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Self-Publishing

Part of my purpose wherever I go is to stir up other writers. I love to write and have published a few books, so I know what it's like to hold something you've created in your hand. It's a great feeling. I want others to share that feeling, so I encourage aspiring writers to write and not worry about the outcome. It is difficult (but not impossible) to find a publisher, but the best option for most writers starting out is to self-publish.

There are more online publishing options than ever before. I have used iUniverse on several occasions and I am currently using Dog Ear Publishing to publish a friend's book from South Africa. You can check out those options and see that you can publish for very little money and then order books only as you need them. That avoids investing large sums of money to maintain book inventory. You pay more for each book by publishing like that, so you make less for every book that you sell. It usually pays off, however, unless you anticipate selling a lot of books once you have them.

If you would like an example to inspire you to write, may I recommend two books that I helped edit that are offered through iUniverse. They're volumes of poetry by my brother-in-law, Ed Folino. Ed has a gift for rhyme that he toyed with all his life. Then at the age of sixty, he took the plunge to publish and now he has published two books. He is working on his third volume as I write. When you go to iUniverse, you can put in his book names -- My Pittsburgh and Long Time Coming -- and the volumes will come up for you to see. If you want to be inspired to publish your own book, you can order one or both of his books to see what the self-published finished product looks like. They are available in paper or you can download an e-copy. You will see the quality of the work and how Ed has taken his gift and put it out there for the world to see. I am proud of him and urge you to do the same with your own gifts.

If you would like to know more about self-publishing, there is a great book entitled, The Fine Print of Self-Publishing by Mark Levine. I would recommend you invest in it along with my sister-in-law's ebook on how to write a book that can be found on her site. The important thing is that you stop talking and start writing. Then it's important to see that publishing your long-awaited work is easier than you perhaps thought. If I can help or encourage you, please let me know

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Pagan Christianity?

No, that isn't the title for this entry. It's the name of a book that I want to review. Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices by Frank Viola and George Barna has made quite an impact as evidenced by the activity and discussion in the blogosphere. When I read some of the reviews and comments, I feel like a lightweight in the ring punching with some heavyweights. The size and scope of the some of the comments are impressive, and are both indepth and insightful. There isn't much I can add to the discussion, but I thought I would write about it anyway.

The basic premise of the book is that there is little biblical precedent or justification for most modern church activity. The book addresses the issue of church buildings, vestments, the order of worship service, the role of the pastor, the sermon, the youth pastor and tithing. It is a fair to conclude that the authors are against all those practices and traditions in their present form.

I have few problems with the premise of the book -- that all our church practices and assumptions need to be evaluated in the light of Scripture. What I do have a problem with is that the authors have a bias as they approach the material. Brother Viola is an advocate of and leader in what is called the home church movement. He believes that churches should convene in smaller home settings, as the believers met in the first century, and anything beyond that is flawed if not wrong.

I could accept the research but when the authors feel the need to interpret the research to mean that house churches are "right" and church as we know it is "wrong," then I have my problem. Why? When you approach Scripture to prove a point, one almost automatically becomes blind to anything that the Bible may say that is contrary to your preconceived belief. It is akin to the world of quantum physics. When the experiment is set to determine if matter is a particle, then matter always shows up in those experiments as a particle. When the experiments seek to determine if it is a wave, then matter appears as a wave. The nature of the experiment actually determines the outcome of the findings. I believe this is what happened to the authors in this case. They were set on proving their point, and I felt like I had a firm hand in my book that was forcing me to accept their conclusions.

I think much of the debate in books and movements such as the house church movement is whether or not Acts provides the model or spirit for church practice. If Acts provides the model for church practice, then we should all indeed meet in homes to worship. If Acts provides the spirit for our practice, then the early believers creatively addressed what they could do at that time and we should do the same. Did the early believers meet in homes because that was the model or did they meet in homes because there was no other venue in which they were permitted or was available to meet? They tried to meet in the Temple, in synagogues, in training centers and eventually were limited to homes. Does that limit us to meet in homes?

I have led about 800 home church meetings in my adult life. At one time, I was part of a church who met weekly in homes and once a month as a congregation. I know the power of a house church and the frustration of one, too. DId you ever try to launch a missions project to the 10/40 Window from a house church? It can't be done, in my opinion -- not without networking with a larger group, which leads to one of the benefits of meeting with a larger group of believers.

The authors purport that the sermon is an invention of the reformers, but didn't Jesus preach in synagogues? I think Paul did, too. When the synagogue was open to believers, did they not speak there regularly? (Come to think of it, the synagogue was a cultural adaptation that the Jews made during their Babylonian captivity. I wonder why Jesus didn't condemn such sabbath meetings as non-biblical and heretical?).

The authors condemn tithing and I do as well in much of its current heavy-handed presentation. Yet could there be no mention of tithing in the New Testament because it was so well covered in the Old and so well established in Jesus' time? While Jesus did not condone tithing per se, He did not condemn it either. And the authors attribute choirs in mass settings to the Greeks. Weren't there Old Testament choirs and didn't angels appear every once in a while to sing for special occasions? If you are fearing for your life in the first century, I don't think you will be motivated to assemble any choirs to sing for the Lord. Does that make it wrong if it's done in the 21st century? The authors believe it does.

The authors present solid research to document the historicity of modern church practice, but their conclusions are suspect at best. There is no doubt that the celebration of Christmas is a "mixed bag" of pagan influences and questionable traditions. Does that make Christmas and those who celebrate pagans? How far do we follow the model provided in Acts if it is to be interpreted strictly? Should we sell our buildings and buses? What about publishing and media? They aren't in Acts. Are the authors unbiblical for publishing? Of course they are not.

I still maintain that Acts is our model for the spirit of how early believers responded to their culture and world. When the first deacons were elected in Acts 6, it represented a creative solution to a pressing problem. That election wasn't meant to make deacons what we have made them today; it was a simple solution to the problems of the growing body of Christ. Would the early church have used buildings if they had been available to them? I think they would have in the spirit of Acts, but then again, that's my opinion. I am not trying to force you to accept it; I just want to present it for you to consider.

I hope I am not being too hard on the authors, whom I believe love the Lord and His church. I have done what they have done many times -- approach Scripture trying to prove something and to get others to accept it as well. It is my dilemma as I teach on purpose and I must ask myself all the time: Is this what Scripture is saying or what I am trying to make it say? I would recommend their book as good reading that will stimulate your thoughts and discussion. I am not ready, however, to abandon church as we know it in the 21st century for a form that existed and thrived 2,000 years ago.

Feel free to add your comments to this entry on the site where it is posted.

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Oprah and Christian TV

I don't have much time for television, so I don't have any shows that I watch on a regular basis (except for Pardon the Interruption on ESPN). While I was in New York at my daughter's a few weeks ago, I watched an Oprah show that Deborah had recorded. On this show, Oprah featured adult children of divorced parents who confronted their parents about the pain the children felt over the divorce. The show included sessions with a counselor (who was excellent) who met with the children and parents. Then the families and counselor appeared live on Oprah to talk about what they had learned.

It was a tearful, painful time for all. The adult children were still writhing in pain for the most part and the parents struggled to face their own frailties and failures. It made for a powerful viewing experience that obviously contributed greatly to the healing of those families and individuals. All that made me reflect on the sad state of Christian television. It occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, God raised up people like Oprah to do the work that the church doesn't do, at least on television.

While we have many so-called Christian stations, we have very few shows that don't focus on the pulpit. We usually take our Sunday morning sermon, edit it, add some intro and exit material to ask for money or to let the viewer know how to get in touch, and that's about it. Why is this the extent of Christian television? It's because we want to dominate the conversation, so to speak. We don't want to get down into people's lives; we just want to preach at them. And why is that? It's because we feel that once we have talked to someone, preached at them even, then we've done our part and the problems of the world are fixed and our duties fulfilled. This relates to the thinking I discussed when I wrote about Permission Marketing.

I was watching TV the other night and saw Pastor Rod Parsley asking people for an $8,500 "resurrection seed." This "seed" would then release a powerful anointing that would provide a breakthrough idea for a new business for those who gave. Of course, any amount would be appropriate to send in to support the ministry, but only the $8,500 would release the breakthrough. I know that Oprah is backed by powerful sponsors and Christian TV must pay its own bills, but really, Pastor Parsley, do you really believe what you said? I guess you do or you would not have said it! Then you are urging people to play the spiritual lottery, a concept I discussed in a previous post.

I would love to see Christian media and interviews that involved creativity, that focused on real people with real problems. Do you agree with me? If you do, then what can we do about it? I know that I have made up my mind to accept an invitation to be part of an Internet radio network that will broadcast a weekly show sponsored by yours truly. Talk is cheap and I don't just want to criticize what's out there; I want to provide a better solution and practical example of what I would do. It will be 13-week pilot program and, if it's successful, will roll out into a regular show.

If you give $100 to my new show, I know that you will be blessed and God will give you a media ministry of your own. NOT! I am trusting the Lord for the finances to pay for the show and if you would like to give, then please write and let me know. Your gift comes with no guarantee except that God is watching and will take note. But maybe we can do something that will release the power that only we as believers have to help save a lost and dying world made up of lost and dying people.


Easter is Early

I got the following info from Lindy Mostert, a friend in Zimbabwe, and thought I would pass it on to you.

A HISTORIC EASTER

Do you realize how early Easter is this year?

It's March 23! As you may know, Easter is always the first Sunday after the first full moon, after the Spring Equinox (which is March 20). This dating of Easter is based on the lunar calendar that the Jews used to identify Passover, which is why it moves around in date on our Roman-based calendar.

I found out a couple of things you might be interested in. Based on the above, Easter can actually be one day earlier (March 22) but that is pretty rare.

Here's the interesting history information. This year is the earliest Easter any of us will ever see the rest of our lives! Only the most elderly of our population have ever seen it this early (95 years old or above). And none of us have ever, or will ever, see it a day earlier.

Here are some more interesting facts:

1) The next time Easter will be this early (March 23) will be the year 2228 (220 years from now).

2) The last time it was this early was 1913 (so if you're 95 or older, you are the only ones that were around for that!).

3) The next time it will be a day earlier, March 22, will be in the year 2285 (277 years from now).

4) The last time it was on March 22 was 1818.

So, no one alive today has, or will ever, see it any earlier than this year.


The Bottom Billion

I recently finished a book entitled The Bottom Billion: Why The Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It by Paul Collier. Collier is a the professor of economics and director of the Center for the Study of African Economics at Oxford University and former director of developmental research at the World Bank. While this is not a book about Africa, because so many Africans are in the bottom billion of the world's poorest, I found this book insightful and helpful as I continue to work in Africa.

Collier believes, and he has the research to back it up, that there are four traps or recurring themes that appear when poor countries are studied. They are:

1. The Conflict Trap -- some countries seem to settle their political differences through civil war and military coups. This is a costly method in both financial and human terms.

2. The Natural Resource Trap -- some countries are "blessed" with certain natural resources (like oil) that provide quick and massive amounts of cash, but the cash doesn't seem to make a difference in the lives of the poor.

3. Being Landlocked with Bad Neighbors -- this prevents trade from developing in those landlocked countries.

4. Bad Governance in a Small Country -- governmental leaders do make a difference and when the government is bad along with their decisions, the people languish in poverty.

I would highly recommend this book for anyone working with or living in a country that is considered poor. Collier has loads of research at this fingertips, so be ready to have some of your favorite theories and remedies dispelled by this compelling work. Collier is an economist, so he does not approach the problems from a politically correct perspective. I wish I could take 1,000 of these books to Zimbabwe and other nations where I am privileged to visit and work. It could change the course of history if the recommendations would be incorporated into the policies and decisions of the leaders there.

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Back from the UK

I got back from the UK last night and had a really good trip. I earned some money, did lots of ministry and made some contacts for future work. My thanks to David and Pamela Graham of Everlasting Books and Music for sponsoring my trip. I am pleased to announce that their ministry is now handling all my book orders in the UK. You can find all my titles on their website, so please check it out and order a bunch of books if you live in the UK or Europe.

Last Sunday I spoke at Micah Community Church where Denis and Lorna Wade are pastors. They also lead Micah Christian Ministries and are located in the New Cross area of south London. I think I "connected" with the church and leadership as I talked about purpose and the implications for the future of church work and ministry. I would say that the Wades are leading their church in a new and refreshing way and I felt right at home. I spoke on Sunday morning and then met with leaders on Sunday afternoon. I was tired but gratified on Sunday night when we finished up.

Then on Monday I did one interview on Revelation TV but the second one was cancelled. So Pastor Wade, his wife and I went to lunch in the midst of a hurricane-like storm that hit the UK. We had a great time together, in spite of the weather, and I think I will be back with them soon. Or at least I hope I will. I flew home last night and today I am in class to earn a certification to administer the 360-degree feedback resources from an organization by the name of The Leadership Circle. I am excited about the training, which includes a personalized report based on the confidential survey responses of ten people who work with or know me. I will let you know the results of the report when I get it later today -- but only if the results are good! All right, all right, I'll share the results no matter what.

I am Stateside now until April 4 when I make my first visit to Nigeria. I am working on lots of new projects in the meantime, and I will update you on some of them soon. Until then, I have to run.

Feel free to write your comments to this post on the site where it is posted.


The Spiritual Lottery

There is an epidemic of gambling the world over. Cash-strapped governments are so desperate that they are only too eager to promote and encourage gambling in their nations and towns. Gambling on the Internet is also big business. Yet I know many people who would never step foot in a casino or go online to gamble who engage in a form of gambling on a regular basis. I call it the spiritual lottery.

I watched the other day as someone on television promised the blessing of God if the people watching would simply send in a certain amount of money. I have seen this tactic before as articulate and credible sources promise the blessing of wisdom, business success or unlimited returns for a gift to this or that ministry. It occurred to me that these people were running something akin to a spiritual lottery. Let me explain.

When someone goes to a casino, they go in hopes of spending a little money and somehow making a lot of money in return. They may play certain card games or feed coins all night into slot machines, and they always hope that the next game or spin will bring them luck, that the next play will make them rich and bring them their dreams.

When someone promises that your next gift will be the one that will "put you over the top," isn't it the same principle? Isn't the giver hoping for the same thing that the casino player is looking for? Aren't they both looking for a shortcut to prosperity?

I know I should give and be generous. I know God will bless me when I do. Yet to expect my marriage to be blessed for a $1,000 gift or to receive the promise of wisdom for a $951 gift (since there are 951 verses in Proverbs) is absurd. So why do these peddlers promise such returns? They promise because it works; people fall for it all the time. Why? They are playing a spiritual lottery of sorts, and looking for a shortcut to wealth.

I call these people peddlers because, in most cases, that's what they are. They are peddling God's word, cloaking it in promises of untold returns to those who will invest. What is a peddler? One dictionary defines a peddler as "one who deals in or promotes something intangible (as a personal asset or an idea)." There were peddlers in Paul's day as well, for he wrote: "For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God" (2 Corinthians 2:17 emphasis added).

There are no shortcuts to prosperity. It comes through hard work, wise investments and the grace of God. Prosperity seldom if ever comes solely through giving, although giving is a hallmark of many prosperous people. Proverbs 3:9-10 states: "Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine. " It does not state that you give to get wealth; it directs you to give out of your wealth and it will be preserved. You don't give to manipulate God into blessing you. You give to honor God for how He has already blessed you. You don't give "betting" that your $15 will bring great returns.

So the next time someone comes along and promises a certain blessing if you give, don't fall for it. You can still give if you so choose, but don't do so to play the lottery. Give because you want to give. If God blesses you beyond your wildest dreams, that's great. If He doesn't, that's great, too. It's time we stopped supporting the spiritual lottery wherever it is run, and returned to giving for the pure joy of sharing God's blessings with others.

If you agree or disagree with what I've written, feel free to write your response on the site where this entry is posted.


African and UK Update

I am delighted to see that an agreement has been reached in the Kenya crisis and both sides have agreed to share power in the new government. While I am skeptical of whether or not his arrangement can work, I am glad that there is progress. Meanwhile I heard from a friend this morning that their country is changed forever as everyone now tends to view others in terms of their tribal heritage more than ever before.

So this means that the church must and should step forward in Kenya and lead the way. Who will stand up and preach reconciliation? Who will deliberately build a church with rival factions to model the reconciliation available only in Christ? I hope to be a part of the rebuilding process, for I know that the training I have from The Pacific Institute, coupled with my ability to put that training in a biblical context, can teach and train people how to renew their thinking and build a better Kenya.

If you would like to read the latest news from Kenya and the terms of the latest agreement, you can click here.

Meanwhile, I hear that things are tense in Zimbabwe as inflation soars to 100,000% as elections approach on March 29. Please pray for Zimbabwe and for our suffering brothers and sisters there. You can read about the latest goings on there by clicking here.

I am still in the UK, having a great time with friends and making new acquaintances. I spoke at an Assembly of God Church last night, in a building that is 125 years old. I did some quick calculations and figured that 125 years represents 6.250 Sundays. If the churches housed there had multiple services or a midweek service, that could have represented another 6,000 to 10,000 services held there. Taking into account special meetings and conferences, I could easily have delivered message number 20,000 in that building last night. While that's a small compared to the total, I would imagine that last night's meeting was the most important ever held there, not because I was there, but because it represented the latest now-word for the people present. Most of the previous 20,000 messages would have had little relevance for them and none for me, only the now-message that they received and I delivered last night.

Today I speak for the third time at Charis Bible College in Walsall, home of and founded by Andrew Wommack Ministries. I am impressed with the school, its program and facilities. I had never met Andrew Wommack and wasn't familiar with his ministry, but he is a prolific writer and minister whom I would like to know better.

I know this may sound silly, but I have been impressed and reminded since I came here that God sent me here because I have something to say. There is no one in the world teaching purpose like I teach it. I didn't say it was the best way, but it is unique. I was also reminded since arriving that I had talked about being a "priest" since I was very young. God had His hand on me then and He does now. I am trying to walk in a better realization and appreciation of that calling and I am more determined than ever before to "broadcast," or cast the message that God has given me, to as broad an audience as possible.

Many students came up to me already, saying that my message was liberating, that it freed them to be who they are. That alone makes the trip worthwhile. Yet I am not satisfied. Many more need to be "set free" and I want to do that by whatever means possible. I finish up at the School today and it's off to London tomorrow for three services and some interviews on Revelation TV on Monday. Then it's home, or at least to the DC-area of the States, on Tuesday.

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Back in the UK

I flew over the England on Sunday night to be part of the Christian Booksellers Convention in Telford, not far from Birmingham. I had a good flight over, especially since I was upgraded to business class. I even had the seat next to me empty. When I arrived in Gatwick (one of London's four airports), I was met by a young man who drove me up to Birmingham. I was ready to take a train, but driving is always nice, as long as the UK traffic isn't too bad. It wasn't on this particular day.

Yesterday was my first of two days on the floor, signing books and talking to potential book buyers. I actually had some people remember me from my days with Integrity Music when I brought worship teams here and also taught on purpose. Four of my books are published in Nigeria and many of the Nigerians here recognized my books. One man said he can't keep my Proverbs book on his shelf; the Zimbabweans in the UK all recognize and buy it. A group of South Africans want to have me back to speak to their network of business leaders and Bible schools.

Today we are back on the floor to see who comes by. It's all about networking at these events, so today I will be at my relational best! I'll let you know how the day went later in the week. Bye for now.


Just About Right

I am sitting in an upstairs eating area at a delicatessen on Third Avenue, between 43rd and 44th Streets, in New York City. It's 6:45 AM. The tables are dirty and there are three other men up here with me. One man is drinking out of a brown bag, the other two are conversing in Spanish. It's raining outside and I'm in here, eating a two-egg sandwich, while I wait for the Starbucks across the street to open. Or perhaps I will go to Cosi's restaurant a block down; they have free wireless internet service. Starbucks still makes you pay.

Yesterday I drove over to New York from Pittsburgh. It's a six-hour drive, which I did "solo," since my wife came over earlier in the week. When I reached the New Jersey Turnpike just outside New York, I arrived at just the right time. I felt like I was home. The sun was shining and the traffic light for a Friday afternoon. As I drove, I could see all my "friends." There was the 12-lane New Jersey Turnpike leading me to the Lincoln Tunnels, my entrance route of choice into the City. I could see the coal-black Pulaski Skyway running toward Jersey City. The Empire State Building dominated the New York skyline, as it tends to do since its cousins, the World Trade Center twin towers, were removed by some angry Islamic visitors. Over to the west is Giant Stadium in Rutherford, home to the Super Bowl champion New York Giants. The new Seacaucus train station is on the right side, and it looks like a museum or music hall from the outside. I have picked people up there, but haven't been inside yet.

When you drive into the City using the Lincoln Tunnels, you reach a sharp, hairpin curve right before you get to the tunnel toll booths. At that point, you look to the left and see New York harbor and skyline in all its breathtaking beauty. It looks a painting and I've always wanted to stop the car, get out and enjoy the panorama, maybe even take a picture or two. The problem is that every lane of traffic is going 45 miles per hour, when traffic allows. That's how it is in New York: You enjoy what you see on the fly, if you see things at all. That pace, however, seems just about right for New York.

The Lincoln Tunnels go under the Hudson River, leading into the City from New Jersey. I have travelled those Tunnels since I was 14 and attending a Catholic prep school in Connecticut. I remember my high school history teacher saying, "If there is even a pin hole in the Lincoln Tunnels, they will collapse and the river above will drown all those in the Tunnel." Imagine my shock when we would go through the Tunnel and I would see water dripping from the roof. "We're about to die! Hurry up, bus driver, and get us through this Tunnel." I don't think like that any longer, now that I'm 57. Today the traffic is moving and it seems like just about the right time to come into the City.

When I get into the City on this Friday afternoon, I proceed to 42nd Street and make a right. I am now in the midst of the Theater District at Eighth Avenue and proceed past what used to be a seedy, rundown part of town. Now it's full of theaters, tourists and life! As I proceed, I go through Times Square and down past Grand Central Station. I used to take the train from Connecticut to New York as a teenager and was awed by how frantic the pace at Grand Central was. If people walked any faster, they would break into a run, which is where our phrase comes from, "Busier than Grand Central Station." Come to think of it, all New Yorkers seem like that at times, but it seems just about right for New York. After all, it's New York and people have fortunes to make, careers to launch, and deadlines to meet.

Finally, I come to Third Avenue and make a left turn to go up to 44th Street. My daughter has a flat on 44th, just a few blocks from the UN Building. I pull up to her building and the doorman opens the door for me, while I unload my luggage. Then it's off to park in a public garage, which charges $30 a day to park. I have a purpose coaching phone call to make, so I find a local deli in which to sit and talk to my friend in Dallas, Texas. I am sitting in New York, doing business I love with someone in Dallas. Tomorrow, someone is driving down from Connecticut, a two-hour drive, to talk to me about purpose. Sunday, I depart New York for London. Does life get any better than this?

Ah, the Starbucks is open. It's the plainest, least exciting Starbucks you will ever behold. It's in New York City, however, and that makes it special. In fact, that makes it, like I've said about everything else in New York, just about right.