Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sunday Flashback

It's been a busy weekend! Saturday morning the elders spent four hours together visioneering and working on the '08 budget. I'm really excited to get to next year.

It appears that the 11 o'clock gathering is more popular in the fall than the 9 o'clock gathering. That's the opposite of what we typically see in the summer. We had a full house at 11 and the energy level was noticeably higher. As Tom said, maybe it was the caffeine kicking in or the extra sleep!

The out of town guests this time of year are an older crowd than in the summer, too. Fall is a great time to visit here, and it's a lot cheaper. Not that older people are cheap! One guy said he's come every year since 1961. Another couple told me they drove right past us, looking for the little white church with the steeple!

Thanks to Tom for a very different message today. Not being an "arts" kind of guy, I wondered where he was going to go with "The Art in Me". One worshipper told me how great the reading of Genesis 1 went with our eyes closed, imagining the Creator crafting the universe. And he did a great job of bringing in the Gospel.

During the first gathering I got to spend time with the kids in Kidmo. What a great worship tool for them. Lots of creativity there!

I was told that a lady walked out after the second song in the first gathering. And someone said she was an employee of our NC Baptist convention!! She missed a great service! Hope she wasn't sick.

After church we had a huge turnout for our fall picnic. The weather, although a bit breezy (what do you expect on the Outer Banks?) was picture perfect. Lots of great food and plenty of fellowship. I saw soccer games, football, softball, kites and lots of people just getting together. Thanks Fellowship Team for all your work. It was a lot of fun. Joe Carey and I humbled the Staples brothers in horseshoes. You should have known better, Burnie.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Ed and Edith* are in The Present Future

So here I am, reading chapter 2 (see my earlier post on The Present Future) and I find Reggie McNeal talking about Ed and Edith! Here's what he wrote:
The North American church culture is not spiritual enough to reach our culture. In our self-absorption we don't even see the people we are supposed to be on mission to reach. Don't hear this as a call to a "deeper life" spirituality. Often this "spirituality" is just another expression of refuge thinking (allowing Christians to hide out in Bible study). I am talking about a missional spirituality. Missional spirituality requires that God's people be captured by his heart for people, that our hearts be broken for what breaks his, that we rejoice in what brings him joy.
Tough stuff!

*[To meet Ed and Edith, read my earlier blogs about these prototypical evangelicals.]

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Present Future


Today I re-started reading Reggie McNeal's The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church. I say "re-started" because I began reading it months ago then put it down and got sidetracked. So today I went back to page 1 and began again.

Here's the final paragraph from the first chapter about the need for the church to rediscover her mission. It encapsulates the chapter well.

That's the church's mission: to join God in his redemptive efforts to save the world. People all around us are in darkness. They are going to die unless someone finds a way to save them. Trouble is, the church is sleeping on the job. Too many of us have forgotten why we showed up for work. Even worse, many of us have never known.

Like it or not, he's right. Let me get into chapter 2.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I Finally Finished Dan's Book


If Dan Kimball is still lurking, I finally finished They Like Jesus But Not the Church today.

Suffice it to say that Dan gives the church lots to think about. I came away with some ideas I hope to implement as we continue to seek to be a missional community.

Two thumbs up from me! Now I've got to wait until February for the follow up book, I Like Jesus But Not the Church to make me more uncomfortable. Until then, Dan's given me several other suggestions.
Thanks Dan. I like you, but not your hair.

Happy Birthdays Rachel and Ramon!


Today our youngest celebrates her birthday and her husband celebrates his on Friday. It's their first birthdays since being wed in April.

I can almost remember what it was like to be 22. Which, by the way, was also my first birthday as a married man.

The picture is of the two of them at her sister Sarah's (you, too, Terry) wedding in July. Ramon, you're a lucky guy!

Retreat!

There's never a good time for this, but I'm able to hide away some this week and get away from much of my regular routine. Thanks to able pastors serving with me, I've been given two Sundays away from teaching, allowing me to do some catch up on reading, praying and seeking God's direction.

And fortunately God has provided a place for me to get away. So, if you can't find me this week, that's a good thing! Please be praying with me. I need the spiritual refreshment, time in the Word and challenge as I complete a couple of books that have been patiently waiting on me.

There's a real buzz in the church right now that's truly exciting. We've launched a major small groups launch and we're scrambling to find new group hosts and leaders for all the new people wanting to join in. And the transitions we're making, climbing the next step of the ladder toward being a missional community are starting to take shape, too.

Lots of coffee will help, too. At my age reading can be the most tiring thing I do. Next to watching the Redskins, I mean.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Flashback

Andy brought a great message today on consistency. Lots of good stuff to go home with and chew on for a while, too.

It think it was funny that a guy from out of town came today. He looked us up on the web and came to us because he didn't want to go to a Southern Baptist Church! Oops.

A Catholic lady asked me after the service about communion, so I got to explain to her a little bit about what we do.

I was really glad for the Kids Church kids and adults today. They got to meet together again.

Buddy had it going today on his solo parts! And I especially love hearing Thanisha sing the Revelation Song. Great worship again!

Burnie had lots more sign up for Connection Groups. What's so great is that some are people I don't know at all.

And I heard several glowing reports of a new group that started up last night. That's especially encouraging.

I wonder how many noticed that lonely daisy in the pot up on the shelf?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Birthday celebrations and football

Tomorrow afternoon we've got a couple of birthdays to celebrate in our family. Rachel and Ramon's birthdays are this week, and we'll use our Sunday afternoon to party.

I've ordered wings and NC barbecue and hushpuppies. So the food will be excellent.

Then, later conclude a great Sunday afternoon with the Redskins.

And what makes it even better? I get to enjoy listening to someone else preach tomorrow!

Ed and Edith at the Franklin Graham Crusade


I picked up the paper this morning and there were our friends Ed and Edith (!) in this article about the Franklin Graham Festival held in Norfolk, VA. The byline said they were in the choir. (If you look closely in the picture you can see them above the blue background.)

That Ed and Edith were there (in huge numbers) is no criticism of the BGEA or the Grahams, elder or younger. As a prof in college wisely said, "The day I've won more people to Jesus than Billy Graham is when I can start criticizing him."

No, it's another proof that Ed and Edith are about Ed and Edith. They didn't invite any unchurched people to the Festival with them because they're consumers, not contributors. They either could care less about their neighbors or they don't know any outside the faith because they're happy living in their fortress. And I guess that means they could care less, as long as they've got their "fellowship", their Christian music and are being "fed".

One pastor suggested, "We need to do some soul-searching, the faith community..."

Meanwhile a lot of God's energy and dollars went to entertain Ed and Edith in the name of evangelism. The BGEA gave it their best, but with churches full of Eds and Ediths, what else could be expected?
Indeed, we need to search.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

In case you were wondering about Vintage

During the summer we experimented with a worship gathering for the emerging generation we called "Vintage". Every Monday night young adults met for fellowship, teaching and worship. It certainly wasn't your father's Oldsmobile.

I taught from the book of Daniel about living a heroic life and what it takes. Here's a link to a video Nate put together that introduced that theme one night. Pretty cool. And our band covered the song, too.

Vintage will return in January. Gear up.

Comm/unity

I'm working on a series of messages right now about who the church is from a biblical perspective. We got started last Sunday with Jesus introduction of the church as His project, His property and His promise to defend her. Then we briefly viewed a scene from the Jerusalem Church in Acts 4 and Luke's comment that they shared all things in common.

In that passage and others in Acts, the first church is described as having unity. That's where I'm going next in my series. But one thought that is bouncing around in my head is why unity was so prevalent in their fellowship. Certainly it's something every church craves, but in our culture few actually enjoy.

And I think one huge difference between the first century church and the American evangelical congregation is that unpleasantness we refer to as persecution. For them it truly was necessary to be of one mind for survival's sake.

It's been so long since Christians experienced any true persecution in this country that we've lost the need for unity. (I think in many ways we've become the persecutors.) We really don't need the church to survive, so unity becomes a secondary ideal. The slightest jar to our personal comfort becomes a mighty wedge.

I'm still chewing on that.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Flashback

Sunday started a new series for us that I'm both challenged and excited about. I've made it no secret that we're going through another transition, and in this series we're going to be reminded from the Bible who we are and more importantly, who we're supposed to be as a church. Yesterday was about community and what that means. It should be up on the podcast later in the week.

Oh yeah, I got it right the second time. God will crush Satan under our feet. You figure it out. We don't do the crushing, God does. But He uses our feet. Why? He doesn't have feet other than ours!

Great reviews came in yesterday about the videos! Now everytime you see a red daisy you'll think about coming off the shelf and getting into the community. And thanks to the First Appointment guys who helped with the video, even if their segment didn't make the final product. Burnie found the daisy video and Nate produced the Connection Group video.

Where did all the people come from yesterday? There were about 100 more in church than the previous week. Thanks to our First Impressions team for scrambling and setting up more chairs! I never even knew you had done that until I got up to teach and saw all the extra rows fillled with worshippers. Great job!

Another excellent job by our band in leading us in singing praises. Watch for Chad's tie each Sunday. It will let you know how the ECU Pirates did on Saturday. Great choice of songs, and wow, did everybody sing!

And what church on the OBX had Kelly's Sweet Potato Ham Biscuits to munch on! We did! At least those of us who were at the first gathering did. Thanks Hospitality Team for keeping the table full and the coffee flowing!

Next Sunday, Lord willing, our kids will be able to go back to Kidmo! I know that will excite them.

We registered lots of new people for Connection Groups. I haven't heard from Burnie, but he has a stack of cards. He'll have a table set up for the next few weeks for more sign ups.

Andy's preaching next Sunday, so I might just slip in on Kidmo!!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

We took a walk

The Great Strides Walk today surpassed our expectations in every way! Great turn out, despite the fact that the weather early on wasn't inviting. But God cleared that all up just in time for the actual walk.

Lots of great food thanks to local restaurants and grocers. A super raffle and silent auction. I walked away with a very cool framed beach print among other things. My wallet is lighter, but I'm happy about it.

All the volunteers, especially Nathan, who spearheaded the event did wonderful work to bring it all together. The goal for our fist ever CF walk originally was $15K. CFF raised that to $20K a few weeks ago because we had met the goal. When it's all said and done more than $30K will have been donated to fund research to find a cure for this terrible disease.

Next year will be bigger and better!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Close to home

For my whole life I've watched Jerry Lewis do his Labor Day thing. One year as a kid we had a
"Carnival for MD" at our house. I admire the firemen who stand in the street asking us to fill their boots with money for MS. St. Jude's Hospital does marvelous things for pediatric cancer patients and research. There are lots of great causes out there to support. But you tend to grow numb to their appeals.

Until it gets too close to home.

Tomorrow I'm participating in the first ever NE North Carolina Great Strides Walk. It's 9 to 1 at Rec Park in Kill Devil Hills, and we're raising funds to support research to find a cure for Cystic Fibrosis. My son's wife, Tricia has CF.

I hope to see you there.
Bring money. If you can't bring it, send it. It's about saving lives.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Fire at The Lost Colony!


I must have been asleep for about an hour and a half when my pager woke me with the news that Nags Head's Fire department was being requested for what was being upgraded to a 2nd alarm fire. The fact that the dispatcher said "At the Lost Colony" accelerated my wake up.

The Lost Colony is one of our national treasures. The outdoor production, which tells the story of the first English colony in the New World is our story. The theater is visited by thousands each summer. All 3 of my kids graduated from Manteo High School walking across it's platform.

As I got quickly dressed and prepared to drive to our station, the request from the scene command became more urgent: "Call everyone north of Oregon Inlet!". Departments from at least 7 locales were on the way. I never saw so many engines and trucks at one place!

Being a chaplain, I reported to the incident commander that I was on scene and available in that capacity if needed. Fortunately I wasn't needed! So I got to join my brothers manning a hose. Lots of smoke and steam! And I wacked my head at least 4 times on the same tree limb. (But I was wearing my helmet!)

I got home at 0430 (that's fire talk for "before the sun rises"). Took a quick shower; threw my smoky clothes in the washer and got a few more hours sleep.

Today my right elbow is sore from gripping that nozzle so hard!

It's also 9-11. At least I can feel my elbow.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Nebuchadnezzar: Was he or wasn't he?

Earlier this summer I did a series at church on the stories of Daniel and his 3 friends, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. Toward the end of the series I asked for comments on Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king: did he become a believer in Daniel's God or not? Here are the comments I received! (Some have been edited for space!)
  • I think that Nebuchadnezzar did become a believer. My question comes with what happened next...I realize that we repeat the same mistakes but if Nebuchandnezzar was a true believer did he practice what he had learned? Why did he not return the goblets? Why did his son Belshazzar need to have the Queen Mother remind him of Daniel? Did he not teach his family and kingdom about his God? It's still the same today. We believe but do we put it into action? Thank you for making it relevant for each of us. - CA
  • I definitely vote in favor of Neb’s conversion in the end. - EB
  • About Neb—in Daniel 5, when Daniel is interpreting Neb’s predecessor’s dream, he refers to Neb’s conversion as though it were real. I’m believing Daniel. - BK
  • Comparing Scripture with Scripture, I can “see” that I can, now, conclude that King Neb and “the men” were, according to the Word of God, saved—by faith: “the just shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17) “…faith, if it hath not works, is dead….” (James 2:17, 20) - BC
  • I believe that Nebuchadnezzar did become a believer in God. The Bible's recounting of Nebuchadnezzar's reign ends with him with him saying," Now I, Nebuchadnezzar,praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down." (Daniel 4.37) - FR
  • HE DID!!!! The wording is quite clear. VS 37. I NEB. praise and exalt, and honor the King of heaven etc. His ways are true and just…He is able to humble those who walk in pride. This is the acknowledgement of a redeemed and contrite heart. Too bad his son did not follow in his foot steps. - LP
  • By the end of Daniel 4, it is appearant that Neb has been greatly humbled and has received God as the one and only. Dan 4:37 is the final statement on his humbling and new walk. He is freed to worship and shown God's splendor. Neb even warns of God's power and ability to handle anything. - RR
  • I would say that he did become a believer...would be pretty hard not to believe that Daniel's God was the real true God after all that was revealed to him. Of course there are those who see and hear but still don't believe. Nebuchadnezzar's words though about God being the real God say to me that he confessed with his mouth and believed in his heart. - CP
  • I believe Nebuchadnezzer became a believer. One reason is because of the fact that he stated that he believed that Daniel's God was God; which says to me that he had the Holy Spirit in him. - TH
  • I wasn't in the building on Sunday but verses 34-37 tell me that he was restored. He did what those of us who have been restored do....he spread the word. - ES
  • Yes, because he acknowledged God as The Most High. - MA
  • I believe God knew what it would take to change Nebuchadnezzar and the Bible ends on that note of his life. Now do we all truly repent of all our sin when we are saved? I don't think we do completely but there should be a change that follows true repentance, and God show us an example of his power by changing a pegan king. But we will truly not know for sure till we get to heaven. - BN
  • We say because this is the last reference to Nebu., it does seem that he did believe in the one true God. But was he looking to the coming Messiah for his salvation? - AS
  • The implication seems to favor a conversion. However, for me the question is: how/should/why and does this historical fact in his life, impact my life? It is my belief that God is speaking very clearly to us; he is the one and only God as he shares the evidence in the life of Nebuchadnezzar. - DB
  • I don't think so. Nebi did acknowledge that God revealed mysteries to Daniel and he praised the God who rescued the three Hebrews but he still did not acknowledge God as his Lord. - SB
  • I vote yes. - DH [Just get to the point!.]
  • Yeah, I think he did. God revealed Himself to Neb, and Neb decided it was ludicrous to follow any other god. - SA
  • I always thought that Nebuchadnezzar was converted. The verse that really pushed me over the ledge into thinking that was the last verse, it states: "Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and glorify and honor the King of heaven. All his acts are just and true, and he is able to humble the proud." Daniel 4:37-NLT. - GL
  • I'm voting for "yes", based on Dan 4:37, and Dan. 5:21, where Daniel tells Neb.'s son, Bel. that "(Neb.) acknowledged that the Most High God is sovereign over the kingdoms of men, and sets over them anyone He wishes." - BK
  • Yes, I believe he did come to know God, because Nebuchadnezzar is the one who is writing this account, as it begins in verse 4:1 and he is still writing at the end, in verses 34 to 37. The dream prochecy came true and he was given his mind back after he spent the seven years living and looking like Grizzly Adams. The deal was that he would be given his mind back after he learned that the High God rules and reigns. - RS
  • After being humbled for 7 years, he received blessings of restored sanity and wealth which are blessing from God and the chapter ends with the three words: praise, extol and honor which are active verbs, showing continued action by the king praising and glorifying God long after his restoration. This would not be action of a pagan. I believe redemption was accomplished. - RH
  • As I kept reading and then re- reading his psalm of praise in Daniel 4 , I note he does not ever call God Lord or acknowledge Him as the One and Only God. So Nebuchadnezzar may just have embraced God into the pantheon among his other gods. - AK

If you who contributed were the judges, Nebuchadnezzar, by an overwhelming majority gets a "yes" vote into heaven.

Thanks to all of you Bible scholars! Great job.

Backflash

Today was the first Sunday after the summer rush, so our attendance was down about 100 or more from the height of the summer. We reconfigured our seating, setting up 170 or so compared to 210 we've had. I have to confess, though, I miss the fuller full house! I still get asked if we're going back to one service. Although I don't verbalize it, my mental thought is "Why would we?" unless it was for our own convenience. Then we do have a problem.

This morning I finished up a series, "Urgency: Live Like There's No Tomorrow" with a message on "The Urgency of Preparing" (for the coming Kingdom) from the parable of the ten virgins. Next week the new series "Get It? Got it? Good!" will give me the chance to do and say some poignant things differently about the mission and vision of our church.

The first gathering this morning didn't seem to flow/click/connect like the second one. Maybe it was the rainy weather(?) as the first gathering was coming in. Maybe it was simply the personality of the congregation. I don't know. But the second gathering seemed to be more "into" what was going on. We did make one adjustment in the order, moving a video about 9-11 from the end to the front. Good idea, Nate. Maybe that was it.

One of my favorite worship moments is when the band drops out and we fill the house with the voices of God's people in praise, like with Tomlin's tag on "Jesus Paid It All". The greatest musical instrument on earth is the human voice.

Great new song today about the coming kingdom. I can't remember it. Don't know who wrote it. But it rocked and the message was awesome. Also, the new song the band intro'd to us last Sunday night about the cross was excellent. God is so good to us in His leadership as we assemble these services.

For the second straight service our elementary kids have had to suffer through with the adults as construction continues in their space. I'm hoping that next week they can get back to normal (for their sakes!!).

A couple "mature" ladies drove up this morning looking for another church. Since it was 10:55 and there was no way (at the speed they were driving) they could get there in time, they came in and joined us. They stayed the whole time, and I even saw them smiling at one point!

Way too many doughnuts for us to consume today! Talk about overflowing blessings!

We will not forget



The images are forever imprinted in our minds.

First, of the planes crashing into the buildings. Then of the ensuing panic as it seemed every one in lower Manhattan was running in the streets or gazing into the smoke-filled sky above them. We saw bodies falling hundreds of feet to the pavement below. In disbelief we witnessed the two tallest buildings in New York City come crashing down and even more people trying to outrun the surging clouds of dust that quickly blanketed everyone and everything.

In our homes and offices we knew the United States had been engaged in battle. And the first warriors who answered the call to the front lines came almost immediately. They didn’t arrive in tanks and destroyers and fighter jets. They came in fire engines, ladder trucks, ambulances, police cars and commandeered city buses.

Hard to believe, but Tuesday it will be six years since that day. I’m sure that this weekend and over then next couple of days there will be the documentaries on television. The talking heads will revisit the day. The conspiracy theorists will flood the blogosphere. The names of the 3,000 or so who died will be read at memorial services. Flags will fly at half mast. Black ribbon will surround badges.

And that’s all well and good, because we don’t need to forget. Our lives were all changed that day.

The words of a song penned the week of 9-ll by The Eagles reflect how we were impacted.

There's a hole in the world tonight.
There's a Cloud of fear and sorrow.
There's a hole in the world tonight. Don't let there be a hole in the world tomorrow.

They say that anger is just love disappointed.
They say that love is just a state of mind, but all this fighting over who will be anointed.
Oh how can people be so blind?

Oh they tell me there's a place over yonder,
cool water running through the burning sand,
until we learn to love one another we never reach the promise land.

There's a hole in the world tonight.
There's a Cloud of fear and sorrow.
There's a hole in the world tonight. Don't let there be a hole in the world tomorrow.
(Glenn Frey/Don Henley)

We were brought face to face with a wake up call that there is no certainty to life or security. Just like those thousands who went to work that morning in Manhattan and at the Pentagon, or who boarded three planes that never landed, we have no way of knowing we’ll make it home at day’s end.

But like most other things, time tends to close the hurts and heal the wounds so much so that we forget what it felt like that day. I’m not sure that is good.

So, let’s remember. Let’s say a prayer for the survivors, knowing Tuesday will be a difficult time for them. Stop by your local firehouse, police station or rescue squad and say thanks to those who continue to put our lives before their own when called. They heard it a lot six years ago. It wouldn’t hurt for them to hear it again. And pray for our troops in harm’s way, fighting to end the war there that began here. Let’s hope they come home soon.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Praying the storm away?

So how do you pray when a hurricane is coming? Living in a hurricane prone location, I've been through a bunch of them. Thankfully we've been spared major disaster here. But we also know we could get the next Katrina or Felix.

Do you pray for it to miss you, knowing that if God answers that it will still hit land elsewhere and wreak destruction and loss of life there? I remember 22 years ago when a well known TV evangelist took credit for praying a hurricane out to sea. But what about when it misses you, only to kill and destroy your neighbors? How do you pray for that? I don't think you do.

I'm a believer in the sovereignty of God. I also believe that this earth isn't perfect, and won't be until it is made new. And until that time there are going to be natural disasters. It's a fact of life. Paul wrote that the rain falls on the just and the unjust without discrimination. If that's true, then my hunch is so do storms, tornadoes, earthquakes... Sometimes He wants us to go through the storms.

So back to my question: how do you pray? My only answer is to pray for God's will and grace and protection. The rest I'll leave to Him.

Fortunately we live in the US and get plenty of warning. We also have roads and automobiles. So if the big one is headed here, I'm not hanging around.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Either lead, follow or get out of the way


I saw that saying on a poster almost 30 years ago when I was still wet behind the ears and didn't have a clue what it meant or what it took to be a leader. To tell the truth, I found it pretty hard to swallow; almost offensive.

But didn't Jesus say essentially the same thing to His disciples. How about these words...
  • He who isn't with me is against me
  • If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine.
  • Those who want to be my disciples must come and follow me, because my servants must be where I am.
  • Anyone who isn't helping me opposes me, and anyone who isn't working with me is actually working against me.
  • Let the dead bury the dead. You come follow.

Jesus was unafraid to cut it straight and use imperitives. With Him, those were the options: either get on the bus or get off. But the bus is going to roll with or without you.

Leadership isn't something that comes easy for most of us, including me. Many of my best leadership lessons have come from failing to draw the lines. Sometimes you have to say the tough things, just as Jesus did. But that's what leaders who want to lead like Jesus must do.

I've figured out why in my younger days I struggled with that saying. It's because I didn't want to follow; didn't know how to lead and was too stubborn to get out of the way. And I didn't understand Jesus very well, either.


Facing Felix


As I write this, Hurricane Felix has come ashore in Nicaragua and is headed toward our friends and missionaries, Larry, Sheila and Emily Benson on the tiny island of Helene, Honduras. If you look at a map of Honduras, you'll see a small set of islands off the northern coast. That's them. It's a fragile place, and not where you want to be during a monster storm like this one.

The Bensons are riding it out. Really, they had no place to go. And how do you truly pour yourselves into a culture like the one on Helene - a people enslaved then abandoned on an island centuries ago whose lifestyles haven't changed much in 200 years - and then abandon them in the hour of their greatest need?

They've taken down their satellite dish, which connects them with the rest of the world, so we can only hope and pray that we'll hear soon from them.

God, please be kind to the Bay Islands. Your faithful servants are there. Our prayers go with them.

Monday, September 3, 2007

More on Ed and Edith

(Read the earlier post below on Ed and Edith first if you want this to make sense!)

We all start out the Christian life the same way: by receiving the grace, forgiveness and love of God demonstrated and accomplished by Jesus in His death and resurrection. From that point where we go in our journey is dependent on so many things, not the least of which is the influence of our church family. In fact, I believe that the local church is the key.

How did Ed and Edith go from new convert to church consumer and critic? How can we prevent from becoming them. And if we are them, what can we do to change?

The simple answer, of course, is to follow Jesus. Be filled with the Spirit. Live the "crucified life". Easy words to say, but how are they done? Not so easy, is my guess, since so many of us don't seem to be able to catch on, including me more often than I'd like to admit. So here are some bulleted points that I hope will provide some answers.
  • Bible knowledge is not the main goal for us. No one gets more satisfaction from studying the Word and learning new stuff than me. However, "knowledge puffs up" if it isn't used. Unless that knowledge transforms my heart and my life, it's in vain. Check out James 1. I can study, I can tithe, I can show up every time the doors are open. But if my life isn't becoming more and more like Jesus something's missing. Make the goal of your time in the Word to be when God speaks through it to you about life change. Humble yourself before Him as He reveals the treasures of His will to be lived out in your life.

  • Fellowship is more than eating and drinking. It's communion, it's commitment and it's covenental. Joining a church is like getting married. If the Holy Spirit sovereignly places us in the body as he sees fit (see 1 Cor. 12) then only He has the right to remove me from that body. I just don't think He's as fickle as we credit Him for being. The church isn't a social organization; it's an organic body, where each part is dependent on the others. Check out Ephesians 4:11-16.

  • That means - and I have seen this as the great hindrance in Ed and Edith making their church relationship all that it should be - without being honest there can be no real communion. By the way, communion and fellowship come from the same word. Ed and Edith likely begin to become dishonest with themselves about why things at church didn't sit well with them. "The church has changed!!" Well, duh. Growing, living organisms change. If they're not changing it's because they're dead. What Ed and Edith need to do is stop being old wineskins and grow along with the church. The ability to be transparent is such a huge stumbling block in US church culture.

  • Honesty also means that when Ed and Edith see, experience or hear something that troubles them they go to the source and find out why. They seek to gain understanding rather than pick up their toys and go home. They hold off on their judgment until they get the facts. And the best place to get the facts is from those who are leading. And if you can't trust your leadership why would you be there?

  • And honesty means not blaming God for their inability to be committed and open. "I've prayed about it" is Ed and Edith's cop out. It expresses an independence from the body and the leadership God has positioned in the body. Before "praying" and getting "God's will" to leave, talk with His appointed undershepherds and carefully listen to both their vision, rationale and most of all, the biblical values they uphold.

  • Burst the bubble. God didn't save any of us to retreat from the world into our holy huddle, but to infiltrate our cultures and communities with the Gospel. We've made church a safe comfortable place for believers to get their weekly fix instead of making church a launch pad for missions. Instead of tickling itching ears, preachers need to be encouraging and if necessary prodding the sheep to see the whiteness of the fields all around them. It's not about being gifted to share Christ. It's about all of us doing our part in obeying the Great Commission.

  • The pastor doesn't need to hear how powerful his sermons or the worship service are. If you want to encourage your pastor go out and live what you heard him speak from the Word. Carry your worship from Sunday into Monday and all through the week. Then come back and tell him how God's Word is changing you.

  • Unless your churched friends from the church down the road have a legitimate moral or doctrinal issue with their church that they've tried to resolve but can't, don't invite them to your church. Pray for them, yes. But don't welcome them to your church unless there's a scripturally legitimate reason for their leaving. Here's what I've learned: the problems they have there will be brought with them if unresolved. Eventually, if we don't deal with our "baggage" it always gets opened up again. So if you're about to leave your church, think again. Do the biblical Christ-like thing and resolve whatever difficulties you're experiencing. Otherwise you'll take your problems with you and they will resurface wherever you go. Churches need to be confident enough of their purpose and vision to say "No thanks" to church hoppers.

  • If you want things to be done like they were done at your old church down the road, stay there. Growing, healthy churches have to change because old methods lose their effectiveness as culture changes. That's a fact of life. Accept it.

  • If you've moved from another geographic location, prove yourself a committed Christ follower before you start trying to change anything. Your suggestions might have great merit. They might be great ideas. But before attempting to bring changes, earn the right to be heard.

  • "Your" tithe isn't yours. It's His. Learn that everything you possess as a Christian belongs to the One who possesses you. When we learn that it becomes easy to surrender our "rights".

  • Realize that we all do battle every day with the old nature. Realize also that if a church is making headway and rescuing the perishing that the enemy of Christ and the church is going to do whatever it takes and use whoever is unaware to create division and disunity. He could and will use me if I allow it. We're in spiritual warfare and the battle is for the souls of men and women. If we're going to get into a fight, let's fight against those things that quench the Spirit of God and cripple the advance of the church.

Maybe you can tell I've pretty much had it up to "here" with how the church in our country has become more institutional that organic. I long for a real step back in time to the simplicity of the apostolic church. My heart breaks at the "I'm OK, you're OK" dishonesty and cover up of our hurts and pains within the church which makes us so dysfunctional as a family. At the same time, the "Can't we all just love each other" blindness to genuine cancers within the body isn't the way to go, either.

If all this makes you mad, guess what? It makes me mad, too. And I don't like it. So, I'm working hard to change it. How about joining me?

Ed and Edith




I'm not the new kid on the block. My relationship with Christ began in 1966 - 41 years ago, and for all of those 41 years I've been actively involved with churches in various volunteer and vocational roles. So, I've pretty much seen it all when it comes to the behavior patterns of evangelical American Christians who don't get it (but think they do) when it comes to relating to the body of Christ. Here are their prototypes: Evangelical Ed and Edith.

Ed and Edith...
  • Have been born again Christians for most of their lives. The churches (note the plurality of that word) they have been members of have given them a fairly solid grounding of Bible knowledge. There's almost a sense of pride in their perfect attendance pins and tithing record.

  • Love to fellowship with other Christians. If the church has an "eatin' meetin'" they're there with their favorite casserole. Ed's the best horseshoe pitcher at the picnic. Edith's pie takes the prize. Small talk comes so easily for them. But they avoid getting too "personal" in their conversations. All their friends are Christians, and that can't be a bad thing. After all, "iron sharpens iron", right?

  • Are the first to tell the pastor how "powerful" his sermon was they just heard. They feast on good preaching and their notebook is full of Bible tidbits and interesting facts they glean from the messages. Yet they never have brought an unchurched friend to church to see, hear and experience what they say they enjoy so much.

  • Never lead a friend or neighbor to faith in Christ. Or if they ever have, it's been years ago. Their Bible study has convinced them that God hasn't given them the "gift of evangelism", so they're exempt from actually sharing the Gospel with anyone. Yet at the church business meeting they are willing to share questions/criticisms about the budget and the lack of financial growth; or if the membership totals haven't grown they want to know how many hours the staff is putting in each week "knocking on doors".

  • If they ever do invite a friend, it's someone who is disgruntled with their church down the road. They introduce him/her/them to the pastor with a smile, kind of like the cat who drops the dead mouse at your front doorstep to show you he's doing his job.

  • Get real comfortable with the status quo at church. After all, they joined because they liked how things were. But as soon as the status quo is challenged and new methods, styles, outreach, you name it are introduced they begin to get fidgety.

  • Have no problem wondering why the church doesn't do church like their former church. At first they wonder to each other over Sunday dinner. Then they wonder with their small group of close church friends. Rarely do they ever pose those questions to church leadership who can give them a real answer.

  • Have baggage they've brought with them from past church experiences. For a long time they keep those bags hidden in the attic, and try their best to be team players. But something takes them into the attic where they see the bags and can't resist opening them up. The old "church clothes" are brought out and they put them on again. Suddenly they are finding similar faults with their current church that they found with the one they left with unresolved issues.

  • Eventually vanish, sometimes quietly, sometimes with a lot of noise. If they are so kind as to grant an "exit interview" the standard and spiritual answer is, "After considerable prayer, we believe God is leading elsewhere." Wasn't that exactly what they said years ago when they came to join our church? There words were, "We don't know why, but God led us out of that church and has brought us here!" They are nebulous about their reasons for leaving, owing it to "God's will". Maybe God does view us as an army and like in the military loves to moves us around from post to post on His command. I guess that's it.

The American evangelical church is full of Eds and Ediths. In fact, church growth is more commonly due to their moving around than it is to conversions. And we wonder why church health is so hard to obtain and keep.

What do we do about Ed and Edith? Better yet, how do we keep from becoming them?

I guess that'll be next.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Backflash

Every Sunday I'm in awe of the depth of the worship we're having at our church. No, it's not quite "heavenly" yet, but as our congregation learns to be more open to God and our band continues to flat out take us to greater limits, it's an exciting experience every week.

Today the songs went so well with the theme of the sermon - caring for your neighbor - from the story of the Good Samaritan. I felt pretty wiped out after the first gathering because of the emotion this sermon took out of me. I'm pretty passionate about communicating the need for us to become a true missional congregation and transitioning away from seeing church as what we do on Sunday alone.

Being Labor Day weekend it was our last "hurrah" for this summer season. The numbers of out of town guests will drop noticeably next week. But that's OK. It's part of the territory here. But we'll miss them, especially their encouragements.

Tonight we had communion. Andy did a great job relating Passover to the Cross. Then after a new song from Pocket full of Rocks (or something like that) Nathan shared with the church about Tricia's upcoming double lung transplant. You can learn more about that at her site www.65roses4pattysue.com. Then the church (all of us!) gathered around Nate and prayed. Unfortunately Tricia wasn't feeling well so she missed being there.

It's so refreshing to see the church set up the auditorium from a Sunday morning worship setting to a fellowship room with tables and chairs. I love it! And the Mexican food tonight was, as always, muy bueno! Thanks again to the fellowship team for putting it all together.

Tomorrow's a holiday, so I've given the First Appointment guys the morning off as well. I hope they all remember!