Friday, June 29, 2007

They Like Jesus But Not the Church

I'm reading Dan Kimball's book by the same title. He was one of the speakers at the Willow conference I attended two weeks ago. Dan asked unchurched, non-Christian young adults "What do you think of Jesus?", and (surprisingly to most of us) got very postive responses. However, to his question, "What do you think of Christians?" the response was vastly different.

The book is about being "missional" and intentional about reaching the "emerging generations" (I'm still getting used to both of those terms), and, as you might expect, very thought provoking. Since I'm early into the book I can't give a critique overall. But his synopsis of what happens to believers and how they eventually move totally into a Christian sub-culture and have no contact with the non-Christian world is dead on. The last step of 4 is becoming Jonah.

I'll probably post more about it as I progress through the book.

Kimball's writing style is good for me. Now if I could convince him to do something different with his chosen hair cut! Think "Johnny Bravo".

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


A new worship gathering was launched last night at our church intentionally targeting the emerging generation. This began as a dream a year ago, fueled by the desire to reach out to a growing population here (more so in the summer months) of young adults.

I'm a baby boomer. Consequently the amazing growth in our church has been mostly due to the attractiveness of our worship style, teaching, programs for youth and children and facilities. Our "contemporary" church hits a home run with my generation.

But my generation is growing older and the fact is that the church in general is not cutting it in reaching out to generation X. The culture they've grown up in isn't the America of our fathers. So their opinions of the church and "Christianity" are different. Yet they can be and must be reached with the ancient message in a relevant fashion.

That they've asked me to be the primary teacher in this gathering just underscores the name Vintage! But last night we started with 25 young adults. Free pizza! Our band covered songs by Switchfoot, Delirious? and The Foo Fighters. (Don't ask me. But the songs were great!) We looked at Daniel 1 and talked about the tension between God being fair or God being just. Our theme in Daniel is "Heroes". Here's the video we produced and used last night.

We're looking for God to do something new and great.

Today I'm shopping for a pair of crocs and camo shorts. Just trying to be relevant.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Aye, you may fight and you may die

It's Saturday night and I'm watching Braveheart (again for the umpteenth time). If I'm flippin' through the channels and it pops up I can't resist. There's something about the passion and courage of William Wallace that pulls me in.

Now, I know that much of the film is fiction, but it's still a great story. And everytime I watch it I'm reminded that it's our calling that drives us to serve and lead in a cause greater than ourselves, and to not settle for less than what God has ordained.
"Men don't follow titles, they follow courage." Hello!

That's one cool sword he wields. But thank God for soap.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Challenge the Ordinary

God calls us to live lives of excellence. And to help us understand just what that means He's given us great examples in the Bible of men and women who made the choice to be extraordinary rather than ordinary.

In the Old Testament book of Daniel we find 4 men who made the choice to raise the bar and refuse mediocrity, even in the midst of adversity.

This Sunday I'm beginning a new series in my church from those stories in Daniel, hoping to encourage the believers in our fellowship to soar with the eagles. Soon (I'm told) those messages will be available online via podcast - whatever that means.

We're also venturing into a new realm beginning Monday night with a gathering that targets the "emerging" generation or generation X or whatever you call them. It's a new challenge for me, requiring me to do some things differently in how I communicate. The message will stay the same; just repackaged in a way that we hope will connect with these young adults. I enjoy challenges, so God-willing this new venture will fly.

I'll be surrounding with young people to help me stay on course. That's always a good thing!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Heroes all

Yesterday's news that 9 firefighters in Charleston, SC perished while doing their job has to grip your heart. I watched the news as their chief fought back tears in a press conference. He referred to them as among his best friends.

Everybody loves firefighters. They're the ones who go running into burning buildings when everyone else is running out. It's part of their DNA to do whatever is necessary to save lives. What little boy doesn't go through the stage when his dream is to be a firefighter?

As heroic as they are, they're also mortal. And sometimes (more often than we realize) they die in the line of duty. While they never plan for it, every firefighter knows it's a very real possibility. When the alarm sounds he/she never knows if it might be their last. But they are willing to take that risk for you and me.

Tomorrow at 10AM as many as 30,000 are expected to attend a memorial service, many of those will be firefighters from across the nation. I can't attend. You probably can't either. But here are a couple of things you can do:

  • Pause for a moment of prayer at 10:00 eastern time and remember the families and friends of these 9 brave men.

  • Stop by your local firehouse sometime tomorrow and just say "Thanks". They're not looking for it, but they appreciate it. (And if you take along a cake or some cookies you'll really brighten their day.)

  • When you see or hear a siren approaching, pull over to the right and let them by. And as you do give up a prayer for their safety.

Monday, June 18, 2007

I won!

Today my wife, Gail and I celebrate 30 years of marriage. It's so hard to believe that it's been 3 decades - well over half our lives, now. I offered to take her to the restaurant of her choice this evening. I was looking forward to some great seafood! Her choice: "I want you to grill a couple steaks, then let's sit on the deck and talk".

So the steaks are in the refrigerator marinating!

We met while in college when we both had jobs at JC Penney. She was well known on campus, having been a cheerleader her first couple of years. That's where I had first seen her. She was a beauty then and is still one today.

After we started dating one of my friends came up to me and said, "Your a little out of your league, aren't you?". Yeah. I wasn't a football player or a BMOC.

But I won the prize.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Happy Fathers Day

I was reminded this morning that Father's Day isn't a joy for everyone. Not all of us have had the privilege of being reared by a great or even good dad.

Listening to one such person this morning after a service I realized the pain that some feel on holidays like this. I knew that kind of pain was felt by many, but it was brought up close and personal by one who was struggling with the day and her dad.

What do you say when someone says "I am not happy today because I have to spend time with a dad who...."?

I don't know if it helped, but I reminded her that regardless of the failures of her physical father she had another Father who knew she was having a tough time and would be with her throughout the day. He would not let her down, and would give her the emotional strength and courage to handle it.

That's the great thing about having a personal relationship with God. Our human relationships will all drop the ball from time to time, and sometimes with tragic results. The people God has put into our lives who are supposed to be examples - parents, teachers, pastors - are unfortunately imperfect. And when those imperfections come out, it hurts.

But our heavenly Father will never do that. He's the perfect Dad in every way.

So to Him, Happy Father's Day. You're the greatest.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Final day at Willow Creek

Friday morning at the conference was incredibly great. I can't say enough about the exellence of what took place. First, a couple who are worship leaders at WCCC shared very openly about how they learned to surrender to God while going through great sorrow (a baby with numerous defects) and struggling with their faith. They shared in testimony and song. It was powerful stuff.

Then we heard from Donald Miller, the author of Blue Like Jazz. He spoke about the effect of The Enlightenment on Christianity, which effectivly removed the mysticism from it, using Romeo and Juliet to illustrate his point. He then made an appeal to the Christian artists (me?) to get back what we've "lost" in the last 500 or so years. Not only was this guy obviously very intelligent, he was also able to speak at a level even I could understand. And the fact that he has a great sense of humor didn't hurt, either.

Finally, The Urban Poets from Mosaic in LA demonstrated one of their worship "services". Through dance, music, comedy, poetry and the teaching of Erwin McManus they were phenomenal. It works so well for them in their context, which is the arts community of LA. Not so sure how it would be perceived/received in the surf community that is Nags Head!

I also was able to finish two books while on the trip: Why Men Hate Going to Church and The Barbarian Way. Both highly recommended, the first for women in the church, the second for men.

As good as the conference was, it's great to be home!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Another great day at Willow Creek

I'm sitting in a huge dining room, having eaten a great salad and half a cookie (I had to give the other half to Burnie, it was sooo big) from the restaurant here in the church. Now I'm sipping on a caffe latte from their coffee shop. In a few minutes we venture into their worship auditorium for a "film festival" highlighting some of the great videos done by churches across America.
The picture is of Nate and I standing in front of the escalator at Willow Creek. Some people just wouldn't believe a church has an escalator.

These guys know how to put on these conferences. My problem is getting lost in this place and going to the wrong seminar. Today we attended 4 breakout sessions we had pre-registered for. Mine were on Journey Church in Manhattan (how they plan for worship services). Our friend Nelson Searcy is their lead pastor, and one of our own, Jessica A. attends there. Another on unleashing your creativity, taught by Mark Miller from Chic Fila (he was incredible); a third about using journaling in your spiritual growth; and last was a one man play about a pastor, his love for his family and his church and how he was being forced out after 11 years. It was outstanding.

Tomorrow morning Erwin McManus brings in his team from Mosaic in LA to give a demonstration on how they do worship in a very arts centered multi-ethnic community. I've been wanting to go out and attend their conference for some time. I'm sure after tomorrow I'll want to do that even more.

All this is good stretching stuff. To be able to see and hear what other innovative churches are doing to reach the world with Christ is encouraging, humbling and challenging. God has used this time (as He typically does when I can get away to these events) to get me thinking and coming up with ideas.

Nothing's worse than being in a church stuck in a rut. At Nags Head we are committed to doing whatever it takes. That's one thing that makes it a great fellowshp.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

I'm really not a prophet

In my post on Friday, June 8 I commented about people dying while on vacation and how I am around that sad event all too often. The post was about crossing the finish line and being prepared for death, and how that last week (as of the writing of that post) I knew 3 people who died.

What I didn't know was that the next night I would be called to assist another vacationing family during the very worst hours of their lives. Another vacationer death. Totally accidental. Totally unecessary. This was a 21 yr. old med school student. I was there to somehow help his parents and brother through the initial shock, numbness, pain and anger.

There are times when there are no words to say but "I'm so sorry". It was very sad, indeed.

No one plans to die while on vacation, especially not young people. Was this young, intelligent future doctor prepared? I really don't know. I wonder if anyone had taken the time to share how he could know Christ and have eternal life? I don't know.

But this I do know. His time came unexpectedly. Usually does.

More about the conference at Willow Creek

This is my first trip to Willow Creek Community Church for anything. I first heard about their pastor, Bill Hybels way back in the late 70's when he was doing an innovative youth ministry at another church.

The campus is monstrous, unlike any church facility I have ever seen, and I've seen some of the big ones. It's all done with excellence.

The morning started off with David Crowder leading worship. After a very cool and bluegrass (!) rendition of "I Saw the Light", I informed Nate and Burnie that I have a banjo, and can play anything in the key of G. They didn't seem impressed. Later Aaron Niequist later led a moving and contemporary rendition of "This Is My Father's World". I expect we'll be singing that soon at NHC!

The speakers today did a great job of getting our creative juices flowing, while making us confront the need for worship to be missional.

After the sessions were over we took a tour of the campus. The lady who led our group was old enough to be my mom and was so animated in her speaking that she made me tired! But it was so cool to hear a senior, who at her own admission doesn't always understand the "whys" of how church is done at Willow Creek, talk so enthusiastically about what God has done and continues to do through her church. She's a credit to her generation for being able to catch the vision and that it's not about "me". Go Granny.

Then we met friends Bob and Carla Crane and their daughter Haley for Chicago style pizza at Giordana's. Thanks Bob for dinner!

We also were able to spend a few minutes with another friend, Paul Joseph from Dalton, GA. He's a brave man, attending the conference with 5 women! I told him he was welcome to hang out with us if he needed a break. He said that while we were at Wrigley Field Tuesday night watching the game, he was at Target with the girls. Crowns in heaven for that man!

In the Windy City

This week I'm in the Chicago area attending the Willow Creek Worship Arts Conference with Nathan and Burnie. We flew out Tuesday morning and after arriving in the early afternoon made our way to Wrigley Field to catch last night's (13 inning!) game between the Cubs and the Mariners.
Before the game we stopped at the Wrigleyville Fire Station (Chicago FD Engine Co. 78) where I picked up a tshirt and hat. The firefighter I met, we came to discover, has actually been to Nags Head and visited my station there while on vacation.

The conference started this morning and lasts until Friday. More to come when I get a chance and a good connection!

Friday, June 8, 2007

Crossing the Finish Line

This week (and it's not over yet!) three deaths have been close to home for me.

In my role as a fire department chaplain I've become too familiar with the pain and grief that accompanies the loss of a loved one. Being in a resort community on the ocean that little private room off of the Emergency Room is not usually a fun place to be. It's there I try to provide comfort to total strangers, many of whom are on vacation.

People die on vacation? That's a subject for another time, but yes.

The three who passed this week, however, were not strangers. One was an attender of my church - and a real link to Old Nags Head. Another was my next door neighbor. In his eighties and in frail health, he spent the last week of his life in the nursing home. The third was a friend who I met at a retreat. He became my son and daughter-in-law's pastor for the first two years of their married life.

We're all running the race that is life. For most of us that race is a marathon. For some it's a sprint. For us all it eventually has a finish line. The mystery is that we have no clue when we'll cross over it. But we can be ready.

All three of my friends were prepared. None of them lived perfect lives, not even the pastor. But they all had at some time in life traded in their life for the eternal life offered freely by Jesus Christ by simply believing in Him.

Maybe they've already met in Heaven in the Welcome Wagon Reception. Maybe in their conversations they discovered they all knew me...which likely resulted in an immediate prayer meeting on my behalf! But they're there, not because they knew me, but because of a promise from Christ.

Jesus said, "I assure you, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life."

Keep running. But be ready to cross the line.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007


Last week in Chesapeake, VA a 27 year old man was convicted of impersonating a firefighter.

Apparently he would show up at incidents such as traffic accidents in firefighter turnout gear with a first aid kit in hand. In his vehicle were found other firefighter equipment, including red and white warning lights and a siren!

It's illegal in Virginia to pretend to be a firefighter, for obvious reasons. Firefighters are trained and equipped to rescue and save lives. If an impersonator shows up and a victim puts his/her trust in him because he carries the equipment and wears the gear, the end result could be tragic.

A friend of mine recently said to me, "I got the church beat out of me", referring to his childhood experience in a parochial school. Another friend jumped in and said, "The priest cussed me at the altar for accidently spilling the wine". Those wearing the uniform of religion and who had taken vows to represent their version of Christ used cruelty and indiscriminate corporal punishment and belittling to "instruct" him in the "ways of God". They held the Bible in their hands and wore crucifixes around their necks. But even a child could see that something didn't match up.

And let's not fool ourselves. Every church has them.

That's what religion does. It's an imposter. An impersonator. A pretender. And the ramifications are tragic. People put their trust in those claiming to represent God. Not only does religion injure and hurt, it does so for eternity. I'm stuck here thinking, "How can I show them the difference between religion and Christ? What makes me different?" And equally important, "Can they see the difference?"

Jesus lowered the boom on that kind of religion and it's leaders. He said,

The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the Scriptures. So practice and obey whatever they say to you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush you with impossible religious demands and never lift a finger to help ease the burden.
“Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear extra long tassels on their robes. And how they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the most prominent seats in the synagogue! They enjoy the attention they get on the streets, and they enjoy being called ‘rabbi.’ Don’t ever let anyone call you ‘rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are on the same level as brothers and sisters. And don’t address anyone here on earth as ‘Father,’ for only God in heaven is your spiritual Father. And don’t let anyone call you ‘Master,’ for there is only one master, the Messiah. The greatest among you must be a servant. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." (Matthew 23:1-12 NLT)
Real Christianity has nothing to do with religion or its trappings. It's about Christ and knowing Him. It's about being a servant to others and reconciling and restoring. The only way to show the difference is to live His life. There's the challenge.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Lost and Found

I'm glad they have a Lost and Found at the YMCA. More times than I care to admit I've left something behind. Sometimes it's there the next time I return. Other times (like my elbow brace and a pair of goggles) it's not. But finding something you've lost is a great feeling.

Jesus' words to the Ephesian church in Revelation 2 are haunting me right now. He starts out by commending this well established church - both Paul and Timothy had spent significant time there earlier - for their many ministries. They were so busy doing "the work of the Lord". And they were noted by the Lord for their stand against false doctrine.

But they were seriously lacking in one thing. And it was so serious that Jesus said He would remove His presence from their church if they didn't get back to something so basic. When Jesus said, "I've got this one problem with you. You have left your first love", He was clearly indicating that inspite of all their efforts to do "ministry" they were neglecting what should have been their priority. The problem with what He said was that He didn't identify for us what that first love is.

Surely, however, the Ephesian church could figure it out. He told them to "remember" - take your minds back to the beginning. I'm guessing He was reminding them of the passion they had for Him in the early days when they were more a movement than a machine.

He had made it pretty simple when He gave His disciples a definition of what it took to love Him. "If you love me", He said, "keep my commandments." Things like...
  • "Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself."
  • "Go into all the world and make disciples"
  • "Do this in remembrance of Me"

What afflicted this first century congregation afflicts us today. It's easier to equate busyness in church ministries with spirituality and maturity. It's easier to throw a few bucks into the offering and "support" missions and ministry than it is to roll up your sleeves and get involved in someone's life. It's easier to attend Bible studies ad infinitum than it is to share the Gospel with someone likely bound for hell. It's easier to come up with excuses than it is to make the effort to gather with the body of Christ for communion and fellowship.

But when did anybody ever get the idea that loving Jesus was going to be easy?

We're great at inventing substitutes and excuses for replacing our first love. The kicker is we do it in gradual steps and don't realize it. We have ourselves convinced that because we've got this program running or that facility built that we're getting it done.

All the while Jesus is waiting for us to get back to loving Him by doing the basics.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Have you heard Jessica McLean?

Our church hosted Jessica McLean in concert tonight. She's a young woman with a passion for the Lord and a gift for writing songs that speak to hearts, esp. other young women's. You can check out her music and bio info at

It seemed like 25% of the crowd tonight was made up of young girls. I saw something similar at a Jaci Velasquez concert several years ago. Jessica, like Jaci draws these girls by her music and appearance, and then demonstrates her love for Jesus. What a great role model!

I encouraged her to keep her heart focused on Christ. He's going to use her and her husband Nick in a great way.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Billy Graham

I watched highlights of the dedication of the Billy Graham Library yesterday. On the platform were some interesting characters!

But that's been Billy's forte, and to some his Achilles' heel. He's an evangelist - proclaiming the Good News to those who need Christ. So since his early days he's invited some "characters" to sit on the platform of his crusades. And for that he's been criticized.

One of my professors said it this way: "When I've led as many people to Christ as has Billy Graham, then I can criticize him."

Paul had his critics, too, in the first century. And there were those who did it differently than he did. His reaction to those who encouraged him to criticize other evangelists? "What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice." (Philippians 1:18 KNJV)


Nearsighted vision

Leaders are supposed to be visionaries, having the ability to see ahead of where they're leading whoever is following. We're learning at Nags Head Church the necessity of being sensitive to God's direction and the realization that because God wants to reach people, He wants to lead us to reach them in their context and culture. That just means "where they are".

It's sad that those who criticize churches which are focusing on being culturally relevant are usually the ones who sing "Just as I am" a bunch of times at the close of their sermons. But in reality, they don't want to reach out to "normal people" just as they are. After all, "just as they are" is really different than us, right?

In the last two days God has brought me face to face, literally, with a couple of people who have said to me, "I hate my life. I've got to change." With both of them the "demon" (and I use that word figuratively) in their lives is alcohol, and they're sick of it (literally and figuratively).

When God brings hurting people to you like that, is He trying to say something? It's no secret that addicted men and women abound on this sand bar. Our culture attracts them. What I'm "hearing" God say (as He got in my face through these two) was that there is a hurting sub-culture here that needs to be set free. They both told me as much. They're reaching out for help.

Somehow we have to respond. I'm praying for a way to reach them through our church. And let's be honest, many of them are secretly sitting in our services each Sunday, on the outside trying to look OK but on the inside hating life.

It's right before my eyes. If I don't see it I'm blind. If I see it and don't do anything about it I'm a failure.