Thursday, July 31, 2008
I laughed when I saw this picture, because though I don't have a chalkboard, lying all around me are sheets of paper on which I work out and through some of the ideas that come to me.
Yes, this is the digital era, and I was an early adopter. But I still have a tendency to work out my dreams and hopes on paper.
But here's the thing.
In my line of work, my hopes and my dreams are in the hands of others, namely:
God : For sure, or I'm way off track and those hopes and dreams wind up as wanting something for me, not for Him.
His people: It's the people who I live and work with that are entrusted with the majority of what I imagine could be - might be - should be. The church. The people.
My job as pastor is to love them and try to keep them open to the possibilities of life with God. To the vision of what the church we love can be. And aware of what we can do together with God.
And so I imagine.
I imagine a group of people so in love with God and each other that they can't wait to leave our worship gathering to go and tell others what God has done and is doing and invite them to see.
I imagine our church being on the speed-dial for the school principals, the older Americans council, the city commissioners, other nonprofits and the people in our neighborhoods because when someone needs a hand they KNOW we'll be there in a hurry.
I imagine getting a phone call telling me about a service ministry project that has already been done that I didn't even know about.
I imagine children and youth growing up learning about Jesus, becoming followers of Him, and taking their love for Him to their schools, and out in service.
I imagine young men and women leading us into worship, into service. Going off to school and instead of leaving church, coming back and investing their lives in it because they know God is at work there.
I imagine older people serving as mentors and helping out in the neighborhood schools, refusing to see retirement as anything but a greater opportunity to serve God and their neighbors.
And I imagine walking with them all through the joys and the heartaches, sharing our lives and our love for God together for the rest of my life.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
The collection boxes will be spread out around Valparaiso, and we'll collect them at our next movie night (August 23rd) as well. But here is your pastor's challenge. Show up for our worship gathering on Sunday morning August 24th and leave either barefoot or in your stocking feet. That's right, leave your shoes behind.
We can make a difference and inspire others to do the same. Here's more about Soles4Souls.
We finished Romans a couple of weeks ago on Wednesday nights. It was the latest in the Walk through the Bible plan that began over two years ago. We went from Genesis through Numbers and then skipped over to Romans out of a need to take a break from the OT.
But last week and then again tonight, I'm throwing a "change-up". We're reviewing, fleshing out, going over and hopefully discussing what I taught on Sunday morning. In my dreams, we'd have one core concept or principle each week that would be taught in various venues and at various times. A "Big Idea" if you will. The Lifeway Extra people were trying this several years ago, but in reverse. They were suggesting that the pastor teach in harmony with the Sunday School lessons.
The guiding principle is sound though.
Reduce the current 3-5 messages on different topics, none of which really stick, to one core principle repeated and reinforced. From floodlight to laser.
So tonight I'll be helping people continue to explore the process of recovering from their hurts. I read all 8 of the sermons that tie in with Saddleback's "Celebrate Recovery" program this morning, and once again, Rick Warren was on the mark. So I expect some of that will come out tonight as well.
It made me wonder if the churches of Valparaiso shouldn't cooperate to begin that program here. Yes, the mega-monster across the bay does it. But it might be that a smaller "sister" program might work well too.
Just a random thought.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
In the last year, we've done two Relay for Life events, fed the volunteers at the school who were preparing for a fund raiser, given away free sno-cones at the park, helped with several funerals for neighborhood and community families, given away food, helped with other needs, gathered school supplies, partnered to bring free movies and events to Valparaiso, and some others I can't remember just now - and we're wanting to do more. We need to do more, and have more of our members of all ages involved.
Ultimately - To turn people's hearts toward Jesus. Both ours and the people we serve. We want to do what Mother Teresa called "Small acts of kindness done with great love." There's something that happens to your heart when you serve. It's as if it stretches to take more of God inside. Most folks know plenty and live precious little of what they know. We're out to change that.
Watch this video and see if it doesn't seem like something Jesus would have done.
What will you do? Join the movement!
Monday, July 28, 2008
We had a meeting yesterday for about 30 minutes after church to talk about what to do with our youth. This is a smaller church and try as we might, all the people in it won't conform and neatly distribute themselves so that our Sunday School classes stay balanced.
This year we have a pretty good number moving from middle to high school, and our youth pastor felt that this was the time to try some "radical ideas." We worked through all that, and then they asked me if I had any suggestions.
"Yes, move worship to 9:30, kill Sunday school entirely in favor of small groups, and run a children's worship alongside the adult one and use the youth to lead it."
One shocked attendee said "He didn't just step outside the box, he set it on fire." Everyone laughed. If they only knew. If they only knew.
Sunday School or Home Groups?
In short, when people speak of the demise of Sunday School and the glory of home groups, what they normally speak of is the negative qualities of BAD Sunday School. And, they sometimes speak of home groups in a rather idealized way. Are there no bad homes groups, led by sleepy leaders?
At the end of the day, home groups don't work. Sunday School doesn't work. Visitation doesn't work. Giving Friday Nights to Jesus doesn't work. What works? People work. People work through home groups and Sunday School and visitation and giving Friday nights to Jesus. Ultimate it is the talent and dedication, not plan or program that is the key variable. (emphasis mine)
Show me a talented and dedicated Sunday School teacher, and I will show you a thriving group. Show me a sleepy, distracted, or ungifted Sunday School teacher, and I will show you a languishing class. The same is true with home groups. It is all about leadership. It is all about people.
We're working hard to move our church outside the walls, and we need to put some of our teenagers on the front lines. They need to learn about commitment, sacrifice, and living out loud their passion for Jesus.
We'll be working on that.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
It is like herding cats.
You'd better love God.
You'd better love the people.
You'd better know you are going to get hurt.
You'd better decide right now that it's worth it.
It is. But it still leaves scars sometimes. And not just on the cowboys.
Really pretty day and lots of visitors. We are working on starting at 10:45 sharp so our performance meets visitor expectations based on what we say on our website and sign. Of course that means that we lose some regular members for a few minutes until they wander over. :)
Today's message was another in the "i Life" series. I'm trying to help people see that how they see the world from an individual perspective isn't correct. The only true perspective is from God's point of view. "iHurt" was crafted to do just that - recognize that everybody hurts, admit we need help and that help can only be found in Jesus - then give our lives to Him and let Him redeem the hurt and fit us for service to Him.
The songs were chosen to reinforce those concepts.
"How Great Is Our God"
"God with Us"
"Nothing But the Blood"
"In Christ Alone"
"Step By Step"
We were able to work a duet of "A Living Prayer" in before the message, and I played the video of REM's "Everybody Hurts" during the fellowship time before the service. I hope that one day we get to the point musically where we can use secular songs prior to worship to help tie culture to redemption through Jesus. Obviously you have to make sure it is redemptive, but speaking as Paul did on Mars Hill "as your poets say..." really can be effective.
Audio is up but the first 5 minutes was cut. Gremlins.
I just realized today that the audio probably was dead for a couple minutes. It's because of the video "Cardboard testimonies" we played at the end.
The point was that despite our hurts, God can redeem them for good.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
I wrapped up the "Big Idea" last night, and like a lot of the books I've read over the years, there were areas to make you think "yeah, that makes sense" and other areas where you thought you might have to pass.
The jump the shark moment for me, where the book started going downhill was when they were talking about putting on each week's "Big Idea" and had to get down to "nuts and bolts" of "can we do this."
When they asked "can we afford live camels", I checked out.
For me, that's like Nero flooding the coliseum to stage naval battles because he got bored the the same old same old. If that's what it takes to move a crowd in "big church" then count me out.
So what I took away from the book was - move farther out front in sermon planning so you can have time to work the creative into the mix more effectively. Focus on one theme that people will walk out both understanding what it is, but with a means of applying it to life. And something that might not even have been intended - pastoral and staff relationships matter. You don't just need to work together. You need to love and trust each other and be genuine friends.
So on to the next book.
One of the perils of outdoor events is the weather. You cannot control it, but you can manage the impact on your volunteers and the people you hope to serve.
We'll get with our partners and see when they want to try it again.
Friday, July 25, 2008
This week's "iLife" sermon could have come right off the pages of our local newspaper. "iHurt" This is a small community. Six degrees of separation narrows to two blocks. In the space of five days we've lost a deputy sheriff and the man the officer went into a home to apprehend after the man's family had him sent to be mentally helped. The deputy was the son of a woman who works as an aide in the school across the street we volunteer at. His best friend also lost a coworker and fishing buddy the next day.
For a friend, it was the anniversary of the day six years ago that her husband's airplane crashed.
For another family, their little girl who has been fighting disease is back in the hospital, her mom is sick as well now, and the dad in the family is running out of paid leave as he tries to cope with all the... pain.
I cannot hope to explain why any of the above happened in a sermon Sunday.
But I have to explain how God's love can transcend it and redeem it.
I have to.
Pray for me. That God in His infinite wisdom and mercy will so fill me with His Holy Spirit that whether the words I speak hit their mark or not, people's hearts will be turned toward the author of comfort and the Prince of Peace.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Actually, I think he's right in the long term. But we're so short term minded that the tendency is always to go for what draws a crowd and work back from there.
Read David's article and see if you don't find yourself agreeing too.
Reclaiming the Mission :: The Weblog of David Fitch
Contextualization extracts the gospel message (like a concept), reduces it to a narrow point of contact and seeks to attract people via this appeal to this contact. Contextualization by its very nature is attractional in the Frost/Hirsch sense. I would suggest then that contextualization makes it almost impossible for the church to be transformational.
Incarnation on the other hand seeks to incarnate the gospel over long periods of time culturally within a context. It enters into a culture as a communal presence whereby it is able to discern its surrounding contact points. It will accept some things in the surrounding culture and bring them into captivity for the gospel. It will flat out reject others. In the process it becomes a display of a redeemed form of that culture.
Contextualization is possible only within a modern milieu: the milieu that stresses the gospel as a translatable trans cultural (as opposed to intra cultural) concept. Contextualization like this makes the church susceptible to the territorialization of the market, where everything becomes splintered into market niches inevitably separating us from one another. The church thereby becomes bi-furcated ever repeating the modern move to identify and separate. We break up and divide: contemporary churches from traditional churches, black churches from white churches, Republican churches from Democrat. Motorcycle culture churches from suburban churches who drive sedans. "Real men" churches from woman churches from sensitive guy churches. The church becomes another form of "identity politics."
Evangelicals, uncritical of their modernist bias, are addicted to contextualization.
HT - Adrian Warnock
Take a look at these and go over and read it all.
- Am I a Christian?
- Am I passionately in love with Jesus, and is he the Lord of my life in every area?
- Do I believe his Word, and does it affect my life deeply?
- Am I Spirit-filled, Spirit-led, Spirit-directed, and Spirit-controlled?
- Am I qualified as an elder?
- Do I love the local church as an expression of a gospel community on a mission?
- Am I a missionary to the city? Am I sent for the advancement of the gospel in the city?
- Do I have a clear vision for this new work?
- Am I wiling to pour myself out in obedience to the vision?
- Am I healthy physically, emotionally, financially, spiritually, relationally, maritally, mentally?
- Am I the kind of leader many people will follow? Have I served as some form of church leader successfully?
- Can I preach effectively?
- Can I guard the doctrinal door with biblical clarity and tenacious confidence?
- Can I architect a new work with entrepreneurial skill?
- Am I called to plant a church at this time and in this place?
- Have my church leaders commended me for this calling?
- Am I a hard worker? Am I persevering?
- Am I adaptable to new people, places, and concepts?
- Can I raise the funds required for my family's needs? Can I still be there for my family?
- Am I humble enough to learn from others — particularly from those who have gone ahead of me in different areas?
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Read the whole article and comments and he'll explain each decision on what goes where. I can tell you frankly that I lean more to the right side of the chart and would even if I was at a mega. For me that side reflects a way of thinking that will help make disciples better and show the community we live in the love of Jesus more often and in more places.
The Gospel-Driven Church: Attractional and MissionalAttractional and Missional
This could really backfire on me.
I created a chart recently to include in our handout for Element's Vision Night that was meant to aid me as I unpacked what it meant for our community to be missional. One intrinsic problems with creating a contrast like this is that it can communicate an "us vs. them" sentiment, which is not really what I had in mind (honestly). It can also communicate Element's ministry philosophy and practice as merely a reaction to another form, and while we do find ourselves in rebellion to some aspects of "cultural Christianity," Element doesn't exist to be what other churches are not.
This is a revised version of the chart. The original was less "nice," and after running it by some pastor friends of mine, and having them confirm my already existing unease with the one-sidedness, I was encouraged to make it more evenhanded.
There are a few more disclaimers I could add, but I'll only offer one more. I've done the attractional worship paradigm for fifteen years, as a staff member, as a church member, and as an apologist/proponent. I get it. And while I no longer think the attractional paradigm as typically implemented is sufficiently biblical (or even successful), I know those who work it have the best of motives (and even some verses). I don't offer this contrast as a "bad vs. good."... (read the rest - DW)
"Nothing is more dangerous than a single compelling idea that is lived out and nothing is more harmless than lots of little ideas never applied. By creatively communicating one Big Idea every week your church will transform people into genuine Christ followers who live out the mission of Jesus. Less is more!"
About halfway through this slim book (less is more :) ) and it does seem to fit with a lot of what I've observed over the years.
We give WAY TOO MANY packets of information for people to absorb each week. If people had a gun to their head and were asked "what did you learn at church last week that you can apply to your life?", I'm afraid most would say "Just shoot me."
In most churches I have known, there are multiple Sunday school or small group curriculums being used, that have no relationship to what the pastor's message is.
Not much of a logical stretch to see how focusing everyone on one "Big Idea" could help.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
For the past few years, we've shared a closed forum together where we can talk openly and freely about the joys and struggles of being a follower of Jesus, of being husbands and fathers, and of being pastors. I've read the struggles of some with churches that were dying, of churches that refused to change, and of some acts of such evil that just reading about them left me upset for hours. And I've shared their joy as people came to know Christ, as lives were changed, and as churches lived out their calling to work with God.
They've helped me be a better pastor, and given their advice and more when I needed it.
I thank God every time they come to mind.
These four simple questions can transform your church. Staff, ministry area leaders, and board should ask these questions all the time, for every idea, and in every strategic plan. These questions will help you prioritize resources and evaluate success. If you keep it up, you will see creative thinking become bolder and bolder. The self-esteem of church members, the confidence of church leaders, and the respect of the public will all increase.
* Does it emerge from the personal and spiritual growth of the team leader or true team?
* Is it within the boundaries of organizational core values and beliefs?
* Is it aligned with overall organizational vision and mission?
* And if all that is true, how can management equip the team to be as successful as they can possibly be?
'Top 10 Things You Should Know About Unchurched People' 2007
Top 10 Things You Should Know About Unchurched People
… if you want them to hear what you’re saying
By Kem Meyer, communications director at Granger Community Church
1. People don’t care about the church database.
2. People aren’t motivated by your need. They’re motivated by theirs.
3. People don’t care about their next step until they know they’re valued where they are now.
4. People don’t know who you are, no matter how long you’ve been around the church.
5. People multi-task and can’t remember squat.
6. People are turned off by lack of preparation.
7. People relate when you talk about them or people like them.
8. People feel left out and frustrated when you use insider’s language.
9. People aren’t impressed with your theological vocabulary and holy dialect.
10. People love stories, not lectures.
Monday, July 21, 2008
“The point is.. all the effort to fix the church misses the point. You can build the perfect church–and they still won’t come. People are not looking for a great church… The age in which institutional religion holds appeal is passing away.
“Church leaders seem unable to grasp this simple implication of the new world–people outside the church think church is for church people, not for them.” Reggie McNeal
He goes on:
“The church was created to be the people of God to join him in his redemptive mission in the world. The church was never intended to exist for itself. It was and is the chosen instrument of God to expand his kingdom. The church is the bride of Christ. Its union with him is designed for reproduction, the growth of the kingdom. Jesus did not teach his disciples to pray, “Thy church come.” The kingdom is the destination. In its institutional existence the church abandoned its real identity and reason for existence.
“God did not give up on his mission in the Old Testament when Israel refused to partner with him. God is a reckless lover. He decided to go on with the mission himself. We do not need to be mistaken about this: if the church refuses its missional assignment, God will do it another way. The church has [refused], and he is [moving on]. God is pulling end runs around the institutional North American church to get to people in the streets. God is still inviting us to join him on mission, but it is the invitation to be part of a movement, not a religious club.”
Sometimes I wonder about why I see the church's future to be not in bigger buildings but in bigger people - people who see success as followers of Jesus not in the "position" they hold in the organization, but in the influence their life has on their family, their workplace, their neighborhood.
Why can't I be satisfied with where I am? With where we are?
Because I know in my gut that time is running out - not just for the organizations we call our churches, but for the opportunity to redeem the time we've been given in this life for the advancement of the Kingdom of God.
Because lost people matter to God.
The scriptures are relevant to this and every culture. They do not need updating, correcting, or revisioning. On the contrary, what needs revisioning is our understanding and obedience to God's word as we live out His mission in context. When we live a humble orthodoxy and humble missiology, we will be salt and light in contemporary culture—a biblically-faithful, culturally-relevant, counter culture. Here is a brief article I wrote for my friends at Catalyst that might be an encouragement:
Sunday, July 20, 2008
This was the second week of the "iLife" series. The message was titled "iDoubt" and my hope was to remove the stigma of doubt and place it within people's concepts of Christian faith. Far too many believers have fallen under the impression that "good Christians" never doubt what God is doing or how He does it. I used the examples from Mark 9 (father of the possessed boy), the woman and the issue of blood, and finally Thomas to hopefully help people through that.
All the Earth Will Sing Your Praises
Blessed Be Your Name
God With Us - new for us but what a great, great song
Come Thou Fount
Just As I Am
There was also a rendition of "Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho" that rocked the house. :)
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Got too many people visiting your church? Need to do some things to discourage them from coming back a second time? Here are 10 ways to make guests feel unwelcome should they show up at your church or class. You don’t even need to do all of them. But be careful! If you do the opposite of even six or seven of the items on this list, you might discover that guests are returning for a second visit. Do the opposite of nine or 10 of them, and you could discover that they come back a third or fourth time. Some will even enroll in your Sunday School or join the church. To keep people away, try a few of these ideas:
Click on the link and read them all.
New Hope folks - we have work to do to hit all ten on the mark.
In his research, McDowell has uncovered some startling statistics. For example, among churched youth:
* 63% don't believe that Jesus is the Son of the one true God.
* 51% don't believe that Jesus rose from the dead.
* 68% don't believe that the Holy Spirit is a real entity.
* It has been estimated that between 69% and 94% of churched youth are leaving the traditional church after high school, and very few are returning.
* Only 33% of churched youth have said that the church will play a part in their lives when they leave home.
How did we get here?
Put aside all those people we haven't reached. What about the ones we have?
I'm in a worship class right now at Rockbridge, and we're wrestling with the issue of "cultural relevance" this week. One of the great things about Rockbridge not being tied to any one denomination is the diversity of thought among students. That brings us to some areas that we might not enter. Here's a snippet from a conversation we're having on being "relevant". The questions are from another student, and below them are my replies.
"Do we create a Christ-centered counter-culture, different from what is around us?"
Yes, but not in the way we have so often in the past. We are measured as different from the culture not by our opposition to it, but by our love for God and our neighbors in spite of it. We should take from culture what is good, work to raise the other to that level, rejecting what is harmful. We can disagree without denouncing. We can live another way.
"Do we rise above the culture situation?"
No, we go down. Making ourselves less - in service to God through our service to our fellow men and women. Then when we gather we celebrate who God is and what He has done in us and through us. Just as the organic is changed when lightning flows through it, so will we change as the power of God flows through us.
What I'm suggesting isn't the "social gospel". We aren't doing this with the belief that through our efforts we will be saved, or that by providing service to others that they will be saved. What we are doing is acknowledging that living faith produces action and that action repeated grows faith.
"Or do we live with the tension of being in the world, but not of the world?"
In our weakness we would see it as a tension, but the safest and most stress free place on earth is the center of God's will.
We have to equip our youth and our adults with the ability to learn how God's truth applies to the present day. This will mean a "Manhattan Project" level of spiritual formation where the words of Jesus are learned not just through facts, but through service. Just as the athlete or musician learns and hones their skills through practice, so must we learn and grow more productive through not just knowing, but doing.
Simply coming to church, accepting the music and teaching into the space you give it and then going back out into life isn't cutting it and never has. We've confused the size of our churches and our youth groups with the depth of their devotion.
Every member a minister. Every single one.
We got a go ahead from the new principal at Valparaiso Elementary to do a service project over there. Their picnic tables are a mess and need refinishing. It's a start. We're serving inside, have worked outside with another church, nave provided school supplies and will again, but this is a new opportunity to show that educator what we have learned about Jesus includes loving our neighbor.
My hope is that our men involve some of our youth in that effort. Just as there used to be an apprenticeship as one learned a trade, maybe what's needed is that sort of pathway to servanthood for our children and youth.
Get out there!
Thursday, July 17, 2008
It was just a shawl. Lovingly crafted and prayed over by our "Hugs and Stitches" group here at New Hope, the crocheted effort might not have looked like an act of God's handiwork, but it is.
Robert and his wife Jewel are what the Bible calls gently, advanced in years. They speak with the kind of Southern drawl Hollywood has never really captured. They grew up in a time when America was separated by race, in an area not known for racial harmony. Yet I've never known either to ever utter an unkind word about anyone. But I know that when and where they grew up, people knew their places.
Both have medical issues - Robert is in the hospital right now as a matter of fact. They are two of the most loving people I have ever known. The kind of people that cause you to examine whether the way your walk with Christ is progressing will lead you to where they are - mature and solid spiritually, even though their physical bodies are weakened.
Jewel took the shawl home with here Sunday, and called her neighbor across the street to come over, adding "I have something for you." Robert and Jewel's neighbor is an amazingly caring person who has blessed her friends many times and truly been an instrument of God's love to them. She happens to be an African-American.
I say that because lots of things haven't changed about the way people of different races treat each other here in the land of the free. Sure they have where government looks over your shoulder, but not everywhere - and not among many people of Robert and Jewel's ages. That cuts both ways to by the way - when their neighbor came over, she started toward the back door and Jewel threw on the porch light and opened the front door for her friend.
She offered her friend the shawl along with her and Robert's appreciation for how kind the neighbor had been. At first, it was refused with a "that's just too nice, I can't accept that."
Then Jewel told her that she and her friends at church had prayed over that shawl and asked God to bless the person it was given to.
Her neighbor burst into tears and hugged that scarf like a long lost grandchild. the two friends shared tears of joy together.
Now that's change I can believe in.
It's easy to dismiss the smaller church today. The rise of the mega church, not just the big church - these are small cities - grabs all the attention and makes most all of the noise. With their names and their pastor's names legends around the evangelical watercooler, those of us who work in smaller churches could suffer from inferiority complexes. Granted, I've written before about the "Walmart Effect" that the mega has on smaller churches around it - kind of like "that's no moon, it's the deathstar!" But today I'm here pounding away to say we've got much bigger fish to fry.
A recent book, The American Church in Crisis, by David T. Olson reports these
1) Less than 20% of Americans regularly attend church - half of what the pollsters report. There are approximately 330,000 churches in America; out of those churches approximately 17.7% (52 million) of Americans attend church on an average Sunday.
2) American church attendance is steadily declining.
* Evangelical 9.2%
* Catholic 5.5%
* Mainline 3.1%
3) Only one state is outpacing its population growth. Hawaii.
4) Mid-sized churches are shrinking; the smallest and largest churches are growing.
* Churches under 50 and over 2,000 are growing
* Average attendance of Protestant church: 124
* 1,250 mega-churches in America/one emerges every three days
5) Established churches, 40-190 years old - are, on average, declining. New church starts reach more people better, faster, cheaper than existing churches.
6) The increase in churches is only ¼ of what's needed to keep up with population growth.
* 3,000 churches close every year
* 3,800 new church starts survived
* Net annual gain: 800 new churches
* Net annual gain needed to keep up with population growth:10,000 new churches
7) In 2050, the percentage of the U.S. population attending church will be almost half of what it was in 1990.
* US Population in 1990: 248 million/20.4% church attendance
* US Population in 2050: 520 million/11.7% church attendance
Chew on that for a while. Then come back and tell me why your church doesn't need to change.
I read this obituary yesterday, written by a pastor. Only he doesn't know it is one.
My church is a small congregation with the average age probably in the mid to latter-fifties. They enjoy singing hymns and when I have provided an alternative it has not been well received. They have indicated that they would like to attract younger couples with children to the church but are not totally open to doing a few things different to attract this age group.
Here's what happens.
I was in a church like yours about 25 years ago. My husband and I were the young folks they wanted to keep but we left. They said that they welcomed young couples but treated us like young children. They never considered any of our suggestions because they didn't want to change. Out of the couple hundred hymns in the Hymnal, they sang the same few of them, week after week. No one would sing if it was a new song. They are very nice folks. They are kind and faithful. But we wanted to improve and grow.
In this case, the couple left and found a church that welcomed people of all ages, that listened to them, and that ministered to all ages and intentionally changed to reach people that weren't just like them.
But not all of those who leave try again. Then there are the countless others who never even think of entering a church. Lost? They don't even know what it is they are missing. What they need are friends who will take the time to invest their time into the relationship. To listen far more than talk. To be there to live out the Way. To be ready to give an answer with gentleness and respect.
We need followers of Jesus who gather for worship and help understanding what Jesus wants them to do who then scatter and live those instructions out in their everyday lives. Who do more together than they could ever do separately and who look for ways to partner with other Christians to do even more. Who will be salt to flavor the communities and workplaces in which they live, and light for others to see the way home by.
This is not rocket science. But it is mission critical.
Are you in?
We're learning and the events are growing. This time we've added a movie for the kids as well as some hands on educational time with the museum folks. We have some great prizes from Turner Classic Movies to give away - ponchos and an umbrella with the Singing in the Rain logo on them - limited editions!
I can't wait to see all the people and make some new friends!
"There are two ways to slide easily through life; to believe everything or to doubt everything. Both ways save us from thinking."
There lives more faith in honest doubt,. Believe me, than in half the creeds.
Alfred Tennyson( 1809-1892) English Poet
Our twentieth century, far from being notable for scientific skepticism, is one of the most credulous eras in all history. It is not that people believe in nothing - which would be bad enough - but that they believe in anything - which is really terrible. Malcolm Muggeridge
All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Knowledge and doubt are inseparable to man. The sole alternative to "knowledge-with-doubt" is no knowledge at all. Only God and certain madmen have no doubts!" Martin Luther
"If ours is an examined faith, we should be unafraid to doubt. If doubt is
eventually justified, we were believing what clearly was not worth believing. But if doubt is answered, our faith has grown stronger. It knows God more certainly and it can enjoy God more deeply." C.S. Lewis
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
The New Living Translation is my "go to" Bible of choice. I use the second edition for study, for preaching, and it is my first recommend to anyone looking for an accessible, clear, and accurate translation of the original texts. The first edition is my bedside companion that I read just before turning the lights out every night. It's a copy sent to me by Tyndale House years ago, and I love that Bible.
When the second edition came out, I emailed Mark Taylor of Tyndale House and asked him for a comparison chart to the first edition, so I would know where the changes were. He explained that there were so many changes that would almost be impossible. So he sent me a Life Application Study Bible in the new version. I was overwhelmed. Later, we started purchasing paperback NLT Bibles for our church by the cases and told people to take them home if they needed a Bible they could understand and read daily. I'll bet we've given away a dozen cases of Bibles over the years, and we're a smaller church.
Turns out that Tyndale is finally rolling out their own study Bible, and has set up a blog not just for that purpose, but to interact with NLT users and others. It's called "The NLT Blog" (I guess all the marketing people were busy.) :)
The blog exposes the reader to some of the inner workings and decisions that go on in the work of translation. How words come across to today's reader is my concern, and one of the first articles there takes readers through how those choices are made.
Participants in the blog are some of the names you'd read on the inside of your NLT including Mark Taylor, and people from all over the globe. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to better understand the NLT, the dynamic equivalence method of translation, or just wants to hang out with Bible geeks. Drop the feed in your reader, it's worth the time.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
I really enjoyed my second trip through Mark Buchanan's book. It's filled with wit and insight into the human condition, and delivered in a way that doesn't simply point out your sins but leads you away from them and toward Jesus. It gets 4 stars from me. A snippet:
If we were to gather suggestions from most North American Christians about how to improve the Godward life, we might get a list with items like this:
1. Give us quick, effective formulas for prayer.
2. Dispel our doubts without ever making us touch wounds.
3. Remove our wounds and disappointments.
4. Explain mystery, simply.
5. Take the risk and the work out of obedience.
6. Give us a God who's safe.
That last line causes me to remember the description of Aslan. "No, he is not safe, but He is good." Yes He is - staggeringly good.
Monday, July 14, 2008
This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem:5 “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce.6 Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away!7 And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.”
Jeremiah 29:4-7 (NLT)
When I think about reaching Valparaiso for Christ - and that is why I do what I do, I operate out of the same mindset Jeremiah was trying to get the exiled Jews to grasp in those verses. We have been placed in Valparaiso Florida by God for His purposes. Looking back over the almost 15 years history of New Hope Baptist, we began in Niceville and easily could still be located there. But events transpired that placed us here in Valparaiso. Not all of our members live here, but it is the epicenter of our ministry and we embrace that passionately. We love Valparaiso Florida.
Too many times churches operate within the geographic confines of a locality, but stand aloof from anything that doesn't touch directly on spiritual matters. Things like how the schools, the businesses, and even the government are doing aren't seen as matters of interest for the church at large, though they may be for parents who have children in the schools, or people who have interests in the businesses.
I'll put aside the desire to remind that everything is ultimately spiritual and just point out that whatever affects the lives of those we hope to influence for Christ should matter to the church. In Jeremiah's case, he's asking people who were brought to a city at the point of a spear to turn around and bless that city because "its welfare will determine your welfare."
Yes it will.
So we, as salt and light shouldn't hide in our buildings but go out into the neighborhoods, into the schools, into the businesses and the lives of those God has placed within reach.
And we are. Through engaging at Valparaiso Elementary. Through working with the City, with Valparaiso Communications, with the Heritage Museum and with other churches, we are working to bless the people and the community that God has placed us in. We need to do more. We will do more.
We'll also provide the new Veggie tales movie for the kids with activities and treats in the museum.
Should be great! Tell everyone you know - twice!
Sunday, July 13, 2008
Indescribable - "he knows the depths of my heart and he loves me the same"
Forever - "he is with us, forever"
Your Grace Is Enough - I LOVE this song!
Holy, Holy, Holy- updated arrangement
Offering - really was a fitting conclusion
Unfortunately, the recording didn't work again. Our crack team of media-wizards are on it.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
Everyone I know probably knows someone in their family or circle of friends that doesn't believe in God. Some never have. But the vast majority of the ones I know personally did, but something happened.
It might have been one of the unexplainables that happen in this life that pushed them over. People who take on a faith, especially as children - who see things in black and white - well, I wonder if we are doing a very good job helping them leave room in their lives for the things you cannot know.
From what I can tell, some people can live comfortably with loose ends and gaping holes in their worldview and belief system. Others though, need permanence - need certainty. It just isn't there for them, though. And others' efforts to tie life all up in a neat package for them isn't enough.
Granted, there are people who can run a long way down certainty road and take you with them. Ravi Zacharias comes immediately to mind. Tim Keller as well. These are men I admire for the passion for God expressed through their intellectual pursuits. They are driven to help people know God with all their mind.
But what if...
Did you pause there?
Just asking the question and ending in an ellipsis - did that start you thinking?
iWonder is what I see as a "But what if..." opportunity for New Hope tomorrow. I want to lay out - not a air tight case for God, but a framework that might let people begin their own (or continue) their pursuit of Truth - of God. A chance to step back and get some perspective on what God is.
He is transcendent.
He is personal.
And beginning again to wonder about how He has worked, about how He is working - to show Himself to us might, just might help someone become "unstuck". I'm praying that God will use the images and words I have chosen to help people who aren't "nailed down" yet to keep following Jesus. I found a quote this week that really spoke to what I'm after tomorrow.
Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
Rainer Maria Rilke
I'll pray, and God will be at work.
Friday, July 11, 2008
Takeways: First, never play a game you have never played with someone (Michael Weech) who has been playing it for 7 years.
Second, see number 1.
Brutal. Just brutal.
But at least I didn't lose at Sorry like Craig Bryan did. To Kira.
Just a great way to have some fun and mix adults and kids. Too many times we wind up in our own little worlds - kids, youth, adult, senior adult. On game night - the ground is level. Everybody beats me. :)
Thursday, July 10, 2008
I've loved the song for a long time, but I hadn't seen the Ruth Bell Graham tribute version until tonight. Truly a fitting song for a life well lived.
Give me Jesus.
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
This area is one in which Christ followers play judge pretty often, so I guess we shouldn't be surprised that Paul had to address it with the new church at Rome. The failure to exercise the restraint out of love that Paul talks about here has had grave consequences time and time again.
So he began by saying this:
1 Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don't see things the way you do. And don't jump all over them every time they do or say something you don't agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently.
Romans 14:1 (MSG)
"Welcome with open arms" or "accept" carries the idea that you aren't just going along to get along. You love and respect your fellow believer for who they are. They may very well be off base, but they aren't sinning, and you don't have the authority or the right to dictate their decisions on matters that aren't restricted by Scripture.
Sure there are actions that are forbidden outright. Adultery is always wrong. Theft is likewise. Check Exodus 20. But there are also things that one person may see no harm in, even enjoy, that aren't prohibited.
Alcohol would be at the top of the list. Movies for some. Carrying it further back, I can remember when women had to wear a dress to worship. Except for Sunday nights, when apparently there was a special dispensation. :)
But drinking wine or beer is not prohibited. Drunkenness is, absolutely, always - just as gluttony is as an abuse of food. Some people should absolutely not touch alcohol just as my diabetic friends here should not eat processed sugar treats. But it's not our job to draw the lines.
And it's really above our pay grade to try and change them. First thing is, we don't know enough about them to understand their motive, their intent - like God does. Then too, any lasting transformation is going to be Holy Spirit driven, not people pushed.
4 Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God's welcome? If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help. Romans 14:4 (MSG)
Trust God, friends. Trust God. I know you have the urge to fix people. Believe me, I totally understand. But He's at work all the time. If your brother or sister is outside the lines God has drawn, He's going to be working through the limitless power of the Holy Spirit to bring them back.
Oh, and remember, the person that's not it sync with God might just be you. If your brother drinks a can of beer after a hot afternoon of yard work, your desire to straighten him out may be the only sin in the equation, if it's driven by a desire to get him to see things as you see them.
We should be looking for God's way, not our own.
7 None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. 8 It's God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other. 9 That's why Jesus lived and died and then lived again: so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other. Romans 14:7-9 (MSG)
It's those "petty tyrannies" that have caused people who aren't believers to see Christianity as a religion of "don't do that!" instead of the life of freedom from guilt and shame that Jesus intended it to be.
12 So tend to your knitting. You've got your hands full just taking care of your own life before God. Romans 14:12 (MSG)
Uh, yeah.... buddy.
Before I leave this, let me address the question - but aren't you supposed to be careful you don't offend or cause someone else to fall?
Absolutely. Remember, this whole block of instruction in Romans is about LOVING your fellow believer.
15 If you confuse others by making a big issue over what they eat or don't eat, you're no longer a companion with them in love, are you? These, remember, are persons for whom Christ died. Would you risk sending them to hell over an item in their diet? Romans 14:15 (MSG)
It's about the two greatest commandments - Loving God with everything you've got, and loving your neighbor like yourself.
22 Cultivate your own relationship with God, but don't impose it on others. You're fortunate if your behavior and your belief are coherent. 23 But if you're not sure, if you notice that you are acting in ways inconsistent with what you believe—some days trying to impose your opinions on others, other days just trying to please them—then you know that you're out of line. If the way you live isn't consistent with what you believe, then it's wrong. Romans 14:22-23 (MSG)
So your actions need to square with Scripture, and your attitude about how others interpret the freedom they have in Christ do too. Don't forbid what God has permitted. It might not be for you, but that's okay.
Henry Sloane Coffin
I'm working this week on what will probably be the first of a series of messages on the iLife theme. With the new iPhone 3G being launched Friday, I expect some people will be aware of the whole "i" deal. I thought about going at it using the five purposes, and still may do that. But I'm thinking that maybe a more oblique approach will help the truths get a audience in a more effective way.
So instead of:
iRoll Over and go back to sleep :)
What do you think? Well, the first two are pretty firm anyway. :)
The sense of wonder at just who God is and what He has done in Jesus should captivate every Christ follower and not just enrich our lives personally, but drive us out of the comfort zone and into life with passion and purpose. The core course on worship I'm enrolled in this term at Rockbridge and in particular the interaction with the professor and an amazing group of students, is really driving me to search out the deeper things about this most important part of being His.
One of my favorite preachers of all time was Vance Havner. One of his greatest sermons was title "Have You Lost the Wonder". I'm praying for that kind of insight and power to be available through the message Sunday.
Tuesday, July 08, 2008
Monday, July 07, 2008
You haven't lived until a ten year old wipes the floor with you in Yahtzee. Now we've added a LAN party (networked PCs playing the same game in multiplayer mode). More opportunity to get crushed. :)
Come one, come all. Come beat David like a drum.
"What one thing would you do to triple your worship attendance in 6 months?"
It's a good question, but I wonder if it's one that is really in need of clarification. Are these people who will make up the 300% unchurched or churched (just shopping).
BTW the first response was "For those numbers, there is only one answer: Free beer."
So let's toss that one aside.
I'll give it some thought today and come back later.
Ok, it's later.
I'd sell the property and move to either the Elementary or Middle School, and use the money gained to hire a worship leader, buy top notch audio and video tools, and paper the area with postcards for our upcoming Dave Ramsey classes and series of messages on "Get Unstuck!"
Yep. That'd do it.
Sunday, July 06, 2008
We debuted a new song by Chris Tomlin - "Your Grace Is Enough" Just the praise team this week but we'll roll next week.
"Hallelujah (Your Love Is Amazing)" - great uptempo song
"Amazed (Lord I'm Amazed By You)" - "How wide, how deep, how great is your love for me"
"Here I Am To Worship" - Normally we would use this at the beginning, but it just fit.
"Change My Heart O God"
The last week of the "Identity Theft" series. I wanted to take it all and drive to a conclusion that we are the identity of Christ here and now as believers and MUST live it out loud. There's so much NOISE about Christianity and so little of the pure simplicity of Jesus' call to "Follow Me."
Saturday, July 05, 2008
Second time through this book. The author very candidly shares his struggles with a lack of motion and passion in his relationship with Jesus. Great personal illustrations as well as literary ones. Recommended to anyone who needs a spark.
Friday, July 04, 2008
We received some feedback recently that pointed to how hard it is to find New Hope. So we brainstormed... and borrowed an idea from a church plant in Niceville - Road signs. We now have 20 of them. I wasn't aware they were ready yet, we just decided to go ahead with them Sunday evening. But while we were out today, we saw one.
I suspect Craig Bryan and family. :)
We have some folks at New Hope that are excited about what God is doing among us and want to see more people find what we have in Jesus.
Great job, guys!
Thursday, July 03, 2008
Rockbridge's seminary experience is different. Up to this class I would have used "practicality" as a descriptor. But in this class, I was asked to do something so far outside the box that practicality doesn't do it justice. Michelangelo covered a ceiling with paint once. Did the job. But no one who walks into the Sistine Chapel says, "Wow, that really covered well."
Maybe it's because I love words that the assignment touched me so. We were asked to write a worship poem that expressed the worship of our heart to God. I write all the time - blogs like this one, devotionals, and of course sermons.
But I've never written... to worship.
Whatever I was, is dead
I gave it up willingly, without knowing what that meant
and yet, I would never take it back
It is His
Whatever I am, is alive
Life came within, and learning what it meant to live
and so, I live to give more, ever more
I am His
I was handed this book with the highest recommendation - Bunny loved it. I've been a fan of that guy Nancy Ortberg hangs around with, her husband John, for years, so that had me expecting a lot going in. I was not disappointed.
Nancy Ortberg can tell a story with the best of them. Her glimpses into her personal walk with Jesus and the way her faith walked through them were great. She ranged from triumph to tragedy.
What would she want the reader to know?
That God is staggeringly good.
That our experience of that goodness is for our enjoyment, as well
as to reflect to us the nature of a good God that we can fully trust.
That sometimes, counter intuitively, God can be most deeply
experienced and known, during our most difficult times…and He is still
Pick it up. You'll be blessed.
Tuesday, July 01, 2008
Moments when though everything around you seems dark and gloomy. When though the rain is coming down in sheets, making a summer day seem like December. When the weight of decisions you must make is pressing heavy on your heart.
I wonder if you know what I mean, or if things like that seem like fairy tales, legends, or at least things that happen to other people - not you.
As a follower of Jesus, I'll admit I'm prone to want to be moved. There's something about getting near to Jesus, whether through His words, the lyrics of a song, or even a glimpse of creation's beauty - that causes my heart to prepare for His whisper.
This book did that for me.
Red Letters - Living A Faith That Bleeds Read it at your heart's peril.
Bob Pierce went to China. He saw something that changed his heart forever. He gained an appreciation of just how Jesus wanted him to spend the rest of his life. And he did what would be a curious thing to people who have never been followers of Jesus. He wrote a note to himself in his Bible, so that everyday when he picked it up, he'd be reminded of that moment, when God whispered His name.
"Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God."
Tom Davis went to Africa - to Russia and saw children dying of HIV/AIDS, saw boys and girls in orphanages with horrible treatment now and no hope in the future. Like Pierce, like Teresa of Calcutta, God gripped his heart so tightly in those hard places, he had to sow his life in God's work among the least of His children.
Tom Davis has written a note - but not just to himself, but to millions of His fellow Christ-followers. The note begins in awe, moves into conviction, through persuasion and ends with a plea. Come. Follow.
The history of what we've been as the Body of Christ runs the gamut from healing salve on the world's wounds to salt in them. And yet most often, we sit on the sidelines, refusing to engage, unwilling to let our hearts... go there.
That's exactly where this book takes you.
But it doesn't leave you there.
The next steps (5 for 50)are laid out for anyone who wants to follow. Not just as Davis has done personally, but in the way that God might lead you.
We can do this. We should do this. Read the book. Embrace the call.