I hope you see the problem.

Too often we have been guilty of treating the church like she did. We give the Bride of Christ our leftovers—our leftover time, our leftover energy, our leftover gifts. We become people of convenient Christianity: so long as it doesn’t ask too much of me, I’m okay with it. One preacher said of this attitude, “Sin first shows itself in what you give to God.”

Are you giving God your freezer-burned butterball, or are you offering him your heart, soul, mind, and strength?

An Equal and Opposite Reaction?

Overreaction_EverywhereDo you remember learning Newton’s third law of motion in science class? Every force exerts an equal and opposite reaction. If you and I weigh the same, and we’re both standing on roller skates, if I push you—we both will move apart. Newton’s law is a good description of the way the universe works, but a pretty lousy one of the way that people work.

When we are working with people, it is rare that we get an “equal” reaction to our pushes. Consider the current state of political discussion. When two sides disagree, usually the discussion intensifies until it degenerates into yelling, insulting, or frustration.

God has a better way: “With patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone.” (Proverbs 25:17)

Just a few verses later he suggests that instead of reacting and intensifying a situation, we de-escalate: “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.” (Proverbs 25:21-22)

Think carefully about how you respond to those with whom you disagree. God also said, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” (Proverbs 26:4-5) There is a time and place for each kind of response. Wisdom is knowing which one to choose!

By hearing the wisdom of Proverbs, we can actually do something to change the shape of our conversations. Will you give it a try?

A Church’s “To DON’T” List for Welcoming Visitors

Last week I shared Thom Rainer’s six commitments that we can make to make Burns the best that it can be. Can I share something that is basically the opposite?

Here are the top nine ways that churches discourage first-time guests from returning. Rainer compiled this list by surveying people who visited a church once, but didn’t come back. These are their thoughts, I’ve tried to clarify and adjust them to our context. So let’s learn from them an add these things to the “DON’T DO” list!

  1. Unfriendly church members. We must be genuinely kind and interested in those who visit with us. Not curt, not ignoring, not fake. Go read Proverbs 18:24. It’s an uncomfortable thing to visit a church and be ignored.
  2. Unsafe and unclean children’s area. Visitors won’t trust their kids to an untrustworthy looking Sunday School. I wouldn’t!
  3. No place to get information. Most people don’t get past the first page of the paper, the first minutes of the news, and the first seconds of a first impression. We need to make it easy for our guests to find out about us. (That’s why we have door greeters, signs, and the foyer TV.) We need to communicate simply, succinctly, and clearly.
  4. Bad church website. It’s hard to come up with a concrete number, but the vast majority of visitors visit us online first. What do they learn about us?
  5. Poor signage. Signs are invisible to members at Burns, because we don’t need them, but for the guest who really really really needs the bathroom two minutes ago—they’re very important.
  6. Insider language. Sometimes we talk in code. Does a visitor know where the “Media Room” is? Would they understand our bulletin without explanation?
  7. Lousy preaching. Quality in our worship hour is very important. If they look around and see everyone sleeping, they’ll go back to sleeping at home.
  8. “You’re in my pew.” Visitors will never feel welcome if we tell them to get up and move. This simply is not an acceptable way for a church member to treat a visitor.
  9. Dirty and disorganized buildings. Disorder communicates that we don’t care.

Think about this list for a few minutes. Is it superficial? Yes. But here is the truth: we don’t get a second chance at a first impression. The gospel is so important that we should do whatever we can, in the bounds of scripture, to help people come in and not drive them out.

No single person is responsible for all 9 of these—not even the elders—but each one of us can do our part to make sure Burns is a place where new guests want to return. What

2015 Book Report

This is books scramble. Many books on white background.

My goal each year is to read 52 books—one per week.

If you count Thomas the Train and Llama Llama Nighty Night, I totally made the goal…but I just couldn’t bring myself to do that to you.

So here’s what I read last year along with a quick note. I’d love to hear your thoughts about these books and what you read!

All is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir by Brennan Manning
The story of a broken man who loved God’s grace. A love for God’s grace is contagious—and you might just catch it from Manning.

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
Our teens read this at Burns last year. Lewis is a timeless apologist whose words continue to apply. He lays out the argument from morality really well. Did you know he was (sort of) a secret agent man, too?

Six Million Paper Clips: The Making of a Children’s Holocaust Memorial by Peter Schroeder & Dagmar Schroeder-Hildebrand
School children in Whitwell, TN (just outside of Chattanooga) wanted a way to visualize the enormity of the Holocaust. They set out to collect a tangible symbol of each life taken by the Nazi regime. There’s a neat documentary about it, too.

Kid President’s Guide to Being Awesome by Robby Novak and Brad Montague
If, somehow, you haven’t seen the Kid President videos, stop what you’re doing and watch them. This is Kid President in book form. It’s cute and encouraging.

The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (A Theology of Lordship) by John M Frame
Can you tell this was a grad school textbook from the title? Dr. Frame is an advocate of presuppositional apologetics—a reformed slant on apologetics. Very comprehensive.

Five View on Apologetics edited by Steven Cowan
Did you know there are five different views within Christendom of how apologetics should be approached? Me either. I always enjoy the books in this “counterpoints” series that lay out the different views on a subject and help you think through them.

Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News? by Philip Yancey
You’d think we’d like grace more than we do, but Yancey correctly identifies the fact that we say we like it more than we actually practice it.

Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? by Philip Yancey
Yancey does a great job of balancing his writing. He is honest about the scriptures that make great promise about prayer while admitting that experience teaches that we don’t always get what we want. Yancey always finds the heart of the situation, too.

Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers by Christian Smith and Melina Denton
If you’ve ever heard the phrase “Moral Therapeutic Deism” – this is the book that it came from. (Don’t know what I’m talking about? This comic explains.) The authors were part of an in-depth national survey of the religious values of American teenagers. There’s some really good news, and really bad news.

Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church by Kenda Creasy Dean
The follow up to Soul Searching. The good news? Kids learn their faith from their parents. The bad news? Kids learn their faith from their parents.

Not Off Limits: Questions You Wish You Could Ask at Church by Ross Cochran
You may or may not agree with everything that Ross has to say, but it’s important that we can have these discussions in a reasonable sort of way. He does a good job reminding us that we can disagree without being disagreeable.

The Violinist’s Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code by Sam Kean
Evidently our genetic code doesn’t know how to make short sub-titles…but the book is really interesting. It tells the story of how and what we’ve learned about our DNA and the many ways it affects our lives that we never would have thought of. It is the biology version of The Disappearing Spoon by the same author.

Exploring Calvin and Hobbes: an exhibition catalogue with Bill Watterson
Finally! Some high culture! Must-read for any Calvin and Hobbes fan. Beautiful art and some great background on the reclusive cartoonist.

Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem by Kevin DeYoung
We are addicted to busy, and it is killing us. DeYoung analyzes why we get so busy and what we can do about it.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (audio book by Stephen Fry)
I thought Leslie might divorce me if I never got around to the trilogy. I really enjoyed part 1!

The Twist of the Wrist II: The Basics of High-Performance Motorcycle Riding by Keith Code
This was recommended to me on my annual motorcycle trip to East Tennessee. Great read to sharpen your riding skills. Most of your instincts (survival reactions) while riding a motorcycle exacerbate problems. (Coming off the throttle, standing up, stiffening up, etc.) Code talks about how to identify and train yourself to do smarter things that might keep you in one piece.

An Introduction to Early Judaism by James C. Vanderkam
Textbook for a study of the Intertestamental Period. Very helpful1

Exegetical Fallacies by D. A. Carson
What are the biggest mistakes people make when studying the biblical languages? Carson identifies them. It’s the “what not to wear” of Bible study.

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Timothy Keller
A thorough treatment of prayer. Keller studies the scriptures about prayer and offers practical suggestions.

I Died Last Night by John Orr
I don’t know how else to describe this except as a “scare the hell out of you” book for lapsed Christians. Not my cup of tea, but lots of people seemed to like it.

So You Want to Be Like Christ? Eight Essentials to Get You There by Charles Swindoll
We used this as a class guidebook at Burns. It’s a slightly different take on the spiritual disciplines. Well illustrated and thoughtful, but not terribly deep.

Hermeneutics: Principles and Processes of Biblical Interpretation by Virkler and Ayayo
Very interesting book on the problems and history of hermeneutics. It’s a technical read, but a helpful one, and the exercises make great discussion questions.

The Purpose Driven Church: Every Church is Big in God’s Eyes by Rick Warren
Read this with White Bluff’s interns this summer. Warren demands that we ask why we are doing the things we are doing. Is our ministry intentional or accidental?

Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible by Scot McKnight
McKnight helps us uncover and question our assumptions in Bible study. He calls our bluff when we claim to do exactly what the Bible asks of us. We all pick and choose—so maybe we should be intentional about how we pick and choose.

 A Graceful Uprising: How Grace Changes Everything by Jonathan Jones II
Jonathan preaches for the Maryville, TN congregation. This is an excellent walk through the book of Romans. Start2Finish recently released a study guide for small groups. I wrote a more thorough review earlier.

The Dead Sea Scrolls Today, rev. ed by James Vanderkam
You’re starting to be able to recognize the school textbooks, aren’t you? Interesting book about the contents and implications of the DSS.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
This was a re-read. Jimmy Fallon, of all people, reminded me of this classic, in discussing his finger surgery on the Tonight Show. Great book. Man can endure almost any “what” if he has a “why.” First half is his view of the Holocaust. Frankl was a psychologist who survived it. The second half develops a counseling theory based on his experience.

I’m not going to say much about the next four – but Leslie and I occasionally think about building a house. So what does a nerd do? He goes to the library to look at home-building books.

Building Your Own Home for Dummies by Kevin Daum (To clarify, it’s not building a place to house dummies, it’s for dumb people who want to build a house!)
The Big Book of Home Plans (This title made me think it was the AA book of home building.)
Encyclopedia Home Designs: 500 House Plans
Building Your Home for Less

I Will: Nine Traits of the Outwardly Focused Christian by Thom Rainer
Rainer proposes nine commitments that will strengthen our churches:

  1. I will move from “I am” to “I will.”
  2. I will worship with others
  3. I will grow together with others
  4. I will serve
  5. I will go
  6. I will give generously
  7. I will not be a church dropout
  8. I will avoid the traps of “churchianity”
  9. I will make a difference

Quick, easy read that can make a difference.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hildebrand
Maybe you saw the movie? I haven’t gotten around to it yet, but the book is good. A troubled kid’s transformation back and forth. A runner, a pilot, lost at sea, left for dead, tortured in a POW camp, addiction…it has it all.

How to Start a Riot: Support Your Local Jesus Revolution by Jonathan Storment
A walk through the book of Acts by the preacher at the Highland congregation. Favorite quote? Wherever the ancient church went, a riot broke out. Wherever the modern church goes, a potluck breaks out. What’s the difference?

Predators: Pedophiles, Rapists, and Other Sex Offenders by Anna Salter
Sounds like a fun beach read, doesn’t it? Salter is the foremost researcher on sex offenders in the world. I wanted to understand their type better since I work with many in the jail ministry. I’d recommend that church leaders and school leaders read this, because you have been afraid of the wrong things.

The Selfish Gene: Living with God and Darwin by Charles Foster
Billed as “real conversation between the scientific community and the Christian world” – I’m not sure it delivered on that promise.

Can Man Live without God? by Ravi Zacharias
Zacharias talks about the power of antitheism and what ultimately gives life meaning. In a tragic irony, many of the questions that lead people out of the church have even poorer answers in a godless worldview.

When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself by Corbett and Fikkert
If you are involved in mission trips, benevolence work, charity, or humanitarian aid, this is a must read. The authors charge that we often focus on the easy fix—handing over of some money—in a way that causes harm to both the giver and the recipient.

At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon
I always heard these were fun books—they didn’t disappoint. The story of a preacher in a small town. Get why I might like it?

AHA: The God Moment that Changes Everything by Kyle Idleman
A look at the prodigal son’s return: a moment that was birthed by an awakening, honesty, and action—AHA! Good sermon material. Well, I enjoyed preaching it, at least! Great take on Luke 15. My only gripe—he waits until the last couple of chapters to get the actual purpose of the parable and step on our Pharisaical toes.

Praying for Your Prodigal by Kyle Idelman
A follow-up prayer guide to AHA.

What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung
No great surprises here. A well-written argument for the traditional and biblical view of marriage and sexuality.

Letters to Heaven: Reaching Beyond the Great Divide by Calvin Miller
A collection of Calvin Miller’s letters to those who have died—to finish some unfinished business. This is just a fun book. Read all the Calvin Miller you can.

How Much Land Does One Man Need? by Tolstoy
I spent some time with this story to prepare for a sermon on gratitude and generosity. Great short story, told better than I did.

Biblical Interpretation: Past and Present by Gerald Bray
If you aren’t interested in church history and hermeneutics, don’t read this. If those are concerns of yours, jump right in. Learned a lot!

All I Ever Wanted to Do Was Preach by Dale Jenkins
A quick read from my friend Dale Jenkins. A compilation of his writing, particularly for ministers. He loves ministers, and it comes through in this book.

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Great stories about the psychology of change. Since we’re generally pretty bad at change, you might find this interesting and helpful. He connects head, heart, and environment in a neat picture: a rider, an elephant, and his path.

Centered: Marking Your Map in a Muddled World by Dale Jenkins
Excellent short book to use as a Bible camp curriculum.

The Lunch Ladies: Cultivating an Actmosphere by Philip Jenkins
Great read that confronts the culture of indifference, cliques, and apathy that sometimes creeps into our churches. Philip identifies a problem—and offers a practical and worthwhile solution.

I think that’s it. What did you read and enjoy this year?

Making Your Church a Better Place

louise-heath-leber-quote-theres-always-room-for-improvement-you-knowBurns is a good church. More than that—I think Burns is a great church! Honesty compels me to admit that Burns is not a perfect church. James Hinkle always likes to say that the biggest room in anyone’s house is the room for improvement.

Do you want Burns to be a better place? I do.

OK, so maybe you don’t go to Burns—here’s the spot where you change the name to your own congregation!

In Thom Rainer’s book called I Am a Church Member, he described six commitments that individuals in a congregation can make to improve the church as a whole as well as their personal experience with it. Here’s an adaptation for us:

I will be a functioning church member. Every member of the body has a job to do. You can improve our church by doing whatever it is that you were designed to do. Read Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12.

I will be a unifying church member. Too many churches have been torn down by gossips and fighters. You can honor Jesus prayer in John 17 by fighting for unity.

I will not let church be about my preferences and desires. We all have them; we all like our own. We need to realize that the kingdom is bigger than me. Paul said he’d give up eating meat for life if it would help a brother out. Read Romans 14.

I will pray for my church leaders. Want a better preacher? Pray for me! Want better elders? Pray for them! Want a better country? Listen to scripture and pray for the king! (See 1 Timothy 2, James 5, and other passages on prayer.)

I will lead my family to be healthy church members. The spirit of Christ must live in your home if he is going to live in your church. Cultivate a mentality not of serve-us, but service. Read Ephesians 5-6.

I will treasure my participation in this church as a gift. It is a gift to be part of the body of Christ. Let’s make sure that we speak and act like this is true.

Will you join me in making these six commitments to making Burns a better place? What would you add to the list?

(Check the blog post that inspired the book and this article.)

Ten Ways to Cripple Your Kids’ Faith

Would you like to cripple your children’s faith? Want to keep them from staying in church when they move out? Here are a few suggestions that seem to work well.

ONE: Be a hypocrite. If you’re one person at church and a different person at home, your kids will smell the difference. They’ll know that one of your personalities isn’t real, and decide that it’s too much effort to be fake. They won’t play the game—or even worse—they might!

TWO: Use your religion when it’s convenient. Ignore it when it calls you to different behavior. Only use your faith as a standard for other people’s bad conduct. Ignore that plank in your eye; there is a world full of specks to point out! Be pompous and self-righteous, never contrite or convicted.

THREE: Complain and criticize. If you give your kids a steady diet of what’s wrong with the preacher, the elders, the singing, the classes, the building, and the people, they’ll be sure to get the idea that church isn’t terribly important—or even if it is important, they’ll figure out it’s no good.

FOUR: Leave it at the building. Pray at church, read at church, and talk at church. But don’t do any of those things at home. Make sure you don’t pray with your kids. Or if you do, only do it when you’re eating with the preacher. (See #1!) Make sure you don’t have family devotionals.

FIVE: Prioritize. Whenever there’s a conflict, make sure the church loses. Every time. No exceptions. Show them that faith isn’t that important.

SIX: Keep-it “me focused.” Never let them experience the joys of serving others or the pleasure of giving to others. If try it, they might just like it.

SEVEN: Avoid hard conversations. Make sure your kids aren’t getting important life information from you. They’d be better off learning about sex from someone in the locker room, money from television, and sin by experience. What do you know, anyway? You’re just the parents. If a teachable moment happens, change the subject.

EIGHT: Be superficial. Make sure that you never get below the surface. Don’t dig deep. That stuff is all technical anyway. They won’t be needing it—they won’t be in church.

NINE: Never push them. Kids need their independence, don’t they? I mean you wouldn’t make them eat vegetables or go to the doctor, so why would you push spiritual things? Make sure you don’t push them to try new things. Don’t encourage them to get out of their comfort zones. After all, their comfort zones are comfortable. Why ruin that?

TEN: Just don’t think about it. If you ignore faith, it will probably go away.

On the other hand, if you want your kids to grow up and remain faithful to Jesus, maybe these are ten things you should avoid. You can decide!