hmm... thoughts

Children’s Book Idea: The Martyrs of Jesus

I’m an idea guy. And one thing I’ve learned over the years is that every one of my ideas has value. That doesn’t mean every idea is a good idea. It just means that every idea is worth writing down and coming back to later.

Several months ago I had this thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool to have an illustrated children’s book for 3-5 year olds that taught the real-life stories of Christian heroes?” Before I got too far with it I realized– This is one of the worst ideas EVER.!

Here’s what some of the pages would have been:¬†

  • Polycarp – He was an old man who was burned at the stake because he refused to burn incense to honor the Roman Emperor. When he didn’t catch on fire, they stabbed him with a spear.
  • Cyprian – When he refused to sacrifice to pagan gods, he was first banished. But then he was brought back to Carthage and beheaded. On his way to be killed he took off all of his clothes and put on his own blindfold.
  • Agnes – Agnes was martyred because she refused to marry someone who wasn’t a Christian. But since the law in Rome was that a virgin couldn’t be executed, Roman soldiers dragged her to a brothel first. Then when they tried to burn her at the stake the wood wouldn’t catch fire, so a soldier stabbed her in the throat.
  • Jovan Vladimir – He was beheaded in front of his church because he refused to lead his country into war.
  • William Tyndale – After being jailed for over a year in a castle, Tyndale was choked, impaled, and burned at the stake. His crime? He translated the Bible into English.
  • Hugh Latimer – Why he was killed isn’t all that clear. But people in charge of the church just didn’t like him because he was teaching truth about salvation and had a habit of preaching at places that weren’t the church. So they had him burned at the stake.
  • Thomas Baker – A missionary to Figi who was killed and eaten by cannibals.

I dunno, this might be my best idea ever…


Getting away from pendulum thinking

Our culture is dominated by pendulum thinking.

We have a tendency to think in extremes. There’s something in our cultural make-up which makes it difficult to think about minor corrections as we default to massive swings.

It’s “either or” thinking… and it drives me mad.

It’s been going on for a while. In fact, it is engrained in Western thinking.

An Example

Nearly a decade ago, I worked at an Evangelical Free Church in Northern California. Part of the job offer was that I would pursue ordination within the denomination. As I began the steps in that process I was assigned to read a series of books about the denominations history. I was shocked to discover that deeply engrained in the history of the denomination was a protest mentality from the fringes of the protestant reformation. The very word “free” in the denominations name was a protest against Scandinavian Lutheranism. They were free from Lutheranism! The Lutherans had a hierarchical structure, churches were interdependent and structured into synods. In response, the E-Free world had a lack of hierarchy. The Evangelical Free Church of America won’t even call themselves a denomination. They are a group of ¬†autonomous bodies tied together by historical culture and common beliefs. (Er, that’s what a denomination is, isn’t it?) Lutherans had ornate churches so E-Free churches tried to make their buildings stark white and plain in protest. Lutheran churches had a problem with pastoral abuses so E-Free pastors have virtually no power in their congregations. On and on... so much of what made the Evangelical Free Church distinct was actually pendulum swings from their past life in Scandinavia. I’d set those books down and think, “Only by God’s grace could such a rebellious attitude reach lost people.

More Examples

  • A church replaces a highly relational pastor with one who prefers books to people.
  • A company used to sell gas guzzlers, but now they just sell hybrids.
  • A country goes from electing a very conservative president to a very liberal one.
  • A person retires, having lived in Cleveland their whole life, and moves to Costa Rica, sight unseen, for retirement.
  • A family hates pets their whole life and on a whim they buy 3 dogs.

Pendulum thinking is interesting, isn’t it? It assumes that the only way to change is to go from one extreme to another! We don’t live in a culture of nuanced differentiation– we live in one filled with extremes.

In all likelihood the change you are looking for, the growth in your organization, the new product that will balance your budget, the educational principle that will revolutionize your classroom, and even the happiness you seek is not going to be found in the extremes.

One pendulum swing just leads to another.

What you are probably looking for is just a little bit to the left or the right.

Church Leadership

Set the 2010 Agenda

2010-church-agendaIn 6 weeks it will be 2010. And as many pastors climb into the pulpit on January 3rd, 2010 they will give the annual State of the church message, as well as a road map of the 2010 church agenda.

Lots of churches do this. The first weekend in January is perfect for it as Christmas is in the rear view mirror, people are naturally looking at plans for the year… and most importantly the pastor has had a few days of R&R. I love this practice.

My beef is that too many pastors give a State of our church message as opposed to a State of the church in our town message.

Set Your Agenda on Local Matters

Read Revelation 2-3 from the perspective of the church in your community. You will see that Jesus did not judge those churches by their local individual meetings. He judged the church by a collection of churches in a city. Jesus was looking forward prophetically. He knew that before he came back we would be fractured into hundreds of thousands of groups… and yet his prophesy was tied to a community, not a local church. How can you deny that? I hope this drastically changes how church leaders look at their role. Likewise, I hope they set an agenda for their church body that is reflective of Scripture and not what they know within their denomination or theological tradition. Scripture is always right!

Maybe this changes how we look at our role as a pastor in the community?

  • Our role may be to call local churches to come together for a common purpose.
  • Our role may be to call one another back to our first love.
  • Our role may be to ask the body of believers in our town to seek justice, speaking out against injustice to the point of change.
  • Our role may be to beg the church back to a period of societal reformation.
  • Our role may be to implore the local church to put the protest back in protestant.
  • Our role may be to remind churches that we are called to reach lost people, not put on the best show in town.
  • Our role may be to sound the alarm that the best way to reach the lost is minister to their needs, not entertain them.

Phrases from Revelation 2-3 to meditate on as you set your churches 2010 agenda. First love. Perseverance. Rich in poverty. Faithful to the point of death. Overcome. Service. Hold on to what you have until I come. You have a reputation for being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Dressed in white, for they are worthy. You have kept my word and not denied my name. Endure patiently. I am coming soon. Buy from me gold refined by fire. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. Be earnest.

What if, on January 3rd 2010, your church delivered a new kind of message? What if you called a meeting with some like-minded pastors in your community and set a common agenda for what the church will do in your town? I’m not talking about 100 things you will do… I’m talking baby steps. Here are 3 things we will do as “the church of our town.” And then on the first Sunday in January your agenda for 2010 includes a couple of things for what happens within your four walls… but also includes a few things that WE as the body of Christ in our town are doing together to be the Gospel to our town?

Now there is an agenda worth rallying around! I’d give to that. I’d stick around for that.

That creates new energy. Well, in me at least.