Random Gratuitous Celebration Post

I'm planning to take Monday off, so I'm not sure if I'll get a review from my latest read posted then or not. Meanwhile, today's a big day to celebrate two things:

Tonight marks the kickoff of the 17 greatest weeks of the year. College football season officially begins tonight, and it's a really good thing. Okie State kicks off their season on Saturday with a mammoth road game between the hedges. Not sure whose brilliant idea that was, but if we lose I hope they get fired! Either way, there's nothing better than college football. If you need me on a Saturday for the next 17 weeks, I'll be on the couch.

On a more serious note, I did something last night that two years ago I wasn't sure I would ever do again. Back in February I wrote a post talking about my battle with Ramsay Hunt Syndrome, a syndrome that attacked the 7th cranial nerve and paralyzed the right side of my face. It affected my hearing, my eyesight, and left me looking like a person made of plastic placed too close to the furnace.

As an athletic-type-person, one of my favorite outlets is playing softball. During college and seminary, I was a fairly decent left center fielder. I wasn't lightning fast, but I didn't miss a lot of balls. Ramsay Hunt changed that, because the muscles in my right eye were paralyzed and didn't allow me to follow the ball when I ran. I tried playing once after RHS, but there's something about a rock-hard ball coming at your face combined with a jiggly eye that made the excitement a little too stressful for me.

Eye muscle is one of the things I haven't regained since RHS - perhaps because they don't make dumbbells for that. So, I figured softball days were over. That was, until one of the single guys invited me to sub for his men's team this week. I told him my issue, and he stuck me in the infield where my jiggly eye would only have to react, not bounce. And it worked. I had a blast, played decent, and I'm back in the game baby!

I've regained about 90 percent of the movement in my face since RHS. The doctors say I won't get any more back (But then again, they said I wouldn't get any back in the first place... what do they know?). Even so, I'm cool with that. Though you might not be able to tell anything was ever wrong with me, I can still tell every time I look in the mirror. And it's a constant reminder that God's purposes are bigger than our momentary light afflictions. Every time I look in the mirror, I remember that God is faithful to even me. Jiggly eye and all.

The Big Idea - Dave Ferguson

I picked up The Big Idea because it was on a list of recommended books put out by Leadership Network, some guys I have worked with in the past and respect quite a bit. It was written by Dave Ferguson, Lead Pastor at Community Christian Church (CCC) - a multi-site church headquartered in Chicago, Illinois.

The book discusses a philosophy of doing Sunday morning church in such a way that the entire Sunday morning "experience" focuses on one primary theme - the "Big Idea." The rationale from the big idea comes from a core value that "[the church] can no longer afford to waste another Sunday allowing people to leave confused abotu what to do next." As a solution, CCC leaders have elected to frame their entire Sunday morning program for children, youth, and adults about one "Big Idea." The hope is that a laser focus on one big idea will better position the congregation to understand and act on Truth, rather than leaving the service overwhelmed by too many messages in too many environments.

The first half of this book describes a part of the rationale behind the philosophy. The assumption by Ferguson (and his team) is that the average Christian is bombarded with a different message in small group, Sunday school, the main church service, and other weekly Bible studies and church services. CCC's contention is that the mixture of messages leads to confusion and or helplessness when it comes to applying Truth to the believer's life. The solution of the "Big Idea" allows for a unification of teaching, better checks on the types of curriculum the church member is handed, and the ability for children, youth, and adults to have common ground to discuss and apply when leaving the church. It also fosters unity of purpose on the staff and volunteer teams.

The second half of the book describes the process CCC goes through to develop and implement the "big idea" - a series of meetings beginning a year out, which gives the staff and volunteer teams ownership in the "big ideas" for the coming year. It also gives everyone on the team time to exercise creativity and produce quality resources to aide the communication of the "big idea." The concept for each "big idea" comes a year out. Then, the idea is honed down in meetings thirteen weeks out, nine weeks out, five weeks out, three weeks out, two weeks out, and one week out.

I really appreciated two major things in this book. First, Ferguson repeatedly warns against merely adopting CCC's philosophy without taking into consideration your own church's culture and DNA. This was a refreshing change from many church philosophy books that give the distinct impression that their philosophy will work in every culture, even when it won't. The Big Idea does a great job at pointing out several potential pitfalls to consider before even applying a small part of the book to your church.

Secondly, the chapter (3.8) on the relationship between the Senior Pastor and the Worship pastor is worth the price of the book. Having served as a worship pastor, and currently preparing to serve as a senior pastor at some point, I may have a heightened sensitivity to this relationship - but these guys nailed it. Senior Pastors and Worship Leaders often have perspectives that mix about as easily as oil and water. Yet, their relationship is one of the most strategic in the church. This book does a good job at pointing out how the two can better understand each other.

I have one primary concern with The Big Idea, and it's a biggie to me. The entire system depends on developing the "big idea" first. As a result, the process as presented in the book requires an overhaul for churches that value a more expository style. But worse (in my opinion), is the fact that the system presented in The Big Idea begins with application rather than beginning with the Text. As the process is layed out in The Big Idea, the creative team figures out what they believe should be the "takeaway" from each Sunday morning, and then goes off in search of "stories, Scriptures, illustrations, insighs, props, and jokes..."

This kind of approach (as the norm) makes me pretty nervous. When you begin with the desired application, you open yourself up to the danger of finding passages that weren't written to say what we make them say. As a result, the Bible can be relegated to a mere illustration of our point rather than the "Big Idea" being the summation of the Bible's point.

I'm not making a statement about whether or not topical preaching is okay. I'm not saying this particular method can't (or isn't) being done well by the good people at CCC and across the planet. I'm simply saying that I get really nervous when we begin with our desired outcome, and overlay Scripture, jokes, and illustrations to make our point.

Don't be discouraged from reading this book. It has some good ideas - more than I can write in a blog entry. But read the process with an eye for how it might be tweaked to begin with the Scripture and end with "the big idea."

Pornified Update

Interesting that since my last post included the words "porn," and "pornography," my web hits per day have more than doubled according to www.statcounter.com.

Doing a key word analysis was both flattering and sickening. Ten sick perverts out there did a google search for "Chris Freeland Porn."

They're probably from Canada.


I only threw up twice, but I was nauseous for almost the full 276 pages of this book. This book was twisted, repulsive, disgusting, and if you're in ministry or work around anyone younger than 40 on a regular basis, it needs to be the next book you read.

Pamela Paul is a writer for Time magazine and a freelance writer for many other magazines, and has done the most exhaustive study I've read on the consequences and costs of pornography in (and on) our society.

Pornified includes excerpts from interviews with more than a hundred people from mainstream society, and reveals that the average consumer of porn in today's society isn't the dirty old man down the street; it's the clean-cut middle-class guy (and girl) next door. Porn is no longer the "dirty little secret" between a man and the gas station attendant - it's accepted by a good portion of mainstream society as a perfectly normal thing.

Ms. Paul spends roughly the first half of the book with what amounts to a shock-and-awe description of the kinds of pornography that are available, the history of porn in modern society, and the different perspectives from which men and women view pornography.

Little disclaimer: I'm not a prude. I grew up in public school, and have worked in college, youth, and young adult ministry for around ten years. But this stuff blew my mind. When you hear people talk about "porn" today, they're not talking about an airbrushed supermodel in a relatively tame pose on the pages of Playboy. That's the porn of the pre-internet age where there was still a 'check' on pornography consumption - you had to go out in public to purchase something to satisfy your craving. Today's porn is free, private, and makes Hugh Hefner look like Mister Rogers.

Pornified pictures a world where porn functions just like a drug. You start with something relatively tame and use it until you need something stronger. Then you go off in search of something else stronger. Before long it can take over your life.

The most terrifying part of this book to me was the section that describes the effect of pornography on kids. It points out that many of our kids are being educated about sex and intimacy through the websites that are only two clicks away. Although it's too soon to measure the long term effects, studies already show a skewed ideology in kids' thinking about how human sexuality functions. The long-term effects on marriages and relationships are difficult to imagine.

Again, this book will make you sick to your stomach. It contains language and graphic descriptions that will make you blush, gasp, and vomit at the same time. But you need to read it. I have guys in my office every month who are struggling in this area. I hear of guys almost daily who have fallen in this area. And the problem isn't going to get better through our remaining ignorant.

Buy this book. Buy some Pepto Bismol. Someone you talk to in the future will be glad you did.

Caught Being Good

Many moons ago, the elementary school I attended did something called "caught being good." The idea was simple: Teachers carried around little slips of paper that had "_________ was caught being good" written on the front. They were always on the lookout for kids who were doing the right thing without a knowledge that anyone was watching. When they "caught" you doing something good, they would pull one of those slips out of the paper, write your name on it, and you got to take it to the principal for a "high five."

That was it.

You got a piece of paper, walked to the principal's office, he gave you a high five, and you walked back to class.

The purpose is obvious: good behavior is positively reinforced and rewarded. As a result, students were encouraged that people were watching you do the little things right even when you didn't think they were.

The "prize" wasn't tangible. It cost however much 1/8th of a piece of computer paper costs. We didn't receive a free pizza party, or a sticker, or anything. We got a piece of paper and a high five, but I guarantee you I could find some of those pieces of paper to this day.

In your organization/home/business/church, how frequently do you take the time to celebrate people who are "caught being good?" When you catch people doing the things your organization values behind the scenes, make sure to let them know you notice. Make sure you tell them exactly what you noticed and why it's important. And don't forget to give them a high five. If they're anything like me, they'll remember it forever.

Same Kind of Different as Me

This week, my Monday book review is being posted on Tuesday. Things are a little bit crazy around here. One of these days, I have a cache of other posts I'd like to make about various things, but the tyranny of the urgent keeps knocking down those plans.

I just finished reading "Same Kind of Different As Me," by Ron Hall and Denver Moore.

Let me say first, I rarely read fiction. I can count on one finger how many fiction books I've read in the last couple of years. Part of that was the necessity of reading non-fiction books for graduate school. Part is due to the fact that I've never been one to believe the book is better than the movie. I'd rather get some popcorn, rent the DVD, and finish the story in two hours than invest several days in a story that I don't know beforehand that I'm going to like. And, I figure if the book is even mediocre, it will ultimately become a movie anyway, so I might as well save myself the trouble.

But, nearly everyone in our church is reading this book right now because parts of it took place within the walls of our church. So, I decided to pick it up.

If you're a fiction kind of person, this book is definitely worth reading. It's based on true events, but is written like a work of fiction. The subtitle is "a modern-day slave, an international art dealer, and the unlikely woman who bound them together."

First of all, being an ignorant person from suburban and metropolitan America, I'm ashamed to admit I didn't realize that slavery-like conditions still exist in some part of the United States. This book tells the story of a man who grew up in 20th century Louisiana, on a cotton plantation, living the kind of life most of America left behind in the 1860s. After fleeing the cotton plantation, he ended up on the streets of Fort Worth, TX where he was pursued by a wealthy art dealer who initially wanted nothing to do with him.
If you're a conservative theology buff, you might read some things here and there in the book that make you wince - especially as it relates to superstitious things like ghosts and "visitations," and direct communication from God through dreams and visions. That's material for a different conversation, but shouldn't distract you from reading this book.
The story of these men; a modern-day slave, and a wealthy upper-class international art dealer, and the "unlikely woman who bound them together" is a good story that illustrates what can happen when Christian people do Christian things. Good Works produce Good Will, which provides a Good Platform for the Good News. This is the story of that.
I can't wait for the movie....

Contrarian's Guide to Knowing God

It's been a crazy week. Some guys take hiatus(es?) from their blogs. Recently I've been having to take hiatus(i?) to blog. One of these days I'll get a bit more consistent, but today is not that day.

I just finished a new book: A Contrarian's Guide to Knowing God, by Larry Osborne.

I have to admit, I was prepared to dislike this book. The flyleaf promises the book is for those who "Don't fit the mold..." are "tired of adjusting to other people's definitions of spirituality..." who feel "traditional spiritual disciplines just aren't working for [them]..." To me, it seemed like it was going to be one of those throw-everything-out-the-window kind of books for anti-establishment people who are discontent with everything the church has stood for over the past several centuries and want a complete rework of everything. Those people wear me out.

This book wasn't like that at all. Obviously, there were things in it that didn't do a lot for me, but overall I really enjoyed it. Here were some of my take-aways.

  • We do people a disservice when we offer them one-size-fits-all approaches to discipleship.

  • It's unrealistic to expect everyone to become a Timothy or Titus. Timothy and Titus were not the standard fruit of Paul's ministry. They were exceptional. That's the point.

  • Over time it was the "cobblers" left behind in Corinth who turned the ancient world upside down, just as much as the missionaries bouncing from town to town.

  • Most of our programs for discipleship are linear, but few of our own journeys followed the linear path we prescribe.

  • Most growth happens on a need-to-know basis.

  • Bible theology and knowledge are important, but they don't equal pleasing God.

  • There's a distinct difference between a blind spot and high-handed sin in another person's life.

  • God hasn't called us to be world class at everything. You can't have the grace of a ballerina and the body of a sumo wrestler.

  • Work to be a better you, not a poor copy of someone else.

  • Many of us have a concept of a balanced life that is more a reflection of American values than biblical principles.

  • Instead of asking, "how are things going," ask "Am I doing the right things?" In the end, that's all you have control over.

  • An amazing number of people swear by things that ought to work but have never really worked for them.

  • The recipe for maximized potential is strangely similar to the recipe for a nervous breakdown or broken home.