Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Theology and Fishing

I have been thinking a lot about theology lately.  But not the theology found in Grudem’s or Strong’s massive books with 6-point font.  I have been thinking more about the “word” theology. 

Theology can be broken down into three basic parts:
1. The study of God
2.  The truthfulness of religion in general
3.  An organized method of interpreting scripture

It’s the first part that gives most people problems.  We have a tendency to put most of our energy into parts 2 and 3 (the study of religion and our methods of interpretation) rather than studying more about God Himself.

I like to go fishing.  Last year Renae and I went fishing at least two times each month for ten months straight.  To spend this much time on the water is to experience God in a way you don't learn in books.  Let me explain.  While on the water we would see magnificent sunsets and sunrises (and yes, that is an actual picture my wife took while we were on a fishing trip).  We would watch as redfish fed on schools of menhaden near the bank.  There were alligators, and osprey’s swooping down to the surface of the water and snatching up large fish for a meal.  We seen schools of mullet one hundred feet wide, and heron’s skimming across the surface of the water looking for a meal.  Several times we had porpoises following our boat and jumping out of the water nearby.  And I could always hear the gentle lap of water against the reeds in the marsh.

I was struck with the fact that this incredible scene is played out every night throughout the entire world.  And every night God sees this scene and certainly takes joy in it.  I thought about the fact that God could have stopped with nature, during creation, and simply enjoyed sunsets and sunrises, and snow and mountains, and ocean and fish, and birds and animals every day for eternity.  He had a perfect creation.  But He didn’t stop.

He created man.

Why would God create people, in this amazing canvas He is painting, surely knowing that many would raise their fist against Him, refuse to believe Him, deny His existence, and rebel against Him at every turn?  Why would God ever allow His creation of porpoises and sunsets to be defiled and polluted by those made in His image?   Why would God create people who would refuse to believe He is their Creator?  Why would He do that?

Love.  That’s why.

So I guess for me, at least right now, the study of God (theology) is more about the tidal movements in Blackwater Bay and obscure places like Scavanes Point, rather than a systematic method of interpretation of spiritual works.  I'm pretty full of that.  I even have a full library to draw from.

Don’t’ get me wrong.  I love systematic theology and methods of interpretation.  As a preacher I wouldn’t be worth my salt if I didn’t.  But quite frankly, most of it is very slanted, depending on who wrote it.  So this year (again) I am going to focus again on watching God’s creation, listening for God’s voice, simply reading His Word, and trying to understand this One who created tidal movements, atheists, and me.

Think I’ll go fishing very soon. 

I'm Through with Christianity

I dislike what Christianity has become.  Christianity in America is now a set of political views, and a way to distinguish different groups of people (Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindus) as voting blocks.  Then there is all the bickering and slander taking place on TV commercials coming from these 'Christian' politicians.  It’s embarrassing.

In order to be a faithful Christian I can only vote for politicians who say they hold a certain party line on the right issues.  It does not matter if I agree with their economic views, their foreign policies, or theories on education. It doesn’t even matter if voting for (so called) Christian politicians over and over again over half a life time has changed nothing; if they pass the Christian litmus test then they must be my candidate. 

Christianity in America seems to be led by self-appointed spokesmen who attack others without charity, seek places of prominence wherever they go and live outrageously extravagant lifestyles. They are so important that they can't possibly be expected to fly with commoners on commercial airlines. One leader needs a jet that costs $3000 an hour to operate so they can get from one Christian event to another and be home in time to record their Christian television show. Jesus' commands to serve, to do acts of kindness in private and to prove your discipleship by pure love for others seem to be secondary for some of these Christian leaders.

It appears the main goal of Christianity in America has become an effort to build a society where Christian values are imposed, using politicians to get us there.  And if Christians can’t force non-Christians to act like Christians, we’ll just build our own separate society. We'll shop in Christian stores, buy from Christian salesmen, and live in Christian neighborhoods.

I am flawed in my faith and every day I make mistakes that I am ashamed of.  As I grow older I love Jesus more and more and the church He died for.  But I just can't buy into this Christian-political-thingy anymore. So I quit. I am resigning from the Christian party, the Christian club, the Americanized version of Christianity. I am going to devote the rest of my life to loving God with all my heart and loving my neighbor as myself. I am going to spend all of my energy learning more about Jesus so I can follow him as closely as I can. Every day I am going to pick up my cross and follow Jesus; and I am going to do my best to be a light in my community and salt in a desperate world.

PS - I'm back on Hiatus for the rest of the week.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Friday Five

1.  This Sunday’s message is from Esther chapter 4.  The title is:  When Facing a Defining Moment.  Esther’s true colors show, faith and courage, when she faced her own defining moment.  As I was preparing the message this week, I had a few moments in which I was deeply moved by the text.  God really does quicken His Word to those whose hearts are open to it.   His Word is sweeter than honey (Psalms 119:103).

2.  My staff pinned me down in the hallway today insisting that I speak longer each Sunday.  Typically I teach for 30-35 minutes (although I’ve gone about 40 minutes the last three weeks).  I’ve always thought it is better to stop talking with people wanting more, than it is to keep on talking and them wanting me to stop.  Long-winded preachers can be such a bore sometimes. 

However in this instance, the staff initiated this discussion.  They said 30 minutes is not enough for them, as well as many others in our congregation.  They also said that the series on Esther has been particularly interesting, and that the last three weeks of going 40+ minutes was better, so I should extend the message for that reason too.  So I have agreed to give it a try.

3.  Lately I’ve been rushing through the offering talk.  Big mistake.  It communicates to everyone that this is something we have to do, but don’t like to do, so let’s get it over as quickly as possible.  Not good.  Instead, we are going to slow down right there and focus our attention on that component of the service.  My offering talks will be more fully developed, and I’ll take all the time I need to say what needs to be said. 

Never forget, what we put in the offering is just as much an act of worship and an expression of devotion as the songs we sing, or the lifting of our hands, or the Scriptures we study in the service.   That’s why it should be emphasized, not hurried through.

4.  We have added even more chairs to the sanctuary this week.  Arrive early to get a good seat.  If you are a regular attender at PCC, please move as far forward as possible.  This will be a big help to us.

5.  On a personal note, I need to establish new boundaries in my life.  Ambition is a good thing.  Drive is a good thing.  Hard work is a good thing.  The ministry is a good thing.  Leisure, rest, and play are good things.  But there are limits to each.  Myself, I’m over my limit regarding work.  Burnout is just around the corner if I don’t do something.  So I’m taking a hard look at things like my schedule, office hours, responsibilities, and other duties.  Adjustments will be made in my role at PCC pretty soon.  But for now, this much I know: I am going to establish a healthier pace for myself.  I'm going to add "margin" into my life.  And I'm taking some time off.  If I crash and burn my ministry would end anyway, so I'm going to take better care of myself.

See you Sunday!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Forgiving Does Not Mean Forgetting

Forgiving others is not an option.  It’s a sacred duty, demanded by Jesus and reiterated throughout the New Testament.  It’s central to the Christian message.

But when it comes to actually forgiving someone of something…. well, that’s another matter.  It’s tough to do.  Isn’t it?  And it’s made all the harder because so many of us have never been shown what Biblical forgiveness actually looks like.

Some of us have been taught that forgiveness is pretending that nothing happened.  Some of us  think forgiveness is a never-ending series of second chances given to the offender (or ourselves).  Others view it as a fresh start with all the consequences and old baggage removed.  Still others imagine it as the immediate and full restoration of a broken relationship, complete with the same level of trust and privileges that existed before the wrongdoing.

A real problem occurs when forgiving gets confused with forgetting.  The two are not the same. We tend to assume that we should automatically forgive a transgressor, and whatever happened in the past should be a dead issue.  That we should just get over it and forget it.

But that is unreasonable.  It unfairly turns the tables on the one who has been wronged.  It assumes that his or her pain should magically disappear.  And if it doesn’t, then they are an unforgiving villain.

Yet, in reality, healing takes time.  Forgiveness is a decision lived out as a lengthy process.  The expectation that we should simply forget about the wrongs committed against us is not only unreasonable; it’s emotionally unhealthy.  People who bury their pain are not spiritually mature (as we have been led to believe); they are emotionally handicapped.

Anyone who has been deeply hurt knows that painful memories stick.  They can’t be willed away.  Pray as we might, they are not erased.  The pain may lessen.  The memories may fade.  The nightmares may disappear.  But gone for good?  Not likely.

Sure, we can (and should) forget the little stuff – the social slights, the unkind word, or the idiot who cuts us off in traffic.  But when it comes to the true hurts and injustices of life (or in the church), most of us are keenly aware that self-induced spiritual amnesia isn’t in the cards.  It’s just not possible.

So, how do we live out the requirement to forgive others while living in the real world?  How far do we go with second chances?  Does forgiving mean trusting someone again even when we know they are untrustworthy?  Does it give those who have deeply wounded us the right to barge back into our lives?  Do we have to invite them over for dinner…. or Thanksgiving…. or the wedding?

These are the tough questions.

No question about it:  as Christians, we are to forgive.  But that doesn’t mean the same thing as overlooking everything people say or do.  God’s call to forgiveness doesn’t mean that we have to go through life as a punching bag.  It doesn’t mean we can’t speak up.  It doesn’t mean rolling over.  In other words, there is a time and place for confrontation, rebuke, and to point out our displeasure at what is being done.

Ultimately, forgiveness can be given only to those who want it.  For those who don’t want it, especially those who would rather continue to hurt us rather than reconcile, there is another response.  It’s a response that many Christians are not even aware of as an option.

It’s called:  Let God be God and allow Him to do what He wil.

To the surprise of many, there is a New Testament version of revenge.  But it’s a different kind of vengeance than what we understand.  It doesn’t personally return evil for evil.  For a Christian that is not even an option.  Instead, it turns vengeance over to God, asking Him to do the honors in His perfect timing (Romans 12:17-21).

The apostle Paul – the same man who wrote so eloquently about our need to forgive others – saw no inconsistency in his own prayers that God would repay his enemy Alexander the coppersmith for the great harm he had done.  In one passage he wrote of turning Alexander over to Satan (1 Timothy 1:20), while in another he simply said, “The Lord will repay him” (2 Timothy 4:14).  Further still, Paul instructs us, “Do not take revenge, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written, ‘It is Mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).

In other words, sometimes it is okay to turn it over to God in our prayers and say, “God, you repay them as You see fit.”

Two things are accomplished when we do this: (1) We let go, liberating ourselves, and (2) God works His righteousness.

But if and when we do that, we still need to leave room for God’s grace.  He’s been known to turn His (and our) enemies into His friends, you know.  And if He chooses to do so, who’s to complain?  That’ what grace is all about.  That’s part of what it means to let God be God.

Forgiving others is a big deal.  It’s not just for those who have done the little stuff that gets us worked up.  It’s also for those who have done the big stuff – the deep wounds, real harm, and irreversible damage to our lives.

Remember, Jesus died for sins He never committed to forgive people who had no right to be forgiven.  Maybe that’s why it’s such a big deal to God that we learn to forgive even as we have been forgiven…. and that we let Him be God.

Seven Reasons Why I love Our Children's Ministry

#1.  It’s Clean.  No nasty carpet.  No smells.  No dirty floors.  I know that our kids’ area is clean and that really matters to parents.

#2.  It’s Safe.  Background checks have been conducted on every staff member and every volunteer that has any contact with children or students.  Also, there is a volunteer security team that makes sure random people or unauthorized people do not just walk through our kids’ area.  Plus, there is a solid check-in system that clearly identifies each child with the adult who checks them into class, and that same adult must pick them up.

#3.  It’s Fun.  All the children who attend PCC’s Kids Zone absolutely love it!  I also happen to appreciate the fact that “fun” is a value in our kids’ ministry.  Where in the world did we ever get the idea that children have to suffer their way through church?

#4.  Our Children’s Staff and Volunteers are Exceptional!  To begin with, they love children.  They do not serve in this capacity out of forced duty but rather delight.  Secondly, these people are very skilled in what they do.

#5.  Our Children Know God’s Word.  When a church commits to teaching God’s Word to kids in an environment they love to be in, they’re going to learn.  Why?  Because they tune-in instead of tuning out.  You’d be surprised how much our kids know the Word.

#6.  They are Resourced.  PCC invests as heavily in our children’s ministry as we can.  Just take a stroll down Kids Zone and notice the environments that have been created, the equipment being used, and the curriculum being taught.  It’s fresh, current, and costs money.  Why do we do it?  Because children are worth it.  I don’t believe they are the church of tomorrow, they are the church of today!  I believe they matter today.  I believe that if we invest in them today and help them grow up with a favorable view of church, then tomorrow will look a lot different.

#7.  The Curriculum is Current.  While God’s Word never changes, the curriculum used to present God’s Word should change to remain effective.  In case you haven’t figured it out yet, the day of flannel graphs is over. Our curriculum is hot!  It is solid!  It is Biblical!  And its teaching techniques are current too.    Just last Sunday a mother blown away by the things she saw at PCC, and told us how impressed she was.

A premiere children’s ministry cannot be left to chance.  Kids are worth it.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Sunday Mind Dump - Jan 22, 2012

Another great day at PCC.

Attendance has increased the last three Sundays in a row.  The sanctuary was almost packed to capacity.

The number of people indicating they have made commitments to Christ has been steady too.  A good thing.  We’ll have to schedule a baptism soon, and get these people on a growth tract.

After church we held our first Meet-and-Greet for 2012.  This is a lunch for newcomers and a chance for them to meet the ministry staff and senior staff of our church.  More than thirty newcomers attended the event and I got to talk to each one; something I enjoyed immensely.

In a church our size, many people choose to remain anonymous and hidden.  But when we offer events like these some people choose to step out of the crowd to make themselves known, and most of them are ready to take a next step almost immediately.  Maybe this is why most of the newcomers told me today that they have already signed up for our Newcomers Class to be offered in February.

A special shout out to the team who put this event together!  You did an exceptional job!

All things considered, it appears our sails have caught a good wind right now.  We’ll ride it as far as it will carry us, then when the momentum slows we’ll reevaluate and do something different.

Nothing is forever.... and our church structure is flexible, enabling us to turn on a dime when necessary.

I really enjoyed the last song in the song service:  In Christ Alone.”  This song is filled with good theology in every verse, has a thunderous beat, is appealing to men, and makes me want to shout.  Besides, our worship team presents it in a way that is as good as anybody can.

One of my favorite lines: 
No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.

How about the offertory?  It was an oldie:  He Touched Me.  Nan (Renee Jones’ mother) did a good job on her solo too.  A lot of people spoke favorably of the song, telling us how much they enjoyed it.

I spoke from Esther 3 today.  The main theme was “evil” in the world.  Chapter 3 is where Haman (the murderous conspirator) enters the picture.  This man is a portrait of undiluted evil.

It’s easy to think of evil as some invisible influence out there in the world somewhere – and certainly it is, having it origins in the unseen world.  However, evil unusually manifests or personifies itself in “people.”

Yes, there is such a thing as “evil people” in the world.  And without repentance, such people ultimately become the objects of God’s wrath.

Haman is a name that has gone down in infamy… especially in Jewish culture, even to this day.

Today I told a personal story of the day that Renae and I visited the bombed Federal Building in downtown Okalahoma City shortly after it happened.  Timothy McVeigh is a name that has gone done in infamy in American culture. 

I can’t believe how many new faces I see each week.  Since God has sent us these people, they are future disciples.

I had an extremely good workout yesterday (Saturday).  Exercise it an important part of my life.

Also yesterday, my uncle died.  He was my father’s brother.  Very nice man.  My memories of him go all the way back to the earliest days of my childhood.  Fond memories.

I’m ready to go fishing again…. soon.  I have twelve fishing poles, a cast net, a bait net, and a boat.  Now I’m just waiting for the weather to cooperate.  Oh yea, I’m also waiting for RH and DS to get it in gear.

In the last sixteen years I have owned only two vehicles (a Ford Explorer and a Chevy Tahoe).  And both were used when I purchased them.  This was a deliberate choice on my part.  By doing so, I have saved a lot of money that would have otherwise gone to the bank.  You can spend a small fortune buying vehicals too often.  BTW, my Tahoe has 207,000 miles on it.  I’m going to drive it one more year.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Friday Five

1.  The message this Sunday is:  “Malice in the Palace” from Esther chapter 3.  We’ll learn three very important lessons from this chapter.

2.  Next week your 2011 contributions statements will be mailed.

3.  We have added more chairs to the sanctuary to accommodate the growing attendance.  I would suggest arriving early this Sunday to get a good seat.

4.  Over 30 people have signed up for this Sunday’s Meet & Greet (Newcomers Lunch/Coffee).  Wow! 

5.  Reconciliation.  If you have read my blog over any length of time you know that I often write about the importance of reconciliation, particularly in the context of church relationships.  I write about it a lot.  Why?  (1)  Relationship conflict/tension is a fact of life in church (2)  The Bible commands us to seek reconciliation and shows us the process how (3)  Far too many people simply run, finding it too easy to just leave a church or change churches.  By doing so they keep the conflict alive and remain immature having never even made an attempt to resolve their issue (4) Conflict resolution leads to spiritual growth and maturity, and, (5) Disunity is a sin.  I could go on and on.  I’ve written about this dozens of times.

Well, good news.  It is a rare thing, but every now-and-then someone steps up and owns the process.  It happened yesterday.  A person called on the phone. They asked, “Can we talk.”  A meeting was arranged.  Two hours later restoration had occurred.  It was a good day. 

I am hopeful that many more of these will occurr.

….thou hast gained thy brother (Matthew 18:15).

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why I Am Believing God for a Breakthrough

1.  Found People Find People.  We will not stop doing what Jesus commanded in Matthew 28:18-20.  The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few (Matthew 9:35-38) and the people of PCC are willing to step up.

2.  Saved People Serve People.  We will not stop doing what the Bible commands in I Peter 4:10.  We understand the fact that the world is not going to be reached by a “screaming church” but rather a serving church.  We are discovering our gifts to become more like Christ and serve.

3.  Growing People Change for the Better.  We will continue to pray Psalms 139:23-24 over our lives.  We are fed up with religious attitudes that are extremely focused on the lives of others but refuse to deal with the sin in their own lives.  We will continue to beg God to make us more like His Son, to fill us with His thoughts, and to show us areas in our lives where we fall short so that we can repent and move forward.

4.  We Don’t Do the Christian Life Alone.  We will obey Hebrews 10:24-25.  We understand that we are not strong enough on our own to make it on our own; that we need God and that we need each other.  We live by the “one another” commands found in the NT – about fifty four of them.  We are committed to growing larger and smaller at the same time:  Larger in the weekend services, and smaller through life groups.

5.  We Cannot Out Give God.  That’s why we obey Malachi 3:6-12.  We refuse to be a church full of people who believe God’s Word in regard to salvation, but then refuse to believe the passages about giving, generosity, and financial blessings (Proverbs 3:9-10; II Corinthians 9:6-15).  We know that Jesus Himself said that money is the number one competitor for our heart (Matthew 6:24), and we also know that people who love money end up in a lot of trouble (I Timothy 6:6-10).  We’ve seen God bless our church and people in our church family because of their financial faithfulness… and we know the best is yet to come.

Let God and Let God

You can weep over the people leaving your church or you can weep over those coming to your church, but you won’t have enough tears for both. There have been seasons in my life when I really stressed over each departure, taking it personally.  There have also been plenty of seasons when I took low attendance as a personal defeat.  Until one day I had an insight:


In my case it was exactly what was needed.  Almost every departure that has ever occurred was for PCC’s benefit.  God scatters people to other churches that best fit their liking (although some people never find a church they like) so that He can raise up people here that want to go in the same direction we are headed.  It’s like a slingshot that is pulled backwards and stretched it to its limit just before it is launched forward.

Call it pruning the vine, culling the sheep, or purging the church, the end result is the same:  God takes it down to a remnant.  These are the people He can best work with.

The most liberating thing I ever did was to let go of my personal expectations, seek the purity of motivation in ministry, and get back to making the honor of God as my highest commitment.  My anxiety lifted.  This resulted in me loving the people who remained more than ever before, and gave me clarity about our mission and who we’re trying to reach.  Suddenly, I realized there was a major work to do – of building people – and I could no longer judge our kingdom impact by the ebbs and flows of people who come-and-go so easily.

I’m beginning to sense that PCC is poised right now for one of the best periods in our church’s life cycle.  2012 is going to be a great year.  I have clarity.  We’re going to serve our church family to the best of our ability. All of us collectively are going to serve one another.  When people are well-served and well-fed, they don’t want to go anywhere else and they can’t help but invite their friends.

Churches that reach people and keep them are healthier than those who don’t.  They not only draw in spiritual window-shoppers and lead them to Christ; they also lead them up to maturity. And that, after all, is what Jesus called us to do. He didn’t tell us to go into all the world and “sign people up.”  He told us to make disciples – a task that includes baptizing people and teaching them to obey everything He commanded.

Frankly, that’s a task that takes a lot of time…. and since I’m not leaving PCC any time soon, I’m not having an anxiety attack over it.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sunday Mind Dump - January 15, 2012

Awesome day.

The place was packed.  Attendance was up from last Sunday and there was a ton of new people.  I couldn’t believe the amount of registration cards turned in.

Several people made commitments to Christ today too.

Very proud of our people for spreading the word.

I’m astonished at the number of military personnel showing up to PCC.  God seems to have really given us ministry to these people over the last five years or so.  They just keep coming every week.  Aside from my admiration for them, my prayer and hope is that we effectively minister to them before the goverment transfers them to new places. 

We are experiencing a very strong momentum right now.  The new service time seems to be the right call.  Plus, it’s the beginning of a new year, the weather has been cooperating, and all the makeover changes have added a fresh touch in everything.

The energy in our services is electric.

I took a stroll down the children’s wing as service began.  The place was full of kids, excited teachers, and happy parents.  What’s not to like about that?

No words to describe the music today.  The worship team was in the zone.  I especially liked singing How Great Thou Art and it was a nice touch to have it tagged to How Great is Our God.

Made my job of teaching real easy.

Dr. Jay Webster did an exceptional job on his solo part.  It was his first time being out on a limb like that.  He manned up and did a good job.  Thankfully, he wasn’t wearing skinny jeans (:-)

How about Shawn, the man who was in the wheelchair, being brought to the platform to help sing during the second set?  It was heart-warming.  The picture is of the pre-service rehearsal.

No matter how large we get we still operate like a “family.”  I like that about PCC.

BTW, the guy in the hat…. as handsome as he is…. didn’t wear the hat during service… only for practice.  Although it’s not skinny jeans, it’s dangerously close (:-)

Over 30 people are now signed up for the Greet-and-Meet next Sunday.  Fifteen of them signed up today!  I hope this is a good sign of what our future looks like.

Today’s message was from Esther chapter 2.  We went verse-by-verse through the text and talked about the Sovereignty of God, being pressed into difficult circumstances by God’s will, maintaining your spiritual equilibrium while there, and developing depth of character.

I find the story of Esther absolutely riveting.  The plot only thickens as we progress through the chapters.

The first two chapters have been risqué.  All this talk about virgins, eunuchs, harems, concubines, and spending a night with the king has has been challenging for me to navigate my way through.  I think the teenagers have found it fascinating while the parents have squirmed in discomfort.  Yet, it's in the Bible.

Thank God I have a youth pastor and other ministers who can answer their questions on Wednesday nights (:-)

Oh, I almost forgot.  We also talked about “Honoring thy Father and Mother.”  The parents seemed to really appreciate that part of the message.  The applause that erupted in the middle of the sermon was a dead giveaway.

Here are few Facebook comments:

--Courtney B said, AWESOME worship service at church today! If you don't have a church home of your own I invite you to come to PCC next Sunday at 9:30 an you will be glad you did! Actually come early an enjoy great fellowship an refreshments too! :-)

--Samantha W. said, Renae the worship this morning was on another level...thanks for all the hard work you do to help your church family enter into a true place of spirit filled heart affirming worship! You and your team are such a blessing!

--Wade H. said, The kind of worship that came from Shawn is exactly what God wants from each of us. No self glorifying, just pure worship from the heart, to a God that deserves nothing but our best.

--Martha H. said, Absolutely wonderful worship service this morning! Truly entered into God's presence through the music and then through Pastor Ron's message in the book of Esther. Really enjoying this series.

--Cathy D. said, Church was awesome this morning - great worship experience and wonderful message!

--Carole B. said, The last two Sunday’s have been awesome.  We are worshipping God together as a family in one service.

One of the things I enjoy about the services at PCC is our vertically focused emphasis on God.  We sing more about Him than ourselves.  The messages are about God, and less about us.  The call to discipleship we extend is about sacrificial living to serve the purposes of God, and less about God meeting our purposes.  The call to worship each Sunday sounds something like this, “We are here to worship Him for Who He is, not only for what He has done for us.”  This is the general tone in PCC’s culture and it’s a good thing.

To God be the glory.

Another favorite thing I like about pastoring PCC is that our church family is a beautiful picture that we serve the God of Second Chances.  I get the honor of talking to people every week who need a reminder that God hasn’t given up on them even after they have made a royal mess of things.  Our church is full of people who came from complicated backgrounds (everyone has a story) who are now redeemed and living beautiful lives.

Only God can do that.

God put a list of very sinful people in Hebrews 11 who lived and died in faith.  That’s why it’s important to get back up.

I’m going to plant a serious garden of field peas this year.  I planted a small patch in my back yard last summer and had amazing success.  Now that I know what I’m doing, I’m going to expand this spring.  I have the property and equipment to get it done.  Can’t wait.

Renae and I want to establish a small blueberry farm out there too.

I’ll also be planting scuppernong and muscadine grapes for my vineyard (:-)

I really like the smell of freshly turned soil in the spring.  Feels earthy (not worldly) and helps me find my bearings.  The simple things in life are most pleasing to me.

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Word of Caution to Church Hoppers

Communities that are “well-churched” are fertile soil for the church hopper.  I know this because I’ve been a pastor for more than 25 years.  Santa Rosa and Escambia counties have a lot of churches.  This comes with blessings and challenges.  First of all, the Church is able to exert great influence and perform countless acts of service to our larger community.  But in a well-churched area, the pattern is often a rotation of church members.  That’s the downside.  The sheep sample a variety of shepherds and pastures.  They flit from church to church like shoppers go from Wal-Mart to Target to Kmart looking for the best deal.  Perhaps it’s just human nature to take good things for granted when surrounded by so many blessing from God, but this practice of church hopping is unhealthy.

Many pastors would be willing to admit (myself included) that most people leave churches for superficial reasons.  The span covers anything from musical style, a change in service times, to carpet color.  Sometimes people leave because of disappointment with the pastor or staff not meeting their expectations.  Some leave because they can’t (or won’t) get along with other church members.  Living in community with other believers always tests the integrity of one’s walk with Christ.  We are not called to walk alone.  Yet walking together is a challenge.  Usually, the most mature stick it out while the immature find a justification to leave for another church.

Over the years we have had many people join us at PCC who came from other churches.  When that happens, I always try to make sure that they left their previous church on good terms and for good reasons.  Often, I will pick up the phone and call the other pastor.  For some of these people, leaving their previous church has been an agonizing experience.  We’ve had people come to us from churches they have attended all of their lives.  This is not the typical church hopper, these are solid people.  When they arrive at PCC, I know they need time to work things out and adjust, but I encourage them to not linger too long in their pain because we all need a Biblical community in our walk of faith.

But then there is the church hopper.  Our area is plagued with them….

The problem of church hopping is a symptom of the overall instability of our culture.  It is a reflection of a deeply troubling trend of how easily people slide in-and-out of their commitments.  “Commitment” has become a “reversible” term in almost all spheres of life.  People are constantly looking for something better.  But better often means something new or more exciting – which is more satisfying to the carnal nature than ruling self.

Churches that press people towards maturity will see a steady stream of shallow folk headed out the back door.  This doesn’t mean such churches are destined to be small (or that small churches are more spiritual than larger ones), it simply means it will be smaller than it could otherwise be.  Although I pastor a church that is relatively large for our area, I have witnessed this disturbing trend from our own pews.  A lot of people have left us over our fourteen year history for mostly fickle reasons:  we challenged them to standards of commitment, they didn’t get their way about something, they got mad about minutia, an expectation wasn’t met, or the newness of it all had worn off.  Yes, I could have a larger church by simply accommodating these people, but I won’t cater to the demands of self-centered church hoppers.  I expect them to grow up.  And if they’re not willing to grow up, I would rather they leave us than for our church to become shallow in an effort to keep them.  I want depth more than breadth.

Although plenty of people have left us over the last fourteen years, those who remain are some of the most solid people I have ever seen.  They’re growing as disciples, follow through on their commitments, and have remained steadfast through thick and thin.  They will drape a towel over their arm, find a place to serve, give money, pray, read their Bibles, get under the heavy end of the log, cooperate with others, and do it all with joy in their heart.  It is a pure delight to be their pastor.

Here are five observations and practices of mine:

1.  I am slow to add church transferees to leadership.  It’s better to have a gap in a ministry team, or not even have a certain ministry, than it is to explain to this church family why the person I put into a highly visible position is no longer with us.  We can’t by wooed by a person’s talent or giftedness over their loyalty and long-term commitment.

2.  I try to get over their departure within 24 hours.  These church hoppers come and go like bunny rabbits.  It’s best for me that I don’t spend more than a day or so trying to figure it out.  I can’t figure it out. So I simply move on with my life and my ministry because they have moved on with theirs.

3.  I do no ask them to come back.  Ever.  They were not asked to leave; they made the decision on their own, so if they want to come back they can make that decision on their own too.  Besides, if they can walk away so easily, I never had them in the first place.  If people are so fickle that they are willing to break fellowship with me and this church family over minutiae, then we’re better off without them.

4.  I don’t buy into the “God-told-me-to-leave” baloney.  It’s fiction.  God is a God of commitment.  He doesn’t tell someone to get into a church and get involved, and then tell them to leave in the middle of their commitment.  Furthermore, God is never involved in a move that is dishonest or one that causes confusion and disunity within the body.

Recently I received a letter that read this way:  God told me to leave my church and attend PCC.  It’s been a good experience.  But since you don’t have Sunday School, God is now leading me back to my previous church. 

Rich. Isn’t it?  This is nothing more than pure wanderlust.

For the record, Sunday School is a good ministry.  I was a SS Teacher myself for 18 years.  But if a church doesn’t offer it or is unable, it shouldn’t be a deal breaker.  There are other options that meet the same need.  Furthermore, I’m glad the other 449 people who attend PCC don’t share this person’s opinion.

5.  It’s God’s church, not mine.  All I have to do is keep doing what I am supposed to do and God will build the church.  After all, it’s His church and they are His people.  He will add to the church those to be saved, PCC included.  My job is to fight the good fight, feed the sheep, expose the wolves, rebuke the swine, challenge the immature, and protect the flock.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Growing Servants and High Maintenance People

Churches have a tendency to attract two types of people:

One group is the GROWING SERVANT.  They are dedicated and willingly follow the leadership of their church. When a class needs to be taught, they will teach. When a project needs to be carried out, they will get it done. When a new initiative is being launched, they will get involved. When a change needs to be made, they support it and get on board.  Whatever direction the church takes, these are the early adopters. They buy in and lend their support. They are in for the whole ride, committed through thick and thin. They love their church, will tithe, volunteer and serve sacrificially for no recognition. They live in obedience to God. While they are not perfect and are still working their way through personal issues and spiritual challenges, these are the people who make church work!  God bless them, every one of them.

The other type are HIGH MAINTENANCE PEOPLE. They struggle in their relationships across the board. They rarely hold the same job very long, don’t pay their bills, regularly need assistance from the church, and have conflict with authority.  These congregants generally don’t accept the wisdom of others, don’t adhere to the leadership of the church, are easily offended, and change churches often – which explains why they are in the position they’re in. They feel as if they are fighting the whole world and can’t trust anyone. Granted, they usually have reasons for these feelings, but to be frank, these feelings make them high maintenance people who are very difficult to help. No matter how much you do, it is never enough. Continuous drama surrounds them. They are difficult and stubborn in their ways, argumentative, and very skilled at making others feel responsible for their misery.