Saturday, October 30, 2004

Life in a Battleground State

Today, while writing my sermon, grabbing lunch and dinner, and watching a little college football, we've had no less than six automated telephone calls from the Republicans and the Bush campaign. Yesterday, there were several automated calls from the Republicans and a live call.

This morning's Cincinnati Enquirer reported that the Bush and Kerry campaigns have spent about $20-million on TV advertising in the local market alone.

On Monday through Saturday for weeks now, our mailbox has been full of campaign material. On Thursday, we received two pieces from the Bush campaign, one from the Kerry campaign, and a mailer with sample ballots from the Republican Party, approximately the fourth one we've received this fall.

When one considers the amounts of money spent by both parties and all candidates, it's appalling. I don't know anybody who likes it. Earlier this year, I spoke with a prominent local politician over breakfast, a good and principled person. "When I think of all the hungry people who could be fed with the money we raise for our campaigns, it makes me sick," he told me. "But that's just the way it is."

And so it is. When I ran for the Ohio House of Representatives earlier this year, I was one of five candidates vying for the nomination. Our finishes on election night corresponded exactly with how much money we spent in our campaigns. I estimate that the three who finished ahead of me spent (or had spent on their behalf by various organizations, including other campaigns and the party central committee) approximately $120,000.00. My campaign, which finished fourth with 12.9% of the vote, took in and spent about $2800.00. The fifth-place candidate spent a fraction even of that amount.

The point is that while the candidate who won our primary is qualified, our finishes on primary election night bore no relationship to any consideration of qualifications. It came down to how much advertising, mailers, signage, and telephone calls the campaigns were able to afford.

Of course, the expenditures in a Battleground State like Ohio during a hotly contested Presidential election dwarf anything spent in a lowly race for the State House of Representatves. And people wonder: What exactly motivates all those people who give to candidate campaign committees, party organizations, 527s, and others involved in the campaign fray?

Certainly, some are motivated by commitments to causes or the public good.

But others are interested in access. In the political arena, money clearly talks. It's not fair, but it's reality, of course. A person who gives $1000.00 to their county commissioner's campaign is more likely to get his calls answered than is a citizen of whom the commissioner has never heard, who has a concern.

And what really bugs me is that all that money results in these pesky recorded telephone calls during the campaign season.

Earlier today, my wife and I were talking with my future son-in-law. He has recently moved here to Ohio from his native Virginia. Virginia isn't "in play" in the presidential race. He informed us that his parents have said they haven't seen a single presidential campaign ad in Richmond. That sounded kind of nice to me.

Fortunately, there are now just three days until the election. I can't wait for it to be done.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Link: Keillor's Young Lutheran's Guide to the Orchestra

Earlier this evening, my son sent this link to me. It's the transcript of Garrison Keillor's hilarious "Young Lutheran's Guide to the Orchestra." If you can find the recording of this, it's worth a listen. Keillor, one of our country's best humorists, has the Lutheran sub-culture nailed...yah-sure-yah-betcha.

Halloween Musings

The History Channel has an interesting essay on the background of Halloween, October 31. As is true of so many of our holidays, Halloween has gone through many different permutations and was reclaimed and reshaped by Christians.

Halloween has become a huge industry. When I was a boy, it was a sleepy little holiday and it was only because of my parent's prompting that I even went out trick or treating. (I never liked candy. My sugar and fat weakness has always been baked goods.) Today though, Americans spend more on their Halloween celebrations than on any other holiday except Christmas: $6.9-billion!

Of course, some regard this as a dire and disturbing trend. But I see nothing wrong with Halloween. Most of the tales about witches and such are nothing other than classic tales of good versus evil.

The word, Hallowe'en, of course, is a contraction for the words hallowed [or holy] evening. It gets its name because it's the eve before All Saints Day, a time historically set aside by Christians to remember believers in Jesus Christ who have died. (When the New Testament uses the term saint, it doesn't have some super-spiritual person in mind. A saint is nothing other than someone who follows Jesus Christ, a person who has, on faith, received the gifts of forgiveness and eternal life offered by Jesus.)

For a Lutheran like myself, Halloween is also Reformation Day. It was on All Saints Eve, October 31, 1517, that a young monk, priest, and scholar named Martin Luther posted points for debate (his 95 Theses) on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. (Church doors were used like our bulletin boards are today.) Luther challenged the Church to re-form itself around the simple truth that a relationship with God cannot be earned or bought or bargained for. It comes as a free gift to those with faith in the God we meet through the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.

Luther's theses set off a conflict of volcanic proportions. Thank God, we live with its after-effects today.

A few key passages of Scripture to consider this Reformation Sunday:

16 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

17 ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.' [John 3:16-17]

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith.’ [Romans 1:16-17]

21 But now, irrespective of law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, 22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; 26it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. [Romans 3:21-26]

You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. 4But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. [Ephesians 2:1-10]

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. [Second Corinthians 5:16-19]

This Halloween, as you pass out the candy to the trick-or-treaters, you can also remember that God willingly gives us the greatest gift any of us could ever want: brand new life with Him forever, forgiveness of our sins, and the power to become our best selves with God living inside of us.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

One Way in Which I Hope Bush and Kerry Act Like Nixon

The cover story in the latest issue of Time magazine discusses the nightmare scenarios that could play out if the November 2 election's results are disputed across America. Many anticipate that they will be, once again delaying the declaration of a presidential winner for weeks on end.

Representatives from both major parties and presidential campaigns are preparing armies of poll-watchers and lawyers predicated on the notion that the other side will stop at nothing to gain the White House for the next four years. Their postures are similar to two military superpowers pursuing policies of mutually assured destruction, seemingly insensitive to the impact their games might have on the rest of us.

All of this has made me think about the presidential election of 1960. Election night that year surfaced reports of widespread voter fraud in both Illinois, where the family of Democratic presidential nominee John Kennedy had forged ties with the Democratic Party machine in Cook County, and in Texas, from which Kennedy's running mate Lyndon Johnson hailed. Many of Republican nominee Richard Nixon's advisers urged him to challenge Kennedy's razor-thin margin of victory.

But Nixon refused to do it. He didn't want to subject the country to weeks of uncertainty about who their next president would be.

Who knew that Nixon could be capable of such selflessness? As is often true when we put aside our own selfish desires, Nixon's decision may also have worked to his advantage. Not only did he lend legitimacy to Kennedy's presidency, he also helped his national reputation, immunizing himself from the effects of his 1962 loss in the California gubernatorial race and making it possible for him to win the presidency in 1968 and 1972. (Of course, he undermined his own success by fostering a very selfish, self-absorbed atmosphere of poisonous politics and paranoia that resulted in his 1974 resignation.)

The point is that Nixon did the right thing when he refused to challenge the 1960 results.

Like most Americans, I cringe at the prospect of court fights over the results of this election. I believe that such bickering will have a corrosive effect on our country and the social compact that holds us together as a nation. So, I'm praying for a decisive election, no matter who wins.

But if God doesn't grant us that result, I'm hopeful that the two major candidates, Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry, will have the maturity and the commitment to the good of the country to call off the dogs and accept whatever results eventuate. We need grown-ups in the White House. And, among the outs, we need people willing to accept defeat and work together for America and the world. There will be ample time for electioneering in the post-November 2 world. But immediately following the election and until another (and I hope, delayed) partisan political season begins, political leaders need to address the weightier business of governance.

So, what about it, Mr. Kerry and Mr. Bush, will you pledge to accept the results of each state's first certified results no matter who wins?

Will you agree not to tie up the 2004 elections in the courts?

Will you refuse to go to the Supreme Court?

Will you show the same statesmanship and respect for America that Richard Nixon demonstrated in November, 1960?

I hope so.

What Do You Think?

Johnny (Alley Oop) Damon for World Series MVP?

Clergy Partisanship: A Fad That's [Thankfully] Dying

A small item in the latest issue of Leadership caught my eye: "Clergy Less Politically Active." The headline is based on a recent study, published in a new book by Corwin Smidt, a professor at Calvin College. Smidt declares that there has been a steady decrease in approval of clergy involvement in partisan politics among those in evangelical Protestantism and a similar shift in attitudes among the clergy themselves.

I welcome this shift. While clergy should be granted the right to have their own political opinions, something the parish I serve has granted to me, I don't feel that any clergy should ever hold up one political agenda as preferred by God.

Among non-mainline Protestants, there was a faddish engagement in partisan politics (especially conservative partisan politics) that began in the 80s and is beginning to die out. In that sense, I rather think this political engagement was like any other fad that periodically sweeps through the ranks of the church---like everything from bus ministries to Alpha, from being "seeker sensitive" to open-collared Hawaiian shirts.

In earlier decades, I remember there being a similar political fad among mainline Protestants, that of the more liberal variety. That too has dissipated. Today it's virtually absent.

Many of these fads reflect the impatience that we Christians can feel with the way the Holy Spirit usually works in people's lives---slowly, methodically, through the patient witness of people who follow Jesus. Like generations of Christians before us, we're tempted to try to impose God's Kingdom (or our versions of it) on others through government regulations and law or social convention rather than through the gentle wooing of people who seek to follow Jesus each day.

This is one fad I'm very glad to see dying.

[Leadership is an excellent magazine. Check out its web site here.]

Is it the Curse of the Organ?

Unless the Saint Louis Cardinals can pull off the same feat the Boston Red Sox pulled in the recent American League Championship Series, the Curse of the Bambino is about to expire under baseball's statute of limitations. Down three games to none in the World Series, it appears that the Cardinals, the team with the best regular season record in the majors this year, are about to lose to the Sox.

If they do, it may be explained by the Curse of the Organ. Before the opening of last night's game, fans at the stadium and watching on TV were subjected to an interminable set of introductions. The team physical therapist was even introduced. But what made the ordeal all the more insufferable was the organ music that accompanied it. It was so excruciating that my wife begged me to mute the sound on our TV until the game began. I gladly complied.

How is it that the powers-that-be of a sport in desperate need of attracting young people allowed a Wurlitzer to play such a prominent role in the opening of pivotal Game 3 of the World Series?

Baseball wasn't the only victim though. Saint Louis was given a black eye by the performance as well. After the long organ recital on national TV, it's doubtful that the city has gained a reputation as a hip or compelling tourist destination. After enduring last night's introductions, few husbands likely turned to their wives and said, "Hey, honey, that looks like a fun place. Let's go on Travelocity and book a trip to Saint Louis!"

I've long felt that organs should only be heard in two venues: skating rinks and funeral homes. And I'd rather not hear them there either.

Organs do have their place. The slick Hammond accompaniments on 96 Tears, Whiter Shade of Pale, the Beatles' I'm Looking Through You and I'm Down, or anything by Booker T & the MGs (to date myself) is fine. But Handel and Beethoven put me to sleep and anything else played on an organ sounds to me like Tie a Yellow Ribbon or Rock of Ages. I think frankly, that most people agree.

Nostalgia is sometimes seen as a feature of the new-wave baseball parks in the major leagues and organs would seem to fit that motif. But honestly, I think that it's dangerous to confuse history for nostalgia. People do like to sense that their franchise or that the World Series are parts of a venerable history. It gives them a sense of being involved in something bigger than themselves, that they're members of a special tribe. But organ music is an unwanted vestige of the past, kind of like an infected appendix. Like that useless organ, the best thing to do is to cut organs out of baseball stadia.

Do the unbearable tones of an organ emanating from a ballpark make it impossible for the Cards to win the World Series? Is there really a Curse of the Organ? Only the next eighty-six years will show us.

I'm only half-kidding in all of this and as is true of the 42-foot Jesus I wrote about last week, I'm sure that there are some people for whom the organ--at a ballpark, funeral home, skating rink, or worship service--is just the thing. My sentiments could be way off-key.

But to tell you the truth, while I'm rooting for the Cardinals, if the franchise loses this World Series, the first pink slips should go to the organ and the organist.

Presidential Election Prayer, October 27, 2004

"How can I stand up before God and show proper respect to the high God?...He's already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It's quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, And don't take yourself too seriously---take God seriously" [Micah 6:6, 8 from The Message translation]

Mighty, Loving God:
There's a lot of talk about this being the most important presidential election in fifty years or in our lifetimes. Such assertions may be true and we ask You to guide each of us as we decide for whom to vote. Give us such an openness to You that we even willingly change our minds as we step into our polling places, if that seems to be Your will.

But God, Your Word reminds us that both now and beyond November 2, whether it's with our vote, in the ways we treat our families, by how we use the money and possessions You give to us, in the decisions we make about what to do with each day, through the causes we support, or in the agencies for which we volunteer, our call remains the same. Our whole lives are to be grateful responses to what You have done for us through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ!

Help us then, as individuals and as a nation, to embrace Your mission for each of us: to do what is fair and just to our neighbor; to be compassionate and loyal in our love; and to make You and Your desires our ultimate concern.

We pray too, God, that You will help us to see that far more important than who wins the presidency is the transformation of our lives that comes when we totally surrender to Jesus Christ.

Knowing that He has come into our world so that all who entrust themselves to Him will live with You forever, we do so now, whether as an act of renewal or for the first time. We ask You to forgive our sins and fill us with Your Holy Spirit so that whether we will be good citizens of Your Kingdom.

Finally, we pray, as Your Son directs, that You will send "workers into the harvest": faithful witnesses for Jesus who willingly share the Good News of His life-changing love with a world hungering for Him. We pray that in a world made dangerous by our sin that You will give all Your witnesses Your protection from danger and harm of all kind. Such witnesses, empowered by the Holy Spirit, filled with the message of Christ, will do more to transform people's lives for the better than any government or president ever could. It's when these transformations happen, we know, Lord, that we will live the call You give in Your Word in Micah.

In Jesus' Name we pray.


Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Preliminary Thoughts on 'Good to Great'

Jim Collins' book, Good to Great, begins with a simple statement. "Good," he writes, "is the enemy of great." That's certainly been my observation. (Rick Warren puts it another way: "The greatest cause of failure is success.") When we're good at something, we can become satisfied and lose the impulse or incentive to get better. We grow smug and self-satisfied. We can even do this while residing in the cellar of near-mediocrity because to think otherwise might cause us to change or challenge ourselves to do better.

Collins and his research team set out to find what lay behind the sustained "greatness" of a number of corporations. I've only read three chapters of the book so far. But I can already tell I'm going to learn a lot from it. Tonight, in an email to the leadership of our congregation, preparing for a strategic planning retreat in the next few weeks, I summarized some things:

While this is a book about companies, Collins asserts early on that the book is not just about businesses and I readily agree. In his studies of companies that made the transition from being simply good to being great, he uncovered lessons (I would say, re-covered lessons) that I think may be applicable to us at Friendship.

He begins the book with a simple statement: "Good is the enemy of great." And so it can be. I believe that Friendship is a very good church. But we have to ask ourselves: Do we want Friendship to be a great church, one that steadfastly works at making disciples of its current members and participants and that just as steadfastly reaches out to make new disciples for Jesus?

Another assertion, based on his studies, that Collins makes here is that it is less important for an organization to have a plan (strategic or otherwise) than it is for that organization to have the right people in place. If leaders have the passion, diligence, and motivation, the plan will be uncovered. While there are obvious limits to this approach--I believe it's essential that we establish some basic priorities as a congregation, we also need to have the flexibility to employ the gifts and passions of the people God gives us. I remember a few years ago, Steve Snoke, several other members, and I met with Norm Shawchuck, a Methodist church growth guru. He told us the story of a little country church that wanted to develop its niche and reach out to others. The congregation decided that they were really good at potlucks. And so they invited non-members to be with them for potlucks, which they then scheduled with greater frequency. This was something they knew that they could do well. They experienced substantial growth as a result. One of the things we must absolutely do with our SWOT analysis is determine what our three to four strongest suits are at Friendship and then build on them, I believe.

Another thing I find really interesting in Collins' book so far is his pyramid for the five levels of leadership. Interestingly, a Level 5 leader, he says, is one who is personally humble but stubborn about the mission and success of the organization. A Level Five leader, it seems to me, is exactly what we all can become when we allow Jesus Christ to work in our lives.

Has any reader of the blog read Collins' book and what do you think of it? What have you learned? Does what Collins writes ring true for your company, church, or other organization? Let me know in the Comments section below this post.

One other thing: Can you name some Level 5 Leaders---either those you've known or observed from afar? (I'll share some advice I recently received from someone: Beware of anyone possessing what is popularly called charisma, that special charm that makes people go gah-gah. According to Collins and others, those aren't the people who create sustained greatness and spawn successors. Such "leaders" are too me-centered to accomplish anything of lasting significance, according to Collins et al. Do you agree?)

Seven Habits vs. Seven Dwarfs

The ancient rabbis thought that seven was the perfect number. After all, they reasoned, it was on the seventh day that God rested from His creating and declared the universe "very good."

In the October issue of Fast Company, author Martin Kihn points out that seven is the number of little guys in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. He does this by way of debunking management, leadership gurus Tom Peterson, Jim Collins, Steven Covey, and others.

Kihn points out that In Search of Excellence, Built to Last, and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People are all based on seven concepts, all pretty much the same concepts, and each, according to Kihn, negatively demonstrated by the dwarfs.

It's really funny and you can find it on page 40 of the October, 2004 issue of this great magazine. Even if you're a dolt when it comes to business---as I am---you will love Fast Company.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Presidential Prayer, October 24

You command us to pray for our daily bread, the things we need for daily living. Through Jesus, You also demonstrate that You are a God of grace.

And so, as we near the end of this bruising presidential campaign, we ask that You would give our country not the President we deserve, but the one we need. And the president the world needs from America, too.

Grant that our next President, whether it's Senator Kerry or President Bush, will be an instrument in Your hands. Grant that through that President, You will help make ours "a more perfect union."

In the Name of Jesus our Savior, we pray.


Friends of God: Come and See!

John 1:35-46
(shared with the people of Friendship Church, October 24, 2004)

You know what a “guilty pleasure” is. It’s something that you like, but it may be deemed so stupid by others that you don’t let them know about it. This morning, I’m going to reveal one of my guilty pleasures. I love the old Pink Panther movies starring the late Peter Sellers as the bumbling French police investigator, Inspector Clouseau. Back in my college days, a buddy of mine and I would arrange our schedules so that we could see the latest Pink Panther movie the very day it was released.

In one of the movies, Inspector Clouseau is checking into a resort in the Alps. There’s a little yippy, yappy dog barking at him and thinking he can make friends with it, Clouseau turns to the hotel desk clerk and asks, “Does your dog bite?” The clerk says, “No.” Clouseau leans over to pet the dog and it immediately takes a chunk out of his hand. “I thought you said your dog doesn’t bite!” he yells to the clerk, who replies, “It’s not my dog.”

Somewhere, in that little scene, there was a failure to communicate some vital information and the result was painful.

Something like that is going on in our lives and in our world today. You and I have vitally important information and we’re not always successfully passing it along to those who need it. The results are painful.

Pastor Gareth Icenogle tells about a couple who walked into his office one day. “What,” he wondered, “are you looking for?” The couple---Tom and Nancy---explained that they wanted to be married and supposed that a church building was a good place for that to happen. “Do you have a church background?” he asked. “No,” they said, “we’ve never been in a church before. We just heard it was a good place to get married.” “Would you mind,” Icenogle asked, “if I did the service in the Name of Jesus?” They said, “Who’s Jesus?” Icenogle thought, “Wow, these people are really out of touch.”

But then he realized something: It was the Church that was out of touch. Nobody in the lives of these two educated adults had ever told them about Jesus or invited them to get to know Him. The Church had failed to communicate the most vital information that any of us can ever know: That God wants to fill the holes in our souls, wants to love us and be with us through thick and thin in our lives, wants to erase the killing power of our sin, and wants to give all who will follow Jesus everlasting life!

So, there in his office, Gareth Icenogle shared the Good News of what Jesus did for us all when He died on a cross and rose from a grave. Tom and Nancy became followers of Jesus and asked Gareth to do their wedding and to just tell the story of Jesus when he did. They were married on the slope of Pepperdine University, looking over Malibu and the Pacific Ocean. After Gareth told the story of Jesus that day, several of their friends decided to follow Him too!

What’s the point? Whether people know it or not, they’re looking for the missing piece of their lives! Tom and Nancy thought that they were looking for a place to get married, Gareth says, but they what they really wanted was Jesus.

The same thing happened to me, as you know. Ann and I had been married for a short time. She worshiped on Sunday mornings and I slept in. I finally went to worship with her. I thought that I was looking for a little peace and quiet from a wife who was upset with me for sleeping away the morning hours. It was only after people communicated the good news of Jesus to me that I realized that He was what I had been looking for all my life.

Whether it was Gareth Icenogle in his way or Ann Daniels and the people of our home church in Columbus in their way, they cared enough to invite others to “Come and See” what the big deal was (and is) about Jesus Christ.

Each of these people, by their invitations, reiterated the incident that our Bible lesson for this morning recounts. It’s early in Jesus’ earthly ministry. His relative, John the Baptizer talking with some of his disciples (or, students) and points to Jesus. “There goes the Lamb of God,” he says, “Who takes away the sin of the world.”

Now, in Old Testament times, God’s people knew that their sins would disqualify them for eternity with God. And so, once a year, they would take pure lambs from their flocks and in effect say, “God, this lamb represents us. We know that we deserve death for our sin. We’re sacrificing this lamb so that by putting our sins on its head and by the shedding of its blood, we will be made clean again.” Jesus was to be the pure Lamb of God Who would shed His blood for the forgiveness of sin for once and for all.

The two disciples--Andrew and probably the writer of this Gospel, another John--didn’t have to be told twice and they tore after Jesus. “Rabbi (or Teacher),” they say, “where are you staying?” You know what Jesus said: “Come and see.” Our lesson says that the two disciples remained with Jesus until about 4:00 in the afternoon. (I have often wondered what the two of them talked with Jesus about that whole day!)

Later, Andrew goes and tells his brother, Simon, whose name is changed to Peter (or Rock Man) by Jesus.

The next day, Simon Peter, Andrew, and John accompany Jesus up to the Galileean region of Judea. On the way, Jesus walks up to a man named Philip and says, “Follow Me.” Philip does and folks, that was a coup! Philip is a Greek name that means lover of horses. So, here’s a guy whose family had fallen so far away from their Jewish roots that they gave their kid a Greek name and a name that extols the virtues of horses, to boot. Historically, Jews hated horses. Horses were the instruments by which foreign armies had exercised dominion over the Jews and conquered their lands. For a Jewish kid to be named Lover of Horses back then would be like an Iraqi kid to be named Lover of Tanks or Lover of Rocket Launchers today. And yet, Jesus reaches out to this guy alienated from God, from his faith, from his culture. Jesus invites Philip and Philip follows. Is that cool or what?

And then, Philip runs to tell a friend named Nathanael, a name that means Gift of God. “Come on, Nate,” Philip says, “we’ve found the Savior we’ve been waiting for all this time. He’s Jesus of Nazareth.” Nathanael is skeptical. He can't imagine that something as good as the Savior of the world could come from a nowhere place like Nazareth. But Philip says, “Come and see” and trusting his friend, Nathanael does just that.

When John the Baptizer told Andrew and the other John about Jesus, it was like throwing a rock into a pond. The news of Who Jesus was kept rippling out further and further, touching and changing more lives. As the logo for our congregation shows, the ripples are still being felt in the world today.

Sociologist and church consultant George Barna says that in his polling among non-churchgoing people, an enormous number of them would be willing to check out a church if a friend they found credible would only invite them.

Those of us who were involved in the Billy Graham Mission several years ago learned from the Christian Life and Witness Class that something like 80% of all new believers in any congregation come there as the result of an invitation from a friend.

Tragically though, in another study I read once, it was shown that only about 3% of all Christians ever get around to inviting their non-churchgoing friends to “Come and see,” to worship with them, or to check out Jesus. There is a failure to communicate the vital news of Jesus Christ and the result is that millions of people enter eternity without Him.

Other studies indicate that every Christian living in the United States has at least seven non-churchgoing friends. That sounds like a low number to me; I encounter dozens of such people almost every day. You do too. And, as Jeff Daniher pointed out to me a few weeks ago, in some ways it’s more difficult for me to reach out to these folks than it is for you. After all, I’m a preacher; people expect me to say nice things about Jesus. But when you invite your non-churchgoing friends to, “Come and see,” they will listen.

Nonetheless, this past week, I invited two of my non-churchgoing friends to be with us for Friend Day, next Sunday. I’ve got six more I’m going to ask this week. I don’t know if they’ll all show up or not. But God doesn’t call us to be successful, only faithful.

This week, please take the time and make the effort to invite your non-churchgoing friend to be with us for Friend Day, next Sunday morning. You could change a life forever!

A Few of My Favorite Blogs and Other Sites

Our son is fixing steaks on the grill for a last-hurrah cookout for the fall. So, while I'm waiting, I thought that I'd list a few of my favorite web logs and other web sites. I like to go where I'm informed, inspire, or both. Check the following sites out. I think you'll like them too...

Tabletalk is a thoughtful, thought-provoking site by Craig Williams.

It Takes a Church is a wonderful new blog from Tod Bolsinger.

Sidesspot, from Mark Sides, gives thoughtful commentary on faith and life from a conservative political angle.

Heart, Soul, and Humor is a blog by Deborah White. She gives commentaries on faith and life from a liberal political perspective.

Mark D. Roberts, a Southern California pastor and writer, writes both prolifically and well, exploring Christian perspectives on a wide variety of issues!

My brother, comedian Marty Daniels, blogs about life. Marty is a clean comedian who books shows featuring other comics through his company, Bingo's Clean Comedy!

My friend, Nancy Beck has started a blog, a journal about her preparations for a climb of Mount Kilamanjaro. Nancy is the executive director of our local Boys and Girls Club and is using her adventure also to raise money for the organization with which I am pleased to be connected.

One of the neatest-looking and most interesting blogs is Rachel Cunliffe's journal.

Among the terrific writers you'll find on the web is Gordon Atkinson at Real Live Preacher.

Bryan at Spare Change has put together a coalition of bloggers who have been composing daily prayers for the final forty days of the presidential campaign. While I'm such a techno-incompetent that I haven't participated as I should, in logging onto the sites of a number of the prayer-writers, I've found a lot of interesting sites.

My favorite news source is that of the BBC. Outstanding and thorough! Google News is also a great place to visit.

My favorite site on the web is the one operated by Major League Baseball.