Monthly Archives: July 2007

Bake Sale

I didn’t know what to say. The comment seemed to come out of no where. Have you ever had one of those conversations? The words struck at your heart. You know there was truth in there. But you also find it hard to completely agree.

While driving around on a busines trip, Jeff McBee and I were talking about ministry, leadership and missions. Jeff is a believer and somebody that I respect. Jeff also has plenty of “experience” with negative church stuff.

Jeff said, “I am so tired of churches missing the point. Like bake sales, oh yeah, there’s a Biblical way to fund world missions.”

I tried to get a better understanding of where he was coming from and to get a slight concession from him. But Jeff was pretty insistant on his view that bake sales and car washes are man’s way of trying to do a good work. He did not believe it follows Biblical patterns or reflects God’s plan.

Jeff was not condeming baked goods or clean cars. Instead, he questioned the heart motive and lack of faith for God to provide without men helping Him out. Sure, God wants us to use our money, talents, time and resources to further God’s Kingdom. But Jesus was also clear that He would build His Church.

When we do things with our own ability and remove the need for faith, we can rob God of His moment to do something miraculous and get in the way of His glory being revealed in that instance. Creation will still declare the glory of God even if we point to our own successes.

Jeff’s comment really shook me because I had always thought of fund raisers as OK as long as it was for a good cause. His challenge focused on making room for God to work not criticizing noble efforts by well-meaning Christians. He was concerned because many Christians tend to turn to everyone else first but God. We only really trust God when we are out of other options.

While not all missions fundraisers are bad, I am starting to agree that many of these activities are far from God’s best. Christians should take all cares to God first. We can trust provision to fundraisers and ideas borrowed from corporate America after released by the Holy Spirit to do so. Instead of sponsor a bake sale, maybe God wants everyone in the fellowship to donate $20 dollars. That would raise more money in many instances.

Is the real reason that ministries and churches have to hold bake sales is that too many Christians don’t give to support missions. What do you think?

A Good Haircut

A few weeks ago, I had my first cross-cultural haircut experience. While in Atlanta, I decided to get a haircut because the heat was making me miserable. If you have ever been in Hotlanta during the summer, you will understand my predictament.

I stumbled around Atlanta and walked into a shop with a long line and a bunch of young, tough-looking black guys. I quickly walked out not sure what to do. Then I finally found a barber shop that looked promising. I was a little nervous because everyone in the facility was an African American. The thing that made me stop there was a mom who was in the shop with her two boys getting their hair cut.

The situation concerned me for a couple of reasons. First, I didn’t know how friendly they would be. I was pretty sure that very few of their customers were white. And I didn’t know if they would take offense to my presence in their establishment. It’s just one of those things a white kid doesn’t do. Or at least I worried that might be the case. 

Second, I didn’t know if the barber ever saw people with hair as fine as mine because most African Americans have very course, thick hair. My hair is thin like a baby. I was pretty sure that my hairstyle is not what most of the shop’s clientel would typically request.   

Third, I just felt uncomfortable even though I tried no to show it.

Looking back on the situation, I feel somewhat ashamed of my reaction and thought process. The barbers didn’t seem to care what color I was as long as I could pay for the service. It was one of the best haircuts that I have ever had. I had no real reason to be afraid. Any tension that existed was only in my mind.

It was obvious that I was not from the area. One of the first things that the barber asked was where I was from. We carried on a very pleasant conversation admist his banter with the other barbers.

My experience did give me a peak into the African American culture. The men in the shop were talking about one of the woman that passed by the window and one of the barber’s girl friends. Their conversation was not very flattering of women. It included a mixture of slang, four-letter words and sexual inuendo. All of this took place while the mother sat next to her sons who were getting haircuts. She even chimed in with a few strong comments.

The conversation reminded me of what Don Imus talked about when he lost his radio gig. Hopefully, this experience will make me more patient with African American youth who say things that seem completely inappropriate and sexist. Unfortunately, those words and sentiments have become part of the culture, especially for young males under 30. I am not making excuses for it. But my experience showed me that some people act this way because they think it is socially acceptable and is all they know.

It was a good haircut. But it was even better lesson about inner city, African American culture.

Spiritual = Cool

While in Atlanta’s airport waiting for a ride, I read the July/August issue of Group Magazine. It really spoke to me about the culture’s misunderstanding of what it means to be spiritual. Rick Lawrence, Group‘s editor, wrote about the dangers of confusing the Spirit with religious, mystical experiences.

Rick told the story about how this one student was going to this one university because it was a “really spiritual campus.” When asked to explain what he meant, the student said that the students care for each other and are committed to going to church even if they party on Friday and Saturday nights.

Rick wrote, “When he said the word ‘spiritual,’ the friends who were standing near him nodded their heads with respect and something like gravity – they understood that ‘spiritual’ is part of what makes something cool today.”

The column went on to highlight how spiritual things are increasingly in vogue although many strip God from it. In a recent issue of O, Oprah’s magazine, an article covered the topic of faith. It described faith as a a commodity – as a God-neutral practice for living a spiritual life.

This caused me to pause and ask, “Can you really be Spiritual without Jesus?” I believe the answer is NO. Many people confuse mysticism, positive thinking and evil spirits for godly spiritual experiences.

Rick concluded that the cross is essential for true spirituality as he mulled over his experiences with our culture’s grasp to understand the Spirit. He wrote, “The diabolic momentum of our culture is washing away the core of Christ-following – the person of Jesus – while carefully leaving its outer shell – ‘spiritual’ stuff that can be flexibly molded to any belief ( or nonbelief) system kids choose. ”

Unfortunately, Rick is right that many people favor spirituality as long as they can avoid Jesus and His cross. Spirituality tends to lose its coolness when it comes in contact with the radical message of a Gospel that costs everything to gain Christ.

Buckhead Church

My Atlanta trip in late June included a number of unique experiences. I visited my first satellite church plant while in Atlanta. I went to Buckhead Church, which is a satellite church for North Point Community Church.

Andy Stanley is the senior pastor for both churches. He speaks at the main campus and his message is then broadcast to two remote locations. Andy is a well-known Christian communicator and the son of preaching legend Charles Stanley.

Here’s my disclaimer. This is my honest assessment of a church after only one visit. I know that is probably not fair. You can only learn a limited amount about a fellowship from one visit. And I applaud the many innovative things that North Point Ministries is doing. On the other hand, I have to be honest about my experience.  

I found it hard to find the church facility at first because it didn’t look like a church building. It looked like an office building from the outside of the facility. That may be a plus for many people. But it made my first visit a challenge.

I knew this would be a unique experience because the Buckhead area is way above my pay grade. It is the high rent district in Atlanta. I passed new luxury townhomes being built nearby. The sign said, “Luxury town homes starting at only $1 million.” I gasped and thought that maybe I would be a tad underdressed for my visit. The good news is that I wasn’t. The attire was very casual.

I came in from a side door to see a really neat bookstore full of books, CDs, teaching DVDs, etc. It had a lot of North Point resources as well as other major Christian voices. The selection was good. The service lacked southern hospitality. I was the only guy in there between services and nobody said boo to me even though I looked at a variety of North Point DVDs for about 20 minutes. The bookstore should have had coffee. I would have probably stayed longer and bought more… just a little marketing tip.

I stumbled into the kids area to see a theme-based motif complete with fresh paint and some kind of adventure jeep. It looked cool and became apparent that North Point’s approach focused on creating the right kind of environments for people to grow and experience God. Even Buchhead Church’s info packet talked about ministries in the terms of various “environments.”

I finally found my way to the main sanctuary by following the crowds of people entering for the next service. The lobby had a tall ceiling. It looked kind of like an office building or convention center foyer. It was very open with almost no furniture. I would have liked a few places to sit. There was a central information stand and two small sales kiosks on each end with recent CDs for sale. There were a few ministry tables promoting a few different environments.

Nobody initiated a conversation with me the entire time that I was there except for the 30 seconds of forced community during the service where everybody was supposed to great the people around them. I hate that part of services, yet I like them too for some strange reason. It must be one of those love/hate things.

I strolled into the sanctuary between services and was amazed to see all the chairs. I figure it must seat about 2,500-3,000 people. The room was light grey with acoustic tile in the back. It looked similar to a modern movie theater with moveable chairs and a sloped floor. The large screens on either side of the sanctuary showed varous announcements. All of them were designed to fit the theme.

Before the service started, the band came out and played some songs related to the theme, which was, “Destinations.” Andy Stanley had been speaking about the journey of life and making right decisions to go where we want to end up. Instead of just put on the Ipod as background music, the band played popular, secular songs that dealt with the theme. They played On the Road Again, Life Is a Highway, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, etc. These songs helped to set the mood, entertained the crowd as everyone gathered, and drew people into the room to see why the music was already playing. It seemed like a good idea to me after the fact.

I first thought these were the worship songs and was very concerned that I had entered McChurch. Don’t get me wrong. I love many secular songs as much as the next “sinner.” But I do feel that Church music should focus on glorifying God not appeasing men. I later discovered this was just intro music before the service began. This little experience showed me that I should be careful jumping to conclusions.

The crowd appeared to be fairly young with lots of people in their 20s-30s. The attire seemed casual although you could tell that some people had money by their watches and clothing. Evidently, the facility was almost brand new. I belive it was part of a $20 million project. 

The service that I attended was packed. I think that Buckhead Church had two services on Sunday morning and one Sunday night. All of the announcements and music were done live.

Despite a quality band and good song selection, the crowd was fairly sedate. I simply got lost in worship and suddenly remembered that I was in a new place. I looked around to see if my hands-raising, pentecostal style would work there. I didn’t see a single person who seemed to care what I did. Neither did I see many hands raised. I sensed that the Holy Spirit released me to go for it. By the end of the song set, there were a few more hands raised and even a few folks crying near me. Overall, the spirit of the crowd seemed a little stuffy. I can’t judge the heart of the congregation. All I know is that I felt the crowd seemed a bit cold and guarded.

The worship band did five songs, including a reworked hymn to a more modern tempo.  Video cameras put images of the band on the screen along with the words. The video quality looked more like a worship DVD than just a basic service. It was clear that this church has the audio/video side of the equation nailed down.

From the songs to the backgrounds to the bulletins, everything fit the “Destinations” theme. The bulletin looked like a road map and was printed on quality paper. There were buckets at the doors where people could put the used bulletins so that the next service could use them as long as the person did not write on them. 

The message was broadcast on three big screens. I believe that Andy Stanley spoke from the main campus. The two side screens were presented as upper chest and head shots. These looked more like you were watching a TV. A huge screen came down at the front of the stage after the band left. This screen was a full-body, full-stage shot. It made Andy Stanely appear as if he were really standing on stage. It looked kind of 3-D. I am not sure if that was due to a special projector or screen or the arrangement of the full-body shot between the two head-shot screens. The effect was cool and added to the reality of the experience.

Stanley’s message included a number of great ideas. He spoke on one Scripture and expounded on it well. His message was the second in a series called “Destinations.” He presented the idea in a clear format and included a number of humorous stories. He drove the point home even while keeping the message interesting. I never felt that he compromised the truth to be relevant.

Stanely did not use a lot of multimedia in his presentation. It was a fairly standard sermon format although the message showed a lot of thought about how the Biblical concept related to everyday life. There was no real response mechanism.

People could go for prayer by visiting a table in the main foyer. I thought this was an awkward setup because a crowded foyer is a horrible place to handle prayer and private counseling after a message. The main sanctuary cleared out fairly quickly. I believe there could have been more effective follow-up if some prayer leaders stayed in the sanctuary to pray and talk with stragglers who wanted to interact with a member of the church leadership team. 

Overall, the experience was positive although I can tell the church might struggle with helping newcomers feel accepted and really reaching a place of complete abandonement in worship. It had a lot of resources and organization although I see this could be an easy place to get lost and never really connect. I believe the satellite church format worked in terms of teaching. The things that I noticed that could be improved had nothing to do with the sermon. 

You can listen to messages spoken at North Point by visiting http://www.northpoint.org/messages

Graffiti

 Chaille Graffiti

While in Atlanta a few weeks ago, I spent some time on the city’s subway. I spotted some graffiti as the train passed through a rougher area of town. At first, I really appreciated the beauty, the color and creativity of the street art. But then I started to feel concerned that maybe the area was not really safe. 

At one moment, I admired the graffiti and thought how cool it would be to have art like that on my basement walls. I wished that I could be a graffiti artist. Then 30 seconds later, my feelings changed.

I was concerned for my safety. Then, I was reminded of some graffiti that had been on my brother’s property and how much of a pain it must have been to get it off. It is strange how one thing can cause such a wide range of emotion in less than a minute. I went from appreciation to fear in a few seconds.

The Holy Spirit spoke to be during that minute. I realized that graffiti is a perfect picture of the glory and fallness of mankind. One one hand, graffiti is creative and colorful. Street art has a sense of free expression and wild creativity. It tells a story of a particular people or place. In this way, graffiti expresses the imprint of God’s creativity in men and women. We  are all designed to be creative. Some create with paint; others use food or a wrench to express their genius.

God is the ultimate creative genius. When we create, we reflect the image of God. This can be seen by the good feelings associated with graffiti.

On the other end of the spectrum, graffiti tends to be destructive and indicates a general state of lawlessness exists in the area. It denotes rebellion and taking advantage of something that belongs to someone else. Most graffiti artists usually paint on other people’s property. This reprents evil, selfish actions – the fallen nature of mankind as people yield to tempation and sin.

Graffiti artists may do what they do because it produces a rush as the person sees what he/she can get away with. It’s the old saying that “Forbidden fruit tastes better.”

We all face the decision where we have to figure out how best to use our creative energy. Major factors are timing, intent and permission. Even “beautiful things” done out of order tend to cause problems. 

Here’s one safe way to practice your graffiti skills. Try making graffiti online at http://www.graffiticreator.net/index.htm

Gone Fishing

I should have a lot to report in a few weeks, including more insights from Atlanta. Tomorrow, I head to Africa on a missions trip, and I don’t know if I’ll have Internet access while on my journey.

I’ll see you all real soon.

Godspeed – Chaille Brindley