Sunday, November 27, 2016

Why I Ride to Church

I’ve been riding my bicycle to church. If you’re wondering why I would do that, so am I. The thing is, I can think of all kinds of reasons as to why other people should ride their bicycle to church. Probably the most important reason is that it creates opportunities for interaction between the church and the members of the community around it. When you’re in a car, people might see that you are headed to church but they will never speak to you and you will never speak to them. At no point will you ever say, “Come and go to church with me.” Of course there are other reasons like it being good for your health or it freeing up parking for guests or getting your brain in gear before you participate in corporate worship. But none of these reasons are the reason I’ve been riding my bicycle to church.

Those are great reasons and I tell myself that I should be more concerned about those things than what I am, but the real reason I’ve been riding my bicycle to church is because I can. What’s the use of being able to do something if you don’t do it? I have lots of people tell me that they aren’t able to ride a bicycle more than a short distance. I don’t know if they believe they can’t ride a bicycle, but they may be right. Years of sitting around too much and eating too much has resulted in people who can hardly move their own weight around. But there’s more to being able to ride to church than being able to balance on two wheels while pedaling.

The ability to ride a bicycle for transportation is as much about the knowledge of how to get from one place to another as it is about the physical ability. Riding a bicycle requires less effort than walking. If you can walk one mile, you can ride a bicycle four. But there’s a significant difference between riding a bicycle around the block and back to your house and riding to a destination. First, there may be things that you need to carry with you. Once you get to your location, you probably want to lock your bicycle, so a bike lock is required. For longer distances you might need to carry water.

Also, there is the question of what roads to ride. Many people assume that they will ride a bicycle along the same roads that they follow when in a car. Many of the roads that are ideal for cars are the least suitable for bicycles. Finding alternate routes may require some research. Sometimes an alternate route is just a street that runs parallel to a road, but often you will find that roads cut through areas where streets are not connected.

I suppose there’s something about being able to do something that many other people can’t. Of course it is easier to get into a motor vehicle to get to the destination, but where’s the fun in that?

Monday, October 24, 2016

Disconnected Roads

I love riding a bicycle, but I'm surrounded by roads that I'd rather not ride. To the West I have Crowley Road, which is a six lane road that is constantly flowing with traffic. The City of Fort Worth is planning to put an on-street bike path along it at some point, but they won't tell me when. An on-street bike path is a glorified sidewalk that is wide enough for bicycle traffic, but it still has to contend with driveways along the street.
To the North I have Sycamore School Road, which is another busy street that they aren't likely to do anything with anytime soon. To the East there is Hemphill Street. It's a little better than the others. The speed limit is only 40 mph, so only some of the traffic goes 50 or 60 mph and there is less traffic. I do ride this street when it isn't too busy. The plan is to remove two lanes on this street south of I20 and mark it for bicycle traffic. I like the idea, but I don't see it happening soon.
To the South there is Risinger Road. It might be okay except it is incomplete. There is a private road that connects it, but that does me no good. Going farther South there is Crowley Cleburne Road, which is narrow and I would have to ride some distance with the 60 to 70 mph traffic on Crowley Road before I reached it. It would be well out of my way if I wanted to go North.
In looking at the map I noticed that that are as couple of streets that would make a world of difference to my bike rides if they weren't dead end streets. One is Winn Drive in Edgecliff Village. If there were a bike trail connecting it to Camelot Road I could avoid Hemphill Street completely on my way to Westcreek Drive and the Trinity Trail.
But then I noticed another one. If Cunningham Street were connected to something on the other side of the train tracks most of my heavy traffic concerns would disappear. On the other side of the tracks, there are plenty of residential streets.
In time it will probably be different. Those empty spaces will be swallowed up with housing and there will be streets connecting everything. Right now that isn't the case. I just think it is interesting how much difference a few yards of concrete would make in terms of improving cycling in my neighborhood.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Lose Weight the Easy Way

Most people want to lose weight and get in shape. People may be content with their fitness level, but they would prefer to be in better shape. The problem isn’t a lack of desire. The problem isn’t that people don’t know what they need to do. Eat less. Exercise more. This isn’t rocket science. So, why don’t people do it?

I spent several years knowing what I needed to do but not doing it. Concerns about my health convinced me to rearrange some priorities. There are things I don’t do anymore because riding a bicycle is high on my priority list. But the reality is that we can’t always do that. Work, church, family, life. These things constantly pull us away from our fitness goals.

There is an article in Bicycling titled America’s Most Bike-Crazy Mayor and it highlights Betsy Price’s efforts here in Fort Worth to get people riding bicycles. They quote Betsy Price as saying, “I realized if I was going to maintain an active lifestyle as mayor, it would be vital to find ways to incorporate it into my city activities.” I love that quote because that is the thing that people either don’t get or they do it poorly. For Betsy Price, the concept translates into doing rolling and walking town hall meetings. She gives city residents the opportunity to communicate with her, which is a job requirement, but rather than this taking away from her ability to exercise, it enhances it.

We may find ourselves saying, “I don’t have time to exercise.” We may feel guilty about it, but the reality is that it is true. But what if we incorporate exercise into our high priority things? What does that look like?

Bicycle commuting is one of the first things that comes to mind. If I were to bicycle commute rather than drive and then ride afterward, I would get more exercise, but it would take me less time to do it. I don’t do that because my day would have to start even earlier and some of the streets I would have to travel make me a little nervous, especially in the dark. But if I lived within three miles of work, it would take me less time to ride my bicycle than to drive, and I would get exercise “for free.”

There must be other ways we can incorporate activity into the things we’re doing anyway. I’ve heard of people gaining weight because the office copy machine was moved closer to their desk. I’ve also heard of managers turning their staff meetings into walking meetings, in which they walked the halls instead of meeting in a conference room.

Church stuff bothers me. Have you ever noticed how much church stuff involves sitting or eating and sometimes sitting and eating? At our church, we have tons of pillows that people leave at church because people sit so much that they feel uncomfortable. Instead of sitting on those pillows, we would be better off if we would have a pillow fight once in a while.

With as many things as we have going on in our lives, there will always be things that take higher priority than exercise. And sometimes that may even be something like sitting around watching television or reading a book. There are times that we need the down time. These days, it is rare that it takes less time to exercise than what it does not to exercise, but if we find ways to combine that exercise with things we are already doing it will reduce the time required. And if we set things up so that doing the high priority things forces us to exercise, we won’t even consider the excuses we have for not exercising.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Why Don't You Ride a Bicycle

Why don’t you ride a bicycle? Because I ride a bicycle, I have many people telling me why they don’t. I kind of think that these people feel guilty about riding. While I would like to see more people riding bicycles, if you don’t ride a bicycle, that’s your loss. You don’t have to explain it to me. But here are a few reasons why people don’t ride bicycles.

My balance isn’t very good.

I suppose this is a ligament reason. I don’t give balance much thought. A bicycle that’s going above 4 mph or so will balance on its own. The faster you go the easier it is to balance. I realize some people have health problems that mess with their balance, but I wonder if the real problem is that people are just afraid to go fast enough to keep the bicycle upright. Besides which, research shows that riding a bicycle can help people develop balance skills.

I don’t know how.

While I’ve never had someone tell me this, CBS News reports that 8% of American adults never learned to ride a bicycle. That means that for every 100 people you know, about 8 of them never learned to ride a bicycle. You don’t hear much about these people because it is embarrassing. Who wants to tell their friends that they’ve never learned to ride a bike? Even kids reach an age where the embarrassment of admitting they don’t know how to ride may prevent them from learning. As an adult, you not only don’t know how to ride but you may not know who can help you learn.

I’m uncomfortable riding in city traffic.

For people who know how to ride and are physically able, this seems like it is the most common reason. It fascinates people when I tell them that I hop on my bicycle at home and ride across town to places like the Fort Worth Stockyards, which is 15 miles from my house by car. There are aspects of it that make me nervous as well, but after a few times of loading my bicycle in my truck to drive 10 miles to get to a trail I began to question whether I could get there without the extra time spend driving and loading. I turned to Google Maps for help. They have a feature that will help you select a bicycle route. Rather than choosing the shortest distance, it chooses streets with less traffic. It doesn’t always get it right, but I’ve used it to find routes with very little traffic. Were it not for being forced to ride on either Hemphill Street or Sycamore School Road, I could find a route to most places I want to go without encountering much traffic. But even that’s not bad, if I choose the right time to ride.

I don’t have a bicycle.

Obviously, if you don’t have a bicycle you can’t ride one, but this is like saying that you don’t eat cake because you don’t have cake. If you want cake, you can either make one or buy one. If you want to ride a bicycle, you can buy one or borrow one. With bike share programs becoming more popular, there are a lot of people riding bicycles who don’t own a bicycle.

I don’t have a place to ride.

This is related to the concern over riding in city traffic, but it’s more common among people in a rural area. Unlike in the city, in the country, you have just a few narrow roads that cut through the area. Traffic isn’t heavy, but the traffic that is there is moving very quickly. The drivers aren’t expecting to come over a hill or around a bend and see a bicycle. The only solution I know of is to ride with a group. Drivers will spot a group of cyclists more quickly and are more likely to be looking for bicycles if they’ve already seen one.

I don’t like getting sweaty.

There’s not much I can do about that. Get over it.

It hurts when I ride.

Serious cyclists tend to be masochists, but there’s no reason why pain must be associated with riding a bicycle. Some pain will make you stronger, but some pain is an indication of problems, so it depends on the nature of the pain to determine whether it is a good reason not to ride. If it comes from sore legs or a feeling of being saddle sore, the solution is to ride more and more often. For many years, I was riding only in warm weather. After weeks being off the bike, I found that it was difficult for me to ride fifteen miles. I would have to work up to more every year. Some pain is an indication that your bicycle doesn’t fit. A bicycle that is too small or too large can cause back pain. The wrong saddle can cause pain there. Lack of lubrication can cause pain. You may be pushing on the pedals very hard to overcome friction or a heavy bike.

I don’t want to.

When you get down to it, this is the real reason people don’t ride bicycles. I’ve been there. I remember driving home from work and looking for flags to tell me how windy it was. If the flags were standing straight out, I would decide that it was too windy to ride. It’s been a long time since I’ve done that. There’s a point at which the more you ride the more you want to ride. I think it is at that point where you ride forty miles and you know you could ride a lot more. Or maybe it is when you climb a couple of steep hills that happen to be on the route you are taking rather than looking for a way around. When you want to ride, all the excuses go away.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Sheltered From Anger

The light was red as I rolled to the well-worn stop line on my two wheeled conveyance. It was the last major street I would have to cross before reaching home, the endpoint for a fifty mile ride. A small white car that had been sitting at the drive-thru window of a convenience store pulled across the street and came up behind me. It hadn’t been there for more than a couple of seconds when I heard a man’s voice, “Go!”

I looked up at the red light and then yelled over my shoulder, “It’s red.”

“Get out of the way! I’m going to bump your mother f_____g a__!”

“The light’s red,” I yelled again. I thought about what would happen if he carried out his threat. His front bumper would hit my rear wheel first. Aside from the damage it would do to my bicycle, it would knock me off my feet.

A few seconds passed. The light turned green and I crossed the road, hoping that he wouldn’t follow. He didn’t. He made his right turn and the situation was over.

Though situations like this one are rare, they do happen. I can only guess why this particular guy was impatient and why he wanted me to break the law so that he could make a right turn on red. It seems like some people get impatient around bicycles even when the bicycle isn’t really causing them an inconvenience. But another thought occurred to me.

If I had been driving my truck, he still would’ve been in just as much of a hurry. I would’ve still been blocking him from making a right turn on red. He might have even yelled at me. The difference is that I wouldn’t have heard him yelling. With layers of metal and glass between us and the air conditioner running, I would’ve be oblivious to anything he said and it is unlikely I would’ve seen him do anything.

When I tell people why I think they should ride a bicycle, one of the things I mention is that when you ride a bicycle you interact more with people in your community. The metal and glass shells on our cars insolate us from human interaction. But while on a bicycle, I’ve have spoken to neighbors I know only by sight. I’ve have strangers stop me to ask directions. I’ve had people stop to talk while I was locking up my bicycle at a restaurant. The angry guy in the white car is just another of my neighbors choosing to communicate with me.

We can chalk this situation up to an attitude of entitlement. The guy in the little white car felt that he was entitled to make a right turn on red, even though there was another vehicle in front of him. Perhaps he saw it as just a bicycle and since he was driving a car, he deserved to pull forward. In any case, he felt entitled and that is just another word for pride. Pride is sinful.

I don’t like getting into these situations, but when we remove the shell that prevents us from communicating with the world around us, not all communication will be the kind we like. We are going to encounter sinful people who become angry, call us names, and curse at us, even when we are doing nothing wrong. These are the people Jesus died for.

When you think about it, we ought to encounter people like this more frequently than we do. When you remove the mask of politeness that so many people put on, this is what the world is like. The question is, why don’t we see it? To that I say it is because we are a bunch of monks. We hide out in our homes until we choose to go somewhere, but the places we choose are those places where we expect to encounter people who will respect us. We go to church, where people are like minded. We go to stores and restaurants where people are paid to be nice to us. In between these places we ride around in privacy boxes, so that people who are just feet from us are prevented from communicating beyond a blow of the horn or a middle finger raised in anger. Whether it is out on the roadways or in other places, if we are so sheltered that we don’t encounter people who express anger toward us, we are too sheltered to have an impact on the world.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Why Would You Spend That Much for a Bicycle?

Walmart will sell you a bicycle for $80. But maybe you don’t like the cheap model. If so, they have bicycles priced as high as $300. Since so many people shop at Walmart, that’s about would people expect to pay for a bicycle, but some bicycles are priced in excess of $10,000. Your average cycling enthusiast doesn’t pay nearly that much. Most of the bikes you’ll find in a bicycle shop are priced between $300 and $2,000. Even that is enough to shock people who are accustomed to Walmart prices.

Most bicycles look alike, so some people struggle with understanding why it costs more to buy a bicycle from a bike shop. It all comes down to components. Just like when you buy a computer you can buy one for a low price if you don’t need the latest and greatest components, you can buy a bicycle with lesser components for cheap, but the better components will cost you. The better components are lighter weight, less resistant, easier to use, and less likely to fail.

When considering how much you should spend, consider what you intend to use the bicycle for. Some people think they need only consider price and appearance, but this is a mistake. There is an implied use that they are considering without realizing it. Some people want a bicycle because they want to go for an evening ride around the neighborhood with the family. Maybe they load them up and carry them to a trail once in a while. For these people, a Walmart bike is probably adequate. If they can afford more, they would be better off with a bicycle store bike, but there’s no reason to spend a lot of money on a bike that is going to see little use.

Walmart bikes are good for about 2,000 miles. That’s about the time the bottom bracket fails. If you’re willing to do the work yourself, you can fix them, but they’re really designed to last about 2,000 miles and then you throw them away and buy a new one. If you take them to a bike shop for service, you can easily spend as much as you paid for the bike getting everything repaired.

On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re big into racing bicycles, you’re going to be looking for the lightest weight bikes that can handle a lot of stress. On a road bike, you don’t want to try to shift gears and not be able to because you are pushing so hard on the pedals. On a mountain bike, you don’t want to come over a jump and the handlebars break loose under the strain. On any bike, you don’t want the brakes to give out on you. You want the best bike you can afford.

But in between you have people who are out for their exercise. These people ride frequently and put in a significant number of miles. They are looking for comfort. They are looking for reliability. They are looking for maintainability. They are looking for ease of use.

There are also people who want to commute using a bicycle. Any bicycle can be used as a commuter bike, but when you’re on a bicycle every day, you become more selective. There are certain features that you want. You want it to be easy to ride.

It seems to me that the more time people spend on a bicycle the more they are willing to spend on a bicycle. And when people spend more on a bicycle they are more likely to spend more time on a bicycle.

Monday, August 29, 2016

BMA of Texas Non-meeting

Maybe I won’t go.
While trying to plan my vacation time for the rest of the year, I pulled up the schedule for the BMA of Texas annual meeting. Since the meeting is close this year, it occurred to me that I might be able to put in a few hours at work before heading to the meeting. My big question was, when do I need to be there? I looked at the first day and what do I see? 1:00 pm – message, 2:15 pm – message, 3:15 pm – message, 8:00 pm – message. In between we have worship, question & answer, and a concert. There’s some other stuff in there that I don’t know what it is, but it looks to me like there is absolutely no business on day one. Keep in mind that the whole purpose of this meeting is to hear reports from the departments of the association and to conduct business. It isn’t until 2:00 pm on day two that we see anything that looks like business. But it looks like the plan is to cram all of the departments into an hour and thirty minutes. After that, it is more break-out sessions, preaching, and a commissioning service. Then on Wednesday, they’re going to have an Open House at the BMA Building.
Don’t get me wrong. Preaching is good. This is why Baptist associations have always had an annual message. Recently, it has become customary to have an annual message and also to have a president’s message. Then people started wanting to combine symposiums with the annual meeting. But with this meeting, it appears that we have completely lost sight of the purpose of the meeting.
Why do we have annual meetings in the first place? To answer that, you first need to consider why Baptist churches are members of associations. Most churches have fewer than 100 members and yet Missionary Baptists believe that each church has a responsibility to preach the gospel throughout the world. That is our commission. But our church budgets don’t allow for that. But if a few churches pool their resources, they can put a missionary to work. If hundreds of churches pool their resources, they can accomplish a great deal. This pooling of resources occurs in associations. But who decides how the money is spent? Every church has as much right to say as any other church. So, we come together at an annual meeting. We wouldn’t have room to have all the members show up, so each church sends messengers, who have the responsibility of speaking and voting on behalf of the church. For these messengers to make decisions, it is necessary for them to hear reports from any departments that might exist. Then, based on those reports, they decide whether the association should continue funding those departments, whether the funding should be reduced or increased, as well as what direction those departments should be given to carry out the work of the association. These messengers decide who should lead these departments. Do we need to focus more on starting churches? Do we need to focus more on strengthening the churches that are members of the association? That is what these messengers are tasked with deciding. This is why we have annual meetings.
It is good to have an annual message at an associational meeting. As the messengers make decisions, it is necessary for them to seek the will of God. Preaching can help direct them toward the will of God. But there is also doing the will of God. Suppose you went to church on Sunday and heard a sermon and you were convicted to go on visitation. So, you show up for Tuesday night visitation and the visitation leader says, “We have a special guest tonight who is going to preach to us. If we have time, we’ll spend a few minutes doing visitation after that.” Of course, that would be silly. But that’s what I see happening with associational meetings. The business portion of the meeting is where the messengers do the work they were sent to do, but they are unable to do it because preaching is crowding it out.
Since I’m not a messenger, maybe I won’t go. Or I may just go for the business meeting, but if the reports are going to be limited to ten minutes, I’m not sure there’s anything to be gained by going. There’s not much they can tell us in ten minutes.
Maybe I won’t go.

Friday, August 26, 2016


During the summer before I graduated college, I worked in fire protection. One of my tasks was to college fire extinguishers from the various locations in the factory where I worked, empty them, replace any damaged parts, refill them, and place them back where they belonged. Occasionally, we would find one that was clogged up, so it wouldn’t discharge. That was the whole point of the exercise. We needed to find the ones that wouldn’t work, so that people would have access to a working extinguisher. Shortly after we began that task, we discovered one of these and one of the guys we were working for helped us with it. He removed the nozzle while it was still under pressure hurriedly positioned it so that it would dump into the container we were supposed to empty these things into. Sometime later, I was working alone and ran into the same situation. Rather than releasing the air pressure, like I should have, I tried doing what he had done. Instead of the result he had, I ended up with a more predictable result. I had dry chemical all over me, all over the room, and everywhere. And then I had to clean up the mess.

There were things to learn from that experience, but one of the things I find interesting is why I did what I did. Had I not been following the example of someone more experienced, I would’ve thought it through, released the pressure and then removed the nozzle, so I could work on it. We learn bad methods by watching bad examples. In that situation, I should’ve been able to recognize that it was a bad example, but I didn’t. We have many situations where we learn from bad examples.

When I was a kid, we would go to Fifth Sunday Meetings. The churches we would go to would put out a feast that would put what we have at church to shame. Rural churches put out better meals than city churches because there’s no restaurant or store to buy the food from. And some of it is fresh from the garden. In any case, I remember loading my plate with food and then going back for more. At one such meeting, I remember telling someone, “I had two dinners and three desserts.” And I remember people saying, “You’d better go back and get you some more.” Then there was the statement, “he needs to eat a lot; he’s a growing boy.” People were praised for their ability to eat a lot of food and people would brag about how much they ate. It never occurred to me that piling my plate with food and going back for seconds was a bad thing. Why would it? The adults were doing that can bragging about it.

I wonder if we wouldn’t have so many overweight people if there weren’t so many people bragging about going back for second. What if people bragged about taking only what they needed? But it’s not just eating. I’ve noticed that people brag about their ailments as well. “These old knees just can’t handle that anymore.” “My back can’t take sitting in those pews anymore. Would someone hand me one of those pillows?”

While it is true that some people have problems as they age, I wonder if some people don’t begin using age related excuses sooner than they should, because the culture encourages it. Many of the problems that people blame on age aren’t age related but are a result of eating too much and not exercising. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there are older people who maintain a healthy weight and continue to exercise. They have problems, but you don’t hear them talking about their problems as much. Why don’t we celebrate them as our examples, instead of treating them like they are some kind of exception to the rule?

Every generation has people of which it says, “They worked hard all their lives.” These people reach their 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and beyond and they are still going strong. I think people forget that these people were also going strong in their 50’s, 40’s, and 30’s. These people didn’t plop themselves down in front of a television with a soda in one hand and a bag of chips in the other when they got out of college. Or if they did, they put those things aside. Perhaps they too had bad examples, but they realized it and changed the pattern.

Monday, August 22, 2016


Thom Rainer posted an article on Four Types of Churches That Will Soon Die. He includes in that list the “ex-community church.” It reminded me of some of these farm churches that began within riding distance of four or five farms. Since families were large, it was easy for them to reach fifty in attendance from just those few families and then there may have been others who came from a little farther out. Now, communities are in towns that may be five to ten miles away from the church building and there may be ten people meeting in the building. It isn’t just that the church doesn’t look like the community, the church isn’t even in the community.

But I’m a member of a church in a large city. There is no shortage of people who are living around the church building. 50,000 people are within easy walking distance. The irony is that with that many people right around the church, there is no sense of community. In a small town, you go to the grocery store and you may know the teenager at the checkout counter by name. You may know who his parents are. You stop to buy gas and you see your neighbor, or your cousin, or someone you went to high school with, and you don’t think anything about it. But in Fort Worth, it is rare for me to see someone I know. It does happen, but it is rare. When you look at those people right around our church, there’s little to tie them together, other than the fact that they live near each other. They sleep there at night, but during the day, they drive off in different directions to go to work. The people they work with are more of a community than the people who live on their street.

We might need to say that this is the way it is and focus our attention on the world as it is. I know it sounds better for preachers to talk about people not being willing to walk across the street to share the gospel, but the people across the street aren’t our community. It is easier for us to share the gospel with people at our place of employment than it is with the people across the street, and that even if we stay within our employer’s limitations on such things.

On the other hand, maybe this doesn’t have to be the way it is. Having communities that have no sense of community isn’t a good thing. People need community. Instead of trying to figure out how to reach a community that isn’t a real community, maybe churches should be working to create these communities. When you think about it, there are only a couple of places in urban communities where people who live near each other spend time together, the local schools, and the local churches. Everything else takes place outside of the community.

Pie in the Sky

If I had unlimited resources, what I would want to do in a community is to build a church building right in the middle of it. Also in the center, I would stores and restaurants and green space. Moving out from there, I would want housing. Outside of that would be employers of some kind. But everything would be in walking distance. Parking on the street would require people to pay a fee, encouraging people to either walk or ride a bicycle to get where they are going. Because this community spends more time outside walking or cycling, rather than in cars and houses, people will have more opportunities to speak to each other and the sense of community develops.

Back to Reality

Even though some churches build buildings that look more like a shopping mall than a church building, no church has the ability to completely restructure a community. Even if we could, there’s no guarantee that people would choose to live there. But maybe we can take that concept and work within the situation we have. To begin with, the location of the building is important. If people don’t have easy access to the building, move. But it isn’t the location of the building that creates community.

Become the Community Center

Community is created when people spend time with the same people, frequently. It may seem like sacrilege to say this, but maybe churches need to hold some events that have nothing to do with sharing the gospel or inviting people to church. Easter Egg hunts and Trunk-a-Treat is a good place to start, but that’s only two things a year and they require people to have children. There’s no reason a church couldn’t offer more community events, with the main goal of building community. If someone happened to get saved, that would be great too.

Become the Well

There are churches that are named “The Well” but I wonder how many actually are. In the Bible, we have a story of Jesus stopping to rest at a well, while his disciples went to buy food. As you recall, this was where he encountered the Samaritan woman. One of the things about the Pie in the Sky community I described is that people walk and ride bicycles, giving them more opportunities to talk to their neighbors. You don’t give it much thought when you’re in a car, but when you’re walking or on a bicycle, there are some things you would like to find along your route. You want to find a water fountain, just in case your water bottle runs low, or you forgot to bring it. You want to find a restroom, even if it is nothing but a port-a-potty. Where you find one, you want to find a bike rack, because you don’t want someone messing with your bike while your pants are down. A little shade is nice. And if a bike pump is available and some tools you can use to work on your bike, you’ve found a place where you will stop. If a church would provide these things, even if all they provided is an outdoor water fountain, they would become a well to the people riding or walking past their building.

Encourage Cycling and Walking

When you think of people visiting a church, you normally think about them arriving by car. Visitor parking is allocated. Signs are placed to point from the visitor parking to the main entrance. But do we stop to think about the people who live near the building? If you live on the same block as a church, are you going to get in your car, drive a few yards, just so you can park near the building? But how easy is it to walk? Do you have to walk through the grass? Is there a way to take a shortcut through the building, rather than walking around to the front? If you ride a bicycle, is there a place to lock your bike? Is it covered, to protect it if it rains?

But don’t just make it easy to walk or cycle to church. Encourage your members to walk or cycle to church. When I ride my bicycle to church, I don’t ride the busy six-lane road our building is on. Instead, I cut through the neighborhood. Alone the way, I see kids playing in the street. I see people out walking the dog. I see people mowing their yards. Do you realize what we could do with that? “Come, go to church with me,” you say as you meet someone in the street. And even if we didn’t, people are going to take notice if they see someone dressed for church riding a bicycle.

It isn’t just that churches need to take part in the community. Churches need to develop the sense of community.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Book Review - Tactics

As a student in high school I learned that it isn’t good to tell a teacher that she is wrong, even when you know the subject better than she does. It is better to ask a question and to shape that question in such a way that the teacher will realize her mistake while attempting to answer the question. I never formalized that method, but Gregory Koukl does in his book Tactics. But rather than addressing how not to offend someone who has the ability to influence your grade, Koukl approaches this from the standpoint of how to share your faith. These days, we encounter many people who are offended by Christian beliefs. The tactics Koukl outlines in his book can help us to reduce the conflict and help them discover the truth of what we are saying for themselves. And even if they don’t, perhaps the people listening will.

The meat of the book is three questions that we can ask that will cause people to consider what they are saying. Often, people are just repeating things that other people have said, without giving any thought to the validity of the argument. These three questions may cause the person to see the weakness in their argument.

  • What do you mean by that?
  • How did you come to that conclusion?
  • Have you ever considered?

The great thing about these questions is that they aren’t limited to a adversarial situation. You might be talking to a close friend and hear them say something that doesn’t sound quite right. “What do you mean by that?” Your child might say something like, “I don’t think I should play with Jane anymore.” You might ask, “How did you come to that conclusion?” or simply, “Why?”

One of the things that Koukl brings out about asking questions is that you can direct the conversation without taking sides on an issue. You don’t even have to be certain of what the right answer is. Perhaps, once you discover what the other person is saying and why they are saying it, you will agree with them. But when they are wrong, those questions may help them to see where they went wrong.

This is the best book on sharing your faith that I’ve read. Unlike other books that tell you what to say about the gospel, this book focuses more on the practical ways we can improve communication. While there are a few things I’m not sure I agree with him on, this is a book that every Christian who wishes to improve communication with non-believers should read. But the people who will benefit the most are the people in leadership positions who must deal with people who disagree with them. I can see where a teacher of a small group might put this to use if there is a student who insists on pushing strange doctrine during class. Rather than getting into an argument that disturbs the other class members, one could ask questions of the person and bring them around, or at least, make the other students aware that the person’s ideas are not correct.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Prayer Problems

Do you ever wonder if the Lord answers prayer? I’m not asking you to answer at church, where the answer is always, “Of course, the Lord answers prayer.” I’m asking you to answer from that place where the silence is deafening, where your heart is broken, where you are out of breath from a punch in the gut, where the floor is wet with your tears. In that place, do you ever wonder if the Lord answers prayer?

At church, we have these prayer lists. Every once in a while, someone will mention “a praise” because someone is out of the hospital. Someone might mention “a praise” because someone found a job or found a house to buy. But those things may have happened whether we prayed or not. What I’ve noticed is that people tend to praise the Lord for answered prayer when they receive their petition in a predictable way. In other situations, people seem to pass it off as happenstance, or “I just wasted a good worry.” I wonder if we aren’t looking at answered prayer wrong.

Several months ago, I set my goals for the year. One of those goals was to write a book. At the time, I thought I would get started right away and have one knocked out by midyear. Midyear came and I realized I hadn’t even started. I worded a prayer. It’s not the type of thing someone would put on the church prayer list. It’s not like I make much money from writing books. It’s not like I expect it will impact many people’s lives. It’s just a personal goal for the year. I could just hear Jerry on Wednesday night, “And pray for Timothy to write a book.” I don’t see that getting anywhere. But it was between me and the Lord. I had a pretty good idea of what the Lord would do. I was certain that if he answered my prayer it would be by persuading me to spend less time watching television and playing games, and he would focus my attention on the task at hand. But that’s not what happened. Does that mean he didn’t answer my prayer? If he didn’t, then why am over fifty pages into writing a book that I hadn’t even started a little over a week ago?

The answer came in the form of a mess. It adds no value to try to explain that mess, even if I knew how, but it was a mess involving people and emotions and opinions and church work, of all things. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to see things like this as the Lord’s answer to prayer. In this case, I felt it best to remove myself from the mess rather than risk of exacerbating the situation. I stepped away from Christian service that has been consuming between ten and twenty hours of my time each week for the past decade. Is that really the answer to my prayer? Would the Lord really put me in a situation where I felt it best to step away from a form of Christian service, so that I could write a book that won’t be read by many people? Really? This is really the Lord’s answer?

I’d be lying if I said there aren’t other higher priority tasks that can receive more of my attention now. It’s extra time I can spend preparing for Sunday school. I actually automated the local association letterform, which I’ve wanted to do for several years. There are some committees I’m on that require some attention right now. But mostly, I’m using the time to write a book. I’m sure I would’ve managed with the other stuff, but the one thing I can do now that I couldn’t do before is turn my focus to writing a book. And out of all this stuff, that is the one thing I prayed for.

We might have an easier time believing that the Lord answers prayers for things other than healing if we would stop expecting him to answer in the way we predict and look for the answer to come in ways we don’t. We might also do well to remember that God doesn’t need to prioritize or optimize anything. We prioritize ministries and look for the most efficient ways to do things because our resources are limited. That’s good stewardship on our part, but God’s resources aren’t limited. We shouldn’t expect God to answer prayer in the most efficient way possible and we shouldn’t be surprised if God turns our attention from a ministry that we gage to be high priority in order to answer a prayer that seems less important. Remember that Jesus rebuked the disciples who murmured when a woman anointed Jesus before his crucifixion rather than feeding the poor. It is a small thing for the Lord to tear down and build again.

But more importantly, we should stop praying and expecting the Lord to answer without changing anything. How many people have asked to see souls saved, and then they got upset when lost people came to church? We tend to be like the church praying for Peter’s release who were then surprised when he came knocking on the door. We say, “Prayer changes things,” but then we think something’s wrong when it changes things we weren’t expecting. If things the way they are aren’t giving us what we’re praying for, we’d better expect to see change when we pray.

That’s the problem I see with praying for sick folk. It’s not that we shouldn’t pray for the sick and afflicted, but many of them would get better, even if we didn’t pray. No change is required. Maybe someone gets a different doctor or they change their medicine, but that’s about it. It’s easy to pray for the sick because it requires nothing of us. But start praying for something that requires change and we have to do something. We might have to take on a new task. We might have to let a task go. We might have to meet some new people. We might have to change some habits. We might have to go answer a knock at the door. But we’ll be better for it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

I Love You

Not a big fan of the words “I love you.” Words are so easily said, but that doesn’t mean they mean anything. Me being a guy, I tend to equate love and respect. One doesn’t often say, “I respect you.” If people respect you, you’ll know it without them saying it. Here’s how:

1. Their Handshake

There’s more to a handshake than just clasping hands. If people respect you, their grasp will be firm. Also, they will make eye contact as they are shaking your hand. If people grasp your hand weakly and they are already looking for the next person to talk to, they don’t respect you.

2. Remember Your Name

People who respect you will remember your name. They will not only know your name, but they will make every effort to call you by your preferred name. And if they aren’t calling you by name, they’ll use “Sir” or “Ma’am”.

3. Nod or Wave

To nod or wave is a sign of respect. This is usually done at a distance. Also, people will nod or wave to people they don’t know as well as those they do. Even so, by acknowledging you, when they don’t have to, they are showing respect.

4. Ask for Advice

Nothing shows more respect than for a person to ask the advice of another. On the opposite side of it, if you are knowledgeable about a subject and someone bypasses you to ask advice from someone else, who knows less than you do, that’s a sure sign that they don’t respect you. As is the case if you offer advice and they choose to ignore it.

5. Repeat Something You Said

If you say something and sometime later you hear someone repeating what you said, that’s a sign that they respect you, or at least they respect what you said.

Monday, August 8, 2016

I've Been Hacked!

Hacked! It’s not something that you want to happen, but it happened to me. It’s a little embarrassing, actually. I’m supposed to know about these things. I’m supposed to be able to prevent this. Yeah, and so is Microsoft. I’ll get over it. Once I get past the feeling of being violated, it’s actually pretty cool. I was able to look at the look at the code they inserted, and I want to talk about that, but first, I’m not exactly sure how they got a foothold. It’s possible that they managed to get my password or maybe the password of the hosting company. I’ve seen situations in which the hackers were able to add get requests to a URL that were then translated into links to other places. But in this case, the index file itself was modified and a large number of files were uploaded to the server. Needless to say, I’ve changed my password and deleted the files.

I discovered the problem while working on moving my website to a new server. I haven’t been happy with the previous hosting company recently, so I felt it was time to move on. But to be honest, I’ve let my website languish for a few years. I haven’t written any books recently and I haven’t been pushing the old ones. As long as the links in my books were still valid, I wasn’t too concerned. But a recent change in responsibilities has allowed me to turn my attention back to writing and promoting books. So, I’m actually writing a new book and it seems like a good time for a reboot. I’m returning to the things I should’ve been doing before, but didn’t have time due to higher priorities. It’s easy to let things slip, and if you don’t watch it, someone will mess with your website. Unfortunately, while I was asleep at the wheel, it killed my search engine rankings for my targeted key terms. I’m choosing to take that as an opportunity to see what it takes to rebuild.

The way the hack works is that you won’t see it if you are looking at the website. If you were to type into a browser, you would see the website and it wouldn’t be obvious that anything was wrong. You could probably even do a “view source” and not spot anything out of the ordinary. Where you would see a problem is when you see the site show up in the search results on Google or one of the other search engines. There, you will be redirected to a site selling shoes or jewelry or cheap drugs of some kind. It’s a neat trick, but it’s kind of irritating.

In this case, the hacker edited the index.asp file. I’m not sure if he did it manually or whether he had a tool that would do it automatically, but he added a few lines of ASP code to the file. He checked specifically for whether the request was coming from a search engine crawler or from somewhere else. If it was coming from a crawler, he would display a page that included a bunch of links to his stuff. If it came from somewhere else, he would display the real page. He actually called it the “real” page in his code. He also included some foul language in his code and the names of files he uploaded. He wasn’t trying to make friends, that’s for sure.

As it turned out, the fact that I haven’t been updating the site helped me remove the extra code. I sorted the files by date modified and deleted anything that was newer than about two years ago. I consider that a temporary fix. I’m in the process of updating my website, along with moving to the new server. Instead of everything being at, everything will be at The other will redirect to it. I already have the directory functioning, though the design isn’t there yet. This will teach me not to ignore my own website. If I’d been paying closer attention, I would’ve spotted it and fixed it already.

Friday, August 5, 2016


If you haven’t noticed, the current fad is minimalism. People are opting for small houses rather than big mansions. Some people are opting out of housing completely, and living with just what they can carry on their backs, not by necessity, but by choice. Instead of having several devices, people want just one that does what they need. Designers are embracing the concept, focusing on the basic needs and trimming out the extra. I saw an ad for a “minimalist watch” that does nothing but tell time. There’s something refreshing about the whole thing.

How different this is from what I remember from years past. I used to have a watch with a calculator on it. I remember buying watches with an alarm, an hourly beep, water resistance to 200 meters, a clock, a calendar, a way to tell direction, and who knows what else. What do I need with a watch that I can dive with? What do I need with the rest of that stuff? But I wanted it because it was available. So what changed?

People are, generally, overwhelmed. When you look at a big house and all you can think about is how difficult it will be to keep the thing clean, it loses its appeal. When you look at a bunch of devices and you know you have to mess with keeping the batteries charged, understanding how they operate, and keeping up with them, they aren’t as exciting. Minimalism makes a promise of making life simple. It offers freedom.

I don’t know that minimalism will be able to deliver on that promise. There are, however, some things about minimalism that are intriguing. I have things in my house that I haven’t used in a long time and I may never use again. I am hanging on to things that I know I will never use, but I like having them. If I were to eliminate everything but those things I actually use, my house would seem empty. I could put it all in a movable house and I would choose a different location at the drop of a hat. But does that make life simpler, or better?

Probably not. It’s never been stuff that makes life difficult. It is people who make life difficult. When I think about the stuff I have in my house that I can’t seem to give up, it all goes back to people. It may be memories. It may be that I’d rather not have them discover I threw out their gift. The heart of minimalism probably has more to do with getting rid of the need to please people. It’s all about getting rid of the white elephant. If you don’t have a guest room, you don’t have to house guests. If you don’t have a car, you don’t have anyone asking you to come pick them up. If your dining room is small, you won’t be the one hosting family dinners.

When I look at it that way, minimalism makes me sad.

Thursday, August 4, 2016


We’re well past the middle of the year and by now there are a bunch of people who have given up on their New Year’s resolutions. You’re probably looking at me funny for even mentioning New Year’s resolutions at this time of year. That’s why I don’t do resolutions. I set goals, instead. If I had written a resolution, it probably would’ve been to ride a bicycle at least 80 miles each week. That would give me 4,160 miles for the year, and I would’ve already blown it. But my goal for the year is to ride at least 4,000 miles and at 2,668 miles, I’m tracking well ahead of my goal. At this point, I could skip the cold weather completely and still reach my goal. But let’s take a look at the goals I set and see how I’m doing.

Write a Book

I’ve been slow to start on this one, but in the past few days I’ve written the first 35 pages of one. I’m convinced it is a book worth writing, so I expect I’ll keep at it. I even have a couple of ideas for other books that I’m looking forward to. At this point, I’m back on track to reach my goal.

Ride a Bicycle 4,000 Miles

As I said before, I’m ahead of schedule. So, I expect to meet my goal.

Ride a Bicycle to Church at least 10 Times

At this point, I’ve ridden to church four times this year, so I’m behind schedule, but there’s really no reason why I shouldn’t be able to catch up. I probably should’ve been riding up there this week, but it’s a little hot right now. I’m not sure everyone would want to smell me.

Ride my Bicycle to Work at least Once

This one is done. I can’t say that I liked the roads I rode, but I got there and back.

Complete a Bicycle Ride of at Least 50 Miles

This one is another one I can check off. I’ve actually did this twice in July and I will probably do it again before the end of the year.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

I’m on track with this one. I weigh once a week and I haven’t gained enough weight that I’ve gotten out of my goal range. I feel like I should do a bit less snacking, but I’m okay so far.

To Win Someone to the Lord

I can’t check it off and I can’t make a guess to whether it is going to happen or not. I’m still praying about it.

And One I Will Not Mention

I would be shocked if I were able to accomplish this one. I don’t even know how to get on track with this one. The ideas I’ve had are all looking like a bust.

So, how are your 2016 goals going?

My Goals for 2016

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

What Does a Blessing Look Like?

Christians often talk about being blessed. Usually, they are talking about something that is good. On Facebook, I’ve often seen people post pictures of their spouse and kids doing something fun and they caption it simply, “Blessed.” But is that what a blessing looks like?

As a single guy, I’ve got to say, I hope not. I’m happy for them. Really, I am. But if a blessing looks like a wife sleeping on a couch with the kids sleeping next to her, what’s an empty couch? A curse? Someone is sure to point out that at least I have a couch, and that’s true. In fact, I’m happy I have a couch. It’s a nice couch. It is soft leather and it looks like new. I give the Lord full credit for giving me the ability to buy that couch. It really is a nice couch. But do you know what would happen if responded to the picture of a sleeping wife and kids with a picture of my very nice empty couch and captioned it “Blessed”? I’ll give you a hint. It wouldn’t be pretty.

Even though people talk about being single as a blessing or a gift, I don’t think many people mean it. It’s just something they say, because they feel bad about saying that they have a blessing when their single friends do not. To make it worse, they say things like, “being married isn’t what you think it is,” as if to say that a wife and kids isn’t really a blessing. Given that the Bible talks often of a wife and kids being a blessing that seems like dangerous territory to me. When the Lord blesses you with something, don’t try to say it isn’t a blessing, because it turns out to be hard work.

When you think about it, what blessing is there that doesn’t come with hard work attached? Think of the ultimate blessing, our salvation. While salvation itself is a free gift, when Jesus taught his disciples he told them that they would be hated and killed and face great hardships. He told them that they would be expected to leave their families behind. A blessing looks like hard work.

This is not what people think. People think that a blessing makes life easy. When it doesn’t, they start thinking that they haven’t been blessed after all. So, while you can say you are blessed when you see your wife sleeping peacefully on the couch, you are no less blessed when she’s mad as a hornet because you left the toilet seat up. You see, the blessing is the wife and kids (and yes, the couch), not the peaceful feeling you have when you see them at rest. That peaceful feeling is the reward you get for putting in the work required of the blessing. If you didn’t spend time with your wife and kids, putting effort into the marriage, you wouldn’t value that sight nearly as much.

If you are single, an empty couch isn’t a blessing. An empty house isn’t a blessing. I’m not even sure that we can say that having fewer things pulling you away from church work is a blessing. Some people point out that singles are more efficient at church work than married people, but if you don’t take a break once in a while, you will experience burnout. Having a family gives you a built in excuse for not doing something. “I would, but my wife won’t let me take on more stuff.”

That’s not to say that being single can’t be a blessing. Proverbs 21:19 says, “It is better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and an angry woman.” Perhaps the Lord has put you in the situation you are in because he knows you wouldn’t be able to handle marriage if you had it. But it’s wrong to assume that because marriage is a blessing that we have to figure out a way to make singleness a blessing too. With that way of thinking, we make everything into a blessing. The rich man is blessed because he has wealth and the poor man is blessed because he doesn’t. Soon, it means nothing to say that someone is blessed.

We have this tendency to want to compare blessings. If the Lord blessed that person with that, then surely he will bless me with something just as great. I deserve it just as much or more than them. It isn’t that single people can’t think of things that the Lord has blessed them with. I have a roof over my head, a truck in the drive, and four bicycles in the garage. I have food on the table and clothes on my back. I have money in the bank, and yes, I even have a nice couch. I thank God that he gave me the ability to work for those things. But if I put any one of those things up against someone else’s wife and kids, they would scoff at me suggesting that I was equally blessed to them. What is stuff, compared to people? Our mistake is in trying to compare what the Lord has given us to what he has given to others. And we probably shouldn’t invite others to compare either.

There’s no way to be certain of how things compare anyway. Jesus makes an interesting statement in Mark 10:29-30, “Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.” We might look at someone we think has been blessed less than us, because they don’t have some of the things we have, but they may have a hundred times what we have laid up in the treasures of heaven. But the passage implies it is in this life as well. It may well be that some of the friends we are blessed with are far better than what we would have if we were married. It is a different type of relationship, but if we could lay out the comparison of our friends against their family, it might well be that we are the more blessed.

God doesn’t tell us those things, and for good reason. If we knew we were more blessed, we might look down on the other person, because we are more deserving. If we knew they were more blessed, we might be hurt, because we know we deserve it more. So, the next time you’re tempted to respond to a “Blessed” post by posting a picture of an empty couch…don’t.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Walmart Doesn't Have Visitor Parking

There’s been much talk about visitor parking at churches. Some people are very thrilled with the idea. Some people…not so much. I rode past one of Sikorsky’s buildings the other day and saw a whole row of visitor parking. I jokingly said that we should paint the visitor spaces at church purple, to match the visitor card. But what I noticed about Sikorsky’s visitor spaces was that it was obvious that they were visitor spaces. The background is blue, not purple, but it makes them stand out. It is helped by them being vertical, instead of horizontal. If we’re going to do visitor parking, this may be something to think about. And, I’ll have to say, I’ve read some things that make some very good arguments for visitor parking. Thom Rainer mentions parking in his article “5 Things the Unchurched Notice at Your Church.” So keep in mind, that regardless of what I say here, visitor parking may be a very good thing to have. But let me present a different point of view.

Walmart Doesn’t Have Visitor Parking

As I rode past the Sikorsky building, a question popped into my head, “Why does Sikorsky and companies like it have visitor parking, but Walmart doesn’t? And why is visitor parking such a big deal for churches, but not for Walmart?” Granted, it is easy enough to make the case that churches are confusing places, with buildings going everywhere, while Walmart is just one building, with obvious entrances. As it turns out, the Sikorsky building is one building, with a very obvious front entrance, but it has visitor parking.

If you don’t know what Sikorsky is, they make helicopters. Their parent company, Lockheed Martin (which recently acquired them), is something of a one-stop shop of military and government equipment and services, with a few related civilian technologies on the side. This is where a big chunk of your tax dollars go, after they pass through Congress’ hands.

You know what Walmart is. Walmart is that place where people wear their pajamas, because they’re rushing out to pick up something and they don’t want to take the time to get dressed. We joke about that sort of thing, but I suspect that tells us something about the difference between Walmart and Sikorsky, and why Walmart doesn’t have visitor parking. Notice in the picture that Sikorsky has a sign on the door that is a couple of paragraphs long. I didn’t stop to read it, but what I think it says is that guns are not allowed in the building and the company reserves the right to search and seize the belongings of anyone who steps through those doors. I didn’t go inside, but I’m certain that is a desk inside at which there are a couple of armed guards tasked with making sure that no one goes in that building who doesn’t have the appropriate badge. If you happen to be a visitor, you won’t be greeted by someone who says, “Let me show you to where you are going.” Instead, they will ask questions like, “Who are you here to see?” Then they will call this person, to come escort you. You won’t even be able to go to the restroom without an escort nearby. This is the kind of company that has visitor parking.

Walmart, on the other hand, is the kind of place where they welcome you inside. They don’t check badges. They actually encourage you to grab a cart or a basket and to wonder around. They actually want you to handle the items on their shelves. They encourage you to taste stuff. They don’t care how you dress. They want you to feel at home in their store. And yet, when you look at the parking lot, you can’t tell the cars of the visitors from the cars of the employees. Why?

Visitor Parking Isn’t for Visitors

Why do companies like Sikorsky have visitor parking? It isn’t so that visitors will feel welcomed and loved. Visitors to companies like this are kind of like employees, they’re just employees of different companies, or government agencies. They’re getting paid to be there, just like the employees are and if there were no visitor parking, they would still show up. The company is actually trying to discourage visitors, except for those who have a need to be there. That tells us that visitor parking serves a different purpose. What could that be?

Think about what happens every day at a building like this. Every morning there is a stream of traffic flowing into the parking lot, as the employees make their way to work. The employees park their cars and walk across the parking lot to the entrance, which may or may not be the front door. Now, add visitors to that mix, what happens? The visitors aren’t used to the parking lot, so they may drive the wrong way down a lane. They may not see a crosswalk. So, you have employees who take longer to get to work. You also have safety risks from the drivers who don’t know where they are going. So, visitor parking is for the safety of the employees and to save the company money.

Visitor Parking Says, “You have no part with us.”

Companies like Sikorsky have no qualms about singling people out and labeling them as visitors. They’ll do it in the parking lot. They’ll do it at the front door. They’ll even give you a special badge with a big V on it, so they’re employees know to quit talking when they see you in the hallway. To them, visitor parking is just part of the unwelcoming process. They want you to understand that, as a visitor, you’re there because you might be useful to them, but you are a second class citizen and the second they don’t need you, you’re out the door.

Walmart, on the other hand, wants you to feel welcome. They know that if you don’t feel welcome, you have other places you could be. They don’t single you out by telling you where you have to park. If you want to park where the employees park, that’s perfectly okay.

Are Churches Walmart or Sikorsky?

Sometimes I wonder if churches shouldn’t be more like Sikorsky. If you’re willing to be there even after we single you out and try to scare you away with threats of searching your belongings, you are probably the type of person who is willing to do something special to get in the door. But we tend to see churches more like Walmart. We want people to feel at home. Why then do single them out?

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Fort Worth Unseen

There’s a whole city out there that most people have never seen. I moved to Fort Worth in 1997. Having grown up in rural Missouri, my impression of Fort Worth was that it was a big city that wanted to call itself country. This was Cowtown and I went looking for cows on numerous occasions, without much success. What I did find was traffic. Lots and lots of traffic. Being the country boy that I am, I’m not a fan of this thing called rush hour. In the country, when you want to go somewhere, you go. It may take you an hour to get anywhere, but you go and the only thing that might slow you down farm equipment moving from one field to another. I learned to plan my life around traffic and discovered that the city folk did too. But what does that have to do with this unseen city?

Traffic in cities tends to flow in these channels that we call freeways. In Fort Worth, we also have these six lane streets that handle large amounts of traffic. Neighborhoods are connected to these major streets, so the typical person will drive a few blocks from their house to a major street, which will take them to the freeway, which takes them to another major street, which takes them to a lesser street on which they find their destination. People who navigate these channels and visit many of the venues around the city are said to have seen the city. These well-traveled channels will take you downtown, or the stockyards, or to the zoo, or to see the museums. They will take you to restaurants, to church, to school, and to work. Many destinations, but few routes to get there.

Most people, see the sites in Fort Worth as being these little pockets of beauty at the end of a concrete channel. So did I. My will to visit these places was tested by my desire to avoid heavy traffic and look for a parking space. But things changed one day when I picked a point on the map and asked the question, “What would it take to ride my bicycle to there?” Since I have even more of an aversion to riding a bicycle in traffic than I do to driving a pickup truck in traffic, the roads I would normally take became the ones that I sought to avoid. I found myself winding through one neighborhood and then another. I found myself seeing a Fort Worth that was very different from what I thought. This city wasn’t a bunch of venues connected by concrete chains. This city was much more beautiful than that. This city was quiet streets, filled with people out walking their dogs. This city had big houses with beautiful gardens. This city had parks that stretch for miles. This city had a river. This city had wildlife. Lots of wildlife. This city had tree-lined streets. This city had horses. This city had people in canoes. And yes, this city even had a few cows. It was there, mixed in among the beauty, that I found those venues that sit at the end of those concrete channels.

But here’s the thing. Without a bicycle, you won’t see it. If you walk, you’ll never get out of your own neighborhood. If you drive, your view is obscured by sheet metal and glass. I’ve tried. I’ve driven some of those same streets and there are things you miss. If people knew what they were missing, more people would stop saying, “I’d like to ride a bicycle,” and they’d go for a ride.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

What Desire Paths Say About Websites

I’m fascinated by desire paths. In the video below, Tom Hulme discusses designing based on desire paths in dirt. But desire paths aren’t always paths that we can see from satellite photos. Since I do quite a bit or work with websites, I spend a significant amount of time looking at website statistics. In particular, I look at the phrases people type into search engines. There are a number of search phrases that I have targeted. When I see these show up, this tells me that what I’m doing is working. But things get more interesting when I begin looking at the other phrases.

Not long ago, on a church website, I saw that someone had visited the site after typing the phrase, “hanging of the greens service ideas.” On one hand, this is of little importance. At some point, the church had positioned itself on this desire path by holding a “hanging of the greens service” and someone posting something about it on the website. You can be sure that the person following this path isn’t going to visit the church and probably won’t even send an e-mail. What makes it interesting is that they typed this search in July. Someone is thinking about Christmas early.

The same site gets several searches for something like “procedure for someone joining a church.” It also gets something like, “what to say to the pastor when you want to join a church.” Again, I don’t know that these people will have any other interaction with the church, since the search doesn’t include the name of the church or the town. What this desire line tells me is some of what people need from a church website. What people want from a church website are answers to the questions they are afraid to ask. Sure, it’s great for them to know about the pot luck coming up, or the camp for their children, or the senior citizen trip. It’s great for them to have inspirational messages and encouragement to read their Bibles. It’s great for them to have easy access to service times and information on how to contact staff members and ministry leaders. But those aren’t the questions people are asking. I have never seen the search phrase, “when does worship start”.

But it’s not just how to do stuff. They’re also asking questions about doctrine. One list of keyphrases includes “when God ignores you”, “Baptist fasting rules”, and “does time exist in eternity”. As a small group leader at my church, I like to think that we can address questions in our small groups that wouldn’t be addressed during preaching. People don’t ask questions during preaching. But some questions won’t be asked of a Sunday school teacher either. It pains me when I see that phrase “when God ignores you.” I have no doubt that there is someone is suffering through something and they don’t feel comfortable asking their pastor or their Sunday school teacher, but they typed it into a search engine, because they knew they didn’t have to worry about what the machine thought of them. I don’t know who this person is or where they are from, and I may never know, but I may have helped them, because something I wrote happened to be on their desire path.

When I can, I try to pave over desire paths. Sometimes, I’ll see a phrase pop up that hasn’t been addressed very well. The search might take them to an event notice, or a quote from a song, or the title of a sermon, but that’s all there is. While we can’t do anything to help the person who typed in that phrase the first time, I figure that if one person typed it, there will be others. To pave over this path, I like to post an answer to their question. That may mean reposting information that’s already on the website, but optimized for the question they asked, but often that means doing the research to find a good answer. And it doesn’t hurt to put a link from the page they found the first time to the page that addresses the question more completely. In time, more and more people will find the information they need, because the website is along their desire path.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Apostle #Paul and Hashtags

For the past couple of weeks, our Sunday school class has been looking at some of the Apostle Paul’s letters. Now, you may be wondering how Paul’s letters relate to hashtags. Recently, I’ve been seeing hashtags…I mean a lot of hashtags. I’ve been seeing posts with three or four or more hashtags. I see posts where half the post is taken up with hashtags. What do I do? I ignore the post and keep on scrolling. I suspect most other people do as well. We need to think about hashtag strategy, and I think Paul’s epistles can help us with that.

Paul’s Form

Paul followed a standard form, when he wrote his epistles. This may have been how he was taught to write in school, but it is worth considering. First, he tells the reader who he is. In your Bible you’ll see that all of Paul’s letters begin with the same word. Can you guess what it is? Absolutely right. “Paul” is the first word of every letter. (Hebrews would be an exception, if it is written by Paul.)

Next, Paul gives a brief introduction to himself and tells who writing the letter with him. In some cases, such as in Colossians, Paul simply says “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will of God.” But in other places he gives a longer statement. In 2 Timothy, Paul says, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus.” That statement about “the promise of life” is quite significant when you consider that Paul was writing this letter in preparation for his own death.

Then, Paul includes a statement about who he is writing to. This isn’t just the names, so that people know the letter is addressed to them. 2 Timothy 1:2 says, “To Timothy, dearly beloved son.” This is more of a reminder of how important these people are to Paul.

Paul then writes a prayer of thanksgiving, goes into the body of the letter, and he concludes with mentioning key people who he knows are in the same area as the person receiving the letter. Given that Paul’s letters are much too long for social media posts, you’re probably still wondering what his letters have to do with hashtags.

A Hashtag Strategy

If we simplify Paul’s form, we see that he makes sure the reader knows:

  1. who is writing
  2. why they should listen
  3. who he is writing to
  4. what he is writing about
Number one, do people know who is writing? And even if they don’t, is a hashtag the best way to tell them? Most of the time in social media, we don’t need to tell people who is writing, because our name appears at the top of the post. Things are different if we are posting to an organization’s page. The organization’s name is on the post, so we don’t need a hashtag for that. If someone uses personal pronouns like “I” or “we” in the post, it is helpful to have the person’s name at the end of the post, so people know who “I” is, but a hashtag won’t tell you that.

Number two, do people know why they should listen? Even if they don’t, hashtags won’t help. Imagine a social media post that includes the hashtag #apostle. Do you think people are going to sit up and listen because of that? What if I included the hashtag #programmingexpert on my posts? Don’t you think people might wonder what I mean by that? But on the other hand, if I began with, “Timothy, who majored in Computer Science/Mathematics and who has a Masters in Computer Science and who has nearly twenty years of experience programming computers, and who has developed multiple websites and who has written books on programming computers,” that would mean something. But the hashtag would be meaningless, because even a college student with a couple of years of programming classes is a #programmingexpert, when compared to the average computer user. Your resume belongs on your profile page, not as a hashtag on your posts.

Number three, do people know you are talking to them? One of the problems with social media is that we tend to write about people, not to people. Suppose I write the post, “Coffee…down the hatch. Water bottles…filled. Tires…110psi. Let’s get this show on the road.” If you’ve been reading my posts, you know that I’m about to hop on a bicycle and go road cycling, but who am I talking to? If I’m just putting it out there for anyone who happens to read it, you’ll probably think “That’s nice. Maybe I should ride a bicycle sometime.” You might even click the like button. But here’s where a hashtag can be useful. Suppose I include the hashtag #SSMCycling. (You don’t have to know what that means.) Suppose some friends and I decided that we would call ourselves the “SSM Cycling Club” and we would use that hashtag on our posts when we are talking to each other. That post might well be followed by a post from another one of your friends, “I’m fixing a flat tire. Don’t leave without me. #SSMCycling” There may be only four people who pay any attention to that hashtag, but it is effective because it tells those four people that someone is talking to them.

But some hashtags intended to identify a group to talk to are just wishful thinking. Suppose there is a business called “Stacy’s Half Pies.” Stacy writes posts that includes the hashtag, #halfpielovers. Unless Stacy has a supportive customer base, just putting #halfpielovers on her posts won’t help her find true half pie lovers. She would be better off using the same hashtag that one of her competitors is using effectively, or not cluttering the post with hashtags at all.

Number four, do people know what you are talking about? Paul wasn’t limited to one paragraph, so he had plenty of room to explain what he was talking about. This isn’t always true for us, and hashtags can help. One of my favorite hashtags is #BAAW. That stands for Bike Against A Wall. Doing an image search for images with the #BAAW hashtag will give you some very beautiful pictures of bicycles supported by walls, or rocks, or sticks in interesting locations. I don’t know who took these pictures. I don’t know why each person felt the desire to post a picture. What I know is that we share a common interest.

It’s Personal, But To Whom?

While we need to communicate the four things that Paul communicated, we need to limit our hashtag use. We need to make it personal, but not by talking about ourselves. Instead, focus on the needs of the reader. No one wants to see more than one or two hashtags on a post, so limit their use to who the targeted reader is and a topic that your reader wants to read about. Don’t just make up a hashtag unless you know you can get a following for that hashtag. Often, what we want to do is to use and @tag, rather than a hashtag. If people want to hear from you, specifically, they’ll sign up. They follow hashtags when they want to hear from several different people or groups who are part of a bigger organization or subject matter. There’s a reason why businesses with successful Facebook strategies don’t include self-referential hashtags in their posts. They add no value to the reader.

Where hashtags become important is when you want to communicate your message to people who aren’t following you. These people are identified by a hashtag that they follow. You might also use a hashtag when you want people to identify posts that they want you to see. You wouldn’t put these hashtags on your own posts, but you would inform people that you will be reading the posts that include the hashtag, thus providing a means of people communicating with you about specific topics.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Gift Problems

So, as I’m reading through 1 Corinthians and trying to prepare for a lesson on Sunday, it occurred to me that when we get to chapter twelve, Paul is still dealing with problems. He has just addressed the unfair distribution of the Lord’s supper. Chapter thirteen is going to call for them to place a priority on love. But that usually not the way we address it. Usually, when we see this thing about spiritual gifts, we ask people what their spiritual gift is. We may even send them off with a spiritual gift assessment and when they come back and tell us that they have the “gift of wisdom” or the “gift of prophecy” or whatever it happens to be, we start trying to match them up with some ministry that tends to have a lot of people with the same assessment as they have. Besides the fact that the Bible tells us nothing about what circles to fill in for each of the spiritual gifts, what does that have to do with problems?

It seems to me that Paul is stating what he seems to think is obvious to give support for what he is actually saying. If so, he didn’t need to tell them how to find their spiritual gift, but rather he needed them to recognize that they were all good at different things. But they appeared to be taking it too far. It wasn’t just that they were good at different things, they appear to have the idea that a different Spirit gave them different gifts. Or at least, Paul feared their pagan upbringing would lead them to think that. I can see where that would be a problem. If I am gifted in one thing and think that the spirit of that thing is telling me to do one thing and someone else is gifted in something else, then they would see no reason to doubt that the spirit of that thing might be telling them to do something different. Paul corrects this thinking by telling them that it is only one Spirit, so whatever the Spirit is leading them to do, he’s going to be leading the other people to be working on something compatible.

Today, when I look at what churches do, I see a different set of gifts than what Paul talked about. Sure, you may be able to cram them into the gifts he mentioned, but I think about that there are people who are gifted greeting people at the door. I’m not gifted in that and I know it. I do it when no one else is doing it, but that’s not my gift. There are people who are gifted in getting people’s attention. Again, I’m not gifted in that, so when I find myself with responsibility over a noisy bunch, I pick out someone I know is gifted in that way and I’ll ask that person to pray. There are people who are gifted in decorating stuff. There are people who are gifted with knowing what to say and saying it. There are people who are gifted at keeping up with the latest trends. There are people who are gifted writers. There are people who are gifted geeks. There are people who are gifted soul winners.

Think about those various gifts. Each person is likely to think that what they do is more important than what other people do. That can be a problem. Many times, a person who isn’t gifted in a certain area will assume that no one is. For example, we have some people at our church who are very gifted at serving meals for the whole church. If it were me, I’d put some bread and lunch meat on the table, point people to the racks of chairs and tables and tell them that if they wanted to sit down they could get their own chair and put it back when they were done. Okay, so maybe not quite that bad, but I’ll admit that I sometimes wonder why we’re worried about whether the centerpieces on the table match and stuff like that. But you can be sure that if I make an issue of it, the people who are gifted in that are going to be very upset with me. And rightly so.

It occurs to me that if you aren’t gifted in an area, you would do well to stay out of the way of those who are. If you aren’t a gifted singer, you have no business telling a gifted singer that they don’t need to practice. Instead, you turn them loose to do what they do, including those things that you don’t understand why they need to do them. If you do, what you’ll find is that all that strange stuff they are doing comes together with the strange stuff you are doing and the end goal will be more easily achieved. In other words, let the experts be the experts.

Paul seems to be saying this 1 Corinthians 12:21, “So the eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” Or again, the head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” It is easy for us to say that an eye can’t be a hand or a head a foot, but what about people? Why is it that we see people who have no business trying to lead music get up and wave their hand around like they know what they are doing, while singing in a different key than what the pianist is playing? Instead of saying, “We can do it ourselves,” why didn’t they go find someone so gifted?

It leads to problems, because the person who is gifted will feel like they aren’t respected and if they aren’t respected, they aren’t loved. Even so, I don’t think most people even realize what they are doing. What does an eye know about what a hand does? It has seen a hand do everything it does and it doesn’t look difficult. It just has to open and close and move things around. The impression most people have of a music director is just what they see. He gets up on stage and does what he does and that’s it. They don’t see the hours he spends looking for music and running through it over and over and practicing with the other musicians. He has it easy, right? And I suspect you’ll find that with everything else that people in a church are gifted to do. When you begin to say, “we don’t need them,” you are going to have problems.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

No Sounding Boards

Some years ago, following a committee meeting at church, I made a sarcastic comment to a friend about what had been discussed. I don’t remember what I said, or what had been discussed in the meeting. What I do recall is that I found myself summoned to a meeting at church, a few days later. I show up at this meeting, not even thinking about the earlier conversation. But when I got there, the door closed and the conversation began, “Someone told me that you’re upset.”

So much for my idea that this meeting had something to do with a project I working on at the time. For the next hour or so, we discussed this thing that I didn’t want to discuss at all. A simple offhand comment had turned into a position that I was expected to defend and my attempts to dismiss the whole thing did nothing to bring the conversation to a close. All from me just thinking aloud.

I learned something from that. Venting is not allowed. Never say something that you aren’t willing to defend. I was looking for someone to bounce and idea off of, someone who would either agree with me or tell me I was thinking wrongly. That is not what I found.

There are times when it is helpful to hear your own thoughts spoken out loud. When dealing with people, it isn’t always easy to know what to do. We often point to Matthew 18 for handling church problems. It is here that Jesus says, “if they brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault.” That’s great instruction, but what if you don’t know if you want to bring the thing up. Maybe you aren’t sure that it is a “trespass” or you’re trying to find the right words to say. Maybe it’s something that’s not worth making an issue of and you’re trying to sort through it in your own head.

It seems like there ought to be people that you can discuss things with to find the right answer. But what my experience has shown me is that a comment meant to feel out other people’s ideas on a topic will be taken as a statement of fact. A statement made in a moment of frustration is taken as a sign of being angry. So, if you can’t figure it out yourself, you’re kind of stuck.

The irony is that it wasn’t long before that incident that I was lectured for “bottling things up inside.” So, which is worse, to keep it all inside or to deal with people who get upset with they discover that I’m trying to figure out whether I agree with what they are doing or not?

Thursday, June 30, 2016

What Selfie-sticks Say About Us

Stephen Wilkes made the observation that “The act of sharing has become more important than the experience itself.” He made this statement in a TED talk in which he was telling about his work as a photographer. To achieve the affect he is looking for, he spends many hours in one location, shooting thousands of photos of tourist attractions. This gives him a lot of time to observe human behavior. While doing so, he noticed that people were using historic locations more as a backdrop for photos of themselves, rather than exploring the site.

I’ll leave it to you to decide whether that is a good thing or a bad thing. We’re unlikely to change it. I’m more interested in why this is the case. This hasn’t always been the way things are, but one thing we know about humans is that we don’t change much. Our motivations today are very similar to what people’s motivations were when the Bible was being written. It’s unlikely that the change in what people do at sites has anything to do with a change in people’s motivations.

Why do people share photos on Facebook and other social media sites? I believe it is because we crave social interaction. It isn’t that we really care if people know that we visited the Alamo, or the Statue of Liberty, or the restaurant down the street. The real reason we post about these visits is because we expect that someone is going to respond. Perhaps it is only a like, or maybe it is a simple statement like, “I didn’t know you were going there,” or maybe it triggers a lengthy conversation. Whatever the case, sharing results in social interaction.

Now, think about why people visited tourist sites prior to social media. We might think that they went to learn something, but maybe not. I remember going on trips as a kid and there were postcards everywhere. People used to say, “Send me a postcard.” Of course, they are collectable, but the purpose of sending a postcard is to say, “Look where I’m at.”

But think also about who visits tourist sites. You rarely see someone there alone, unless they are one of the local workers who has stopped there for lunch. Tourist sites are places to take a date, or to take the wife and kids, or to take relatives who are staying in town. We don’t go to these places to see the site, rather we go because they provide an opportunity for social interaction with the people who visit the site with us.

At the end of the day, it is all about social interaction, and it always has been. Of course, there are things we can do and learn while we are at various sites, but what we want to do is interact with other people. We might need to think about that. The next time we see someone with a selfie-stick, maybe we should go talk to them. That’s probably what they’re hoping for.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Get Your Shoes On (The Armor of God)

How is salvation like a helmet? I’ve heard many sermons about the armor of God. More often than not, emphasis is placed on what a helmet is rather than on the armor itself. Just as we aren’t battling flesh and blood, we aren’t actually wearing armor. There is value in knowing that a helmet protects the most valuable part of our body and we might point out that like a helmet, salvation keeps us alive, even if we have other injuries. But maybe the point of Ephesians 6:10-20 isn’t that spiritual things are like physical armor, but we are to prepare ourselves for battle.


When we stand in battle, we are to have truth. We are battling for hearts and minds. The enemy is lying to those we are trying to reach. When we speak the truth, the enemy is caught with his pants down. No lie can stand up against the truth. So, we go into battle with truth like a belt.


Of course none of us are completely righteous, but Jesus is our righteousness. Even so, one of Satan’s favor tactics is to point at Christians and say, “Look at them! They’re worse than you are.” But consider what happens when that lost soul we are battling for hears Satan say that but what the lost person sees is things that we are doing for the Lord. Our righteousness protects against the attack. Satan’s words bounce off of our chest, because the lost person, sees something better.

Readiness for the Gospel of Peace

When I was a kid, Dad had a rule that we couldn’t ride our bicycles unless we had shoes on. Even though I loved to go barefoot in the Summer, there were many times that I would wear my shoes, just so I would be prepared to ride my bicycle, without going back to the house to get my shoes. Of course, Dad’s reason for the rule was to protect my feet, and it’s not wrong to talk about soldiers needing shoes to protect one’s feet, but I think people miss the point on this. The point is that you need to keep your shoes on, so you’re ready to run into battle. But in this case, it is the “readiness of the Gospel of Peace.” Are you prepared to share the gospel with someone at a moment’s notice? Are you ready to run to a lost person to tell them about Jesus? If you aren’t, you’re like a soldier without his shoes on.


A shield is an offensive weapon, but primarily it is defensive, protecting from all kinds of attack. Faith, is believing that what God said is true. If we know that what God has said is true, then the lies that Satan throws at us extinguish very quickly. Jesus demonstrated this during his wilderness temptation. His response to Satan’s attacks was to put them out by going back to what the scripture says.


This one’s a headscratcher for me. Why does salvation come here in the list? So often, we think of salvation as being an event that takes us from being a non-Christian to a Christian, but that would imply it should be first. We might think it has something to do with the order a soldier would put on his armor, but wouldn’t he put on the helmet before he picked up his shield? But faith, salvation, and the word of God appear to be a sublist of things we are to take, while the others are things that we are to have in a state of readiness. Faith precedes salvation, so that may explain the order. But the hope of salvation gives us much the same confidence that a helmet gives us.

The Word of God

Our weapon, is the word of God. The rest of that armor serves only to protect us as we carry the word of God into battle. But I find interesting phrasing in Ephesians 6:17. It doesn’t say, “And take…the sword, which is the word of God.” Instead, it says, “And take…the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” It isn’t our sword. We’re just the sword bearers. Our job is to carry the word of God to the world, but it is the Holy Spirit who wields it.


We don’t normally list prayer among the elements of the armor of God, since it doesn’t have an associated piece of armor, but it is in Ephesians 6:18-20 that we see what Paul is telling these armed Christians to do. He’s asking them to ask God with persistence on the behalf of all saints and for Paul in particular.

But notice what he doesn’t do. He doesn’t say, “Pray that the Lord will save people.” So often, that’s what we do. We think of a lost friend or family member and we say, “Lord, save this person.” Instead, Paul desires that they pray, “that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.”

That is what spiritual warfare looks like. Praying on the behalf of others, and boldly preaching the gospel in whatever situation we are in.

Get your shoes on. It’s time to go.