For the SCL Readers Getting Their “Blog Creep” On

Hey everyone,

If you’re linking here from my guest post on Stuff Christians Like, no worries. I get my blog creep on every once in awhile too. If you’re trying to find out in 90 seconds or less whether I have any useful stuff on this site, let me help you out.

Why I blog (and what’s with my web address): Hooray! Another Blogger!

TOP 10 POSTS:

1. A Letter To Barack Obama (Thought-Provoking)

2. A Letter To Evangelical Christians (Thought-Provoking)

3. Quitter, by Jon Acuff (Book Learnings)

4. What Your Wedding Vows Were Really Like (Marriage)

5. The White Umbrella, by Mary Frances Bowley (Book Learnings)

6. What Marriage Looks Like When You Don’t Give Up (Marriage)

7. How to Break Your Addiction to Stuff (Biblical Truths)

8. The Day My Worldview Was Destroyed (Thought-Provoking)

9. The Day My American Arrogance Was Destroyed (Thought-Provoking)

10. Top Seven Excuses NOT To Give Money To The Church (Thought-Provoking)

thanks for checking me out!

Five for (Friday)

Five for Friday on a Thursday? Why not? Actually, there’s a good reason why I’m sending out my links today. Friday I have the privilege of guest posting on Stuff Christians Like (ranked #11 on Church Relevance’s Top 200 Christian blogs). So, I’ll post something of a welcome/splash page for folks checking out mtvpastor.com for the first time. Today, here are some great articles to consider:

How To Let a Dream Die – Perry Noble shares some great insight on how to settle for average in your life.

The 3 Components of Job Satisfaction – What does it look like to have a job that fulfills you?

Marriage With a Chronically Self-Centered Spouse – Incredible series from a Christian counselor. If this applies to you, read it!

Christianity Isn’t Dying, Cultural Christianity Is – Great research and insight into the ever changing demographics of “Christian” America.

The Three Deadliest Words in the World: “It’s a Girl” – My heart breaks for this reality. Shining the light on this deplorable practice.

How to Break Your Addiction to Stuff

BIG Idea: Giving is the only antidote to greed.

The behemoth of Black Friday is behind us, and as the graphic so aptly states, only in America do we trample each other for sales exactly one day after being thankful for what we already have. Now that Black Friday has been pushed back into Thursday, we don’t even wait a day. Underlying our consumer mentality is pure, unadulterated greed.

We want more, we need more. We feel we’re complete until we see an advertisement with something newer and shinier. The American marketplace needs us addicted to stuff to fuel profits. PBS recently ran a documentary on materialism. Here’s what they found:

  • The average American shops six hours a week while spending forty minutes playing with his children.
  • By age twenty, we’ve seen one million commercials.
  • Recently, more Americans declared bankruptcy than graduated from college.
  • In 90 percent of divorce cases, arguments about money play a prominent role.

All this for the pursuit of money. If you stop long enough, you know that money can’t buy true happiness. So how can you break your addiction to materialism and money and stuff? Jesus himself shares how in Matthew 6:19-20, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

If you want to break your addiction to money, you’ve got to learn how to give it away. Until you do, money will own you. By learning how to give it away (to great causes like the local church, people in need, or great non-profits), you’re storing up for yourselves treasures in heaven and you’re breaking the power that money has over you. Here’s the BIG Idea: Giving is the only antidote to greed.

So as we enter into the materialistic orgy formally known as the Christmas season, don’t be caught up in the lie that more stuff will make you happier. Break your addiction to stuff by learning how to give it away. Trust me, when you’re in heaven enjoying all those rewards for eternity, you’ll thank me.

Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, & Life Together by Mark and Grace Driscoll

Do you ever wish a pastor would shoot straight about sex? Not the pie-in-the-sky sexual idealism that preachers rant about and many people break by the time they graduate high school. I’m talking real truth about the sexual messes that too many people find themselves in. If so, then this book is for you.

Real Marriage is a somewhat controversial book in Christian circles, not because anything in there is unbiblical, but because Mark Driscoll ventures into sexual issues that some consider taboo. Driscoll doesn’t venture here to be shocking or to make headlines, but because as a pastor he ministers where his people struggle. As a pastor to thousands, he’s encountered numerous stories of heartache and pain associated with sexual episodes. So, this book is him being an incredible pastor: taking the real-life struggles of people and shining the light of Scripture on them, to help them find a way out.

The book itself is broken up into two main sections: marriage and sex. The first section is helpful, looking at men and women in marriage, and marriage as friendship. As a Christian husband, I loved reading this bit of research, “Churchgoing husbands express more positive emotion to their wives, are more attentive to their marriages, serve their wives more, take more time for date night and time together, and invest more in their wives” (58).

The book really starts to steam up (pun intended) with the second section on sex. Here’s the value of the book: Driscoll deals with the raw and messy sexual struggles of real-life Christians today. Teaching at a marriage conference, Mark and Grace Driscoll encountered the brutal reality of what couples struggle with. Here’s what they encountered as people came up to talk with them: “Women who were molested as children, weeping so hard they could not breathe; husbands who had been caught, yet again, viewing porn; a married couple who had not had any sexual contact in more than a decade; a woman who had sex with her husband twice a day and was still unsatisfied, wanting more; a few couples who had been married more than a year and were still virgins; one woman who had not told her husband she had dozens of partners before they met; a wife who asked if her husband was guilty of raping her; and a Christian couple who wanted to know if they should keep watching porn together” (107).

As uncomfortable as it might be, situations like this exist in too many marriages today. Preachers like me get off too easy if we simply stick to the “don’t have sex before you’re married” message. That works if you’re preaching to teenagers, but what about the rest of us? What about those who have already made mistakes? What about those who are still trying to put together the pieces of a broken sexual life? What about those who are scarred from childhood experiences too horrific to recount? What about them?

As a pastor, Driscoll wades into the mess, rolls up his sleeves, and tries to help people find a way out. He and his wife are open about their sexual experiences growing up and how it negatively affected their marriage. Neither of them were virgins when they were married, and Grace was the victim of sexual abuse growing up. Their story is one of redemption and hope as they found healing and wholeness in Jesus. Grace’s willingness to open up about her sexual abuse as a child is invaluable for the millions of girls who suffer abuse growing up. Because of the stigma attached to it, too many girls don’t deal with the pain of it and carry that into their marriage. Grace’s journey points to the reality that sexual abuse does affect sexual intimacy with your spouse, and unless it’s properly dealt with, it will poison your marriage.

Chapter Ten raises the most eyebrows with ultra-conservative Christians, because Driscoll ventures into taboo territory and tries to apply biblical truth to areas that ‘good’ Christians aren’t supposed to talk about. Titled “Can We _____?”, he looks at eleven different categories of sexual reality that couples encounter today, including masturbation, anal sex, oral sex, role-playing, and whole host of other things that Christians want to know about but don’t feel comfortable asking. Because there is no sexual checklist in the Bible, Driscoll applies three scriptural principles to all of the categories and helps couples get scriptural truth applied to their sexual questions. While uncomfortable, this chapter is invaluable to a Christian couple just trying to get some answers to real-life questions. I applaud his bravery for venturing into such a taboo area and treating the issues with dignity and respect.

LESSONS LEARNED

1. Your sexual past has in incredible impact on your marriage. Through page after page of research and real life stories, Driscoll brings to light the convincing reality that sex always has consequences. If engaged in the wrong way, it can be devastating to a marriage.

2. Christian couples deal with sexual issues just like everyone else. Although everyone looks clean and dressed up on Sundays, they deal with sexual issues just like everyone else. I’m incredibly thankful for a book like this that tackles these issues head on.

3. The pain of sexual abuse is real. Grace’s story of abuse and its after effects are too often repeated in society today. My heart breaks for girls who are first victims of abuse, and then victims of shame that prevents them from finding help.

4. There is hope and healing for every sexual issue in Jesus. Greater than the pain of sexual mistakes, the light of Christ shines through this book as Mark and Grace continually point to the wholeness that anyone can find in Jesus.

5. Pastors need to talk about this more. Although many of today’s sexual issues aren’t specifically mentioned in Scripture, there are biblical principles that can bring hope to millions of people struggling with the consequences of sexual sin. We just have to be brave enough to walk towards the mess.

Five for Friday

Have a great weekend!

Fact Checking the Pastor – I’m sure you never have to do it, but here’s a good laugh about all the other pastors out there.

Nine Signs You May Be Addicted to Social Media – true words from Perry Noble.

Happy Birthday Billy Graham – A moving tribute from Billy’s grandson.

Leadership Lessons from Abraham Lincoln – With the release of the movie, fitting time to dive a little deeper into his life and see what we can learn.

Top Songs Sung in Church – Here’s the list of top songs sung. Is Jordan trendy or a trendsetter?

What the Church Can Learn From Disney World

This week my family has been enjoying some memory-making time at “Mickey’s Castle” (as my three-year-old calls it). Since I’m technically on vacation, I’ll keep this short. Here are seven things the church can learn from Disney World:

1. Their experience begins in the parking lot. Walt intentionally made the parking lot of Magic Kingdom far away from the park itself because he wanted everyone to experience the magic of the entrance to his park on a monorail. How can churches create a lasting impression, even from the parking lot? 

2. Their space flows beautifully. As simple as it sounds, it’s easy to get from one place to the next. Too many churches are laid out like a toddler drew the floor plans. Blind curves, choke points and poor flow make it a difficult experience for families going to church. Where are the choke points on your church grounds?

3. They don’t just provide rides, they provide an experience. Six Flags gives you a ride. Disney World gives you an experience. Even when you’re waiting in line, you’re immersed into the world of the ride. How can your church services touch all five senses?

4. They capture your imagination from the beginning. Their creativity is legendary. What we accept as standard now for Disney was pacesetting when it first came out. Everything they do is centered on immersing you in a new world, one that they’ve created. How can our worship services better capture the imagination of our worshippers?

5. They always provide a clean, well-kept space. It’s amazing to think that in a park that houses up to 75,000 people a day, it always looks clean and well-kept. They work incredibly hard to make that happen, because they know that every day they’re making a new first impression. When’s the last time you’ve walked through your church space with a fresh set of eyes? What needs cleaning up?

6. They always do something over the top. Disney is known for doing something unexpected, something over the top. The nightly “Wishes” firework display at Magic Kingdom is a great example. They always do something that blows your mind a little that makes you think, “how did they do that?” What can your church do (like creating a welcoming environment) that’s over the top?

7. They greet you on the way out. This still amazes me. After they’ve gotten your money, they still greet you on they way out. They want to make sure your entire experience is exceptional, from beginning to end. How can your church greet people on the way out?

There’s a bunch more things that could translate, but seven’s enough for now. Have a great rest of the week! I’ll be conquering Space Mountain today with my five-year-old.

Live For the Line, Not the Dot

BIG Idea: Live for the line, not dot.

Have you ever encountered someone who lacked perspective? If you have, you’ve probably been amused/annoyed/concerned/entertained by their complete lack of self-awareness. It might be the two-year-old throwing down Armaggedon in the grocery store because his mom wouldn’t get him the candy that apparently his life depended on.

It might be a teenage girl stomping to her room and cocooning herself in an isolated sanctuary of self-pity and grief because her boyfriend broke up with her and apparently her prospects for love in life are now dead and gone. Or maybe it’s the college kid who’s having way too much fun at college, with no idea that real life is about to come crashing down on him.

When people lack perspective, things tend to go wrong. For the past several Wednesdays, we’ve been looking at our relationship with money. Today, we’re talking about money and an eternal perspective. Here’s what Jesus said about money:

  19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” Matthew 6:19-20

The picture Jesus is trying to create when he says “store up for yourselves treasure” is the idea of stacking or hoarding. It’s like the tv show “Hoarders” that I watch from time to time as a guilty pleasure. I’m fascinated to see how someone can fill their houses with absolute junk and let their quality of life take such a nosedive.

Jesus is saying, “don’t be a hoarder here on earth.” Don’t live as if this world is all there is. Why? Because everyone lives forever somewhere. There is a life after this life. Eternity awaits us all. And the Bible clearly teaches that how we live our lives affects our eternity. This life is a small dot. Eternity is a line that extends forever. Live for the line, not the dot.

Jesus is saying, “don’t handle your money as if this world is all there is.” Don’t hoard useless stuff in your life that you won’t be able to take to the next. Look at how you spend God’s money. Are you blowing it all on you? Are you hoarding it like you’re going to keep it forever? Or are you using it to invest in the Kingdom, storing up for yourselves treasures in heaven?

Live for something bigger than yourself, and invest your money accordingly. You can thank me when we’re up in heaven.

The Art of Intelligence: Lessons From a Life in the CIA’s Clandestine Service, by Henry A. Crumpton

With the release of the latest James Bond movie, it’s fitting to do a book review on a real life James Bond, the CIA’s Henry Crumpton. Written by a former CIA operative about the shadowy world of US Intelligence, this is one of the few books written by an insider with deep ties to the intelligence community.

As I was reading it, my most reoccurring thought was, “they let him write this?” It was fascinating to read about some of the inner workings of the CIA, and although I know all of the information was vetted and scrubbed, I still felt like I was let in on a dirty little secret.

Crumpton walks us through his recruitment, training, and early days of running operatives in Africa. He does an excellent job maintaining his sources’ anonymity, while at the same time painting a real enough picture that the reader feels like he’s in the thick of the moment with him. His vignettes of dusty African roads and sweaty apartment blocks tickles the senses and thrusts the reader into his world. In the end, this book is an incredible public relations coup, giving an intriguing glimpse into the inner workings of the CIA without revealing classified information.

The crux of this work surrounds his work in counterterrorism and ultimately Afghanistan, as Crumpton played an incredibly critical role in the early days of the war in Afghanistan. Crumpton gives us a birds eye view of the formative years of counterterrorism and early attempts to get Usama bin Laden. He speaks tantalizingly of several close encounters with bin Laden before September 11, 2001. The tension and angst of the reader is thick as he realizes that September 11 might have been averted, but the United States did not have the technology (at times) or political will power to take him out.

With the terrorism of September 11, the Bush administration took the leash off of the CIA and allowed them to effectively run the early days of the Afghanistan war. Incredible turf battles ensued as the Department of Defense attempted to take over what had always been their forte: war. Effectively run by the CIA, the early Afghan war was an incredible departure from the wars of old.

Crumpton’s narrative leaves Afghanistan as the war drags on, bin Laden disappears into Pakistan, and the United States initiates a war in Iraq. Interestingly enough, Crumpton makes perfectly clear what many Americans have always felt: that the war in Iraq was a war of choice, pursued by a few within the Bush administration in spite of the cold hard facts. Crumpton leaves no doubt with the reader (his assertion) that the war in Iraq was founded on faulty (and possibly construed) evidence. Many smart Americans have suspected that over the years, but to see it in print by a high ranking CIA official is chilling.

Crumpton’s book peters out as his role in the intelligence community ends and he takes a variety of other high-standing assignments before retiring. His behind the curtain look at the formative days surrounding the Afghanistan war make this book well worth the read.

LESSONS LEARNED

1. The CIA is a moral necessity as a result of sin in the world. Ideally, there wouldn’t need to be an organization dedicated to subterfuge, lies, and deception. But with the presence of sin and evil in the world, I fully believe the CIA exists to keep greater evil from running amok. Unfortunately, the CIA can only act against evil when it’s in the national interests of the United States, but it still has many times kept great evils from being unleashed on innocent people.

2. The CIA represents a moral quandary for Christians. Is it morally acceptable to kill others, even if the cause is just? The Ten Commandments state that killing is outlawed, yet God commanded the Israelites to wipe out the nations of Canaan. Jesus taught us to “turn the other cheek,” yet God consistently commands us to defend the defenseless. If that includes killing a sadistic dictator, is that morally acceptable? Is it alright to murder someone if by murdering him you’re knowingly saving thousands of other innocent lives? I’ll let someone a lot smarter than me figure all of that out.

3. Unnecessary distractions can quickly become disastrous. The United States government became unnecessarily fixated on Iraq, while the war in Afghanistan was still in its critical stage. Although we’ll never quite know all the facts, there were no weapons of mass destruction, the impetus used by the Bush administration to justify the lengthy and costly war in Iraq. How many lives were lost; how much money was unnecessarily spent; how much damage was done to our economy and image in the world; all by a war that should not have been started. When we allow ourselves to be fixated on things that distract us from our central goal, disaster awaits.

What lessons can we learn from the War on Terror?