Thursday, April 30, 2009

Stop Dating the Church

Two weeks ago I was talking to a lady in the atrium after church about the importance of coming to church regularly, consistently, and in a committed way. It was a follow up to a story I told (in my message) about the early years of mine & Renae’s marriage – how that we made “going to church” a high family value and that it paid enormous dividends for us over the years. At any rate, she’s telling me how she has made a spiritual transition from “am I going to church today?” and if I go “what kind of blessing will I get?” to “now it’s not even a matter of discussion. Sunday comes, my family and I get up, get dressed and go to church. No question about it. Now, instead of ‘what I am going to get out of it today’ I come to say, ‘Thank You, Lord for your goodness to me.’”

I was very glad to hear this.

That’s why we do what we do! We start with people where they are and eventually God leads them to the place where they need to be! She stopped dating the church and has now entered into a committed relationship with the church. She has moved from me-centered to Christ-centered.

For those of you who are still dating the church, you need to understand that it’s not (only) about what the church can offer you (programs, activities, social interaction, etc), but what YOU CAN OFFER the church!

Church-daters are like the couple who lives together without being married. You get the “perks” of marriage without having to be committed to marriage. As long as there is a personal benefit to be received, such a person will hang on loosely. But it’s also just as easy to walk away. Commitment cuts against the grain of “me-ism.”

Three signs of a church dater:
  • Me-centered. “What can I get out of this relationship.”
  • Independent. “I go to church but I’m not getting involved… especially with people.”
  • Critical. “I don’t like this one, so I’m window shopping for another.”

In truth, the church is EARTHS SINGLE BEST PLACE – God’s designed place – to start over, to grow, and to change for the honor of God. It is a COMMUNITY where we learn to love God and others, where commitment is cultivated and developed, where we are strengthened and transformed by the Word, where we are taught to pray, worship, and serve, where we can invest our talents for eternity, and where we can grow in our roles as fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters in the Lord.

How much does Christ love the church? So much that He gave up His life for her.

You should love what He loves. Fall in love with the family of God and stop dating the church.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Expository Preaching

Have you ever heard the term expository preaching? Basically it means teaching verse-by-verse through a large block of scripture (such as a chapter or book of the Bible). This is a very good and effective method of preaching and teaching. I happen to enjoy using this method myself, and do so about three or four times each year. Some examples of when I have used the expository method:

Life of Joseph… Book of James… Book of Ruth… Sermon on Mount… Ten Commandments…. Romans 1-3… Book of Proverbs… Sodom & Gomorrah… Book of Acts… 23rd Psalm… Book of Philippians… Prodigal Son… and currently the series through I Peter.

However, some people believe that the expository method is the ONLY form that should ever be used, and they will take you to the mat over this issue. Churches have been split over this very matter. Some will even go as far as calling other forms of preaching as being shallow, man-centered, carnal, for babes, or buffet preaching. The problem with that line of thinking is…..

First of all, there is no single DEFINITION of what "expository" really means. The truth is different preachers have their own definition of expository preaching. I am aware of at least THIRTY DIFFERENT DEFINITIONS of expository preaching; and many of these definitions even CONTRADICT THE OTHERS. So who is right? Which one is the correct definition? You see, it becomes meaningless to use these labels. The phrase is overused and ambiguous.

Two, there are OTHER METHODS of preaching/teaching God’s Word that are JUST AS EFFECTIVE (such as topical and textual). Some people hold to the opinion that the ONLY TRUE BIBLICAL METHOD of preaching is the expository style. This approach to preaching has wrongly been canonized by some as the only acceptable way of preaching.

Consider this - NO ONE IN THE NEW TESTAMENT EVER USED THIS STYLE! Not Paul. Not Peter. Not even Jesus! In fact, Jesus was a topical teacher. The Sermon on the Mount is a perfect example (Matthew 5, 6, 7).

Recently I read this quote written by a proponent of the Expository ONLY style of preaching:

“Any kind of preaching other than verse-by-verse exposition is an aberration from the apostolic norm.”

Oh really? The only problem with that position is that NOT ONE of the New Testament apostles ever used that style! Not one!

Three, there is NO SACRED METHOD of preaching style. All methodologies are man-made, and anytime you take a man-made method and make it sacred IT BECOMES IDOLATRY. There is no sacred method. It cannot be proven by the scripture that there is any one sacred method of preaching. In fact, there are a lot of different preaching styles found in the scripture that you may not eve like! But they are there nonetheless.

Four, IF NOT DONE WELL expository preaching is absolutely BORING and BREEDS DEATH rather than life. The Bible says the “power of life and death are in the tongue,” so each time a preacher teaches God’s Word, it either brings people closer to life or closer to death. Just take look closer at the teachers making the claim for expository “only” preaching and you will notice that many of them have a tendency towards over-intellectualizing the scripture and communicate their lofty presuppositions accordingly. They are a “cut above the pew level” so to speak – and most folk simply cannot understand this pontification. I understand the need for Biblical literacy, but keep in mind that being a student of the Word involves more than listening to an EXTENDED COMMENTARY of a pastor from the pulpit. This style of preaching often comes across as sounding more like a LECTURE IN GRADUATE SCHOOL rather than a life-giving message of hope for the average believer. One word - BORING! Too many word studies and historical analysis not only puts people to sleep, it leads to less time for talking about applying the word to everyday life.

This is how a boring expository preacher crafts his sermons….

Start with an exegesis, the grammatical-historical method of getting the data out of the Bible. Then build Biblical Theology on top of that, learning the Biblical themes. But the acme, the highest point, is Systematic Theology by putting it all together. The sermon manuscript consists of “points” that are somehow related to the text.

Rather than walking through the text, line by line and making relevant applications as you go, the boring expositor makes it academic – complete with alliteration. Anything less would not be “sermonic” enough. Ugh.

The black robe is the robe of the scholar. The heart of the meeting is the extremely long lecture-sermon. The darkest part of the room is the center where the dark wooden table and the massive wooden pulpit and the black-robed preacher are. It’s a picture of the dark ages itself.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Pastor in a Book

About sixteen months ago I received a letter from a person who was leaving PCC. Here is an excerpt from the letter explaining his reason for leaving…

"I’m writing to tell you that my family and I will no longer be attending Pace Community Church…….. I have been diligently reading books by authors such as R.C. Sproul, Mark Dever, John Piper, and C.J. Mahany; additionally I listen to sermons and teachings from many of these men; as well as; David Platt, and Matt Chandler."

Okay. I can deal with that. I’m used to it. It’s happened to me hundreds of times over the years, and every pastor has to deal this. Additionally, I accept that our vision is not for everyone. If a person doesn’t agree with us, it’s better for them to leave than to stay at a place where they can’t be happy. Besides, these kinds of departures result in having a healthier church. We are better off for it.

But if you were to read his letter in its entirety and see this man’s commentary of our church (from A-to-Z), you would realize how immature and premature this decision was. First of all, this was coming from a person who was about two or three years old “in the Lord” – a spiritual infant or adolescent - and all of a sudden he has an “informed” opinion about our church. According to him our theology is wrong, my preaching methods are wrong, and the direction of our church was all wrong. Secondly, this man and his family were far from God when they first started attending PCC and it was through the ministry of THIS CHURCH that they became followers of Christ. We were the very ones who personally invested in this man and his family – but all of a sudden we are no longer spiritual enough for him. He wanted to find another church that was more spiritual than we are. Thirdly, THIS MAN CAME UNDER THE SPELL OF CERTAIN CHRISTIAN AUTHORS who, he believed, were more spiritual than I am. In short, he found a new pastor… “in a book.”

Every pastor alive has experienced this – to be rejected in favor of another - it goes with the ministry. Like a rebellious teenager who suddenly can’t stand his parents, these restless know-it-alls read books written by Christian authors and then make comparisons against their local pastor. Like reeds in the wind they are tossed to and fro by something they read in a book - authored by men they have never even met! Suddenly, these adolescents under a spell become more spiritual than the very church or pastor that actually reached them with the gospel and helped birth them into God’s family. Seething in restless discontent they will attend church, sit on the pew, and listen to the pastor teach. But their heart belongs to another – it belongs to their new “pastor in a book.” Of course, the local pastor always loses when compared to the “pastor in a book.”

Here’s why....

Unlike me, the person whose writings they are they reading is perfect. Their books are edited having undergone endless revisions and can say it “just right.” Your “pastor in a book” is always there and always accessible. He just sits there on the shelf waiting for you to reach out to him, and when you do is always available for you. He never has a bad day, and always has time for you. He never makes a decision in the church that causes you discomfort. Your “pastor in a book” always agrees with what you want, (especially the dead ones), and always rules in your favor.

Your “pastor in a book” uses your favorite translation of the Bible too. He has a perfect family, just like yours. He is humble, never shows emotion, and always avoids conflict. He listens to your complaint and can always make time for your unannounced visits. His office hours are when you decide they are. He is always available, always on call, and always gives you his undivided attention.

Your “pastor in a book” has all the answers, and his theology is truer to the Bible than your real-life pastor (who is so “common” to you). He is articulate, and waxes eloquent when writing. He never stammers and can prove everything he says…. with footnotes!

Not only that, your “pastor in a book” always maintains the proper distance from meddling in your personal life. If you don’t want to hear something he has to say you simply close the book, or skip the page. He never pressures you to change your life, nor does he expect personal accountability from you. The threat of church discipline will never come from your “pastor in a book” either. He’s safe.

Heck, these guys are perfect… Why? Because they exist ONLY in your books. He’s not real - he is a figment of your imagination. In truth, you don’t even have a pastor….

Let me tell you WHO your pastor is NOT: Your pastor is not John Piper… Matt Chandler… John MacArthur… Al Mohler…. Joyce Meyer… Joel Osteen, Ed Young, Rick Warren, Mark Driscoll, Andy Stanley, or Lou Giglio… Your pastor is not any of the “big boys” out there in church land. I’m sure they are all good people (I even read a few of them myself). But that’s not ths point. THE POINT IS - these people don’t even know you exist! You have given yourself over to someone who will NEVER be there for you. You have joined a religious version of an Elvis fan club.

Let me tell you who your pastor IS: Your pastor is the real-life, flesh-and-blood guy you have an actual relationship with… who preached the gospel to you in an understandable way when you were unlearned and lost… He is the guy who trained and nurtured you in the first principles of the oracles of God…. He is the one who gladly received you and your family into our church family, with all your baggage, and loved you anyway…. Your pastor is the guy who let you test your wings as a small group leader and nurtured you along the way, allowing you to gain experience… He is the guy who evangelized you, discipled you, and trained you for ministry… Your pastor is the guy who got his hands dirty with the messy work of fixing your life… He is the real-life person who got on his knees and prayed for you…. and took you out to dinner and spent time with you, answering your questions… Your pastor is the guy who invited you into his home, and has been to yours… Your pastor is the one who visited you when you were recovering from surgery, or a family member was in the hospital… Your pastor is the guy who stood with you when your marriage was on the rocks, who baptized you and your children, and preformed the wedding ceremony for your grown children, and dedicated your babies. Your pastor is the man who was there when your family member died. He is the one who performed the funeral.


Yet, it is so easy to just sit on the pew and say to yourself, “John Piper would never say it that way.” Or, “Joel Osteen is so much more encouraging than he is.” Yea… and John Piper will never weep with you when you weep, and Joel Osteen won’t be there when you are in the hospital either.

I'm all in favor of reading books. I'm glad to recommend books and favorite authors myself. In fact I have an entire library full of books; many of them written by the authors I mentioned in this blog. But you have to keep things in perspective....

Your local pastor is real. Your “pastor in a book” is not.

12And we beseech you, brethren, to KNOW THEM which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; 13And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves.(I Thessalonians 5:12-13 KJV)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Promoting Talent over Integrity

In church work personal integrity is paramount for anyone who is in any level of ministry. The Bible is VERY CLEAR about this. This includes church workers, volunteers, staff, and leaders. The more critical the position, the more integrity is called for.

One of the greatest challenges church leaders face (especially in small churches and new church plants) is the continual shortage of help. Because of the pressure to cover all the ministry bases it is so easy to just “plug another warm body” into a key position without waiting long enough to observe and prove an individuals integrity first. In the case of PCC, especially the early days, people would show up who seemed larger than life. These persons seemed like an answer to prayer and often would land in positions that they later would have to be removed from.

For instance, several years ago over a one month period, a group of people walked through the doors of PCC offering to help. We were small, still meeting at the local High School, and this influx of new people was just what we needed. They added critical mass to our attendance and the varied personalities possessed many different gifts and talents that were in short supply in our fledging congregation. We needed what they had to offer, so it was easy to believe that maybe it really was the Lord who sent them to us. Before long a few of the people in this group found their way into places of service. They were active in small groups, leading groups, singing, serving, and a couple of them even made it into very critical positions. All was going well…. or so I thought.

From the beginning I was uneasy about this large influx of talent because it made our church too dependent upon a group of people I did not really know. My job as a shepherd is to protect the flock, so I kept many of these people at arms length, allowing only three or four to get close to me. I continued to make observations about their behavior & integrity, and it’s a good thing I did. In time certain patterns of behavior began to manifest in this group of people that were so grievous that it disqualified them from ministry in a local church. It could not be ignored.

Then one day the dam broke. The obvious lapses in integrity was something I needed to deal with; the vulgar language, the off-color jokes, racial jokes, short tempers, quick fuses, and the gossip were too much. And to be brutally honest, many of them simply did not have the capacity to serve at the level they desired. They wanted to be in top leadership positions but lacked the necessary skills and spiritual understanding required. My response was to have several diffucult, and individual, conversations with each one concerned. It was then that the fertilizer hit the fan! They formed a solidarity among themselves. Then in one fell swoop, every one of these people left us just like they came… quickly & loudly.

Instead of receiving godly counsel about their integrity issues and getting healed by submitting to church discipline and proper Biblical authority, these people drove off into the sunset. Still sick and unqualified for ministry they simply found another small congregation that was in need of talent. There they can sing, serve, lead, sit on committees, pad the offering, and gain influence without being challenged. Of course, it is only a matter of time before the same issues will eventually manifest at their new location because nothing in their behavior has changed – they have only changed churches.

This story is not unique to PCC. It happens everywhere. I talk to pastors all the time and the story is always the same. For us, it is a good thing that we kept our guard up during this period and maintained godly standards of behavior for church workers and leaders. Otherwise, we would be shipwrecked today.

Some lessons about talent vs. Integrity:

1. Talent that walks in off the street is much quicker and easier to DEPLOY than talent you have to develop, and USUALLY it is a MISTAKE. It can take years to develop a worship leader, a youth pastor, a children’s pastor, small group leaders, a small group’s director, ministry leaders,or Biblical elders. But if you can grab one ready-made right off the rack you save yourself a lot of work. Why not speed up the leadership development process? It takes less time and you can get on with the business of kingdom advancement. And don’t forget the wow factor of instant talent either – you get instant bang as soon as these people are added to the team.

The downside to this quick-and-easy deployment of talent is that 9 times out of 10 these people will GIVE YOU PROBLEMS! You don’t know who they really are… plus they often believe their talent gives them a free pass on behavior issues.

2. Detecting integrity and character means LOOKING BENEATH the TALENT level. You’ve heard the old adage - if it seems too good to be true, it probably is – and nowhere is this more apparent than in church work. Every talented person who walks through our doors off the street and volunteers for ministry CAME FROM SOMEWHERE ELSE. As a shepherd I am responsible for developing and deploying talent, yes, but I am also responsible for detecting CHARACTER DEFECTS and INTEGRITY FLAWS. It is my job to find out where they came from, why they left, and why they are here. A call to the former pastor is not out of the question. Where have they served in the past? Why did they leave? Did they leave on good terms? Is there unresolved conflict between you and someone else in your last church?

3. When assessing integrity, HARD QUESTIONS need to be ASKED. When considering placing strangers or newcomers in any type of serving capacity, certain questions must be asked. Do they tell tales that don’t seem to add up? Are their finances out of control? Do they seem a little too friendly with the opposite sex? Do they frequently tell stories that make the people around them uncomfortable? Are they fully committed to the vision of our church? While it’s never good to go on a witch hunt, we should also listen to our instincts and the instincts of the other leaders around us. If there are persistent, nagging questions about an individual, it might be better to pass on this person.

4. Enforce a time out. The first step in dealing with leaders/workers/volunteers who have had a lapse in integrity is to have them take time out. This is not punishment, but rather a process for healing and restoration. It is a time in which they can grow in their personal walk with Christ without the pressure of ministry responsibilities. It’s also a time for them to reflect on what led to the lapse in integrity and build safeguards against a repeat in the future.

I am concerned when I hear of public Christian leaders who have failed, and after a brief time away (say 3 months), are “healed” and ready to get back into full time ministry. People need significant TIME to allow the Lord to restore what the locusts have devoured.

I am also very concerned about the types of people who flit from church to church offering their talent to desperate congregations, but are spiritually sick. Church-land is FULL of these kinds of people. Most of them will never get healed or ever be truly qualified for ministry. Why? They always have the easy option pulling out and going to another church when confronted about their behavior. BECAUSE OF THEIR TALENT, OTHER CHURCHES QUICKLY OPEN UP MINISTRY OPPORTUNITIES FOR THEM, and THE CYCLE CONTINUES.

No matter how talented a person is, they are subject to the same Biblical standards as everyone else. Exceptional talent does not get you a free ride or a free pass at PCC. If you have attended our church for any length of time and possess an observant eye, you have noticed the many changes in personnel we have made over the years and in recent months – and some of them very visible. We have people step down, take time off, so they may recover. The goal for the ministry is to maintain integrity, and the ultimate goal for the individual is restoration. No one is exempt from this standard – not me, any of my family members, my friends, you, or even your family members.

INTEGRITY is more important than talent.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sunday Mind Dump

  • Attendance was good today. Our average attendance is currently 10-15% higher this year than this same time last year. Not only have we made up the gap, we have filled the gap and gone above and beyond. It is likely to improve more as the year progresses.

  • Giving continues to remain strong at PCC – in spite of the economy. This too, is on an upward swing.

  • About 27 people are currently signed up for water baptism.

  • The teen ministry is off-the-chart in all areas right now. Let me state for the record – it has never been better in our eleven year history at PCC. There is a great team of people making it happen… all under the direction of great leadership. We’ve never had a better team of teachers, more adult & parental involvement, or more teen participation than right now. Most impressive of all? God is changing the lives of teens… and the teenagers love their youth group!

  • I enjoyed today’s message…. a lot more than last week’s message. In fact, at least one dozen people pinned me down after service telling me how it spoke to them and what areas of their life where they needed to make adjustments. I’m thinking to myself, “this is what is supposed to happen… becoming a ‘doer’ of the Word and not a hearer only.” This speaks well of the people in PCC – they have an internal motivation to live the kind of life that brings honor to God.

  • The sound system was at its best in a long time.

  • Today was just a regular day… but it was one of our best days. No special event. No bells and whistles. Just a regular meat-and-potatoes kind of day… but it felt like family. It felt good. I was uplifted.

  • I was talking with a couple in the atrium after first service who were telling me how much Sunday is the high point of their week.

  • Have you read my blog series (last week) about church growth? I hope so. At PCC we have an unmovable, unshakable conviction about church growth. Why? Because people need the Lord!

  • We received the letter from Gulf Power absolving us of any financial responsibility regarding the damage to the telephone pole. (Read my blog “A Letter from a Bill Collector” to know what I’m talking about). We are free and clear. Now Mr Williams of GREG WILLIAMS ELECTRIC CO. can deal with the collection agency!

  • “The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous and His ears are attentive to their prayers. But the Lord is against them that do evil” (I Peter 3:12)

  • An elderly man in our church, Robert Mauler, has been selected to take the Honor Flight to Washington DC for WWII veterans. We are delighted that he has been chosen and are rejoicing with him. Get this… Robert was involved in five invasions during WWII; Sicily, Anzio, Salerno, and Normandy on D-Day. I can’t recall the fifth landing. He has shrapnel in his back, shot down an enemy aircraft, and is one of the few remaining WWII veterans alive today. In many ways it is an honor to know this man. His flight is this Wednesday morning at 6:00 AM leaving out of Pensacola airport. A group of people (from the church) are going there to see him off. If you’d like to go too, just call the church and Renae will give you the details. I will take pictures that day and then later post them on my blog.

  • Our church grounds look fantabulous. (fantastic & fabulous, that is).

  • Somebody from Missouri read my blog last week… then contacted me through our church web site. I’m glad to say this was a favorable contact. (See, I’m not such a bad guy after all).

  • About two or three people stepped up today and decided to sponsor a teen each for Student Camp. Thank you very much!

  • Good things are happening at PCC. Better yet God is moving in a myriad of ways… and life-change is the end result. People are forever, and radically changed when they encounter the Almighty One.

  • PCC is known as the church where sinners go. I like it.

  • The reason we (often) experience pain is so that we can fully understand the provision of God.

  • I was talking to someone in the atrium after first service today who told me about an event that took place at another church in the area. I couldn’t believe it. It seems a young couple (boyfriend & girlfriend, or either engaged to be married, I’m not sure which) were attempting to join this particular church. The process to join involved sitting in a room in front of a panel of four deacons who interviewed (or grilled) them. (BTW, at PCC we teach a membership class in a seminar format). At any rate, this couple is sitting in front of the group of deacons answering their questions. The questions starting getting harder, and harder, and eventually personal – if not invasive. Finally one of the deacons asks the couple…. “Are you sexually active and sleeping together?” at which point the lady bursts into tears and in full humiliation runs from the room! I bet this couple never goes back to THAT church.

  • This Wednesday night at church is our UNITE PICNIC. This started out as a teen sponsored event but has evolved into an all-inclusive church-wide event. Anyone is welcome. But I must advise you – it is a BYOB event. (Bring Your Own Burgers).

  • Today when I was preaching I had a moment (in the middle of the sermon) when I thought, “I need to take a dose of this medicine myself.”

Friday, April 24, 2009

Blogs I am Working (web logs)

Your “Pastor in a Book” (How people will read books by their favorite authors and all of a sudden their church is not spiritual enough for them any longer. Then they leave in search of a better church. I will probably include an excerpt of a letter I received a while back)

Stop Dating the Church (How people treat churches like the singles dating scene by staying aloof and never really commit to the church)

Smells Like Skunk (how to identify a skunk)

One-Way Forgiveness (Do we forgive an offender if he/she is unrepentant and shows no remorse? What if the offender never even acknowledges his offense? What does God require of us in such situations?)

Expository Preaching (A good style of preaching and teaching to use. A method I use myself; in fact I'm currently using this method through the book of I Peter. But this blog will be a response to those extremists who say this is the BEST or ONLY true method of preaching)

The Crippling Effect of Unqualified Elders (Most power-hungry types are not even qualified to be in leadership in a church. This blog will show the crippling effects upon churches if such people ever gain a foothold)

Promoting Talent Over Integrity
("We know he's a thief and a liar, but he plays the organ so well." Why integrity in ministry is paramount.)

Letting Committees Steer the Ship
("I wanted a 100 watt bulb, but the finance committee decided to give me a 40 watt bulb instead." Why committees are a disaster).

Dumb Things that Smart Christians Believe (We'll take a look at common "myths" that smart people believe. i.e., Having faith in faith... Forgiving Means Forgetting... Going to Church Guarantees Godly Kids... God Has an Exact Blueprint for My Life... Christians Shouldn't Judge... God Brings Good Luck... etc.).

A 20/20 Vision for PCC. I believe our best days are still ahead of us. God is doing some great things in us and through us... and this is only a precursor of what lies ahead. PCC's future is to have regional impact - something I will be sharing with you.

Why I Believe in Church Growth (Part 4)


Jesus was committed to the growth of His church and clearly expressed His desire to see His church grow.

Matt.16:18 (KJV) I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

To build means growth and development. We also learn from this passage that Jesus Himself is the growth agent of the church. He personally grows/builds the church. Therefore, any church that resists growth is actually resisting Christ and is working against Him. When new people come in, get saved, and call this their church family, what's happening? JESUS IS BUILDING HIS CHURCH.

To what extent does He expect His church to grow? He expects it to grow until it becomes a WORLDWIDE CHURCH. Keep in mind He started out with 120 people in Jerusalem and for the last 2000 years the church has continued to grow. Jesus said, "And this gospel shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come" (Matt.24:14; 26:13). Jesus clearly has a WORLD-VISION, and as follower's of His WE MUST BE COMMITTED TO THE SAME VISION.

My vision for PCC is not that we would just be another small church on the corner that isn't even noticed. It's for the entire community. That's why we've called ourselves a "community church" - we're going to make an impact for this entire community. Then in Milton, then in Pensacola. Eventually, there will be thousands and thousands of people in both Santa Rosa and Escambia counties who know this church is here and stands for something!

You should read our vision statement over and over again until it gets hold of you. Our vision must be as large as Christ’s vision.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Why I Beleive in Church Growth (Part 3)

I believe in church growth because GOD’S WORD COMMANDS IT.

God’s Word commands all churches and all believers to be involved in the task of reaching the lost and making disciples – all of which contribute to growing churches and kingdom advancement. This means God wants us to be active in sharing our testimony with lost people, witnessing to them, inviting them to church, and other similar efforts.

19Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Matthew 28:19-20).

This means that God wants us to do three things: Go fish for men… Baptize them… and Disciple them. People are suffering, hurting, & lost.... and God has put us here to do something about it!

The above verse is called the Great Commission and is the God-given mandate to the church. Yet in many churches it has become the Great OMISSION – they do everything EXCEPT fish for men. As a New Testament church, we are direct descendants of the first church. As such we have inherited all of its graces, its power, and its privileges. But we have also inherited its RESPONSIBILITIES and its MANDATE.

The Great Commission is so important that it appears five times in the Bible the NT (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:46-48; John 20:21; and Acts 1:8). To mention something five times means one thing: GET THE MESSAGE!

Some church leaders like to complain about other churches that ARE growing as being shallow, man-centered, and guilty of dumbing down the gospel. Blah, blah, blah! While there may be churches that are guilty of doing this, in reality it is not that common. In fact, most churches that are growing do so because they are OBEDIENT TO the GREAT COMMISSION and have FOUND A WAY to EXECUTE.

While these complainers wax eloquent, they DO NOTHING about the Great Commission themselves. They have 10,000 people within walking distance of their own churches, most of whom who are not attending anywhere, and they do nothing to reach out to them. There are single mothers, the terminally ill, the divorced, fragmenting families, poor people, and the spiritually empty living within ear shot of their churches – and what do they do? – they teach yet another Bible lesson to the frozen chosen and lock these undesirables out of the church so they can keep their church pure. It must make God grieve. They should probably get off their “field of dreams” mentality – i.e., "build it and they will come" – and get down to business. Contrary to their opinion, growing churches have figured out how to reach these kinds of people.

The Great Commission is not optional for us. Any church not actively practicing the Great Commission is a disobedient church. The same holds true for every believer. To ignore this command is a sin.

At PCC we believe our church should grow larger and smaller at the same time – larger in the weekend services and smaller through small groups.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Why I Believe in Church Growth (Part 2)

I believe in chruch growth because PEOPLE NEED THE LORD. The Bible is clear about the ultimate doom of unbelievers.

“…Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: And these shall go away into everlasting punishment… (Matt. 25:41, 46).

And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:15).

This is a reality we cannot ignore. The consequences are too great. People perish without God. People you know will die lost and spend eternity in a blistering blast furnace of eternal anguish if they don’t have eternal life. We cannot concern ourselves with trivial matters like getting our favorite seat or the same parking place at church each week as long as there are people (who we know) that need God. This task of reaching lost people is greater than anything else you could do with your life. It is the very reason Jesus came to die.

Lost people matter to God and therefore they should matter to us.

The urgency of reaching the lost is illustrated in the parable of the ninety nine sheep (Luke 15:1-7). Jesus said if a shepherd counts 99 sheep and discovers one is missing, he will leave the flock to search for the one which is lost. Instead of staying with the flock and grooming the ninety nine (yet one more time) it is better to go out and search for one more. Heaven is a lot happier when one sinner repents than they are when a church focuses only on itself, maintaining the ninety nine.

Suppose I found the cure for cancer. Think of how wonderful that would be for humanity. But instead of sharing it with as many people as possible, I only shared the cure with a small private club of people whom I happen to like. That would be the most unloving, selfish, and criminal thing I could do.

Yet, that’s exactly what churches do when they keep the good news to themselves and are not willing to share with those outside the flock. They are willing to let people go to hell without even making an effort to intercede. It is criminal.

The most UNSELFISH thing a church could do is to MAKE THE CONSCIOUS DECISION TO GROW. Why? Because putting the needs other others above your own is the very essence of Christianity and servanthood.

Growth means change… new people… someone else getting your seat… different ideas… more demands being placed upon church workers… and not having the same access to the pastor as you once had. But none of that should matter because PEOPLE NEED THE LORD.

Friends don't let friends go to hell.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Letter from a Bill Collector

Last week our church received a letter from a bill collector saying we owed Gulf Power $2700.00. A little background…

When our church was under construction, an electrical contractor (GREG WILLIAMS ELECTRIC) who was working for our General Contractor, (Danny Cobb Construction) damaged a telephone pole behind the building and burned up a transformer. This happened in July of 2006, which was before we took possession of the building and while still under the auspices & supervision of the General Contractor. It was their responsibility to pay for this damage at that time, which they said they would do. Three months later, in October, we took possession of the building and shortly after we moved in received a letter from Gulf Power asking for payment for the damages. I then went a second time to the General Contractor, who in turn told me he would contact the sub contractor (GREG WILLIAMS) and get this matter resolved. I was told for the second time it had been paid. About a year later, we get another letter. I go through the process again, this time talking to the electrical contractor myself and he assures me that the matter has been taken care of.

So last week we get yet another letter, but this time from a collection agency who is demanding payment from Pace Community Church! Well, I’m about ready to go ballistic. Here it is, 2 years and nine months later and the matter is still not resolved, nor has the bill been paid. All this after the man has personally told me that it has been paid – not once, not twice, but three times! I mean I am ticked. I’ve been lied to and now it appears we are going to be responsible for paying this fee ourselves. I’m thinking, okay, if we have to pay this to maintain our good reputation, we will. But we will take this guy to court and get reimbursement. With arms flailing, I am pacing up and down the admin hallway talking about this guy and what I'm going to do to him. I mean, I'm about to pop a gasket.

Enter Renae.

She offers to give it a try. Gene says to her, "sick em, tiger." So Renae calls GREG WILLIAMS ELECTRIC last week... and the man won’t take her calls. The office receptionist gives Renae a different story each time she calls, i.e., "He’s out in the field. He’s in a meeting. He’ll call back tomorrow.” This goes on for about two days. Eventually Renae has all of this she is willing to put up with and last Friday tells the person on the phone how underhanded and sneaky Mr. Williams is acting, not to mention his poor business practices. She also tells this messenger of Mr. Williams that she has no confidence in what he is saying especially given the fact that he has said so much in the past that turned out to be untrue! She further informs his office that if he does not return her call by Tuesday of next week (today) that she will be sitting in his office Wednesday morning.

As of today, Greg Williams still has not called back. So Renae takes it to the next level. She contacts Gulf Power and the collection agency and apprises them on the situation. Gulf Power looks in their files and finds recorded notes in which they had spoken to Greg Williams in July of 2007, verifying that his company was responsible for this charge. Gulf Power then assured Renae that PCC is NOT responsible for this bill, and would not be bothered with it again. Furthermore, Greg Williams Electric would be turned over to the collection agency for billing and they would now deal with him. Any legal action will be focused on GREG WILLIAMS ELECTRIC. Finally, Gulf Power stated that their company would send us written verification (documentation) absolving us from any responsibility in this matter.

Way to go Renae.

Sometimes people say churches should not operate like a business. Okay. On the other hand, sometimes you have to take care of business. If this wasn't handled "as a matter of business" somebody would have received $2700 dollars of free money from Pace Community Church - which is unacceptable.

Why I Believe in Church Growth (Part 1)

“… and the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47b)

Church growth is Biblical and God wants it! Consider the early church:
  • Acts chapter 1 and 2 tells us that the early church went from 120 believers to more than 3000 overnight.
  • Then the church kept growing daily (Acts 2:47 above)
  • In Acts chapter 4 more than 5000 men were added to the church, not counting the women and children.

In the first year after Christ’s death the church had grown from 120 to approximately 15,000 to 20,000 people! That is the kind of God we serve. God wants His Church to grow because as it grows, His kingdom is advanced. That is the blueprint God has given us. We need to get out of the mindset that looks on churches with suspicion if they are growing. We also need to recognize that Biblical church growth has nothing to do with being small.

  • Acts 5:8, “You have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine.”
  • Acts 6:1, “The number of believers were multiplied.”

We need to start praying big prayers like, “God help us to do more for You than we have ever done before. Help us to see our church twice the size than it is today. God, help us to bring Christ to our entire city, and we believe that You will add to Your church daily those who should be saved.”

At PCC we have an unmovable, unshakable conviction about church growth. Here are four Biblical reasons why a local church should grow:

1. God’s Word commands it (Matt. 29:19-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:46-48)
2. Because the needs of people demand it (Matt. 25:41, 46; Rev. 20:15)
3. Because Jesus believed in church growth (Matt. 16:18)
4. Because the NT church demonstrated growth (Acts)

In spite of the overwhelming evidence that clearly expresses God’s will concerning church growth, there are some people who are opposed to church growth. I’ve heard people say, “A church can get too big you know.” I think to myself, “Too big for whom? Certainly not God.”

Some people want everything else in life to grow…. except the church. They want their business to grow, their paycheck, and their bank account. They want a big house, a big car, a big yard, and a big boat – but not a big church! People die lost and go to hell because of selfish attitudes like that.

Jesus told a parable once and the punch line of the story is, “…. go out into the highways and hedge, and compel them to come in, that my house may be full” (Luke 14:23).

God doesn’t care if the building is small or large, He wants it full! Empty seats do not glorify God. Full ones do.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Monday Musings

  • What did you think of the teenager who sang the solo part Sunday morning? All I can say is “wow!” Her name is Shelby and she did an outstanding job. One lady told Renae after service that when her husband heard Shelby sing he was moved to tears. Shelby has attended with us since the early days of Freedom Hall and we have watched her grow up and develop as a believer. Only recently did we discover her “sleeping” talent.

  • Yesterdays’ message was difficult for me. The text was challenging because it cuts against our Western sensibilities. Nevertheless, it was God’s Word and needed to be taught as such. I’m sure the content made some people bristle on the inside. But amazingly, I’ve received as much or more positive feedback from this message as I have any other. Go figure. I guess it underscores the point that God’s people (wheat) truly love His Word – even the difficult portions.

  • On the other hand, I love teaching God’s Word to “religious” folks because they need as much correction in their mindset as sinners and new converts do. Probably more. And there are plenty of them sitting in the congregation of PCC. Here in the South, religious church folk have made salvation more about appearances than anything else. Ugh. It is our behavior that needs to be changed.

  • At 1:00 AM this morning Panhandle Alarm calls our home notifying us that something is happening at the church. I’m thinking, “oh no, the a/c copper thief is back.” Renae and I get up and go out there to check it out. Found nothing. A false alarm I guess. Never a dull moment. One phone call can throw us into a tailspin.

  • I don’t twitter. Probably never will. If I did, my twitter updates would probably read like this: Just drank a glass of unsweetened tea……Just drank another glass of unsweetened tea……Just drank a Mountain Dew and experienced a caffeine spike! Pretty exciting, huh?

  • Renae and I are thinking about taking a trip to the new Bass Pro Shop near Mobile. We like the one in Destin but have not been to this new one.

  • I think our church grounds look amazing. Don’t you?

The Importance of Consistency

Andre Previn said, “If I miss a day of practice, I know it. If I miss two days, my manager knows it. If I miss three days, my audience, knows it.”

He was talking about the piano, but the same is true about your devotional life. When you’re spending time with God on a consistent basis, it shows. When you aren’t, it also shows. You’ll see it first, then those closest to you, and, pretty soon, it’s obvious to everyone.

Paul said that you can be “transformed by the renewing of your mind…” (Romans 12:2) This renewal — this transformation — occurs during those quiet moments we spend in the presence of God, when we open his Word and open our hearts to what the Spirit would say to us.

No matter what one accomplishes professionally, vocationally, or in the work of the ministry, this time with God should remain a daily priority. If Andre Previn needs to practice the piano every day to stay at his best, we need to practice the presence of God every day to stay at our best.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sunday Night Mind Dump

Oh man. I wrote a Sunday Night Mind Dump and then accidently deleted it! Can you beleive it? I didn't have the energy to write it again. Maybe tomorrow.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Breaking the Deadlock on Wedlock

That’s my message title for this Sunday. We are returning to the series (Certain Hope in Uncertain Times) based on the book of I Peter. This series has been excellent thus far, going verse-by-verse through the book, and has provided us with a great deal of insight into God’s Word. The passage this Sunday is a difficult one, (Chapter 3, v.1-7), because it seems to be out-of-touch and archaic with our modern sensibilities. Nevertheless, it is God’s Word and its timeless truths are as applicable for us today as they were when first written. I’ve been thinking deeply about this passage for the last 2-3 weeks (during our break from the series due to Communion Sunday and Easter Sunday) so that I could deal with the text properly and believe God has given me some insight.

The passage is for both wives and husbands. Specifically:

• Christian wives who are married to unbelieving husbands
• Christian husbands and how they should treat their wives

This word will be very helpful to every married couple in our church if we will only receive it and begin practicing it. God's Word always gives us certain hope in uncertain times. So if your marraige is in a deadlock right now, come with an open mind and willing heart and let God perform His surgery.

Messages Thus Far......

Part 1 - Too Blessed to be Depressed.......(1:1-12)
Part 2 - Kiss Your Old Life Goodbye.........(1:13-21)
Part 3 - Changed!....................................(1:22-2:3)
Part 4 - We're In This Together..................(2:4-10)
Part 5 - Our Responsibility to Authority.....(2:11-17)
Part 6 - Take This Job & Love It!...............(2:18-25)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Balance of Saints & Aints

God often places a delicate balance of people in His church for those who are in the ministry. He allows just enough troublemakers in the midst (tares) to keep the pastor humble and dependent on God. And He puts just enough godly, sweet, and supportive saints (wheat) in the church to keep us from quitting.

I’ve have pastored three churches and attended two others in my Christian journey, and have found both kinds of people in every church I’ve ever been a part of.

If a pastor keeps his eyes on the first group – the critics and troublemakers who oppose every idea he has – he will grow discouraged and eventually leave the ministry. The best plan is to keep one’s eye on the Lord. And that is the main insight – people who oppose church leaders do so – not because it’s about the pastor – but because it is what’s in them. Let me explain….

Sister Ulrich was an older saint in my last church who frequently brought me tiny gifts and always prayed for me during our church services. Sitting on the second row each week I could see her praying for me while I preached. She did this for years. One day I commented how much I really appreciated her expressions of love towards me. She said something that stays with me until this day, “Oh, Pastor Ron, I have loved all my pastors over the years.”

I have reflected on that statement many times over and one day I had an epiphany. I was contrasting her with all the troublemakers I have encountered over two decades. Some people have opposed me no matter what I have done, and here was Sister Ulrich, who loved every pastor she ever had.

That’s when it came to me.

Sister Ulrich loved all her pastors, not because of what’s in them, but because of what’s in her. And church troublemakers will oppose all pastors, not because of what’s lacking in the pastor, but because of what’s lacking in them.

I have learned an invaluable lesson after many years in the ministry – God has placed certain people in the church who simply love pastors. It’s like they possess a special gift of encouragement for pastors. These people have a special place in their heart for pastors and they are encouragers and supporters to every pastor they encounter. These people are the very people who (help) keep pastors in the ministry. PCC is full of people like this who make my job bearable and enjoyable. I thank God for them almost every day.

In contrast, as God has matured me, I have come to see that people who resent pastors (automatically and consistently) do so, not because of something I have done, but because there is something inside them that is ugly, and they are in rebellion against the Lord.

At the end of the day, it’s God’s church, not the pastor’s church. If it’s not this man criticizing, it will be someone else. God uses both the critics and encouragers to sharpen the pastor and get glory for Himself.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Q & A - Sex & Marriage

1. Does God approve of Premarital or Extramarital Sex? Despite our promiscuous society that encourages sexual activity, God considers premarital and extramarital sex to be sinful. In the Bible, the word “fornication” (Greek PORNIEA) is used to describe sexual activity outside of marriage as being impure.

“Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4).

2. Is it Acceptable to Live Together Without Being Married? This is a common practice of many couples today. However, this is not considered to be an acceptable Christian life-style for the following reasons:

  • The tendency towards sexual impurity – Unmarried couples who live together usually have a sexual relationship. As already mentioned, premarital sex is sin and condemned by God’s Word.

    “For this is the will of God, and your sanctification: that you should abstain from fornication” (I Thessalonians 4:3).

  • The Appearance of Evil - Not only does the Bible teach that believers are not to live a life-style of sin, but they are even to avoid the “appearance” of sin (1 Thess. 5:22). Even if a couple does not have sexual relations while living together, sleeping in the same dwelling gives every appearance that they do. This sets a bad example to other believers. We all have an obligation to our brethren, not to put a stumbling block to their faith.

  • Exposure to Temptation -- Even if an unmarried couple plan to refrain from premarital sex, living together could allow temptation to compromise those standards. The Bible teaches us to flee lusts and other temptations which could cause us to sin (2 Tim. 2:22). When we give our desires over to lust and temptation, it leads to sin, and the Bible says that sin leads to death.

    "But every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it brings forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, brings forth death” (James 1:14-15).

3. Should a Christian Marry an Unbeliever?
The Bible teaches that Christian believers should not enter into any type of permanent partnership with unbelievers.

“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever?” (2 Cor. 6:14-15).

The yoke that is referred to means the “wooden yoke” that was used to place on the necks of a team of oxen, to bind them together. Since marriage is a type of yoke which bonds two people together as one team, a marriage between a believer and unbeliever would place them in an “unequal yoke.”

The Bible teaches that a house divided cannot stand. The success of any marriage depends on the unity and harmony of the two people. If one spouse is committed to the Lord Jesus, but the other isn’t, it will create division.

4. How Should a Believer Choose a Marriage Companion?
Next to your salvation, your choice of a wife or husband is the most important decision you will ever make in your life. Marriage can be one of life’s most wonderful blessings, but it can be an endless nightmare to those who have chosen carelessly.

  • A believer should seek to marry another believer, not merely one who professes to be a Christian, but whose life also demonstrates long-term stable, Christian behavior.

  • Do not be led by your emotions. Infatuation is often mistaken for love. Real love is not something you “fall” into. It’s something you commit yourself to, and sacrifice yourself for.

  • Never marry anyone on the mere basis of their appearance, sexual appeal, or material things. Only shallow, foolish people do that. Choose a marriage companion on the basis of what’s inside their heart, not what’s on the outside.

  • A good marriage requires that Christ be the center. If He is not the center of your relationship with your companion prior to marriage, He’ll not likely be the center of your marriage later.

  • Never marry anyone on the basis that they’ll change after marriage. Bad habits often become worse, not better. People are usually “already” on their “best” behavior before marriage.

Busy, Busy, Busy

I’ve been soooooo busy the last couple of days which has interfered a little bit with my regular blogging. For instance, at the church we have had more activity than normal because we are increasing the security measures (due to the copper theft and a/c vandalism). Yesterday we had Gulf Power give us a visit (to put up a new light pole out back), the a/c contractors came back to finish their job, we’re arranging an alarm hook-up to our a/c units with Panhandle Alarm, a scheduled fire inspection is due, and etc. You get the idea. All this on top of our normal duties.

Compounding my schedule is the fact that Renae and I are remodeling our kitchen right now. Our home has been a construction site since Sunday night (no stove and no water). After church Sunday we had a house full of company over for lunch. After they left Renae and I spent the evening pulling out our built-in stove, and removing cabinet doors, etc. We were up very late that night. To make a long story short, we are re-doing the counter-tops, sinks, range hood, putting in a new stove, new flooring, and all the little things that go along with a remodel. We’re getting up about daylight and working a couple of hours before we go into work. Then after work we do what we can until late at night. Here it is Wednesday, and we’re still neck-deep. Another day or two and we’ll have it wrapped up. I see light at the end of the tunnel and will be glad when our house gets "put back together."

Keep checking back. I haven’t lost the edge. I feel some stuff coming on that I’m going to be writing about! I am stoked! In fact, I am ticked!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Eleven Year Anniversary

It has especially dawned on me, in the last month or so, just how great our current season is at PCC. What I mean is the people who joyfully serve and all the great things we are accomplishing together.

Consider these facts about new church plants. In the last decade there has been an 80% failure rate of all new church plants. The fact that PCC has survived during that decade-long trend is astonishing – especially given all the challenges we have faced. In fact, when we first began PCC I knew before hand that most new churches do not make it past the five-year mark. Yet in faith, perhaps even a bit na├»ve, we launched out anyway. I’m glad to say that this past Easter Sunday (two days ago) was our eleven-year anniversary and we are healthier than we have ever been!

We’re here to stay.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Debrief

Jesus is ALIVE! And He was PRESENT at PCC TODAY!

I’m not sure words can describe how God has moved this weekend!

At least a dozen people committed to Jesus Christ today. More than that signed up for baptism!

Our attendance today was close to 800… about 20 less than last year. Here’s the best part – last year we mailed out 15,000 direct mail pieces to help with that attendance. This year we relied solely on word-of-mouth and did just as good. That’s amazing. It means our people love their church and can’t wait to get their friends and family members there! How good is that?

The house was packed today! In the first service people had to sit/stand along the back wall. The parking lot was as full as I have ever seen it.

One lady, who was visiting for the first time, told me she came after reading my blog. That's a first - read the pastors blog and then visit the church. She said something like "you tell it like it is and seem real."

The band nailed it today… with every song… especially the last song - One Life. A lot of people were really moved by it.

I think there were a couple of preachers in attendance with us today. I was hoping they would get saved… but they didn’t.

The devil tried to get me sidetracked this morning, but I didn’t let him do it. We are not ignorant of his devices. It must be a bummer (for him) to be on the side that loses in the end.

How about the kids that sang in service today? It was a thrill to witness that.

Wasn’t the video of testimonies great? I’d like to thank everyone who volunteered to share their story. Especially Richelle W. who peeled back the layers and got down to the raw. She was honest and vulnerable, which totally authenticated her faith and validated her story.

The people at our church are the real deal.

I heard about serveral of our small group members getting together today after church to have dinner in their homes. That seems like real Christianity to me.

A special shout out to Gene T. who did the filming and Paul T. who edited the film and put in its final format. First class. A lot of people talked about the video and how it deeply moved them.

In fact, now that I think about it, the only thing in todays service that did not move anyone was my sermon.

I thought the song over the video was pretty cool too – “Say” – by John Mayer.

The volunteers at PCC leave me astonished. When I drove on to the campus this morning I was amazed how good the grounds looked – (our campus has got to be one of the most beautiful in the area). Sidewalk greeters were at their place, door greeters, hospitality, housekeeping, ushers, nursery workers, children’s teachers, sound & projection team, security personnel, etc. They are the hidden secret to PCC.

It took a lot of work and preparation to get ready for and pull off today’s services. And all these people never complain.

This was the least stressful Easter weekend we’ve ever had. Nice. Real nice.

It was great to be in the zone today.

I think today was a vision of what our future looks like.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Witch Hunt for the Easter Bunny

The term witch-hunt comes from the Salem witch trials, in which the leaders from puritan churches were caught up in the fear that certain members of the community were in cahoots with the devil. This resulted in widespread hysteria, paranoia, and persecution. The aftermath of this ruthless, unmerciful harassment was that innocent people died and great reproach came to the name of Christ.

Fortunately, those days are over. Or are they? It seems some Christians are still stuck in this legalistic mindset of narrow-minded intolerance and fear-mongering. They are against Easter egg hunts, the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and seemingly every other holiday for that matter. Further still, they will condemn anyone who participates in these activities as being some kind of compromiser who is in partnership with darkness. There is a preoccupation today in many Christian churches to identify evil, and in their over zealousness have targeted “every rabbit in the bush.” Pun intended.

To give you and idea, simply read this quote from a church’s book of discipline…
Landover Baptist Book of Rules and Regulations Chapter 83 Holidays Section 4: Subsection R - Easter Page 723-724 Paragraph 4: The Easter Bunny: Banned Easter Symbol, Paragraph 4 -
Of all the Pagan symbols created by Satan to steal the True Christian History of religious holidays, none, save Santa Clause is more dangerous than the Easter Bunny. Painted pagan eggs, Easter baskets, and yellow marshmallow chickens don't hold a candle to this furry four legged demonic spawn, forged in the fires of Hell by Lucifer himself, for the sole purpose of distracting innocent little snow white children from the true meaning behind Easter Sunday. As the former angel of light, the Devil is an expert in trickery! This has been evident from 1923 to present time in modern churches where so-called "Christians" display the Easter bunny or pictures of bunnies in their Easter Sunday service programs. Sadly, many pastors have been seduced by the Devil's seemingly innocent long eared, hopping hellion. But do not be mistaken! Underneath that silky soft white coat of hair lay the tight red skin and pulsing veins of a miniature demon. And there are millions of them! Have you ever heard the term, "breed like rabbits?" Well, the Devil is laughing right at YOU! If you don't understand that Satan's job is breeding minions and the bunny rabbit is the ultimate symbol of minion breeding, then please close this book now and find another place of worship, for you are not welcome here.

Okay, that was enlightening.

Let me say that I am aware of the schemes of Satan when it comes to counterfeiting the things of God and trying to dilute the message of the gospel. Among his many devices is the use of paganism, mixed with Christianity, to pervert that which is sacred. Having said that, let me also say that for most people Easter Sunday, along with the Easter Bunny and Easter egg hunts, is a day of pure innocence. It is a day in which children simply have fun looking for brightly colored eggs and candy, and maybe even get a surprise visit from someone dressed up in an Easter Bunny suit. And to be frank and honest with you, there is absolutely nothing wrong at all in events like these.

What should the Christian response be to this cultural practice? Better yet, what would Jesus do?

My guess is that Jesus would not spend His time condemning children, believers, and unbelievers on the evils of the Easter Bunny – instead He would be walking among them sharing His love and grace. Jesus was often accused of being evil Himself simply because He kept company with people who engaged in unapproved lifestyles. Though He never approved of sin, He did accept people as they were and showed them a better way. St. John 3:17 says that He did not come into the world to condemn the world, but to save it. When overzealous church people go on a witch-hunt for the Easter Bunny, Easter eggs, as well as the children and parents who participate in these events, they are violating the Spirit and nature of Christ. Thinking themselves to be more mature than others, they demonstrate how little they know about the real essence of Christianity. Real maturity is demonstrated when you have patience with and accept others who have different standards to live by.

The point is, Jesus never spent His time looking for and publicly denouncing non-essential matters. But instead, He spent His time loving people and touching them where they lived and where they hurt. As Christians, we should do no less.

Myself, I cannot imagine hurting the feelings of some small children by depriving them of having their kind of fun on Easter Sunday. I’ll not let a misguided sense of “protecting the gospel” become a platform for a witch-hunt. Just because some of these secular activities supposedly have their origins in paganism, (who knows if that’s true anyway), it is no justification to go on a witch hunt and squeeze the fun out of life . Even if it is true, it has no power over me today. It has no power over your children. I say let children just have their fun. They don’t know about all that paganism stuff and it wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans even if they did!

Use this Easter as an opportunity to imitate Jesus, not go in a witch-hunt. The world around us will be drawn to Christ only as we demonstrate His nature. Don’t let others see Easter Sunday as the day that the devil comes out. Let it be a day in which Christ is seen in you.

Public Indecency

Decency. Our society is losing it. Things that should be kept private are made public. Our voyeuristic cravings are fed via talk shows who are purveyors of smut. It’s shameful.

Consider this…

A couple of weeks ago, Levi Johnston (the boyfriend of Sarah Palin’s daughter and father of their baby), demonstrated the decency of a billy-goat when he discussed the personal and private details of his sexual technique on The Tyra Banks Show. Millions of people watched this interview as he revealed more than he should have. Johnston’s mother, Sherry, and sister Mercede, sat next to Levi and laughed as he and Tyra traded winks and silly jokes. Levi behaved like a brute beast as he betrayed Bristol Palin, the mother of his four-month-old son, with giggles and self-importance for fifteen minutes of fame.

Here is a link to an "excerpt" of the interview which does not contain the worst parts. It is a brief clip and I provide it only for context. You may view it here.

There wasn’t enough decency or honor on that television set to temper the boys words. Deeply personal, intimate, and private moments went public. Vulgar comments fueled the exchange. At one point Tyra Banks leaned in close to the boy, feigned intimacy and probed for more secrets. He fell for the trap. He forgot the words of Proverbs 5:3-4…

“The lips of a seductive woman are oh so sweet; her soft words are oh so smooth. But it won't be long before she's gravel in your mouth, a pain in your gut, a wound in your heart.”

Flushed and full of himself, Levi told the world the secrets he’d promised Bristol he’d share only with her.

In that moment his shame became ours.

Friday, April 10, 2009

A/Cs Repaired!

All our a/c units have been repaired and we are good to go for Easter!

Let's just hope we don't get hit again between now and Sunday. I was told that another business on hwy 90 was hit the same night we were. Apparently someone is making the rounds in the area. It's not uncommon for the same church to be hit two-or-three times before it stops.

This event is going to cost us a bundle of money.

Next week we will be taking steps towards installing extra security measures, which will involve even more money.

Stumbling Blocks in the Church

God is very concerned about our actions and how they affect others. Our own silly pride would lead us to believe that we can do as we please with no consequence. But God holds us accountable. God’s concern for causing another to stumble is first seen in His commands regarding our treatment of the poor and handicapped...

Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the LORD (Leviticus 19:14 NIV).

In other words, don’t ever stick your foot out in front of a blind person, or put something in his way that he could trip over, because he can’t see to defend himself. If we were to ever witness someone do that we would call that person a scoundrel. Yet, the same thing happens in New Testament churches among (so called) believers.

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way (Romans 14:13).

Every church has insincere people, or those with ulterior motives, who are a grief to everyone they come into contact with. Jesus said they are tares among wheat (Matthew 13:14-30). These hypocrites (Hupokrites – Greek for play-actor, a pretender, or one who outwardly goes through the motions which are insincere) become stumbling blocks to others... and ruin the faith of many. Such people will face a stern recompense from God Himself. Notice what Jesus said…

"Then He said to the disciples, It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depths of the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones" (Luke 17:1-2).

Better to face capital punishment (execution) by drowning than to face God after having caused the faith of someone else to fail… by your own deliberate actions.

Gossip, slander, and backbiting qualify.

Easter Build Up & Satan's Attack

The week leading up to Easter is always insane and this week was no exception. I enjoy the excitement and the build-up of seeing everyone work together towards a common goal. It’s been good to see our staff, volunteers, and ministry teams ramp up their efforts for this weekend. Our church has looked like a beehive with all the activity going on. I thrive on these kind of events.

Our campus grounds have been mowed, landscape, and cleaned up. The stage design has been changed. Restrooms decorated. Rooms painted. The Easter Egg hunt is set to go. A video testimony has been edited and is ready for viewing in the service. A great song service is prepared. All systems go!

This Sunday will be life-changing for someone you know because many will cross the line of faith, committing to Jesus Christ.

I’ve had a huge burden to pray for your unchurched friends this week.

I have also been reminded that spiritual warfare is an ever present reality.

I’ve noticed a pattern. Around Christmas and Easter every year we get a lot of opposition.

Ephesians 6:12 says For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

This doesn’t mean we blame the devil for every bad thing that happens in our lives, but it does mean there are forces at work to attack us or distract us at a time of year when many people will come to Christ for their very first time.

It seems like the enemy has done everything he can do to disrupt our Sunday service. Our A/C units were vandalized threatening to disrupt everything - (not to mention that this is going to cost a lot of money). Our children’s ministry director has got a kidney stone and is in a great deal of pain – on the biggest Sunday of the year. There has been tension and conflict among some people. Troublemakers. You name it. The list is too long to mention.

I love it when Satan is ticked off and his imps are working overtime. It means we must be doing something good that threatens his kingdom. BTW, I’ve never met a devil yet that wasn’t wearing somebody’s shoes.

Eph 6:10-11 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Dear Copper Thief

Dear Copper Thief,

I drove into work yesterday morning and as soon as I pulled up behind our church building I instantly realized we had been vandalized – that you stole from us. All our A/C units have been stripped of their copper. This really puts us in a bind. But we will not be defeated. We will improvise, adapt, and overcome. We have faced bigger challenges than this, and we will deal with this one too.

Now that the initial shock has worn off, I’ve been thinking how to respond to you. Here goes.

First let me say, God loves you. He wants to give you hope, meaning to your life, and a future in heaven. But He is also angry with you because the Bible says He is angry with the wicked every day (Psalms 7:11). It’s pretty safe to say that you didn’t do yourself any favors by stealing from us.

Second, I hope you believe in God because you really need Him. But it appears like you have no conscience at all. It takes a special breed of person who will steal from a church; a church made up of kind generous people whose sole purpose is to serve God by serving the people in our community – families, children, the elderly, and widows. I understand you probably needed some crack to smoke or some dope to snort up your nose – but stealing from a church? Come on. This should frighten you because you stole from GOD – and He keeps a record book of things like this. You also stole from the hard working people of our church who have real jobs, who earn honest money (unlike you), and then contribute their finances to this church so that we can have comfortable facilities to worship in. What you have done to us you’ll never know. Hundreds of people could be affected by your thievery. This Sunday is Easter and hundreds of people will be in service with us to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some of those people will be desperate, looking for the answers and hope that only God can provide. But if those people are sitting in a building that is stifling hot and become distracted, then they may miss the message. You see, not only have you cost us a lot of money and caused an enormous inconvenience, but eternal destinies will be affected by what you did. You were only thinking of yourself when you stole from us and no one else. You really messed up dude.

Third, if you will confess your sins to God, He will forgive you. He loves you enough to do so. And if you will come to our church and stand before our congregation and confess your sins committed against us, we’ll forgive you too. The Bible says you have to do it that way. You not only sinned against God, but you sinned against every one of us. Shame!

Finally, you should know that there are hundreds of people who DO NOT attend our church, but they love our church. They are not dedicated believers yet, but we have earned their respect by doing good deeds for them and reaching out to them. Of these people, not all of them are as nice as we are and they are not sanctified either. What that means is… it would probably be better that the police find you before they do. But since I am such a nice guy and have a certain measure of influence with them, I’ll do my best to call them off so they won’t do the Clint Eastwood - Dirty Harry - Grand Torino thing on you.

Just so you know, we are praying for you.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Burgularized - Part 2

The contractor who originally installed the A/C units at our church during the building program has been here and assessed the damage. He says he will begin working tomorrow, and should have them up and running by Saturday morning.

It is vital that they be working by Sunday.

Still don't know the cost.

OMG! We've Been Burglarized!

Can you believe it? Our church was burglarized last night. Someone has cut out all the copper from our A/C units! All seven of them!

Right now the police are on the scene and we're waiting for the Crime Scene Unit to arrive.

With due diligence we will do everything we can to have a/c available this weekend.... you know, Easter Sunday.... the highest attended day of the year.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Preacher Gets Punched in the Face

One of the dangers of ministry

How to Ruin Your Ministry

I’ve seen a lot ministries self-destruct over the years… pastors, staff members, churches, lay-ministers, etc. This is not a pretty sight and is always unnecessary.

Here are three very common ways you can mess up and sabotage your ministry:

1. Make your ministry your highest priority above everything else. If you do this, something else will suffer – probably your marriage, family time, friendships, and emotional disposition. People who make their ministry the number one priority of their life are out of balance, lose focus, and suffer for it. Instead of sacrificing your spouse/family on the altar of ministry, make your family your number one ministry. Sometimes you have to scale back your ministry (to others) if it is interfering with your God-given obligations to your home.

2. Become territorial. If you are approached by church leadership about restructuring your current pet project, take it personally, resent the leader, and mischievously sow discord among coworkers in your ministry area. This works every time and is guaranteed to ruin your ministry.

I’ve watched this happen many times over the years. We have even experienced it at PCC and always correct it. When territorial attitudes become embedded in a church it is destructive to the big picture and its mission. When people participate in sowing disunity they need to step down from ministry or be removed until they get a grip on the importance of humility. You cannot lead without it.

3. Resent or resist your God-given authority structures. Get it in your mind that nobody is going to stand in your way – your husband, your wife, your pastors, or other church leaders – and if they offer input about your ministry, make them feel your disapproval.

In reality, our God-given authorities and accountability structures are in place for our own good, the good of everyone, and for the good of the church as a whole. Every one of us, myself included, need someone who can tell us when our enthusiasm has run ahead of our good sense. This is hard to swallow when you have a vision for something big. But if you believe God has a hand in directing such delegated authorities, you’ll soon see the safety net they provide for each of us.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

SNAC (Sunday Night After Church)

  • Interesting day.

  • Four of our scheduled singers called in sick. Yikes. To get a full grasp of what this means, you have to realize that we plan the Sunday service all week long. Then on Thursday Renae begins making the song selection. That selection is based, in part, on the singers she’ll have on stage that Sunday, knowing their abilities or limitations. Then the song selection is sent to the projection team so they can pull the songs and format them in an easy-to-follow manner for the song service. All of this has to take place WELL in advance of Sunday so that we are fully prepared for Sunday and can hit the ground running. Well this morning, we have four singers call in sick. That means just before service Renae was having to work the phone calling substitute singers, then select new songs based upon these new singers, and finally get them to the projection team. Needless to say, everyone was scrambling this morning just before service.

  • Music practice didn’t go so well. It was pretty rough.

  • Amazingly, the actual service did. In fact, I think we nailed it.

  • We received communion today. The ushers did an excellent job preparing the table and serving the congregation. Worked like clockwork.

  • I don’t know how it happened, but the song selection for communion was just perfect. And the interaction with the apostles creed, the blessing of Numbers 6, and the prayers of confession, were all seamless. The most amazing part? We didn’t plan it that way. It just happened.

  • What about the last song? It thundered with good theology and was very inspiring.

  • In the second service it got hold of everyone in such a way that they jumped to their feet spontaneously and were worshipping God with great zeal. Those people are really begining to come alive.

  • Attendance was good. I haven’t looked at the cards yet, but we had a large stack of them turned in today. They always contain good reports.

  • I enjoyed having communion on Palm Sunday…. and it was good to recognize the timeline of events. There was a moment when I felt like was I being projected into the actual events of 2000 years ago. It must have been a God moment.

  • If you would like to have a clearer picture of the timeline of Jesus’ final week, just read the blog post beneath this one.

  • I love Pace Community Church and the people in this family. I can remember the day when there were less than fifteen of us. I only dreamed…… and now God has proven Himself strong.

  • Okay. It’s 5:30 PM Sunday evening. I’m about to head back to church because we are having a band and music rehearsal in preparation for Easter Sunday. Yes, we sometime prepare that far in advance.

  • Next Sunday is going to be an amazing day. We’re going to be singing a couple of new songs, showing a video presentation of in-house testimonies, and celebrating the resurrection power of Jesus Christ. I believe that dozens of people will commit to Christ that day, and that 1000 people will experience the love of God.

  • For now, I’m headed back to church.