Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad, I Love You.

•December 24, 2010 • 1 Comment

Today is my parents’ 55th wedding anniversary.  I wasn’t around for the wedding (for obvious reasons), but I arrived just in time for their first anniversary.  So, as one who has witnessed them all, I believe I speak with some authority on the subject.

Mom and Dad are gone now.  They celebrate in a better place.  From what I’ve read, it is a beautiful place, complete with a wedding feast that never ends.  As a side note, I have word that even if the wine or food should run out, the host has an amazing way with water, fish and bread. 

Unless I miss my guess, Dad got Mom a rather striking gown to wear this evening.  He always had a pretty good eye for things like that.  It will take Mom about two hours to get dressed and put on her makeup.  He knows it will be worth the wait. 

For his part, Dad may wear a suit, but since this is a special occasion, I think he may just slip into his U.S. Navy dress whites.  They are, after all, dining at the Captain’s table tonight.

When Mom finally emerges, in a blaze of dazzling radiance, Dad will smile the wide, bright smile that stopped a thousand hearts, but was captured by only one.  He will slip his arm around her waist and she will lightly kiss his lips.  Dad will rarely take his eyes off her the entire evening.  Mom will notice, and she will glow.

Sometime during the festivities, the Captain of Glory will tap his glass for silence.  I can almost hear Him as he announces the guests of honor.  Then, in a not totally unexpected move, He will ask Mom to sing.  And, oh how she will sing. Even the psalmist, David, will stare in awe as the New Jerusalem is engulfed in a melody the angels envy.  A pin touching the ground will sound like thunder in the mesmerizing silence of the moment as all Heaven listens with rapturous wonder.

All in all, it will be a grand evening, fit for a couple worthy of such honor.  I am fortunate to be their son.  Oh, how I miss them, but I will see them soon enough.  I look forward to seeing Dad’s smile again, and to listening in as Mamma teaches angels how to sing.  Until then, Happy Anniversary, Jim and Donna.  And…thank you.

Crystal Cathedral Bankrupt!

•October 19, 2010 • Leave a Comment

The Crystal Cathedral has filed for bankruptcy.  I have no doubt that critics, skeptics and naysayers are smirking in their cheerios this morning.  My heart aches.  My hypotheses and philosophies of the future of Church finances has been supported by this event, but I find no pleasure in it.

Please, let me explain.  First, I love Robert Schuller.  In the early years of my time in full time ministry, his book, “Your Church Has Real Possibilities” was very influential in helping me form practical direction for British Isle Evangelism.  I have been to the Crystal Cathedral a couple of time and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  I’ve never been a big fan of “The Hour of Power” and believe it has painted a terribly incomplete picture of the ministry of Robert Schuller and life of the congregation there in Garden Grove.

Despite my fondness for Robert Schuller, I do have some rather strong doctrinal variances from him.  It is not, however, doctrinal, but practical and financial weaknesses that have brought this crisis upon the Crystal Cathedral.

All living organisms reach maturity, then age and die.  A local congregation is not exempt.  Even a mega Church will eventually experience the phenomenon.  The death may be slow, even very slow, but eventually, regress happens. 

Real estate (at least the buildings), are subject to the laws of science (eg. Thermodynamics).  Buildings, parking lots, fixtures, and the like, wear out, atrophy, eventually to the point that repair is no longer viable.  Restoration or replacement can be extremely expensive. The Crystal Cathedral was once the cutting edge of Sacred Architecture, now it is a dated, aging monument to days gone by.

Even great ministries and their campuses reach a plateau.  Some, especially those which are legacies to a single man’s (or woman’s) vision, are likely to survive little more than the lifespan of the founder.  Those with the vision and savvy to create a succession plan, will live, and can even prosper for generations.  But, time and circumstance happen to us all.

The churches that last the longest continue to morph and reinvent themselves by moving campuses, changing formats and maintain a certain balance between longevity and turnover of staff.  Some even change their names as a part of the metamorphosis.  

I have nothing against those things, but I submit that those changes may actually mean that a new congregation has been birthed rather than a simple location change.  Some of the core may be the same, but the differences are significant enough to suggest the organization is different.

Churches are also subject to the laws of economics.   When we spend less than we earn, when we avoid debt, when we budget wisely , give generously and when we save appropriately, with an eye to the future, we prosper.  When we run up debt, spend ahead of our income, expand too quickly and have no financial cushion, we risk much.

Our current economic crisis in America (and the world), has highlighted a fundamental crack in the traditional financial thinking of many congregations.  A large number of ‘boom’ Churches are in serious financial trouble.  As the communities around them blossomed under the economic and housing bubble of the 90s and early 00s, congregations grew and expanded.  Following the example of their members, large numbers of Churches built McMansions in the suburbs.  Using easy credit, they took out huge mortgages and built oases of peace and faith that were reverent and (often) simultaneously flamboyant.

These relocated congregations frequently experienced a huge burst of activity and growth when they moved into their new facilities and added staff and ministries accordingly.  We justified our extravagance by pointing to “God’s blessings” and our noble purpose.  We convinced ourselves that we were “casting our bread upon the waters”.  Oh, what a grand time it was.

Then, like the children’s chorus, “the rains came down and the floods came up”.  The American economy collapsed.  The bubbles burst and all Hell broke loose.  Businesses closed or laid off employees by the train load, unemployment exploded, banks failed, the stock market crashed, the housing market melted, money vanished.

Amidst the rubble of foreclosed homes, unemployment lines and broken dreams, we see church after church struggling to stay afloat.  Offerings in many places have dropped by nearly half.  Attendance has taken a hit in those places where families are being forced to leave in order to find work elsewhere.

It is a bleak reality, where once thriving Churches are faced with cutting staff and programs.  Churches born with the best of intentions and the most Holy of goals, are finding themselves struggling, or unable, to pay their mortgages.  Banks don’t want to foreclose of places of worship.  That’s not good PR.  Despite the efforts of everyone involved, both borrower and lender, Churches are defaulting on loans at a record pace.  The Crystal Cathedral is simply the most high profile example to date.

The future requires a paradigm shift, a radical change in the way churches operate financially.  I pray daily that we awaken and make the necessary changes before it’s too late to do so.

For Churches that are in financial crisis, it is imperative that we begin immediately to budget like a family rather than like a corporation.  Most congregations may be structured like a business, but we function like a household.  We would be better off to budget that way. 

On a high level, that means:

  1. Repent
  2. Pray
  3. Stop borrowing.
  4. Establish a perimeter (it looks a little different than for a household, but essentially the same)
  5. Create a Budget (a zero based budget)
  6. Develop a baseline emergency fund
  7. Eliminate Debt
  8. Have a fully funded emergency fund
  9. Pray

There will be some tough, heartbreaking decisions in the process.  It may mean some salary reductions.  It may mean some staff cuts.  It will most likely require the cutting of some ministries and services the congregation provides.  It may mean selling the building or some of the land (if you can find a buyer).  It will certainly mean scaling back on opulence. 

Budget cuts do not have to mean quality cuts.  It is better to do a few things well, than offer many things poorly done. 

Restructuring will not be fun.  It will not be easy.  Feeling will be hurt and some may even leave over it.  If that happens, so be it.  We have to do the right thing, regardless of the consequences.

I’m going to interject a very personal frustration here.  Typically, one of the first cuts congregations make in times of financial difficulty is to the Missions budget.  I find that both bizarre and counterproductive.  Our prime directive is to disciple the world.  If the first financial cutbacks we make are related to evangelism, then we really have some mixed up priorities. 

A better way might be something like this (it’s only an example):  We say we have to cut 10% across the board.  After cutting all the fat we can find, we ask the staff to take a 10% cut and we share our situation with our mission partners and explain that we are doing the same with our off campus staff.  We let them know that as soon as the crisis is over, we will return to our normal level of giving. 

Let me spend a moment offering my unsolicited and unwelcome advice to recent or future Church plants: Don’t do debt!  The economic landscape has changed, maybe forever.  The tectonic plates of our financial basis have shifted.  The Church is not in the real estate business.  I urge you to stay in rented or borrowed facilities either permanently or at least until you have cash to purchase. 

If you feel you must take out a mortgage, only ever do so on your first structure, and absolutely NEVER of future expansions.  Did I say NEVER?  Good.  Build the minimum that you can get away with.  Make sure that your mortgage can be paid with the current income, and do not rely on any projected future income that will come from wished for growth. 

Make absolutely sure you use a zero based budget.  Each ministry, each service, each program, must justify its existence.  Do not expand in either staffing or campus until there is cash flow to do so.

Focus on ministry rather than facility.  The Great Commission says, “GO!” It says nothing about “Invite”.  We can be more effective and more involved if we take our work to the hurting rather than finding a way to get the hurting to us.  I think of ministry more like ‘search and rescue’ than an emergency room where the wounded are carried.  I’m all for emergency rooms, I just think a pro active role is more Biblical.

I intend to flesh these thoughts out in a future book (working title, “Paradigm Shift: a Quest for Revival, Reformation and Revolution in the Church”), but for now, I hope this rant get you thinking. 

I am cross posting this in “Recession Proof Living” and in “Paradigm Shift”.

Saddened By the Ignorance

•September 13, 2010 • 2 Comments

While most of us were preoccupied with the annunciations, renunciations and denunciations of Mr. Terry Jones of Gainesville, FL, a whole bucket of nuts from Nasville, to DC to NYC actually did burn or mutilate copies of the Koran on Sept. 11.  Most of them were identified as “Christians”.  At least some were Pastors.  Let me be among the first to congratulate you for embarrassing the Church and our Lord.  Book burning is always a great demonstration of love and harmony.  Too bad they didn’t think of it back in the Salem Witch Trial days.  Oh, wait, they did.  That, too, was a nice touch by the followers of Jesus.  We still get publicity off of that one.

In the Bible (Acts 19:19), we find an example of book burning.  But it is far different than the wild eyed demonstrations of anger and animosity we see today.  Dr. Luke wrote that a group of new Believers who had formerly practiced sorcery got together and burned their old books as a public demonstration of their new Faith and new way of life.  

The comparable act would be former Muslims burning their Korans in testimony of their conversion to Christianity.  Or perhaps Christians burning their copies of ‘The Shack’ to declare their repentence from the false doctrines espoused in that little tome.  Oops, I’ve opened a can of worms now.  I can see the hate mail already.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to burn YOUR copy of ‘The Shack’.  And I’m not going to burn anyone else’s Koran.  That’s not an act prompted by repentence.  That’s an act of antagonism and derision.

I don’t intend to write any more about this whole Koran burning debacle.  I hope I don’t have to.

The Terry Jones Vs The Koran Affair – a Response

•September 9, 2010 • 2 Comments

Unless you just returned from a vacation to Neptune, you are likely aware of the controversy surrounding the plans of one Terry Jones and his Dove World Outreach Center (ironic name) to burn the Koran the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on America.

Since everyone except Lindsay Lohan seems to have weighed in on this, it seems only right that I add my small voice to the cacophony.

I am surprised and disappointed on many levels that this event has reached the fever pitch that it has.  First, who the heck is Terry Jones that he should raise the wrath of the entire world?  It’s not like he has any influence at all, anywhere.  Folks, this isn’t Joel Osteen or Rick Warren.  It isn’t even John Hagee or Pat Robertson.  This is a kook with a small congregation who has grabbed the attention of the world’s media.  Heck, I teach a Bible class in our congregation that has as many people as the Dove World Outreach Center and I’ve never had General Petraeus , Hiliary Clinton, Angelina Jolie, Sean Hannity or Glenn Beck, much less all of them, to comment on any of my nutty ramblings.  I just discovered that even the  POTUS has joined the discussion.  I’m jealous. 

I guess, to his credit, Terry Jones has done something Barack Obama has never done, he has united America.  Congratulations, knucklehead.

This story should never have reached the light of day.  Stuff like this happens all the time and never makes a ripple outside the meager boundaries of the protesters sphere of influence.  Anybody ever seen the crap people put up on YouTube?  In my simple, hillbilly opinion, it is beneath the dignity of the world’s leaders, celebritiea and media to give this goofball a platform to spew his nonsense.  It is they, as much as he, who have elevated this little display of Islamaphobia to an international incident.  Now, by indulging in this diatribe, I have also extended the life of this crazy stunt. 

Since I’ve started, I’ll finish.  I am a Christian, a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, the Savior of mankind, the Hope of nations, the Messiah, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords.  I call him, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.  I could go on, but you get my point.  As a follower of Jesus, I am disappointed that another who claims to be a disciple would stoop such a garish display of personal affront to the deeply held convictions of up to a billion inhabitants of planet earth.  I firmly believe that the Koran is not God’s message and that Muhammad is not His prophet.   I am also, like most Americans, still outraged by the attacks perpetrated on our country 9 years ago this month.  Much blood in many countries has already been spilled in the aftermath of that dastardly deed.  I do not believe that our Jesus would have us further fan the flames of hatred’s fire.  There is a better way.

To the Muslims of the world; if you take the wild eyed actions and spewings of a tiny fringe element of American and “Christian” society as representative of our beliefs and practices, then shame on you.  If you are looking for an excuse to hate, rail and exacurbate violence then shame on you.  This is America.  We have the freedom here to espouse our beliefs regardless of how rational, irrational, mainstream or extreme they may be.  And we grant our opponents the same rights and freedoms, even when we find them blasphemous.  We are prepared to let Truth arbitrate our debates.  That is why we will grant you and your Imams the same microphone we give to Billy Graham or Richard Dawkins.  We are not afraid of debate or even displays of vitriol.  “Come, let us reason together says the Lord”, states the Bible.  I’m all for it.  You are free to proclaim your message loudly in our streets, on our televisions and across cyberspace via our internet providers.  Our airwaves are open to you.  Will you allow me to declare the message of Christ on the street corners of Kabul, Tehran or Riyadh?  You want the freedom to call us “The Great Satan”, but take offense when a member of our Society returns the favor.  Shame on you.  Put on your big boy pants and join the real world. 

To the Politicians, Pundits and Personalities who have given Terry Jones a platform, shame on you.  You should know better.  He is a powerless, impotent man with an axe to grind and a hole in his heart.  The rants of an inconsequential preacher on the edge of the swamp are not worthy of your notice.  A tempest in a teacup has become a tsunami.  What a pity.

To the media, who have stirred this pot and fanned this flame, shame on you.  Your double standard and hypocrisy appear to be without limit.  Your thirst for controversy has turned an insignificant event into an international incident.  You could have, and should have killed this story.  It was not news.  It was not worthy.  Now it is a fire that rages out of control.

To Terry Jones and the Dove World Outreach Center; this is America.  You have the right to burn the Koran, but shame on you for your willingness to exercise that right.  Yes, our constitution grants you the liberty to offend and denounce by your actions.  Thank God, and our men and women in uniform for that liberty.  It is the same liberty that allows the photograph of a crucifix suspended in urine to be called, “art.”  It is the same liberty that allows a Mosque to be constructed in the shadow of ground zero.  Wisdom, though, demands that we subject some of our rights to common sense and the common good.

Tell me, how many Muslims will come to Christ by this act?  How many Islamists will think more highly of Jesus and His Church as a result of burning the Koran?  For that matter,  how many secularists, agnostics other unbelievers do you suppose will consider your demonstration as a witness to the Glory of Christ and His Gospel?  Who was it that said, “You’ve heard it said, ‘Love your friends and hate your enemies.  But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies……..”?  Oh, that’s right, it was that Jesus fellow.  Perhaps you’ve heard of him?

My recommendation is that you take the microphone you have been given and say, “Somewhere along the way, we muddled our Nationalism with our Faith and got carried away in our zeal.  We deplore the acts of violence on 9/11, but we chose a wrong way to express our anger.  Jesus would have us choose another path.  We will not burn any Korans.  Instead, we will pray for the Muslim world.  We will pray peace on you and we will pray you find Jesus, the Prince of Peace.  We acted rashly, and we have reconsidered.  Thank you very much.  God bless America.  God bless us, everyone.”

Mr. Jones, you are Rehoboam.  You have received both  good and bad council.  You  must decide between unity and division.  You are Pontus Pilate with a weighty decision before you.  You are the Children of Israel facing the challenge of Joshua……”Choose this day”.  Choose wisely.  Choose life.

A Sign of Affirmation

•September 8, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Those of you who are regular readers of Paradigm shift know several things; 1. I don’t post here often.  2.  This is the place where I process and opine.  3.  I’m going through some radical intellectual and philosophical changes that are a bit odd for a man of my advancing years.  4.  Much of the drivel is not worth reading.  They are sometimes insightful, but often come across like the musings of a madman.

Thank you all for your indulgences.

One of the paradigm shifts I’m embracing is a ‘call’ to self sufficiency.  My reasons are many.  Some are financial, some are moral, some are political and some are spiritual.  It was the economic crash of 2008 that started me down this road.  Over the last 2.5 years I’ve watched our beautiful home lose value almost by the hour.  My 401k is now just a k.  These are not good things.

Along the way, my Bride and I started paying attention to where our food came from (and how much it really costs).  We were disturbed and motivated to change our lifestyle.  It has taken us down a road we never expected.  It’s a country road, complete with a large garden, sheep, goats, rabbits, cows, donkeys and chickens.  You can follow that journey at ‘Our Edible Suburb’.

The third ingredient in my paradigm shift towards self sufficiency has come from The Bible.  You’ve probably heard of it.  Maybe you’ve even read it.  (If you haven’t, you should.  We’ll even give you one free of charge.  Just click HERE for the details.)

Today, as a part of my personal Bible reading, I read Proverbs 27.  I have no idea how many times I’ve read this chapter over the years.  At least plenty two.  But today the last part of the Chapter jumped up at smacked me upside the head (in a good way, of course).  Here’s what it says:

Pro 27:23 Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds; Pro 27:24 for riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations. Pro 27:25 When the hay is removed and new growth appears and the grass from the hills is gathered in, Pro 27:26 the lambs will provide you with clothing, and the goats with the price of a field. Pro 27:27 You will have plenty of goats’ milk to feed you and your family and to nourish your servant girls.

Oh dear, I’ve just discovered that I don’t know how to adjust the fonts in WordPress. 

Can you see the wow moment for me in those verses?  Solomon is clearly promoting self sufficiency as a ‘back up plan’ or an investment in case the money runs out.  I feel like the Bible has repeatedly affirmed and confirmed my commitment to trave the road of self sufficiency.  Don’t be surprised when you see this in a book sometime.

Facing the Fat, er, I mean, the Facts

•August 27, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Fact:  I’m fat.  I’m not chunky. I’m not big boned.  I’m not rotund, stout or stocky.  I am F A T!   A doctor would say, “Morbidly obese”, which, by the way, does not sound better.  The simple truth is, I could have a career in Hollywood as Shamu’s body double.

I haven’t always been fat, it just seems like it.  Until I went off to college I was quite thin, nearly scrawny.  Then around the time I hit my 20th birthday, my metabolism went on strike and my appetite shifted into overdrive.  Oops!  Since that time, I have been the archetypal yo-yo dieter.  On multiple occasions I have lost 50, 60 or even 80 pounds only to have it creep back on, one donut at a time.  I’m tired of it.

Looking in the mirror, which is a painful experience, it is obvious to me that I am built like both my grandfathers; short waisted, with a dose of extra thickness.  Even when I was at my fittest, in the mid 90s, I still had a thick waist.  My paternal grandparents were both epically obese.  I have been blessed with the same tendency.  My mother, along with some of her siblings, got a skinny gene from their mother, my Grandma.  It skipped me entirely.  Rats!

Well, I’m sick of it.  I’m about to turn 54 and I have no desire to spend my late summer and autumn years being air lifted by crane from my living room because I can’t get out the door.  At the same time, I fed up of diets.  I have tried them all.  They work……for a while.  Then I wake up.

Seriously, I have found that programs like Weight Watchers and South Beach have certainly produced positive short term weight loss results for me.  But I have the world’s shortest attention span and I can only count points or carbs for so long.  After a while, the boredom becomes overwhelming.  As for exercise…..typing is exercise, right?  Napping?  Surely, Rapid Eye Movement burns at least a few calories!  My idea of a great workout is opening a fresh bag of Doritos and forcing the lid off a new jar of salsa.  I’m just sayin…..

I want to lose weight and keep it off.  I want to look and feel better than I do.  I want to live long and prosper.  The question is, how?  What can I do that will effect a permanent change in my waistline?

The answer is buried in my past.  It is buried deeply beneath more than a decade of Rocky Road and double cheeseburgers.  But it is still sitting in the back of my mind.  I lost weight and kept it off for 7 years.  From age 34 to 41, I was fit, slim and healthy as a horse.  I competed in 5k road races, played in basketball and football leagues and trained with world class athletes.  I did it all without going on a ‘diet’.  If I did it then, I can do it now.  Oh, it might be slower because of my age, but it can be done. 

So, here’s my paradigm shift; moderation.  I intend to eat and exercise moderately.  That’s how I did it before.  That’s how I’ll do it now.  Besides, I’ve got nothing to lose, except blubber. 

The plan is simple:  I will eat whatever I want, but in small quantities.  I will not count calories, fat, carbs, points or ounces.  I will eat one helping of what I want.  I will not measure the portion.  I will not go back for seconds for at least an hour.  I will limit dessert to twice weekly.  I will maintain a high percentage of vegetables in my meals.  Pizza will be limited to two slices of a typical large pizza or the equivalent. 

I intend to write down everything I eat for the first two weeks to get a handle on what I’m actually consuming.  I may make some modifications at that point.

I have no intention of getting on the scales.  I’m not interested in my actual weight.  I’m interested in my waist line and how I feel.  I am currently wearing size 44 trousers (I was in 48s a year and a half ago).  I would like to eventually wear 38s.  I don’t think I can expect much beyond that with my build and age.  I will evaluate once that level is reached.  The primary goal is to stop shopping at the Fat Boy store.  George Foreman already has enough money.

There is no way to avoid exercise.  Darn!  But that, too, will be moderate.  I will exercise on my lunch break at work three days a week.  We have a gym, so that should be fairly easy.  I started today.  I did 8 minutes of cardio followed by some weight lifting.  I am starting slow and will build gradually.  The workout will not exceed 30 minutes.

Assumptions:  I expect to be hungry, very hungry.  At least for a while.   I expect to be sore from the exercise.  It can’t be helped.  I expect this weight loss to be less dramatic than a formal diet.  It will be gradual, but should be lasting.

The clock on the wall says it’s time to change my life. Watch this space.

The New York Times Agrees With Paradigm Shift

•August 23, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I don’t often read the NYT.  The editorial viewpoint of that periodical is generally so different than mine that my blood pressure requires me to avoid it’s pages.  Today, however, is an exception.  It’s almost as if the writer had read “My Real Estate D’oh moment” from last week.

The lead article in today’s New York Times affirms my view that real estate as an investment has forever changed.  Said article does not go as far as I did in fromulating a new paradigm for real estate, but it was cool to see that others can see the truth.

You can read the article here.