Archive for January, 2012

[This post is in a series of posting about marriage and weddings.  You can find the first four posts herehere, here, and here]

When my wife and I got married we had to sign a four page contract with, what felt like, a zillion points as to what would be allowed or not allowed in our wedding ceremony and also the details of our past relationships.  We grew up in an Acappella Church of Christ so the church we were getting married in didn’t allow any music to be played that contained instruments (yes…I actually just said that…try walking down the aisle to a vocal rendition of the Wedding March).  The contract also wanted to make sure that we had no prior marriages that ended in a “unbiblical divorce” or that we weren’t living together prior to getting married, etc.  We had to initial each point of the contract to affirm we understood the expectations and that we were not in violation of any of the conditions.  Even now, as I look back on it, it was very legalistic in tone and feel (even as it was very thorough and clear).

In my ministry over the past 15 years I’ve had a number of angry couples who came to me wanting me to marry them because “their Pastor” (or church) wouldn’t allow them to get married because of [fill in the blank].  As they shared their stories, it wasn’t hard to feel a little sympathetic to the sting they felt of legalistic rules and expectations.

Legalism sucks no matter what the topic or situation.  And the tone of legalism I find repugnant.

And that is why this conversation of weddings and marriage feels in some way awkward to me.  I’ve come to appreciate that there really does need to be understanding, expectations, and clarity as to what Christian marriage is, and what it isn’t.  And I personally have fallen into some convictions in this area that before I have glossed over hoping that my inclusive spirit and “generosity” of low-expectations and hoops to jump through would ultimately win the day (or at least the hearts of those getting married).

And now…15 years later…that didn’t work.  In the devastation of divorce and failed marriages I feel I have done a disservice to couples to not give greater instructions, expectation, and clarity as to God’s heart and desire for marriage.

And yet…I don’t want to be legalistic.  I don’t want to have that tone.

So I struggle.  And in the end, I have concluded that this really is a case-by-case deal.  You just can’t have hard and fast rules as to what you declare you will or will not do.  And in the end, you have to discern directional movement.  What I mean by that is – are they moving towards Jesus, or away from Him?

I had a couple that I married several years ago (really…one of my favorite people) who came to me precisely because another church had rejected them.  They had been together for years (even living together) and had two beautiful little girls.  They got involved in our church and gave their lives to Jesus and eventually got married.  And it was very obvious that they were directionally heading TOWARDS Jesus, even if the beginning of their relationship didn’t line up with what Jesus would have desired.  Of course!  They hadn’t given their lives to Jesus yet.  I know many Pastors wouldn’t have married them because they were living together.  Or they would have married them only if one of the individuals moved out.  But for me…they had two daughters.  What could be more devastating for those little girls than for “daddy” to move out a few months prior to the wedding ceremony?  So, in the end, with great joy, I married them.  And the reason…their entire life was directionally heading towards Jesus.

On the other hand, I’ve had other couples who were already in Jesus.  They had confessed Jesus as Lord, they had been baptized in his name.  They had pledged to follow after the ways of Jesus.  And then…it seemed every decision they made relationally was away from Jesus.  Sex before marriage (which by the way the statistics tell us is at 80% for Christians who are engaged).  Living together.  On different pages when it came to spiritual values and commitments.  And making decisions that are NOT headed towards Jesus.

I live and exist because of God’s grace.  And I want to extend that to everyone.  Everyone stumbles.  Everyone sins.  Everyone screws up.  Everyone has that moment when their life, after taking two steps forward, takes a step back.  But the stakes involved in marriage are too high and too great (especially when kids are involved) for a flippant – “everyone makes mistakes so…whatever” in regards to the foundational decisions people make in regards to getting married.

And the only way I know to hold convictions and not be legalistic is to move case-by-case prayerfully discerning the overall direction a couple is heading.  If it is towards Jesus, I want to help, as much a I can, along the way.  If it is away from Jesus, my help has to take the form of instruction, warning, and the call to repentance.  To plead, with as much grace as I am capable of manifesting – to head back TOWARDS Jesus.  For it is the only sound directional move available for Christians who want to get married.

On Sunday a began a two-week message series that talks about where we are headed here at the Living Stones Church in 2012.

And when I say two-week…I really do mean it is a two part message.  I had Paco Bayer give me a signal when I had reached a certain time and then I abruptly ended my message (kind of awkward…I know).  And, I am picking up where I left off this past Sunday.  Which means, if you missed Sunday, you missed the 1st half of the message!!  SO…before Sunday…if you missed it…listen to the message so that where I pick up will make sense (or at least as much sense as any of my messages make).  You can listen to it here.

If you had plans to miss this coming Sunday because of vacation…cancel them!  Take large volumes of vitamin C so that you aren’t sick on Sunday!  Be here to finish the message we began on Sunday.  I’m very excited.  And I think you will be too!

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!  Amen.  – Apostle Paul


Exhaustion With Negative Campaigns

Posted: January 30, 2012 in Politics

Everyone hates them.  Everyone complains about them.  Everyone demands that the candidates don’t go negative.  But the statistics are very clear – negative campaigning works and is effective.  And negative campaigning has worked since the birth of our democracy.

You think things are bad now.  You should have seen them in 1800.  Check out this video of what, if commercial air time was a possibility in 1800, the candidates would be saying about each other:


See Part 1 here and Part 2 here

“A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to Farce or Tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.”  James Madison 1788

I want to go back to the mayor’s address to the school board and suggest one more thing the mayor should do:  PUSH FOR A PARTIALLY-APPOINTED SCHOOL BOARD!!!  I know this is controversial, but I’ve lost my hope and trust in the voting electorate to select school board members who are qualified (or even smart).

Recent turmoil on the school board bears that out.  For further proof…note Roseland’s town council.  I believe in Democracy, but in local elections for school board candidates, the voting public has no clue what the candidate stands for or if they are even qualified to lead the city’s school system.  Whenever forums are offered to meet the candidate about a dozen people or less show up.  The candidates don’t have the finances for commercial spots, mass mailings, or other means to get their message out.

David Snyder

So…a voter enters the booth and chooses a name that rings most familiar (and hopefully the name isn’t familiar because of the charges that were filed against them) or one that sounds nice.  “Spivey…that sounds nice.”  “Stephanie Spivey…oooo…two ‘s’ words.  I like it.  I’ll vote for her!

And then…we get what we get.  Except, it usually means inept leadership.

If the city’s well-being is intertwined with the school system’s well-being (which I believe that it is) then the Mayor has a huge stake in what happens within our school system.  All of his attempts at city growth will be undermined by a defunct school system.  There should be at least 2-3 school board members who are directly appointed by, and are accountable to, the mayor.  I know this places a lot of trust and control in the hands of the mayor.  But he has a vested interest and his voice (via his appointees) are critical.  Further, it expedites communication between the mayor’s office and the school board.  And I don’t mean just communication that occurs at their Monday night board meetings, but probably more important, the communication that goes on outside of it.

See Part 1 here.

One way the city government can help our neighborhood schools is to do something about the condition of the neighborhoods that surrounds the schools.  Specifically, something about the blight and abandoned

properties that many schools on the South Side are right in the middle of.

Has anyone seen the neighborhood that surrounds Riley High School (especially facing opposite the main entrance)?  Has anyone seen the street that is directly in front of of the Riley Early College Program now meeting at the old Studebaker Primary Center (on Dubail Street)?  And now the school corporation is considering the Studebaker school building for the New High Tech School!!!  The entire block across from the school is abandoned with several scarred from arson on two of the properties (it used to be three but the city did demolish).

And where are these schools located?  In some of the most run-down and neglected neighborhoods on the South Side.

I don’t know what Code Enforcement or the city can do, but what does it communicate to our students, and to their families – to have schools in whose surroundings are so miserable?

To see Part 3 go here.

[This is a series of blogs dealing with issues pertaining to condition of neighborhoods on the South Side of South Bend.  You can read the first couple of posts here , here , & here.]

This past Monday evening the  South Bend School Board had their weekly meeting. During the meeting the newly elected Mayor, Pete Buttigieg, addressed the board.  In his address he expressed his desire to work with the school board noting how important a strong school system is to the health of a city.  He promised several things such as: 1) an open door for communication; 2) an advocate by virtue of his office; 3) pursuit of private financial investments; and 4) a call for community volunteers and mentors.

I’m glad the mayor addressed the school board.  And I couldn’t agree more in regards to the health of a city being largely dependent on the condition of its schools.  But as we talk about the south side of South Bend and schools (as has been popular on the blog this week) I believe the condition of our schools may be a contributing factor to the decline of our neighborhoods (and yes…I know the exact opposite can be said as well…the decline of our neighborhoods is a contributing factor to the condition of our schools…welcome to the chicken and the egg debate).

The one thing I hear consistently in regards to people’s decision to move to Michiana but choose a home in Mishawaka or Granger, is the condition of South Bend public schools  (even more than crime) .  I recently read a forum online of someone asking for advice because they were moving to the area.  Page after page was filled with people encouraging them NOT to move to South Bend but rather choose Lakeville, Mishawaka or Granger and the most often cited reason was the school system.

Several years ago I counted 18 kids that lived on my street (I live on a cul-de-sac on the South Side of South Bend).  18 kids…mostly girls! Out of those 18 kids (who are smart, well-behaved, come from stable homes, etc.), only 2 (my children) actually attended a South Bend public school (and even now I only have one in the South Bend public school).  The other 16 were attending private schools (mostly Catholic).  I couldn’t help but wonder if that was the norm on other streets as well.  It seems that anyone who can…sends their kids to another school system or a private school.

The flight out of South Bend public schools guts the neighborhood schools.  And specifically, it guts the schools of kids who are coming from stable homes with parents who are involved and who encourage their children academically.  When you take all of those kids out – how does it not devastate a school?  And now the State is offering vouchers to help in this flight (which…in a spirit of full-disclosure…we use for one of our kids).

AND another thing…I think the whole “magnet” / “traditional” school concept has not helped neighborhood schools.  I think it had the best intentions in the world.  But the end result is you have taken some of your most academically skilled kids who live on the South Side of South Bend and now bus them to Kennedy, LaSalle, etc.  The result:  the further gutting of our neighborhood schools.  I was talking to an ex-teacher at McKinley elementary the other day.  She said that is exactly what happened at McKinley.  After the magnet school came into existence McKinley now qualifies as a 100% free-lunch school and their ISTEP test scores plummeted.

I don’t know how you go back now.  But the end result and consequence has been weaker South Bend neighborhood schools – and especially around the South Side of South Bend.  Our South Side High School – who I love and graduated from (just a couple of years ago) – just barely avoided state takeover.  And when a parent has to decide where to send their kid to High School – a school that isn’t under threat of State takeover (whether it be private or in another school system) is a whole lot more attractive than one that is.

To see Part 2 go here.

A Loving Message From My Mother

Posted: January 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

So…my mom has taken up the Living Stones challenge to read through the Bible this year.  She just finished the book of Leviticus (no small feat).  This is the e-mail she sent me after reading it:

You are a sinner!!!!! Leviticus 19:28! Have a good day!! I finally made my way through that book… how can they remember all that stuff!

…can’t you just feel the love?

If you ever wanted to know what the “heart beat” of the Living Stones Church is in about 30 minutes of time – check out this past Sunday’s podcast.  You can find it here.

THEN don’t miss the next two weeks as we try to unpack and articulate how we are going to live out our vision and direction for 2012 (and beyond).  See you Sunday 9:00, 10:30, or 11:55 am! 

Church discipline is a difficult thing.  I know the Bible has teaching regarding its necessity.  The foundational assumptions of community and fellowship in our present experience of “church” in 2012 as contrasted to that in the 1st century are very problematic for me.  So, I confess my own concerns, questions, insecurities, hesitancies (or whatever other word you want to you) when it comes to the application of the biblical principle of church discipline.  The following is a “church discipline contract” sent to a member of the Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA (where Mark Driscoll is the Pastor).  Just reading it makes me go… “Whoah” (in a shocked and not sure what to do with it tone).  And then I read the back story.  You can too…here and here…and then it made me go – “Oh no!!!  Dear Jesus no!

What do you think?  Would you sign this?  Is this healthy?  Right?  Biblical?

I feel sorry for the Kindergarten aides in the South Bend School Corporation.  I think they have a very difficult job and are underpaid.  I also think they are absolutely critical and necessary to the classroom.  But the South Bend School Corporation needs to cut $10 million.  So, what do they do…they release all the Kindergarten aides (in what meeting and who decides?), then have a public school board meeting, and change their mind.  This happens every other month.  Last night was round three of the exact same pattern.  Who can live in that stress and worry?!!  Good grief!!!

But…the school system has to cut $10 MILLION!!!

Now let me get this straight…the school system needs to cut 10,000,000 (count all the zeros) and you are going to do it off of the salaries of the Kindergarten aides!?!!  How much are they making...$250,000 a year?!  Really?  10 million and the most urgent and dispensable category is in the Kindergarten classroom!?!  You are trying to tell me that Kindergarten aides are bankrupting our school corporation (even in part)!!!!?  Come on !!!

I’ll tell you where to cut…

Cut out of the $15.2 million transportation budget!!!  Yes…that’s right.  $15.2 million (it looks like this $15,200,000) spent on busing kids from every point in our city to a different school in another part of the city!!  It is BEYOND absurd.

I’m sure it was well-intentioned and considered a great idea…but these “magnet” and “traditional” schools (at every level) that now have kids from every part of the city being bused in is outrageous.  Kids are out on the street as early as 6:20 am catching a bus to take them to the other side of town.  I’m for school choice.  If you want your kid to go to Kennedy, I’m great with that.  Then the parent can be responsible to drive their kid to Kennedy.  But for the school corporation to bear the responsibly to bus that kid to Kennedy (not to mention after school activities and the activity buses necessary for that as well) is a cost that we can clearly no longer afford.

Bring back neighborhood schools!!!

You need to cut $10 million…leave the teacher’s aides alone and pick up a transportation budget and start your cutting there!

[This humble opinion offered to you by Sam I Am.  But…I’m also looking for some pushback so come on…bring it! 🙂 ]