Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Is Church Always Supposed to be.... Exciting?

The moment pastors and service planners decide that every single church service must be spine-tingling is the moment you begin turning worship services into pep rallies.  After that, it all goes downhill.

Sometimes I will see church advertisements announcing that they are exciting, most friendly, fastest growing, dynamic, experience the power, or whatever, I figure they are trying to convince themselves.

But shouldn’t a church be exciting?

Sure.  We are involved in the most important work in the world, serving the Lord of the universe – the King of Kings and Lord of Lords – and that work results in changed lives.  What could be more exciting than that?

It is exciting.  But not always.

Sometimes there is the mundane, confrontation, painful seasons, disputes, difficult assignments, confession, and contrition. 

Still, there are some exciting moments in church life.

Someone gets saved.  The congregation is rightfully thrilled and bursts into applause as he/she is baptized.

A new pastor is called, and the congregation enthusiastically responds to his leadership.

The massive debt which has crippled ministries for years is finally retired, and the congregation turns out en masse to burn the note and celebrate. 

The pastor had no way of knowing that today’s sermon would be any different than any other, but for reasons known only to the Holy Spirit, his message connected with everyone in the building.  The Scriptures came alive, hearts were opened, tears were shed, and worship went heavenward.  Exciting?  Few things are more exciting for a pastor than that.

Oh, if were only this way ever time we met for worship.

As soon as you decide every worship service has to be exciting is when you start making some foolish decision.

You start resorting to gimmicks in every service – celebrity guests, carnal music, flashy ideas, false advertisement, manipulation of the crowd, and saying things for shock value.  Pleasing God suddenly drops down on the list of priorities while pleasing people takes top billing.

It’s all downhill from there.

I’ll never forget a worship service I attended as a young pastor.  A church in Pensacola was reputed for having exciting church services, healings, miracles, and reaching the masses for the Lord.  So when they announced they were having a revival, I decided to visit.  What I saw that night sickened me.

The pastor was a manipulator.  He and the musicians would whip the crowd up into a frenzy of praise and shouting, then they would sit back and talk among themselves (on the stage) laughing and talking as the inferno raged.  When the intensity began to calm down, they struck up the music again and whipped the crowd into another frenzy.  The people did not seem to notice or even care that they were being whipped into a frenzy of religious silliness.

I walked out of there that night embarrassed, and thinking what an insult it probably was to the Lord.  No wonder reasonably-minded people want nothing to do with such.

When church leaders make the conscious decision to keep everything exciting and thrilling, they start going for noise, celebrity appearances, dramatic stories, special effects, glitter, touchy-feely stuff, and the wow-factor.  Before long, a monster is created.  People soon get addicted to these things and their appetite grows for more… and bigger… and gaudier.  Before you know it, next Sunday has to out-do last Sunday, and now you’re on a squirrel cage cranking out endless entertainment.

One time I heard a minister say these exact words:  “If the Holy Ghost doesn’t move in the service, then I’ll move the Holy Ghost.”

Those words sent a chill down my spine and made me shudder.

I will go so far as to say that in times of drudgery, we often do our best work for the Lord.

When a job has lost its glamour and you have to make yourself get up and put on your working clothes and get to it for one more day, that’s when you make your highest statement about honor and duty.

One day, looking back, you realize that this was your finest hour.

When God seems so far away, and your encourager's have vanished, and the thrill is gone, and you find yourself tackling an assignment without anyone else’s support, you will know whether you are called of God or not.

And believe it or not, God shows up on regular Sundays just like He does on exciting Sundays.  When the musicians miss a cue in the song, or a couple of singers are off-key, and the sermon was a dud, it’s still a good day.  God is moving even if the strobe lights are not.

I love exciting church services.  I may be a little biased, but I think PCC has great services.  We baptize lots of people, have good music and talent, experience solid teaching from God’s Word, offer exceptional children’s ministries, and a lot of other good things.  And as always, God is constantly at work.   All these things combined, make for good church.

But not one time in our sixteen years have I ever led a planning meeting or staff meeting where the agenda was to “find something exciting to offer next Sunday.”  And I would be offended if anyone ever suggested it to me.  Excitement should be a by-product of faithfulness… and only at the discretion of the Holy Spirit.

We offer a meat-and-potatoes kind of service, staying faithful to the basics, striving for excellence, and leave the rest up to the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Mail Box & New Home Address

Today Renae and I put up a new mail box with our new home address at our future home site.  It was a small project, but we felt an enormous sense of accomplishment; mostly because it helps us with the mental transistion.  We are very excited.

Friday, August 23, 2013

This Sunday

The message is:  What to Do on the Worst Day of Your Life

If I were to ask you, “What was the worst day of your life?” I’m sure you could instantly tell me.  All of us have experienced that day – when bad news came, calamity struck, or a death occurred.  Sometimes we call it the dark night of the soul.

The worst day of your life is further compounded by the (seeming) unexplainable absences of God.

If you have been a follower of Christ for any length of time, you already understand this very important truth – much of our journey to heaven is made in the dark.

We walk by faith.

If you or someone you know is experiencing the worst period of your life, this message is for you!  Come, be encouraged, find hope, and learn what to do on the worst day of your life.

Simple Life

Sobered by the economy and exhausted after a lifetime of running the rat race, I think I’ve had enough.  The idea of living a simpler life is very appealing to me.  I’m ready for a change.

Simple living is freedom from excess stuff and over-consumption.  It’s living in a way that is outwardly simple, yet inwardly rich.  It means becoming a minimalist; owning less but living more.

I don’t need gourmet coffee makers, perfect-fitting shirts, or collectible salt-and-pepper shakers.  I’m teaching myself to be free of the burden of having too much.  I’m deliberately trying to whittle down my “want” for possessions to what is essential.  I don’t need a large home, full of things, moving them here and there, endlessly dusting.  Neither do I want to pay utility bills to heat and cool rooms I never use.

To live free, I will have to let go of some things – the excess  stuff.  I want to explore, walk on trails through the woods, and kayak.  I want healthy friendships and safe people in my life.  I want to grow spiritually.  To be quiet inside... and to laugh hard.

How many televisions and channels does a person need?  How many apps for the iphone?  Do I need a closet full of clothes that never get worn? 

Simple living is a voluntary choice of reducing expenses and possessions so that you can be free to pursue experiences; things like spirituality, better health, personal interests, better friends, and quality time for family.

Go Small… Think Big… and Live More

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Church Viruses

Virusa small infecting agent that can replicate and spread throughout a living organism, affecting its health negatively. 

People get cold & flu viruses.  Computers get electronic viruses.  And churches get carnal viruses. 

Here are a few viruses infecting the Lord’s work….

1.  The people who come to church are the customers and the job of church leaders is to satisfy them.  Church leaders often fall prey to this kind of carnal interpretation of church life (and its mission), believing the sole mission is to satisfy pew dwellers.    Under this kind of pressure, weak pastors will soft-pedal any teachings, standards, or decisions that may upset any segment of the congregation.

The second virus is like the first…..

2.  The pastors are hired to make us happy, and if they don’t we'll get rid of them.  It is a rare congregation that can abide a minister who preaches the truth of God’s Word and makes decisive decisions in leading the church.  There is a deeply ingrained mentality in church-life today that if the church member is unhappy, then the pastor is not doing his job well. 

A TRUE STORY:  “Pastor,” the little committee said, “we thought you would want to know that some members are unhappy with you.”

The pastor, looking around at the six distinguished men and women standing in his office, said, “So?”

“Well,” the speaker said, “We thought that would matter to you.”

The shepherd said, “It does…. but not that much.”

“Then we are under a misconception here,” said the spokesman. “Our understanding is that since a pastor serves at the pleasure of the people, if they are unhappy with him, he is failing at his job. And thus, his continued employment is in jeopardy.”

The pastor said, “The only misconception is on your part. The job of a shepherd is not to focus on making the congregation happy. His job is to make you holy and spiritually healthy which makes the Heavenly Father happy. Those are two vastly different concepts.”

There is hardly ten church members in every 100 who understands this distinction.  And many churches are paying a high price in terms of pastoral turnover and congregational conflict.  It is a virus that makes a church sick.

The third virus infecting the church is…..

3.  The deacons handle the ‘business’ of the church while pastors take care of the ‘spiritual side’ of matters.  I’ve encountered this foolishness in several churches, and every case, the result has been disastrous!  There is not a single word in all Scripture – not one – which would substantiate this wrong-headed notion on how churches are to be run, managed, and led.  Acts 20:28 and I Timothy 3 make it abundantly clear who the overseers of the church are.

4.  I will give in the offering when I agree with the church, and withhold it when I don’t.  If someone is doing something sinful, unscriptural, or illegal, don’t fund it.  Don’t put as much as a buffalo nickel in it.  But if you are simply in disagreement with the leadership, get over it and bring your offerings anyway.  Act like a grownup, not a selfish child on the playground who wants to take his ball and go home because he didn’t get his way.

Few things speak about a person’s maturity than how they behave and continue serving after they did not get their way on something they wanted the church to do, but were told no by the leaders.  No one gets their way all the time, not even pastors.  It hurts, but we go forward, eyes on Jesus, and continue serving.  It’s what mature people do.

5.  I will come to church when I enjoy the morning speaker, but if someone is speaking that I don’t enjoy I will stay home that day.  This is the epitome of childishness, spiritual immaturity, self-centeredness, and downright disrespect.  If you are a follower of Christ, you should come to church no matter who is speaking that day (unless of course he is teaching false doctrine, etc).  Here’s why:

·      You should come out of reverence for the Word of God
·      You should come to honor your Lord

This is not about personalities, you know.  It’s about something much higher and nobler than that.  If you come to church only when you like the speaker of the day, then that means you are coming only to be entertained.

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put away childish things (I Corinthians 13:11).

Downsizing the Empty Nest

Renae and I are downsizing.  We are selling a lot of things we own, and what we can’t sell we are giving away.  We are keeping only the essentials and will put those in storage while we build a new home.

Right now we are sleeping on the floor.  Literally.  We sold the head board and frame to our bed, so the box springs and mattress are on the floor.  Reminds me of the 70s when I had a water bed.

It’s kind of fun because it’s a new journey for us. 

It also reminds me of our newlywed years.  When we first got married we had two bean bag chairs for seating and an ice-chest for a table.  That was the extent of our living room furniture.   It was fun because we started out with nothing and built a life together.

We improvised, adapted, and overcame.

Now, here we are 32 years later and we’re at the place same place we were when we started out…. the two of us building our lives together.

Empty nesters.

We are de-cluttering.

I read online this week that 84% of Americans say they worry that their home isn’t organized enough.  According to IKEA data, people spend an average of 55 minutes per day looking for things they can’t find.

We live in a culture of clutter and 80% of what we own, we don’t use.  The clutter adds anxiety and stress too.  A de-cluttered home is a more calming environment, reduces stress, saves money, improves the quality of your life, and (according to one report) even helps you lose weight!

Preparing for the empty nest is the perfect time for us to part with items that no longer serve us.  Downsizing our home is another option.  We’re getting motivated, and doing a room-by-room purge.  We’re even doing a digital purge (canceling subscriptions, Internet, media com, home phone, deleting e-mails and computer documents).

10 Reasons to Get Rid of Stuff

1.  Because we already have too much
2.  Because it’s fun
3.  Because someone else needs it
4.  Because there’s no logical place to keep it
5.  Because it will make our lives better
6.  Because we can make a little money
7.  Because it’s old and expired
8.  Because the last thing I need is more paper and plastic lying around
9.  Because it has no sentimental or monetary value
10.  What’s the worst that could happen if we throw it out?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Planted a Row of Potatoes Yesterday

This is an experiment - planting potatoes in August.  I am told that I should have just enough time before the first frost to get small harvest of new potatoes.

Benefits of a Smaller Home

Renae and I have lived in one apartment and three homes during our marriage.  The apartment (right after we got married) had two bedrooms and one bath; about 900 sq ft. Our first home was 1350 sq ft.  Our second home was 3500 sq ft, and our current home is 1927 sq ft.  We have experienced all sizes.  Now that we are about to build our empty nest home, we are thinking of going small again.

Instead of a McMansion, we are thinking of a McCottage.

I like the idea of a smaller home.  In fact, we both embrace it.  I think a smaller home can improve our lives.  Not only is it less expensive, it provides a lot of unforeseen opportunities to enrich our lives.

Here’s a few:

1.  Simplicity.  Small house living is an opportunity for us to scale back and simplify our lives.  We can take a good hard look at where we are and where we want to be.  Are three sets of dinner ware that important?  Do we really need seven boxes of Christmas lights and three flat screen TVs.  And what about all those boxes in the attic that I haven’t seen in years?

2.  A smaller house is easier to keep clean.  Vigilance is still required if you want a clutter free-house, but when the house is small there are fewer places for clutter to pile up and dust to collect.  A small house can be cleaned from top to bottom in 30-45 minutes.  A larger home takes the better part of a day to clean.

3.  A smaller house encourages outdoor activity. When a house is big, especially on a small lot, it’s easy to spend all your time indoors.  A smaller home will encourage you to go outside for relaxation, chores, or interaction with neighbors – not to mention enjoying the fresh air and open spaces.  In spring, for instance, the back porch can become your office space.

Renae and I spend a lot of time outdoors (it’s our lifestyle), so a smaller home makes perfect sense for us.   Plus, a smaller home will free up money so we can build outdoor living spaces (such as a porch, patio, arbor, etc).

4.  Family bonds and social interaction are greater.  In a large house, family members can isolate themselves in rooms or separate wings and never see each other.  In a smaller house, family members are likely to have more interactions, which is the glue that keeps families together.

5.  Less expensive, less maintenance = less stress.  A smaller home costs less to build, less to maintain, and less in utility costs.  You pay less in property taxes and insurance costs.  Remodeling costs are lower too.  Less money being poured down the funnel is more money in the bank.  Getting rid  of any unnecessary stress is a must-do for us when it comes to restructuring our lives.

6.  Home security.  I feel safer (especially at night) in a smaller home.  I know every nook and cranny and can hear noises in every part of the house.

7.  Less Consumption of Consumer Goods.  A smaller home controls the amount of stuff coming into the home.  When we had a larger home, we bought furniture just to fill up the rooms and spaces.  This is another savings in money.

8.  More comfort.  A bigger house can feel “too spacious”, open, and impersonal.  High two-story ceilings, for instance, are cold.  Oversized rooms with hard surfaces have the acoustics of a parking garage.  The advantage of a smaller home is that the living spaces are built to human scale.  The rooms feel warmer, cozy, and more inviting.

9.  Decorating is easier and less expensive.  Decorating a big house is expensive and professional help is often needed.  A real budget buster.  In a smaller home, decorating can be accomplished if you follow a few basic rules.

10.  Financial Freedom and Peace of Mind.  There is a very real sense that everything you own, owns you.  By downsizing, we are liberating ourselves from the chains of materialism and the costs associated with it.  Decreasing our monthly expenses will free up money.  More importantly, we’ll have peace of mind, less to worry about, and the freedom to live a more culturally rich life.  We’ll be able to pursue experiences rather than merely consume things.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sunday Mind Dump - August 18, 2013

Attendance is on the rise now that summer is coming to a close.

There were a LOT of first and second-time guests in service today.  I’m always so glad to see that.  I think God is sending us a boat-load of people.

The current sermon series (Real Life in the Real World) seems to be a big hit with a lot of people.  The sermon CDs are flying off the shelf each week and we have to keep duplicating more.

We give them away for free.

We are tackling some tough issues – the kind of issues that exist in the real world – and God’s Word is touching people right where they hurt.

Each week – as soon as the message is over and we dismiss service – people are flooding the front to talk with me or ask for prayer.

It’s a God-thing.

God is healing some people.  Plus, we are being armed with godly wisdom (from His Word) that is giving people the tools they need.

Today’s message was “Safe People.” 

When God wants to bless us, do you know how He does it most of the time?  He sends people into our lives.  When the devil wants to hurt us, do you know how he does it most of the time?  He sends people.

There are two kinds of people:  those who are safe and those who unsafe.

A member of PCC (who happens to be an attorney) came to me after service was over and said this was his favorite quote:  “It is reckless, not virtuous, to blindly give people the benefit of the doubt… and to allow them to keep violating you.”

That reminds me of Proverbs 4:23 which says, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”  Protecting yourself comes first.

The new man on projection – Jimmy – did an excellent job.  He kept right up with the song service and with the message.  Never missed a beat.  Well done!

I really enjoyed the song service today.  There was a relaxed feeling in the room which really helped me to “tune in.”  I think the mood was prompted by both the song selection and presentation.  The general tone gave me a good feeling.

I enjoyed seeing Renae on keyboard again.

Personal 411

Last Thursday was our anniversary.  We’ve been married 32 years.  Glad she still keeps me.

We have sold our home.  Put it up for sale and it sold in 4 weeks.  Now we are scrambling to pack up, sell stuff, and move out.  We will be homeless in 3 weeks.
We have lived in this home for 16 years (half our marriage), and raised our two sons there.  There’s an emotional attachment to this place, but we are also ready for a move and the next chapter of our lives.

We purchased five acres of land about 9 years ago and plan to build our empty nest home there.  This is going to be our final place.   Barring anything unforeseen, we will never move from there.

I’ve been doing a lot of work over there for the past couple of years – clearing, gardening, planting fruit trees, etc – so we’ve got the place ready to build.

Now, if we could only settle on some new house plans.  :-)

We’re actually thinking about building a small patio home (something very small) to get started, then build a modest home later.  At that point the patio home would be repurposed into another use; (rental, mother-in-law quarters, or doghouse for me).

Either way, I like the idea of small and simple living.  We could build something like that for a fraction of the cost and still leave a lot of money in the bank.

This is as close to a “van down by the river” that I can get.

Who knows, we might even fly the coop.  :-)

Other stuff…

I am ready to kill my laptop computer. It has been giving me a fit for the last six months (which has contributed to my slow-down on blogging).

Funny how much I think I need technology… and how much I hate it at the same time.

Next year (or this winter) I am going to establish a YouTube account and post videos about gardening.  I’ve learned a lot – am still learning – and want to share with others.  It’s a new interest of mine.

Today I’m going to a fish fry.  Yea!

I felt relaxed and liberated in today’s church service in a way that I haven’t felt in a long time.  I really mean that.

In a moment of total transparency, I mentioned (in today’s message) that when the pain reaches a certain threshold in the ministry, ministers start looking for a way out.  That was a real moment.  There is only so much that you can take.

Relational defections and betrayal are the most painful part of ministry.  It is an occupational hazard, which is exactly why pastors need ‘safe people’ in their lives (just like everyone else).

I have been bitten by the “fishing bug” this year.  It’s been a good year for me so far – plenty of time on the water – and I’m really looking forward to fall.  The inshore waters come alive with fish when the grass dies back, the water clears up and gets oxygenated.

I love living in North West Florida. The outdoor recreational opportunities are second to none.  Look at it this way:  NW Florida is a destination point for vacationers from all over the country, including Canada.  And yet, we live here.

Blackwater State Forest is 200-300 thousand acres of PUBLIC LAND.  It is the secret jewel of Santa Rosa County.  You can go out there without asking for (a property owners) permission… You drive for miles without seeing anyone… And you can camp in one of the most pristine forests anywhere.  Additionally, it is the largest natural ecosystem east of the Mississippi River.

Did I mention I am going to a fish fry today?


Friday, August 16, 2013

This Sunday's Message

Safe People

We will learn:
  • Eight Marks of an UNSAFE person
  • Three things Every Person Needs

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Moving Sale This Saturday

We are having a moving sale at my house this Saturday.  It will begin early – around 6:30 a.m.  We intend to sell as much as we can.   Anything that doesn’t sell this week will be put on Craigslist. 

Location:  4749 Timberland Drive, Pace

2 – Chest of Drawers; Dining Room Table – 8 chairs, cherry finish; Sofa w/matching chair (olive fabric); Book shelves; An assortment of lamps, end tables, and night stands

Machete; Flood light (halogen); Drop lights; Bug light (purple glow); Fishing poles; Tackle boxes; Electric drill (hand held); Push mower (virtually new);  Bungee cords & Nylon straps (tie down, with buckles) – still in the package;  Hydraulic jack (scissors type); 5 gallons of deck/fence stain (honey color); Seed spreader – push behind; An assortment of other odds-and-ends

Kitchen stuff
Pots, pans, utensils

Other stuff
Weight lifting station: w/pull up bar, pull-down lat pulley; Weight bench (padded); 250 lbs of free weight discs (Olympic); Olympic bar; Baby strollers; Ceramic & Terra Cotta Planters (large, patio size); Quilts, blankets; Clothes

This is all I can think of right now, but there is much more.

Oh yea, we also have five Jack Russell Terriers :-)

Friday, August 9, 2013

This Sunday

Choose Friends Wisely

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Three Mistakes a Beginning Pastor is Certain to Make

1.  Your sermons will be too massive because you’ll attempt to proclaim everything you’ve ever learned on the subject.  Since you have been studying for the message all week, you dare not leave out any of the stuff you have learned.  So you will overstuff it.  Some commentators had some great insights on the passage, so you use it all.  The young pastor typically uses too much material and cites far too many texts.

In time, he will learn to streamline his sermon, to pick a single theme and stick with it, and will learn that great ideas or illustrations don’t always fit the message.

Eventually, if he stays with it and grows as a preacher, his people will comment (on their way out the door), “What I like about your preaching is that it is so simple and easy to understand.  Even my 12 years old understands.”

You’re doing good when you hear that.

2.  You will learn about church government (and who is really calling the shots) the hard way.  You’ve just arrived, preached a few sermons, are excited about this new opportunity, so you – the young pastor – think of a good idea for a new program and start telling people about it.  Only later do you find out the chairman (of the board) is upset that you sprang that on him, not informing him in advance what this was all about and treating him like an ordinary church member.  He’s mad and ready to run you off because you didn’t get “his” permission first.

Welcome to the modern church, young pastor. 

3.  You will find out – too late – that half the church (all 65 of them) are blood-kin, and the other half are their in-laws.  There is no safe church member to confide in.  Anything you (the young pastor) says will be reported to others and come back to you from a dozen sources.

Sorry, but that’s just the way it is.

Getting this kind of wisdom is painful, but it is a necessary step to your maturity.  There are no shortcuts.  You have to walk this lonesome valley by yourself.

So don’t be too hard on yourself when you make any of these mistakes.  Don’t beat yourself up and don’t get bitter.  Just learn from it.

You must pace yourself.  You will be learning how to pastor God’s people (and a bunch of tares mixed in) all your life.  The older, more mature pastor up the highway – probably in his 40s – has been out of seminary longer than you and feels like he is still learning.

If you are married, you will have to find a balance between sharing the details of your work (including its frustrations and your enemies) with your wife and protecting her from such minutia which can overwhelm her.  She can be a great asset to you – a dependable advisor, strong supporter, and beneficial helper.  As with all other aspects of ministry, that will not happen overnight, but if you will find a balance between informing her and protecting her, the day will come when you will be amazed at the wisdom coming from this woman.

Have fun, young pastor.  It’s a good life.  If you will stay close to the Lord, keep learning, stay humble, and let others help you… you will be blessed and have a full life with no regrets.