GW4GP: What’s It All About?

Have you ever been in one of those moods where you’re evaluating your life and trying to make sense of things?

Early last year I was in such a mood when I found myself driving through South Carolina and reflecting on what I do. I don’t recall what book I was listening to at the time — something related to entrepreneurship — but part of it talked about developing a clear sense of mission: not at all unusual for a book like that, except that I was more in the mood to think about it than usual.


“My crystal ball is cracked, no magic images appear.” (Photo by Christopher Rinehart.)

Anyway, on that trip I came to the conclusion that my mission, my vision, my purpose in life is to write Good Words, for Good People. I like to think that’s what I actually do, but at the very least it’s what I want to do, what I intend to do.

I know that I don’t write perfect words. I don’t write anything like great words, or monumental words, or world-changing words. But I think I write good words — whether they come in the form of stories or songs or ideas, whether you encounter them here on the blog or in my newsletter or in a book or magazine or CD or speech.

“Good” in that they are adequate to the task, usually well-suited to the occasion.

Perhaps “good” in that they provide value for the investment of time and treasure.

And hopefully “good” in the sense that they make the world, or some small part of it, a little better.

I know sometimes I fail, and what I write is poor: poorly worded, poorly constructed, poorly thought. At other times, whether I succeed or fail will be … questionable. For instance, some things I write may challenge you, contradict you, even upset you, and you may assess them as being poor while others assess them differently. That’s okay, because I can’t (and don’t) expect anyone to agree with me all the time — as I’ve written about before.

But from the perspective that I am trying to produce “good” words, I’m comfortable saying that

  • My CDs aren’t perfect, or even masterful, but they’re pretty okay
  • My book on education isn’t the best thing ever written on the subject, and it won’t change anyone’s life who reads it, but it’s pretty good and (I think) is worth a reader’s while
  • My novel may not be the best thing anyone reads this year, and it won’t be to everyone’s taste — what is? — but it’s a pretty good near-future science fiction story, and some people have even found it to be moving
  • My newsletter is no paragon of excellence, but I try to keep it friendly and conversational (plus, if you subscribe I send you a free song, a free story, and a free e-book)

So, then, Good Words — that’s one thing.

But Good People — who are they?

To my way of thinking, pretty much everybody qualifies as “good people” — certainly you do! We may not agree on much, we may barely get along, we may not even like each other very much, but we’re all doing our best, the best way we know how, and the vast majority of us are trying to do things the right way, so far as we know the right. We’re not just trying to do well, but most of us are trying to do good. And I’m serious about you fitting that category, even if we’ve never met, because I sincerely believe that anyone who takes the time to read something I’ve written, or listen to something I’ve sung, or think about something I’ve said, is “good people.”

That’s GW4GP. The more I’ve thought about it, boiling down what I do and why to its very essence, what came out of the mental crucible that day was quite simple (and perhaps even a bit elegant): I write; and what I write, I hope, are Good Words, for Good Peoplelike you.

Thanks for reading!

___
P.S. If you’re of a mind, I hope you’ll visit and “Like” the “Good Words for Good People” Facebook Page. Thanks! GWR

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Putting ‘The Gift Church’ on Indefinite Hold

(This is the fifth, and possibly last, entry in an on-again, off-again series. Links to the first four are at the end.)

Scripture tells us to “wait upon the Lord” — in Psalms, in the Epistles, and famously in Isaiah 40 — but how long we have to wait is up to the Lord alone. That point occurred to me when I realized that I’ve been thinking about the “Gift Church” (or “Gift Fellowship”) idea — i.e., of starting a church that would practice radical generosity — for nearly three years.

Sure enough, when I went back to check I saw that my first notes on it were in early March 2015. Over a few feverish weeks I searched Scriptures and drafted guidelines to flesh out the idea before I shared it with my Bible study group. We discussed it a few times, off and on, and I thought doing so would get it out of my system — but the idea had me in thrall.

Eventually, that October, I first wrote about it here on the blog in a post entitled “The Church I’d Like to Start: A Church that GIVES.” That was akin, I think, to crying out in the wilderness, but I didn’t actually do anything about it: I didn’t recruit people or organize interest meetings or whatever. I did put together a Facebook page and posted on it a few times, but I’ve since deactivated it. And as of now I haven’t written about it for nearly two years, outside of occasional Facebook comments.

But I can’t shake the vision.

Every so often I return to the idea and ask the Lord if I’m supposed to do something with it. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a clear “No” — at least I hope I haven’t just ignored it — but neither have I gotten a definite “Yes.”

I keep asking for a sign, and I think I finally looked in the right place to find one.

Your Family is Waiting for You
Wouldn’t it be great to have a single clear sign? Alas, it doesn’t always happen … so we wait. (Image: “Your Family is Waiting for You,” by Christian Senger, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

What sign have I been given? Simply that the Lord has not prompted anyone to partner with me. A few people have expressed mild interest in the concept, but that’s about it. No one else has had the same or a similar vision, and unless someone does I’ve decided that I need to give up this thought, this dream, this notion. (From a practical standpoint, of course, I suppose you could say I gave up — or gave up on — the notion long ago.)

Partnership is important to me because as I was studying the Scriptures, thinking about how such a church might govern itself, I focused on the fact that Jesus sent out the Disciples in pairs (as recorded in Luke 10), and that Paul always traveled with a ministry partner. Partnership offers support when times are difficult; provides for accountability to ensure vital tasks get done; and makes it less likely that a ministry will serve the minister’s ego more than the people or cause at which it is directed. I’ve come to believe that no ministry should operate except in partnership, and so I’ve put this ministry idea on indefinite hold.

And I’ve come to accept that no one else may ever catch this vision.

I may be the only person dissatisfied with the state of the church these days. Not so much the trappings of church, the worship or preaching or fellowship: the various churches I’ve attended recently haven’t satisfied my spiritual hunger, but that may say more about me than it does about them. No, I remain disheartened by the operations of churches that spend so much money on themselves — even going into massive debt like so many of the rest of us — that they spend relatively little on helping people. I wonder if it ever bothers their congregants to spend more every year on church programming, or more on utilities and maintenance of buildings that stand empty and unused most of the time, than they spend to feed the hungry or clothe the naked. I wonder if they even think about it.

When I was young, the Moderator of the Church of Scotland came to my hometown and spoke at my church. I recall two things about that Sunday. First, before the offering he prayed: “Lord, forgive us when we come before You with empty hearts, and empty hands.” That admonishment affected me deeply, and still does today.

Second, he based his sermon on the text, “What does it profit a man, if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?” (Mark 8:36). That was the day I learned that Christ had first asked that question (until then, I had only associated it with the Beatles). But I bring it up because lately I have come to view many Scriptures as applying to the corporate church as much as they apply to us as individuals, which leads me to wonder: What does it profit a church, if it gains all manner of worldly appurtenances but loses the soul of the Gospel? And the soul of the Gospel is to serve, rather than to be served.

I don’t know if I will find a church that puts serving others ahead of serving itself. I don’t know if the idea for The Gift Church, which would do just that, will ever catch anyone else’s attention.

All I know is that I will continue to wait upon the Lord.

___
Previously in this series:
– 1: The Church I’d Like to Start: A Church that GIVES
– 2: The Gift Church: Its Guiding Principle
– 3: The Gift Church: How It Might Work
– 4: The Gift Church: Choir Loft, or Orchestra Pit?

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Self-Control, Worship, and Life

Those of us who are Christians rightly appreciate the characteristics that Paul described to the Galatians as “the fruit of the Spirit.” A few years ago, a friend of mine pointed out that they form something of a hierarchy with “self-control” as the base. I don’t know where he learned or came up with that idea, but I like it.

I also like what Douglas Wilson has to say on the subject in the latest installment of his “State of the Church” series, Church and Kingdom, Cathedral and Town:

… the Spirit moves throughout the earth, converting and restoring individuals, fashioning them into saints, into believers. As His fruit is manifested in them, one of those fruits is self-control, self-government, or self-mastery. This self-government is the basic building block for establishing non-tyrannical governments in the other spheres that God has established among men. Without self-government, families can become autocratic tribes…. Without self-government, the church can become a grasping and despotic monster…. Without self-government, the civil magistrate can become an overweening and covetous thug….

I love that he starts with the point that the Spirit is what “moves throughout the earth” to convert people. I cannot convert anyone; I cannot restore anyone; I cannot compel or convince anyone on my own. I don’t “preach” to my non-Christian friends for precisely that reason. What I try to do — and here I’m paraphrasing, because I don’t recall the quote or the original source — is to live a life that, if I succeed, may invite someone prompted by the Spirit to ask me about whom I follow, whom I serve, whom I worship.

And, speaking of worship, I love the metaphors in this excerpt:

The worship of God is central to all of life, but it does not devour all of life. The sun does not burn everything up, but it does give light to everything. The water does not flood the world, but it does irrigate the entire world. The anchor fastens the ship, the ship does not turn into a gigantic anchor. The cathedral is at the center of the town, but does not “take over” all the activities of the townspeople — their printing, their auto mechanics, their software designing, their lawn mowing. In one sense all of that is none of their business. But at the same time the church instructs the townspeople in the adverbs — how these things are to be done, meaning, honestly, before the Lord, with one eye always on the text, and with a hard work ethic.

Lord, help me govern myself well; help me worship You in all I do, whatever I do; and help me be about the business of my life in a way that pleases You, and points others to You.

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If Buttercups Can Do It, It Isn’t Ministry

Among the 21 Maxims for Discouraged Pastors — in fact, as part of the very first one — we find this gem:

In 2 Tim. 2:3-6, the apostle Paul compares the work of ministry to three vocations, and all of them involve a goodly amount of sweat — soldiers, athletes, and farmers. The calling of the ministry is not for buttercups, and if buttercups can do it, it isn’t ministry.

The entire post seems as if it would be valuable for every pastor, whether discouraged or not, to review periodically — and for every one of us who has ever thought of going into the ministry to bear in mind when listening for that call.

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How NOT to Give a Webinar

I signed up for a music-related webinar a few weeks ago, and after sitting through it — or, trying to … twice — I’ve been stewing about it ever since. It was that poor an experience.

In fact, I have very little nice to say about it, so this is probably not the best way to follow up the post in which I admitted my tendency to be more critical than discerning. I can say that in my ongoing struggle to be less overtly critical I tried to follow the “praise in public, criticize in private” principle; if that had worked, I probably would not have written this post. Still, I will not link to the product or the responsible person, nor will I call them by name.

Part of the reason the whole experience annoyed me so much is that I am — or was — a fan of the person giving the webinar: I appreciated their music, and found their songs to be insightful, profound, and even brilliant. The lesson here is that it takes a lot to turn a fan completely and totally against you, but you, too, can alienate and drive away some of your fans if you follow these aggravating steps:

  1. E-mail your fans and invite them to your webinar — emphasize the interactive nature by calling it a “workshop” — and be sure to offer multiple sessions, and also to employ neat tools like countdown clocks and e-mail reminders about tuning in;
  2. Set it up and make it appear to be a live event — have “live” be part of the web address, start with some banter directed toward people listed in the sidebar, allow attendees to post their own comments, and even answer questions from a few of the listed people;
  3. Have the event freeze partway through;
  4. Don’t respond to e-mails about the event freezing;
  5. When people tune into the next available session, replay the exact same thing even though the URL again says “live” — sit there wearing the same T-shirt, repeat the exact same banter and questions from the exact same people … make it blindingly obvious that not only this session but also the first session they saw was actually a recording;
  6. Have the event freeze at almost the exact same spot; and
  7. Don’t respond to additional e-mails about the event freezing, and especially don’t respond when called out about deceitfully presenting the session as if it was live.

Yes, if you follow those steps, you’re almost guaranteed to alienate someone who was coming to you for useful information and who expected a different experience. (Most importantly, be sure to bill it as a webinar –a web-based seminar — and sometimes as a workshop: don’t you dare bill it as simply a video tutorial, and especially don’t bill it as the long-form advertisement it really is.)

the world wide web
Web-based seminars can be great, but they can also leave people wanting more — especially when they don’t deliver what they promise. (Image: “the world wide web,” by frankieleon, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Note that twice I followed the “critique in private” principle by sending e-mails directly to the party involved, to no avail. The silence was stunning.

The sad part is that I’m not sure I can bring myself to listen to that artist’s music again. As much as I appreciated their music, I’m certainly not a fan of the person as an Internet marketer. I found them to be deceitful, uncommunicative, and manipulative.

But, in the “silver lining” department: obviously I did learn from them some things not to do if I ever decide to produce a webinar.

So that’s something, I guess.

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Two Warring Spirits

We have two warring spirits inside us, of criticism and of discernment, and of late I have become acutely aware of their battle within me. Even in posting this, and admitting my own failures, I’m tempted toward criticism rather than discernment — tempted to point out the motes in others’ eyes (maybe even yours) rather than acknowledging the beam in my own.

What is this critical spirit I struggle against?

The critical spirit bites and devours. The critical spirit tears down and does not rebuild. The critical spirit speaks without thinking or reflecting. The critical spirit does not have equal weights and measures; it does not apply the same level of scrutiny to itself as it does to the other.

In contrast, what is the discerning spirit that I try — and all too often fail — to employ?

The discerning spirit wants to protect, not destroy. The discerning spirit warns; it does not push. The discerning spirit can speak hard words, and often does, but it is the scalpel of the surgeon, not the cudgel of the mugger.

Do you struggle with this, at all? Or am I the only one?

Lord, help us — help me — discern more than criticize, build more than demolish, and support more than undermine.

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That Pesky Constitution

That idea I floated yesterday? The one about making Legislative pay and benefits dependent on how well Congress, you know, actually does its job? Turns out it wouldn’t take immediate effect because of the 27th Amendment.

Herein lies a lesson in how age dims the faculties … especially when one’s references are also old.

The copy of the U.S. Constitution that I have near to hand, and that I used before publishing yesterday’s post, was printed in 1984. Thus it predates the 1992 ratification of the 27th Amendment — and, frankly, I had forgotten that amendment even existed. Given that it was ratified during my second USAF assignment, and didn’t make a big impression on me at the time, perhaps I can be forgiven that error.

Anyway, the 27th Amendment says, “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”

Thus, Congress can’t vote itself an immediate pay raise (which I knew, and joked about in “I Think I’ll Run for Congress”), but they also can’t have their pay immediately docked. The first thing makes sense, but I’m not so sure about the second.

Pay to the order of...
(Image: “Pay to the order of…,” by dslrninja, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

So, a law like the one I laid out yesterday could be passed, but it wouldn’t go into effect until the next congressional session. That might be okay — in fact, it might be good, because it would give a little bit of time for lawmakers to start buckling down to their fiscal responsibilities.

I suppose another way to go, though it would take more time, would be to put forward a new amendment. Maybe something like this, to change one word in the 27th Amendment to allow for pay reductions to take immediate effect:

Amendment

Section 1. The twenty-seventh article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

Section 2. No law, increasing the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.

In the current climate, I imagine something like that would be ratified fairly quickly by the states. But, like yesterday’s proposal, I doubt I’d find many people willing to co-sponsor it.

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Another Wacky Idea: Legislative Pay Based on Fiscal Performance

In honor (ha!) of the latest government shutdown, I present another of my wild ideas about the government from the perspective of the “Anti-Candidate.” This idea would fit in well with a series of blog posts I wrote several years ago called “If I Were My Own Representative” — I’ll link to them at the bottom of this post, for anyone who’s interested — or with the myriad other tax ideas I’ve floated through the years.

The Anti-Candidate, of course, running the perpetual “Anti-Campaign,” has no chance of ever implementing any of these oddball notions. But if anyone wanted to fund and run a campaign to get me elected to the U.S. legislature — I don’t want to deal with the hassle of getting elected, but despite my joking around about politics I’d actually be honored to serve — I’d take great pleasure in submitting a bill something like this:

Whereas, it is the solemn responsibility of the U.S. Government to act as a trustworthy steward of the citizens’ treasure; and

Whereas, the endless accumulation of debt is not indicative of good stewardship; and

Whereas, the U.S. Constitution charges the Congress with the power to lay and collect taxes, and the power to spend the revenues therefrom; and

Whereas, the mechanism for spending the collected revenues is the annual budget for the operation of the U.S. Government; and

Whereas, the U.S. Constitution forbids the withdrawal of monies from the Treasury except under duly-legislated appropriations;

Be it hereby enacted that salaries and benefits for Legislative Branch personnel, including Senators, Representatives, and the top-paid half of their respective staffs, shall in perpetuity be limited as follows:

– For any period in which the U.S. Government is operating under a complete budget in which authorizations and appropriations are projected to be revenue-neutral or produce a surplus, 100 percent; or

– For any period in which the U.S. Government is operating under a complete budget in which authorizations and appropriations are projected to produce a deficit, 80 percent; or

– For any period in which the U.S. Government is operating under an incomplete budget, leaving any U.S. Government function to operate under a continuing resolution, 60 percent; or

– For any period in which the U.S. Government is operating entirely under continuing resolutions, 40 percent; or

– For the first 7 calendar days of any period in which the U.S. Government ceases normal operations for lack of appropriated funds, 20 percent;

– For any period beyond the first 7 calendar days in which the U.S. Government ceases normal operations for lack of appropriated funds, zero.

The above adjustments shall be made automatically by the Treasury except in cases where the President has returned duly passed appropriation legislation to the Congress, in which case the adjustment shall be as if the President had signed the legislation.

Or something like that. Obviously I’m no master of legal lingo, and I’ve probably left out some important details, but hopefully that gets the idea across.


(Image: U.S. Capitol, Western Front, from Wikimedia Commons.)

It would be amusing to listen to legislators explain why they should receive their full pay when they haven’t performed one of the most basic functions of their job. But for that to happen, the bill would have to get to the floor, which means getting through committee(s), which means it first must be brought up — and something tells me it would be fairly difficult to find a co-sponsor.

Still, it’s fun to think about.

___
P.S. For anyone who might care, the five parts of the “If I Were My Own Representative” series were:
If I Were My Own Representative, Part I
Part II: Knowing What I’m Voting For
Part III: Hearings and Caucuses
Part IV: My Touchstone for Voting
Part V: A Positive Message

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Panic in the Face of Change

It seems as if all of us resist change to some degree, for at least some kinds of change. Like so many things, we vary in how comfortable we are with change, even when we have some assurance the change will be beneficial. Sometimes, however, we are so caught up on what the change is doing or is likely to do to us — per Reaiah’s Maxim, “There is no change without tension”* — that we cannot envision a way for it to turn out well. Yet,

One of God’s great patterns is that of taking apart, and then restoring fully. The restoration, the resurrection, is fuller, deeper, and richer than the original unity ever was. But before God tears, we consistently tend to panic, afraid that this time He will not be able to put anything back together. But He always does.

“We consistently tend to panic” — no matter how often we study the cover of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.** Momentary panic may not be all bad, though, if we eventually return to obedience and trust.

And what do we trust, if we claim to be Christian? That

The death of Jesus was not done in our place so that we might not experience it. Jesus did not die so that we might live. He died so that we might die; He lives so that we might live.

Lord, help us — help me — not to panic, but to trust.

___
*Bonus points for anyone who recognizes where this comes from.
**Upon which is printed, “Don’t Panic!”

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The Case Against Christian Activism …

I used to feel bad, as a Christian, that I never put a lot of emphasis on the whole “WWJD” question. I don’t think I ever had one of the bracelets. The whole thing seemed like a fad, and I wasn’t interested.

Until now, I never thought about it in the negative: “WWJND” — “what would Jesus not do?” What things do we do that go so far beyond what Jesus said and did as to be at best tangential to the Gospel? In some respects, that question seems just as important.

Consider this tidbit from Empires of Dirt — a book I’m interested in reading:*

The textbook case against Christian activism can be made in one word—Prohibition—the word that would have made the Lord Jesus at Cana into a moonshiner felon.

We err both when we fail to do the things Jesus urged us to do — and still urges us to do — and when we do things he clearly would not. That seems true on the individual level, and just as much on the level of collective action in the church writ large.

Lord, help us. Or, more to the point: Lord, help me.

___
*Along with a few dozen other books, of course.

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