Tuesday, March 29, 2005

A Life Worth Living

Last week as many of you may know, my family buried my sister Amy. I never dreamed that day would come. I don’t think anyone did.
Amy was full of life, energy and love for her friends, family and most importantly her Lord and Savior.
I was honored to write Amy’s obituary, but I felt inadequate as I finished the biography of 24 years.
How could 24 marvelous years be summed up in 329 words?
We sat on Tuesday afternoon going through boxes and boxes of photos Amy had collected during her short life.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, how could 329 words suffice?
I began to wonder how long my obituary might be.
I’m certain its length would be longer. I am two years older than Amy and she always considered me the “social butterfly” of our family. While I was always ready to jump into the next big thing, she was quietly memorizing scripture or spending time with her closest friends.
I remember after I transferred to The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor Amy would be frustrated when people knew her as “Jonathan’s little sister.”
After all, she did arrive at UMHB an entire year before I did.
She was never the outgoing, outspoken member of our family.
As a middle child I think she gave up trying to steal any talk-time or spotlight away from our youngest sister or me.
But a long obituary means nothing. A life worth living is measured by quality and not quantity.
I may live to be 99, but I will always question if my life was any where near worthy of hers.
Only 329 words for an obit, but those boxes and boxes of pictures really do say so much more.
As you look through them they’re not a “who’s who” of Mesquite, Belton, Dallas or anywhere else. But they’re a “who’s who” of who really mattered to Amy.
No matter how many boxes you went through, you didn’t find too many new faces.
Amy’s group of friends were small – but they were so very close.
She wasn’t out to be involved in every club in college. She wasn’t interested in making a name for herself.
She never set out to be Ms. Popular or Ms. I Know Everybody -- but her funeral was a testimony that Amy impacted everyone she knew.
She was just here to help those nearest and dearest and live a life worthy of Christ -- and in the end she made an impact on everyone she came in contact with.
Because while the faces in Amy’s boxes were few, the lives she touched were anything but.
Everyone who knew her loved her. And to be a part of her close circle meant you were something special.
I never understood why while growing up I went through girlfriends like dirty socks and Amy never dated at all.
It’s because she knew what she was looking for and she wasn’t going to settle for anything less.
She had her list and checked it twice.
If you didn’t meet her expectations, see you later, you won't get her attention.
That’s why I know God placed her fiancĂ© Matt in her life. She wouldn’t take anything less than God’s best.
When Amy was hitting her early teens I was reminded how she was so worried about how she looked and how no guy would ever want to date her.
My best friend Matt consoled her saying, “Amy you’re beautiful. Someday your prince will come and take you away.”
That meant the world to her and she waited expectantly for her prince.
Her prince finally arrived nearly 10 years later.
Matt came into her life on a white horse and stole her heart away (much to the frustration of a way-too protective older brother.)
But despite any fears or doubts, Matt was Amy’s Proven Prince.
They were so in love. Not only with each other but with their God and Savior.
And as Amy laid in hospital beds and rested at home over the last month, Matt proved himself over and over again to everyone.
There is no one else I would have rather have had standing in my place protecting her from the world and its hurts and pains.
But while Matt was Amy’s Proven Prince here on earth, her Heavenly Prince Jesus Christ comforted her so much more.
She loved nothing more than reading His love letters to her and talking with Him.
She talked about Him constantly. She did everything she could to make Him happy.
And I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that when she walked through the pearly gates of heaven her Heavenly Prince said, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Welcome home.”
My parent’s pastor told the Easter Sunday congregation that he had received an e-mail shortly after Amy’s funeral.
The e-mail said that the writer had never really known Amy but they regretted that tremendously after attending her funeral.
The writer said that Amy was a true example of a life given to Christ and a lifestyle of evangelism.
Amy’s life was a testimony to Christ and a testimony to lifestyle evangelism.
She often wondered how she could reach her co-workers for Christ and how she could reach those around her. But she did it the best way she knew how -- living a life focused on Christ.
For many of us, it takes 20, 30, or maybe even 70 or 80 years to figure out this thing called life.
But I’m quite certain Amy had it all figured out when she was three years old, sitting in a bathtub.
She made a decision that would affect the rest of her life, by accepting Christ as her Lord and Savior.
There was no evangelist breathing fire and brimstone down her neck, no flashy media presentation, no pressure to walk the aisle with her friends, just a burning desire in her heart to be like the Christians she knew and more importantly -- to be like Christ.
Yet even as I wrap up this column I feel like 1060 words are not near enough.
I could write many more volumes on my sister, Amy Elizabeth Blundell. And even still, she would be embarrassed with the little I’ve written here.
I love you Amy and we all miss you greatly.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Church Marketing Sucks

I must tell you – I love technology.
As I write this, I’m sitting on my back porch, enjoying a gorgeous first night of spring, while listening to a radio station beamed directly to me via a satellite from New York City and surfing the Internet via a wireless hub one of my neighbors apparently set up.
Now if I could just get my dogs to quit trying to lick my face, life would be grand.
And what’s even better, with Belton’s new Wi-Fi network sprouting up, I could be sitting anywhere in the city doing this same thing in the near future.
As I was surfing the web last week I came across a website that has captivated my attention: www.churchmarketingsucks.com.
If the name doesn’t catch your attention, many of the entries or blogs should.
I think I’ve spent three or four hours over the last several days reading through the site.
Now there’s probably many of you who are immediately turned off by the title of the site, and for you there’s the alternative, www.churchmarketingstinks.com.
And there may be more of you who are offended by the subject matter, for you – sorry, but I think the site developers are on to something.
The writers on the site raise some very interesting questions.
Why is it that Christianity has the greatest message ever, but we have the hardest time sharing it with the masses, or even our neighbors?
“We love the Church,” said Brad Abare, founder and regular contributor to the site. “But when it comes to communicating with an increasingly savvy world, the church is being left behind.”
I think the church in America has had a spark lit under it recently with The Passion of the Christ, but how many people are still sitting in a theater wondering about Christianity because no one has stepped up to explain their faith in a real way?
“This is a conversation, an idea—not a business,” said writer Kevin Hendricks. “We’re in this to see the Church become more authentic and effective, to see not simply butts in pews, but Christ in hearts.”
In December Wired Magazine reported a story about a high school computer teacher who made a complete advertisement on his computer for Apple’s iPod.
The commercial made by high school teacher George Masters has all the makings of a prime-time quality advertisement.
And his 60-second commercial has been getting a lot of attention from bloggers, e-mail, advertising reps and now Wired Magazine.
Gary Stein, an online advertising analyst with Jupiter Research, was struck by the quality of the ad.
“It shows great advertising principles,” Stein told Wired Magazine. “He’s computer-literate, but he’s also literate in the language of advertising.... You could take this thing and put it on MTV this afternoon. It’s not only good, it’s good advertising. People go to college to learn this. He just gets it.”
“Why would a school teacher spend a good chunk of his free time, for five months, crafting a really slick ad for no money? For no real recognition other than a, ‘Hey, that’s cool,’ from a few friends? Because he really, really likes his iPod,” wrote Andy Havens. “Masters frankly admits that he partly worked on the project as a way of teaching himself some computer animation basics, and to be part of a portfolio. That being said, why pick the iPod mini as his subject? Because he’s a huge fan. And let’s remember that ‘fan’ is short for ‘fanatic.’”
I think every pastor or lay-leader would love members of their congregation to be that fanatical about church events or activities.
I know I would be.
Why is it that people will spend hours creating a commercial for a small music gadget, paint their entire bodies and lose their voice while screaming for their favorite football team, but can’t spend an extra hour volunteering at their church?
The Church Marketing Sucks staff would say it’s all about marketing.
We haven’t marketed our message properly to our own members, yet alone the rest of the world.
Have you ever witnessed the excitement a new convert has? They’re willing to do anything and tell everyone about what Christ has done for them.
When I met with WWE Superstar Shawn Michaels last week, he said that when he came to know Christ, he told his pastor he wanted to do anything needed at the church, including janitor work, if that’s what was needed.
But somewhere along the road the message gets lost.
Christ just isn’t as cool as the first day we met him.
We lose track of what He’s really done for us.
My dad’s told me several times, “It’s just easy for me to talk about everything God has done for me.”
We get so caught up in our daily rituals that we don’t really realize the cost Christ paid on Calvary 2000 years ago. It takes a holy day like Easter to get us back on track – for at least one Sunday out of the year.
Marketing is way more than just advertising.
Marketing is finding ways to make things run smoother and making people feel apart of your company, organization or group.
Apple Computer owners are some of the most loyal customers in the world, I know because I work for one of them.
It’s because Apple makes each customer feel apart of the company.
They make products that customers can truly take ownership in and work in their lives.
McDonald’s is another marketing giant.
It doesn’t matter what country you’re in, when you see those golden arches, you think Big Mac or Quarter-Pounder with Cheese.
Both companies are have strongly branded their message to their audience.
But think about the church, we’re sending one giant mixed signal to the world.
Don’t do this, you can do this, but not that. Don’t attend that church, our church is better.
And I’ll pick on my own church for a moment; we’ve been advertising an event coming up with two different times.
How confusing is that for our members, let alone someone driving by or surfing on the web.
Our website says one thing and our marquee says something different. I have no idea what our bulletin says, because quite frankly I don’t read it. I use the internet to get my information.
But according to the church marquee, I’d be showing up 30 minutes late if I went by the time posted on the internet.
Even last week I had posted the time for one of the events in our singles department on the internet, but someone else gave a later time to be published in the bulletin.
I’m still trying to figure out where the church’s phone number, address, service times or even a statement of what we believe are posted on our website.
We need better communication within our churches -- not only between our members, but to those outside our doors.
Why don’t we come together as a body of Christ -- for our common goal -- to bring people to Christ and show His love to them all?
Why can’t First Baptist, First Methodist, First Pentecostal, First Whoever, join together and say, “Hey, we’re were all a bunch of lost people, just like you, before we met Christ?”
Quit fighting for the largest congregations, quit arguing over theological issues in public that the world will never understand – it’s foolishness to them.
It’s amazing that a number of churches continue to grow, but yet they’re not growing from new converts, they’re simply stealing from other churches.
We must first recognize the power of Christ in our lives and then market it to everyone around us.
We need to each become fanatics in our faith. Live a life that Christ lived and share His love with everyone.
Well it’s getting chilly and I’m sure my neighbors are getting tired of my great rock music blaring into the night air.
So, while I could go on for several more pages, I’ll end with this quote: “The church exists for mission, and … a church that is only inward looking is not truly the church.” -Samuel Escobar, The New Global Mission (via CT)

Thursday, March 17, 2005

May His Wonders Never Cease

I wish I had a real concise way to tell you everything that I’ve witnessed in the last few weeks, but I’m pretty sure the best way to explain it all is, “May His wonders never cease.”
I’ve often heard, that illness, pain and sickness all stems from a lack of faith.
Someone please show me an example in scripture where a person was sick or in pain because they had a lack of faith.
I’m going to step on some toes here, but the entire “Health and Wealth Doctrine” makes me sick. Try preaching the health and wealth doctrine to believers in Tsunami stricken Asia or AIDS stricken Africa.
Try and preach that if they just believe in God, He will take away their sickness and give them a Cadillac in their garage.
Now I’m not going to doubt that people were and are healed because they had great faith -- but don’t try to tell me that a person is lying in a hospital bed because they don’t have any faith.
I thought a lot about this as I received updates on one of my sisters, who was lying in a hospital bed in Dallas over the last few weeks, after suffering from several migraines and eventually a seizure.
I thought about it as I heard an update on a friend, 36 years old, who is lying in a nursing home, virtually unconscious, after several strokes.
I thought about it as I read more updates on the tragic sickness and poverty that plagues Africa and Asia.
The thoughts were even stronger as I sat in my sister’s hospital room, watching and praying, as she asked for my family members to read scripture to comfort her.
And believe me, I prayed for her miraculous recovery. I prayed that she would walk out of the hospital that very day – but God had other plans.
If I were to believe that her illness was a result of her lack of faith, I would have no choice but to curse God right now because she wasn’t able to miraculously walk out of a hospital room.
Why would God ignore her and her lifelong faith in Him as the great physician, comforter and provider?
Instead of cursing the God of Isaac, Jacob and Abraham, I know that God’s ways are unknowable and His healing power is not dependent upon my faith or Amy’s faith.
Thank goodness -- because in the midst of it all, while Amy might remain strong, my faith will waiver.
My feet have a tendency to slip from the rock of my salvation, but His hand is always there, reaching out to me and pulling me back to Him.
And while Amy didn’t get up and walk out of the hospital because someone prayed the “magic words” or had “unbelievable faith,” His wonders never cease.
Knowing me, if Amy had sat up and walked out of the hospital that day, I might have gotten a big head and thought it was my faith or my prayer that healed her, rather than looking to Jehovah-Rophe (the Lord who heals).
Amy’s condition was eventually diagnosed by one of the nation’s top neuro-specialists, hours before she was scheduled to check out.
If she had walked out of the hospital Saturday afternoon, we would still be questioning the cause of her migraines and her seizure.
But because His wonders never cease, Amy has been put to the front of the line for follow-ups and appointments with a doctor whose group sees over 30,000 patients and who flew from Atlanta to Dallas to visit with Amy and look over her tests. His wonders never cease.
This past weekend I saw His wonders continue to amaze me. But neither time nor space will allow to describe all the wonders I saw.
I had the privilege to sit as a fly on a wall in a van with four wrestlers last weekend on a road trip to Knoxville, Tenn.
On a trip that lasted slightly more than 40 hours, five guys in a van grew closer than ever to each other as well as closer than ever to an amazing, wondrous God.
The five of us traveled to Knoxville, Tenn., where we joined 26,000 students to get our praise on.
We left Rockwall at 8 p.m. Thursday night, arrived in Knoxville at 10 a.m. EST, Friday and pulled out of Knoxville around midnight Friday night amazed and stunned at all we had seen.
We had sat for several hours with one of the greats in the wrestling business, Shawn Michaels -- and rather than talking about wrestling, we sat and talked about God.
We met one of the most genuine and humble players in the National Football League, Justin Griffith.
We had seen God worshiped far out of the box we try and put Him in week to week.
We got our worship on with Israel Houghton in a way that made Sunday morning seem like decaf compared to a triple espresso.
We saw hundreds, if not several thousands stand and walk to the front of an arena for an alter call.
We felt an even stronger renewal of the CWF and its ministry.
We saw God’s wonders at work 24-7. He is truly worthy of all praise.
I don’t know where God will lead me tomorrow or next week, but I continue to pray each day, “May Your wonders never cease.”