Thursday, July 31, 2008

42 years ago today

It was a Sunday. In Jacksonville, NC a July Sunday was likely as hot as it is today. But I really don't remember anything about the weather.

At church I had been listening as Pastor Kirk faithfully explained how Jesus died to be my Savior. And each week he invited those who had not yet received Christ to do so. I hadn't, but I would peek to see if anyone was raising their hand to ask for prayer about it.

Already in life I was intrigued about eternal life and how to get it. A couple of years earlier I had asked my mom how to get to heaven. She explained what she had always been taught, and at that point still believed. "If you'd done more good in life than bad you go to heaven." That satisfied my curiosity until at this new church we began to attend Pastor Kirk began reading from the Bible about believing in Jesus as your personal Savior. That I had never done.

He was so convincing, this young pastor. He was passionate about it. I knew he was a nice guy. His son Danny and I were in the same class at school, and I had been over to his house before. And he used to be a pro baseball player and that really made me listen to him.

A couple weeks before this Gospel of faith alone began to get under my skin. If it was true, no matter how good a boy I was, I wasn't good enough for God's heaven. Frankly I was a bit scared. Earlier that year a neighbor girl, younger than I, had been struck by a car and killed. So I knew kids didn't necessarily live to be old like my grandparents. What if I died? Where would I go?

Sometime that week I made the choice to accept Jesus as my Savior. I can't nail down the moment, but now I realize it was during that time. But what I did nail down was when I let the cat out of the bag and told Pastor Kirk about it at the end of that church service on July 31, 1966.

What I discovered was that my fear of the after-life was gone. Still is. Jesus promised me that He would forgive my sins and welcome me into His family.

I've seen lots of people make the same choice over the years that I did as a ten year old boy. Some have been children like I was, but most have been older. And it excites me every time I hear of another person who believes, regardless of their age with a child-like faith.

I haven't had any contact with that old pastor for decades. I heard he was pastor of a church in Durham, NC., but I couldn't locate him there earlier this year. He may not be living now. But I'm still grateful to him for explaining the truth about Jesus in a way I could understand it. One day I'll get to tell him so.

"...should you choose to accept it"

I grew up watching the Mission Impossible TV series back in the day. It always began with the introduction of the next mission on a reel to reel tape (high tech in the late 60's - early 70's) and the words, "This is your mission, should you choose to accept it". Then the tape burned itself up.

Our mission as Christ-followers is not impossible. Taking His love to those who need it can be done by all of us. But we have to make the choice to take it on.

One of those who has chosen to accept the mission is Marie. It thought I took her picture to post here (much to her chagrin) but it's not on the camera. And she'll be relieved because she doesn't want attention focused on her. Sorry, Marie, but I'm going to talk about you for a minute.

Marie volunteers at our church by serving in our youth ministry. She leads a group of teenage girls every Sunday night. You can find her on Sunday mornings helping check children into our Kids Church. She's consistent.

And this week Marie took vacation time from her job to lead teenagers on missions projects in our community during Operation Impact (see my previous post). She's one of my heroes. She gets it. She's made the choice and it has cost her something. I guess there are about 20 adults who, like Marie, have given up their time this week to influence youth and reach out into the community.

Because of volunteers like Marie, the mission is a step closer to being accomplished.

Pictured above are the youth right after grouping for prayer and getting ready to "go into the world" this morning.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Launch Pad

About 3 years ago as we began to unveil the vision God had given us to build a totally new and different facility at our church (that's it in the picture at the top of the blog) I used the phrase "a launch pad for missions" time and again to instill in the church the purpose for the new building. When we gather here as a congregation it's to be energized and equipped to fulfill the Great Commission during the rest of the week as we go into the community.

Our purpose statement is pretty simple: "Reaching people to discover life in Christ". It's our purposes that drive what we do as a church, and that included our reason for building. What's happening this week has been the best fulfillment of that Launch Pad philosophy that we've seen so far in our 16 months since we moved in.

This week youth groups from our beach are uniting together for "Impact OBX", a four day missions blitz right here in our own back yard. I'm not involved, so I can't give a lot of details about what all they're doing, but I do know teams have done such things as spending the day at the NC Aquarium with Downs Syndrome children; preparing and delivering lunches to the Nags Head lifeguards; cleaning out the cages at the animal shelter; doing yard work for some seniors; leading activities at the YMCA day camp....

Interestingly, Impact OBX began last summer with one church (not ours - not even our flavor). Then they thought, "What if we got other churches involved?" Great thinking!

And it begins each day right here at the Launch Pad. Our MP 13 Band kicks each morning off with worship, then they get some encouragement from God's Word and then they're off for the day.

I'm sure time will tell of the impact this week has had on our community. But frankly, I'm just as stoked about the impact this week will have on these 100 teenagers and adult leaders and the ten churches they represent. Maybe they can ignite whole churches (ie. adults) to see their mission!

It all concludes Thursday night with a huge outreach event - Community Collision - at First Flight High School.

Hopefully next year this thing will pull in even more to work together to accomplish the mission of pointing others to Christ.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Poisoning the church

Not long ago I had a conversation with a member of another church who needed a pastor's perspective. It seems that gossip is wreaking havoc in her church and negatively affecting her own family; especially the teenagers in the house.

James writes that "...the tongue is like a fire. It is a whole world of evil among the parts of our bodies. The tongue spreads its evil through the whole body. The tongue is set on fire by hell, and it starts a fire that influences all of life." Most of us who have been part of churches, even good churches have witnessed the damage that gossip and rumor can do. They really are killers.

At our church, while we're not perfect, we have a zero tolerance policy for gossip. If you want to be shown the door be a gossip. It's that simple. You'll get a couple of warnings first, but after that we'll let you find another church. Many seem to think gossip is something the church has to live with. It's not. And if left unchecked, the church will die from it.

Here are some simple ways to deal with gossip in your own life.

1. Refrain from being a gossip. If you have an issue with someone go to that person and no one else.

2. Refuse to listen to gossip. The moment someone tries to give you a juicy tidbit (whether it is fact or fiction makes no difference) stop the conversation and don't allow the gossiper to pollute your mind.

3. Rebuke a gossiper. Follow #2 with "Hey. Do you realize how wrong that is to spread gossip? Don't come here with it anymore." And may I add that in the church that includes gossip cloaked as "prayer requests".

4. Repent if you're guilty. That means you need to take these actions:
A. Confess your gossip and lack of control of your tongue to God. Before your gossip offended anyone else it offended Him:
B. Ask Him to give you control over your current inability to keep your mouth shut.
C. Go to whomever you have hurt, including the person being gossipped about and the person(s) to whom you have spread the gossip and ask for their forgiveness.

An entire "entertainment industry" has been built on gossip. Our culture can't seem to get enought of it. But this is one activity that needs to be kept out of the church.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Pointing fingers the wrong way

Yesterday in Knoxville, TN the unthinkable happened.

While children were up front performing "Annie" in a Unitarian/Universalist service a madman opened fire with a 12 gauge shotgun, killing two and injuring five in the service. None of the children were harmed.

This wasn't his church. And he entered carrying a guitar case (in which was his shotgun). Hello? Churches are so naive when it comes to security these days. But that's another post.

Listed in this news article about the incident were the following reasons given by law enforcement and his neighbor as to why this man did such a horrible thing:
1. His lack of being able to obtain a job and his frustration over that;
2. His stated hatred for the liberal movement;
3. His anger toward the Bible and Christians;
4. His parents made him go to church.

Strange reasons? Not at all. What makes most of us angry? Employment (or lack of it). Politics. Religion. Parents. I've had my share of anger about every one of those in my lifetime. Who hasn't?

It's true that the Universalist/Unitarian religion is liberal. I personally disagree with most of what they believe and stand for. But you don't go around killing those with whom you disagree. At least not in a civilized society.

I had no choice about going to church while growing up. It was a non-negotiable. So why don't I hate my parents for making me go? In fact, I required my own kids to go as well, and guess where they are every Sunday by their own choice now as adults? What makes the difference?

They're calling this a "hate crime". Hate and anger are a dangerous duo. Sadly, I believe there will be more incidents like this one in our country's future, not less.

His response to life made him mad. He chose not to deal with his anger in a civil, moral fashion. He chose to be violent. No one made him do what he did. Not his parents; not a church; not liberalism; not religious hypocrisy.

Pray for the victims and their families. Pray for the gunman. It appears his soul is lost. Pray for justice.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sunday Flashback

Today was "Backpack Sunday" - we're on the home stretch of our Operation Backpack to provide free school supplies to needy families here locally. Last Sunday we encouraged everyone to come to church with a backpack - either one to donate or one filled with school supplies or both! It was a lot of fun! My backpack? A hot pink Dora and Boots model. All the little girls were fascinated that Pastor Rick was walking around church wearing that!

The message was on a more serious note: loving one another in the family of God. My goal was to encourage those believers who were not yet connected to the church to make the commitment. You can't practice "brotherly love" if you're not in a committed relationship with the brethren.

We cut the time a little bit so that we had an extra 5 minutes at the end of each gathering for folks to "connect" or to come up and talk to the pastors about plugging in to NHC. It was a great mix today of songs, teaching and fellowshipping.

There were so many at church today that we had to print up extra outlines in both the adult gathering and in Kids Church. Way cool!

After the second gathering our pastors had lunch (thanks Hospitality Team!!) with 5 folks who have taken my Discovering Nags Head Church class and applied to be partners with us in the fellowship. Then we met with them one on one and heard their stories about faith and both asked and answered questions about them and about the church. God continues to grow us!

This afternoon the MP 13 Band is practicing for this weeks Impact OBX - a four day missions blitz for area church youth groups. Then later this evening our Contagious youth group meets at the beach for fun and teaching.

It's a great day!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Lessons from pre-schoolers

Ever watch a bunch of 3-5 year olds at a birthday party? I did this afternoon.

My nephew's 4th birthday party was today. About 11 mostly pre-school kids gathered to help him celebrate, along with that many and a few more parents and a grandma. Ty got lots of neat toys and games. Trains, trucks and cars are the hot ticket item for little boys his age.

After the cake and opening the gifts the kids began to play. Actually, they were playing before all that. Prior to the cake and the gifts they began to have a great time jumping off of a rolled up carpet. They all did it and it seemed like it was the most fun they had ever had. Jumping off a rolled up carpet. Nothing structured; no game nazi calling the shots.

Then after the gifts were opened the hottest item to play with? A ball. Sure, there were remote controlled monster trucks and other "cool" stuff. But the simple round ball got the most attention. None of the parents seemed concerned that the more sophisticated toys were for the most part ignored.

And we've all seen Christmases and birthdays with even littler ones where their favorite thing to play with is not the toys we adults think they'll enjoy the most but the boxes and the wrapping and the bows.

The longer I'm around baby believers the more I'm convinced that some churches tend to go overboard trying to help them "grow up". Maybe all they really need early on are the simple lessons and time to interact and discover the simple things of the faith and have a group to share that joy and life with.

With proper "parenting" (Paul called Timothy his "son" in the faith), the more mature can guide young believers when they're ready to more "adult level" faith exercises. In a healthy church family it will happen and happen with more simplicity and more naturally than sometimes we realize.

Of course, there are far too many churches who never help them grow past the juvenile, either. But that's another post.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Where to draw the lines on our "God box"

Dennis the Menace has a dilemma. Alice, his mom, has taken him shopping for "church clothes" at the department store. As she checks out the fit of a sports jacket on him, explaining "this is for church" he has a theological epiphany.

"But if I wear this to church God will never recognize me!"

Oh, that most adults had a combination of both the innocence and the depth of a four year old. And let’s assume that Dennis’ objection to the new clothes is sincere and not just an excuse to get out of wearing them. Let’s assume his concern as he expressed it is real.

You see, Dennis knows that God created him. And give Alice and Henry Mitchell credit for that little boy's knowledge of spiritual matters. He knows that his life isn’t an accident, and that there is a God who keeps track of him. This little guy has apparently put a lot of thought into his theology. At least he understands that much. But his grasp of God goes much deeper - perhaps even deeper than Alice's.

Here are some things God has revealed to us about Himself and how He relates to us.

He does indeed "recognize" us. Jesus said that God knows us so well that He even keeps up with the numbers of hairs on our heads. I don't know about you, but with me, a middle aged man, that sounds like quite an accomplishment! But it tells me that He must care an awful lot.

He knows us as we really are. I think that's what Dennis was expressing. Unlike so many of us, who only think about or truly focus on Him for an hour in a room with stained glass windows (where no one can peer in but God!), God sees us 24/7. We can't hide from Him or disguise ourselves so that He is confused as to our character or our whereabouts.

He's not really interested in our fashion styles. In fact, He doesn't pay attention to what's on the outside, but what's on the inside. Jesus had some blunt things to say to those in His day and culture who made the assumption that "the clothing makes the man spiritual". To think that we can garner God's attention by what we wear would make Him a pretty shallow and materialistic person.

But also, like so many of us naturally tend to do, Dennis still has God in a box. Breaking out of that box and seeing God in His infinite nature is one of the hardest challenges to humankind like me. Like Dennis, we perceive God as possessing our own limitations. Why? Because if we can convince ourselves that God is who we understand Him to be, then we can excuse our own weaknesses. After all, if God could fail to recognize us because we changed clothes, then I can fail in some areas of life and be cool with it, too.

If the Creator is simply what the creation deems Him to be, then who is really God? That’s one reason why God prohibited His people from making idols or images of what they thought He might look like. He’s too beyond us for that. If I can design my own God, then I can control Him as well.

The great thing about this Creator is that He has revealed Himself to us in real and tangible ways: from everything as general as nature and creation itself to the very specific revealing of Himself through His Son Jesus. And our boxes are always too small for Him.

You’re right, Dennis. You don’t have to wear that sport jacket to be noticed by God. But neither can God be fooled of who you really are if you do. So, humor (or perhaps I should say “honor”) Mom and wear the uncomfortable coat (and probably a tie, too) if that’s what she wants. It’s just for an hour or so once a week. Then you can change back into your overalls. And God won’t miss a beat.

Rick Lawrenson is the Lead Pastor of Nags Head Church.
© 2008 Nags Head Church

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A blast from the past

The phone rang and the voice said, "Is this Rick Lawrenson? I hope I've got the right guy."
"Yes. Who's this?"
"A blast from the past!"

It was Kieth, my roommate from my freshman year of college 34 years ago! We hadn't connected in probably 31 years.

We talked for most of an hour I guess, catching up on old times and finding out about old friends.

There's a reunion planned for a lot of us who studied youth ministry together back in the day and had a lot of fun in the mean time.

It was great hearing from him. He's still walking the walk.

But I think his memory is fading. He asked me if I'm still "crazy".

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The eye of the storm has passed by

A hurricane hits and pounds with wind and rain and flood. Then for a brief time, when the eye passes over it gets peaceful. The skies are even blue for a short time. But then after the eye passes the pounding continues until the storm is gone.

The results of Tricia's scan today showed that her lymphoma was essentially unaffected by the chemo she's had over the last 5 weeks. In fact, the cancer has grown.

Nathan's blog gives the details.

We're all discouraged, to put it mildly.

I don't have answers to the obvious questions. I hope I have the faith the size of a mustard seed, however.

Thanks for your prayers. The winds and rain have picked back up on the back side of this storm.

Freedom FROM the Press

As Americans we treasure our freedoms guaranteed in our Constitution. Among them are the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press.

But now the press (I should be specific here: The NY Times) has decided that it should determine the opinions of citizens and policies of our government. And if those opinions and policies don't set well with the editorial poobahs of The Times, then those opinions and policies will not be presented to the people via their paper.

Something's awry here.

When a presidential candidate submits his opinion/policy in response to the same from another candidate whose opinion/policy was published, and the paper returns it to him with "suggestions" as how to make it more to their liking, isn't that censorship? So much for freedom.

But really. We're talking the NY Times here. Is anybody surprised? "Fair and balanced" isn't exactly their slogan.

It seems those NY publications are doing their best to out-do each other these days.

CREST: New day and time

Here’s what you’ll hear about Wednesday night @ 7PM at CREST:

1. Summer’s not over yet!
Operation Backpack
Missions Sunday

2. A very active Fall is coming with...
40 Days of Prayer – September 1-Oct. 10 and how you can get involved. I’m very xcited about this!
A regional Prayer Conference we’re hosting in September. A great Friday night-Saturday morning conference on prayer.
The Chowan Association has its first ever annual meeting at NHC in October. After 52 years they’re really coming.
40 Days of Purpose – October 12-November 16 and how you can get plugged in. Be ready for God to do amazing things.
Trunk or Treat!! Can it really be bigger than last year?

3. Our current financial status – the cold hard facts.

4. Changes on the horizon!! The last thing we want is to be stagnant.

Please make every effort to attend and catch the wave.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Happy 1st Anniversary Sarah and Terry!

A year already!

On July 21, 2008 I walked our middle child Sarah down the aisle and gave her hand to Terry Moore. The ceremony was short and sweet, but not as sweet as the reception!

Six months later they moved to Florida where Terry took on a position with a church there. So we don't get to see them often at all. Last Wednesday they arrived for a visit, giving us 7 in our house this week.

Thanks for coming up to celebrate it with us. I look forward to getting taste of the top layer of the cake, too.

One down, many more to come for you two! You're a great team.

Look for us to return the visit in early '09!

Much Ado About Nothing

On Saturday the TV news crews were here, asking vacationers on the beach and local officials about the tropical storm headed our way. We had been placed on warning that the storm would hit us within 24 hours. High winds and torrential rains were on their way...

Cristobal never showed up. I mean, other than a few brief showers and srinkles and some occasional big clouds, we've had blue skies and a great breeze for the past couple of days.

But he was the talk of the town for 72 hours. And we were ready! For nothing!!

Don't get me wrong. Living on a spit of sand protruding into the Atlantic makes us keenly aware of the potential damage storms can bring. But having lived here for 22 years has also shown me that too much hype is generated over natural phenomena over which we have no control and really can't predict. The biggest fear-mongers between the months of June and November are the TV media. Their hype is so laughable. I guess fear and worry make for good news?

The Bible teaches us to be prepared in life (Proverbs 6:6-11 for example) for whatever comes our way. It's that preparation that squelches the temptation to worry and wring our hands. If a category 3 or higher hurricane were descending upon us, I'm prepared to evacuate. It could happen, but I'm not going to fret about it. Such things are beyond my control.

Too much energy and time was wasted talking about something that never happened. Prepare. Don't panic. And don't base your response on hype.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sunday Flashback

What is godliness? How can imperfect people possess a quality that causes their lives to image the Divine? That's what we talked about this morning. This series is going step by step through 2 Peter 1:5-7. And I say "step by step" because that's how these characteristics are presented by Peter: one "step" leads to the next in this quest for spiritual maturity.

Today on the Outer Banks we were expecting Tropical Storm Cristobal. But he still hasn't shown up. Contagious Youth, that usually meets on the beach was moved indoors because of the forecast. With Andy out of town Rich taught the youth and I met with the Parent Pod. You can find out more about that stuff on Andy's blog.

One of the fun parts of being in a resort area church is that you get to see both a lot of new people each week who are on vacation and come to church as well as those who make NHC part of their annual pilgrimage. And today the energy that seemed to be down some last Sunday was back.

It's also fun watching folks trying to wolf down a donut and cup of coffee before they come into the gathering. So I will walk around and let them know it's OK to bring them into the service. The looks of surprise I get!

Today was Burnie's birthday. Believe it or not 3 of our band members are in their mid-50's, which I think is way cool. Most of the rest of them are in their 20's. And today they sounded awesome. It was also Gail's first venture back on the keys since her hand surgery in May. She said she hit a few bad notes, but I didn't notice.

Two comments from a first time guest, a local young lady who grew up in a very different church tradition than ours. She's been visiting churches around, so I asked her what she thought. "You taught the Bible in a way I could understand it and it made sense. And I loved the music!" She seemed very pleasantly surprised.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Red Flag Days

Here in our beach communities red flags are posted along the beaches when surf conditions make swimming dangerous. Usually the conditions produce rip currents, which are a major danger and cause for drowning. The flags are put up for the protection of the public.

Yesterday most of our municipalities put up the flags. I have no doubt that lives were saved in those town. Two towns did not, and in one of them a man drowned. In those towns the government failed to protect the public, most of whom are from out of town and really don't understand the dangers of rough seas. After all, they paid a lot of money to vacation here and by God, they want to swim in the ocean.

Giving out warnings isn't fun. Someone will always protest. "But I'm a good swimmer." "Isn't this a free country?", or some other stupid rationale. Those who are in positions of authority and knowledge have a responsibility to err on the side of caution and to take the heat for making the tough choice and putting out the flags.

To do anything less is negligent on the part of those who are entrusted with that responsibilty. Human life is of greater value than any other cause.

Hmmm. Sounds like a lot of comparisons could be made here to the church...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Organ Donation: Please tell me why not?

In the past couple of weeks I've had the sad duty to minister to folks who have lost loved ones. All were strangers to me. Three of those who died were minor children; one a fairly healthy adult. A fifth was an older adult, so I excluded him.

From what? From asking the family (parents/spouse/next of kin) if they would consider organ donation.

Let me be real honest here. Asking parents and spouses to allow their children's/loved one's organs to be harvested in the minutes after they've been told of the death is not an easy thing to do. I do not enjoy asking. But I do it because I am passionate about organ donation. I even explain that my daughter-in-law is alive today because someone gave lungs to her.

But why should I have to ask at that terrible time? Better, why haven't those I've spoken with already made the decision to give their organs? Or even to not give them? It is amazing to me that so many people have not considered organ donation for themselves or (God forbid) for their children should they die. But then, most people put the thought of death as far back in the recesses of their minds as they're able and never believe it will come.

So far I'm 0 for 4. And while I'm outwardly gracious certainly non-confrontational when told, "No, we don't want to do that", I'm inwardly frustrated that they don't get it. When you're at the height of grief is not the time to decide.

Please consider organ donation. And either make a yes or no decision now while you're alive and make that decision known to your next of kin. Fill out the paperwork if you decide "yes". Get it on your driver's license. And if you're the parent of a minor child, please consider what you will do should your child's life come to an end. Think about it. Now. Trust me, you don't want to (and won't be able to) think about it in the ER.

I don't mean to be morbid here, but this is reality. People die every day, even young people. And some people who are dying could be saved every day if the organs were available.

There's a link on the right side of this page about organ donation. I hope that if you haven't already decided to give that you'll visit the site and learn why and how.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Guest Blogger: Roger Blackmore

Being a pastor I'm attracted to other pastors' blogs - especially those who challenge me and force me to think out of the box. Roger's one of those pastors.

He's a few years older than me, which gives him the right to tell me things I ought to know. His family speaks to his integrity as a man of God. The church he pastors he also planted and isn't confined to any certain mold. Although our churches have much in common, there are differences as well. After all, we're located in different cultures.

We've eaten meals together on both coasts (I owe him lunch), sharing ideas and building our friendship over the past 6 or so years.

This post titled "Whatever" hit home with me as a pastor.

I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine this morning in my favorite local Diner. He was asking me how I deal with the frustrations triggered by people who never seem to get it - they’re not comitted to Sunday worship on a really regular basis, never get into small groups, don’t serve and don’t tithe.

The bottom line is it’s important that leaders remember we are there to serve the church (the people) and the people are not there to serve the leaders and their programs.

So a few weeks shy of 38 years down the pastoring road, how have I avoided an ulcer, a nervous breakdown, a heart attack or total disillusionment that has driven me from ministry altogether?

1. I have come to appreciate that some people never will get it.

2. I recognize that while they may be wonderful people and are without question children of God, they are not going to play a significant role in achieving God’s purposes. So I don’t focus on them.

3. I don’t preach sermons that beat up a few people whose lack of commitment is ticking me off. They won’t hear it anyway and instead good people will begin to question whether they themselves are really up to the mark.

4. I lay everything out before people - provide small groups, encourage small group participation, talk about serving, organize opportunities for them to get plugged in, preach about money, emphasize that tithing is a foundation issue, etc. In doing so I am serving them - whether they take it up is their responsibility.

5. If we hold a prayer night and a handful of people show up, so be it. If we come into a small groups semester and don’t fill every one we made available, well at least we offered them.

I’m dead serious about what I’m doing and so I won’t let my energy be sapped by those who don’t want to move on. I’d rather get exhausted keeping up with those that are racing forward to reach more of the unreached.

Blog Party!

Looking at my counter it appears the blog will get to 400K hits sometime in the very near future. How near depends on how many stop by.

So we're throwing a party.

I'm picking up jerk chicken wings from Barefoot Bernies. What are you bringing?

Monday, July 14, 2008

What brought you back?

One of the questions I ask the participants in our Discovering Nags Head Church class is, "After you came the first time, what made you come back?"

Here are the responses from yesterday. Many were repeated by others, but they're typical of what is shared in each class.
  • The music!
  • I go home remembering what was taught
  • It's the coffee that brought my husband back.
  • In my church back home I always fell asleep during church. Not here! [Maybe it's the coffee?]
  • I was made to feel welcome.
  • The teaching gives real life applications.
  • The Bible is taught as God's Word.
  • The check in for the kids made me feel that they were being cared for.

Now, my guess is that if we polled those who came once and never returned (or maybe walked out) their answers would be: [Think Ed and Edith are searching again for a church...]

  • The music!
  • It didn't "feel like church"/wasn't what I was used to.
  • I like church to be quiet.
  • The pastor wore flip flops and sat on a stool. How irreverent is that?
  • The service went for an hour and fifteen minutes. That's just too long.
  • The people next to me raised their hands while they sang. I was horrified. Were they going to start dancing next? [No, but we might pull out some snakes next week!]

It's interesting when people reveal their expectations for a church or worship gathering. It's also interesting when people are surprised by what they find. To be honest, Ed and Edith are not our target. They think they've already got the God thing all figured out, and to them, we're out in left field somewhere. And that's OK. They'll find their niche somewhere else and bless that church.

Our goal is to attract, reach and maintain an opportunity to impact those who have no clue about God or spiritual things, but just know He is the missing ingredient in their lives. They don't know what to expect, and as a result are bowled over by the welcome and security and relevance they sense by what we do. And they're even surprised that they're getting answers to the questions in their lives from the Bible of all places.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Sunday Flashback

Long day today!

After two worship gatherings this AM I taught our Discovering Nags Head Church class, the first of 5 classes designed to help believers discover and apply the five purposes of our church. It's the intro class to our church, and is taken by new people to our church, answering their questions before they take the plunge into a committed partnership with us. I always enjoy teaching it and getting to know those God is bringing our way.

This morning I spoke about having "patient endurance" (2 Peter 1:6) and used Peter's own stories of his own impatience and at the same time Jesus' tremendous patience with him. It hit home with most of us; after all, how many of us don't struggle with patience and the trials that help us endure?

Today was a picture perfect day weatherwise. Maybe that explains why our attendance didn't come near to last Sunday when it was rainy and gray! "Let's see, do we go to church on our vacation or hit the beach while the sky is blue and the surf is up?" And it seemed like the "energy" was off a bit. Who knows?

It is so fantastic to watch folks hang out after a gathering and linger just to spend time together. One of our guests was talking with me in the lobby and made mention of that. When people genuinely love one another they love to do just that - love one another. Of course coffee and donuts don't discourage that fellowship, either!

Sam and Buddy gave a great testimony in both gatherings about their accountability relationship. I talked about that two weeks ago and their story was a great follow up. Iron sharpens iron.

A Josh Groban song? Hey, it worked well with the message. Good job from the band on all the songs. Those guys really are good. It's hard to remember what it was like at NHC when our musical talent was nearly non-existent. God has really blessed us.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

As the world turns

I began reading a new book yesterday entitled "Courageous Church Leadership". I’m just getting into it, so I can’t tell you what it’s all about, but the little bit I have read has me intrigued. The book is a series of interviews with church leaders who have led their congregations to “attempt great things for God and expect great things from God.”

Give me some more of that!

Leadership is necessary – some would say a necessary evil – in every facet of life. And part of being a leader is being willing to be courageous and take risks. Families without courageous leadership are called “dysfunctional”. Businesses without courageous leadership are called “out of business”. Sports teams without courageous leadership are called cellar dwellers. But what about churches?

Jesus believed in it so much that He modeled it perfectly. His goal was for 11 men to take the baton as He passed it to them and with Spirit empowered boldness turn the world upside down. With leaders like Peter, John and later Paul the first century church accomplished so much because those men and others like them took huge risks. When everything and everyone told them “No way” they dared to prove them wrong.

They are our example for today. When modern churches and leaders have the courage to trust and believe God like the apostolic church did and God responds to their faith by taking them down roads that are both scary and at the same time exhilarating I want to find out who they are and how they stepped out so boldly.

It’s not my nature to be bold and courageous. And often times I think, “I’d rather not be leading”. But my nature and those thoughts are not from God’s Holy Spirit. And I can’t escape the prospect that in His sovereignty He has positioned me where I am not to sit on the sideline; not to cower when everyone and everything says, “No”; but to ask for a double dose of His boldness to lead.

If you’re a leader at home, at work or in the church I would guess He’s positioned you for the same purposes. Your family, your workplace, your church are all teams. If you’re not a leader (and not everyone is) then He’s positioned you to follow and support those He’s appointed to lead you and to pray for their courage in the face of fearful opposition.

God wants to use you to turn the world upside down.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

No sting

This week I attended two funerals, both of men who were in the church I serve.

The first service was at the graveside. Bob was one of our first elders here when we moved to a pastoral team structure in our church. He and Patti moved to the western part of the state years ago for retirement, but we've kept in touch. At his service I was one of the attenders. His son-in-law Joe, a pastor, did a marvelous job in sharing about Bob's life, loves and faith.

The second service was here at our church. I led the celebration but many others, including friends and family, participated. Paul had lived his last few years with the disabling effects of a stroke. But he refused to allow his limitations to cripple his spirit or his infectious humor and love for life. Instead of becoming bitter he became better.

Both men left legacies of family and faith. Both services were filled with confidence that these men, because of their relationships with Christ, are now enjoying a new home in God's presence. You walked away from both funerals feeling good and thankful that death for the Christian is a new beginning, not a sad ending.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Six Months of Miracles!

Happy birthday Gwyneth. Although it's only 6 months and not a year, you've lived what already seems like a lifetime of experiences. And you really don't even know it.

You bring us tremendous joy and gratefulness to our Creator.

Maybe the rest of us can eat a cake for you...

Since you haven't yet named me...

Your Grandfather L.
(The two posts that follow relate to Gwyneth's birthday, too.)

(Bump) Surgery, Delivery, Recovery

(With today being Gwyneth's six month birthday, I've gone back and recalled what I wrote that day. We have much to celebrate! This post and the one below were from that day.)

They took Tricia down to OR just before noon. We got a call just after 1:00 that the tracheotomy went well and that she was stable. However just a couple of minutes later we were told that they were proceeding with the C Section. So we all rushed down to the surgical floor to join Nathan.

The wait seemed like forever, but about 45 minutes later the OB doctor came in and said the C Section went well and that Tricia seemed stable. The wave emotion that swept over us was huge. Lots of tears. Prayer of thanksgiving.

The baby weighs about 1 lb. 6 oz. She's been intubated and is in NICU. We've seen a picture the doc took on his blackberry. She's tiny, but has hair on her head!

Tricia's been taken back to ICU where they're tweaking her ventilation. For the time being she's kept under sedation and paralysis to keep her still. Her pulmonary doc met with us a few minutes ago and told us what took place. There were about 75 people in the OR and he said they all did their jobs well.

He also said Tricia's chances of survival from this are still "iffy" at best.

Nathan seems to be doing OK now. It was tremendously emotional for him, as you can imagine. He's been in to see Tricia. Later we'll get a visit from someone in NICU to update us on Gwyneth's status.

So please, if you're part of the prayer effort, don't stop now. Both mother and child are critical at this point. But all of us here know that all the prayers helped us get through this.

And the doc was wrong about who was in the OR. There was One he missed.

(Bump) In the vise

(In celebration of Gwyneth's six month birthday, this is a re-post of what I wrote shortly before Tricia went to surgery for a tracheotomy and the result was an emergency C-section. A lot has happened in six months...)

In a few minutes they'll be taking our daughter-in-law down to surgery to intubate and ventilate her, hoping for a few more days before delivering her baby girl. My son just came out to the little waiting room where we're gathered. He looked at Gail and I - "Tricia wants to talk to you."

She and Nathan have to make a choice just in case. If it comes down to saving one or the other, which one will it be? Never in all my life have I had to make a decision like that. In all my experience as a pastor and a public safety chaplain never have I had to advise anyone about such a decision. And now my son and his wife are asking us for assurance they're doing the right thing.

Our hope, and all indications are, that such a decision won't have to be made. But it is their choice, not the doctors'. And they've made the choice. She just needed assurance from us.

I can't describe the emotions I felt in that ICU room a few minutes ago. She asked me to pray. I gave it a feeble effort, I'm afraid. But earlier today God led me to this passage from Romans.

"In the same way the Spirit also joins to help us in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings. And He who searches the hearts knows the Spirit's mind-set, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God". (8:26-27 HCSB)

Again, like my previous post, I've always believed what those verses say. I've just never had to rely upon them like I just did.

Monday, July 7, 2008

A Proposal for NCDOT: Rename NC 12

I offer the following proposal to the NC Dept. of Transportation and Sen. Marc Basnight:

Proposed - that NC 12 ("the beach road") be changed to PA (as in Pennsylvania) 12, and be open only to cars with PA tags. This will alleviate much of the congestion and danger on US 158 for the following reasons:

  1. The speed limit on NC 12 is 35MPH. That is the maximum speed Pennsylvania drivers attain on 158, slowing everyone else down. They'll be far more comfortable on the beach road. Life for the rest of us will be able to proceed at a normal pace.

  2. There are only two lanes on NC 12. This means the number of left turns across 4 lanes of traffic, U turns and even 3 point turns on the bypass will be curtailed significantly. There is no turn lane in the middle of the beach road to confuse them. However, I am concerned that the bike path might be viewed as another traffic lane.

  3. There are fewer restaurants and retail outlets to cause them to slow down and gawk at. Such distractions make for hazardous driving conditions.

  4. By renaming it PA 12 the Keystone State would then be responsible for providing law enforcement and maintenance. Less taxes for us!

If you are a local here on the OBX and have some other great reasons to support the change, please let me know.

Believe it or not, after I wrote this, I was driving down NC 12 this morning and had to slow down because the car in front of me was, shall I say, driving below the speed limit. Guess what state they were from? It had to be.

For stress free driving along North Carolina's Outer Banks...

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Sunday Flashback

With this being July 4th weekend I asked three of our other pastors to tag team today and bring a message on Freedom. They gave Scriptural applications about freedom from family stress, financial stress and forever stress. Good job Tom, Burnie and Steve.

The place was slammed today, especially at 9 o'clock. And I know that if we're packed in the worship gathering, our nurseries and kids church gatherings are slammed, too. We gotta get that upstairs finished to give them more room!!

Geoff Moore's rendition of The Who's "I'm Free" started things off. If you can remember 1969 you might recall that song. It rocked. Seriously. And it was fun for our drummer Chris, who actually was with a band that opened for them in '68. The cowbell was awesome, Andy. [After just watching a couple of videos of The Who performing that song "back in the day" I now understand why they destroyed their guitars at the end of their concerts. Our band's was a much improved version.] The other songs related super with the day's theme and points of the message. In the middle was "Hosanna" (Hillsong United); "Mighty to Save" (Hillsong); "Give Me Jesus" (Jeremy Camp's rendition of an old Negro spiritual) and they closed out with "I Am Free" (John Egan). It was all good!

In between the gatherings I got a phone message that Paul, one of our senior members, slipped into eternity this morning. So, after welcoming everyone in the second gathering I ran over to their home and had prayer with his widow and family. They were sad he was gone but at the same time so happy for him. Paul had suffered a stroke years ago and had other complications that made life tough for him and Jan. But he love the Lord and lived with joy. A celebration of his life will be Wednesday afternoon at NHC at 4:00.

Tonight was our Communion Fellowship! It was my turn to lead the communion. I took a look at Jesus' mission, which He shared after convincing the tax collector Zaccheus to come down from the sycamore tree and have lunch with Him. Those who witnessed this were critical. Z was a sinner, after all! But Jesus set them straight: "I've come to seek and to save the lost". So if that was Jesus' mission, shouldn't it be ours as well. That's what the cross was about.

We're seated at tables, so I asked everyone to use the meal time to share their "sycamore tree" experience with one another. I heard some great testimonies from those at my table. I also asked the band to do their songs "unplugged" tonight. We heard a new song from them: "Lead Me to the Cross" (Hillsong United). Are they replacing Chris Tomlin as Nate's preferred composers? Just asking.

One of our men asked me tonight what he could pray for me about tomorrow. Great question, and one I appreciate being asked. My answer? "That no one else dies for a while". These last nine days have been pretty heavy in that department for me.

Oh yeah. I got to meet Lynsey today. She's from MD and on vacation here and actually reads my blog! And my old bud Lew from Chesapeake was in church (also on vacation). We'll get together for lunch and talk about old times and new things God is doing in our lives.

Great food tonight, too! We had a "luau". Somehow pineapple found its way into a lot of dishes.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Just two things

Love God.
Love your neighbor.

Can it really be that basic?

If so, how can we make it so complicated?

Friday, July 4, 2008

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!

No man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as abilities, of the very worthy gentlemen who have just addressed the House. But different men often see the same subject in different lights; and, therefore, I hope it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen if, entertaining as I do opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, I shall speak forth my sentiments freely and without reserve.

This is no time for ceremony. The questing before the House is one of awful moment to this country. For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfill the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country. Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the Majesty of Heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.

Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.

I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. And judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years to justify those hopes with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves and the House. Is it that insidious smile with which our petition has been lately received? Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet. Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss. Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with those warlike preparations which cover our waters and darken our land. Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled that force must be called in to win back our love?

Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugation; the last arguments to which kings resort. I ask gentlemen, sir, what means this martial array, if its purpose be not to force us to submission? Can gentlemen assign any other possible motive for it? Has Great Britain any enemy, in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies? No, sir, she has none. They are meant for us: they can be meant for no other. They are sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains which the British ministry have been so long forging.

And what have we to oppose to them? Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the last ten years. Have we anything new to offer upon the subject? Nothing. We have held the subject up in every light of which it is capable; but it has been all in vain. Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication? What terms shall we find which have not been already exhausted? Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves.

Sir, we have done everything that could be done to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne! In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope.

If we wish to be free-- if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending--if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained--we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of hosts is all that is left us!

They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot?

Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. The millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us.

The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable--and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.

It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace-- but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

March 23, 1775

St. John's Church, Richmond, Virginia

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Steps We Take

I'm not normally up at 2:30 in the morning. That's certainly not my choice - I'd rather be getting my beauty rest. God knows I need it.

He also knows a whole lot more than I do. That's why He's God.

At 1:00 Gail heard the phone ringing. I woke to hear her say, "Yes, he's right here." (Where else would I be?) It was the hospital - actually one of our church family who works in the ER - calling to see if I could come and help a mom and dad whose 17 year old daughter just died of heart failure.

So, at 2:30 I've just returned from watching another set of parents weep as they caressed the body of their child and said goodbye. For me, this is the 4th death in less than a week where I've been called upon to respond. I've known none of them. Three have been minor children.

As I walked in the house a few minutes ago I was asking God, "Why am I seeing so much sadness this week? Why am I up at 2:30?" You see, I'm a believer in the sovereignty of God - that He's in control and that even though I may not have the answers to the "Why?" questions, He does.

"Since I'm not sleepy I'll check on my blog and others until I can get back to sleep." And on my last post there was this one comment: "I know you guys are praying folks and I am asking you to pray for my little CF buddy. Here is his story: He is- at this moment--undergoing a double lung transplant due to CF. He is 12 yrs old. I was one of his teachers and have known him since he was 5 yrs old."

Exactly 3 months ago I was awake at 2:30 in the morning sitting in a waiting room at Duke while Tricia was receiving her transplant. Been there, done that.

Now I know why. At least to one question.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

One size fits all?

Today I visited another culture. I didn't travel across a national border - just crossed a bridge. My venture into that culture was to attend a funeral service.

Maybe I should use "sub-culture". Nonetheless, the traditions that shaped the service were similar in some ways, yet very different in others from my own sub-culture.

In our county are at least 4 sub-cultures - probably more. Two are defined by geography. Two are more defined by race. We cross paths and inter-relate and integrate in much of life. And in some churches (the most segregated place in the country) we mix. But accomplishing that is a stretch for many because our cultural heritage strongly determines our preferences.

Would the service I attended today be attractive to the culture in which I live? Likely not. I looked around at other people around me who looked like me and could tell they were witnessing new ways of mourning and worship. There were times some from my culture would have found it disrespectful and irreverant. It was loud; it was emotional; it was joyful; it was often exuberant; it was a bit longer in time than a typical funeral in my culture. (Ed and Edith would have been very uncomfortable.) Yet it connected with its own culture in very obvious and powerful ways.

On more than one occasion I've been privileged to travel to other countries and experience worship in their cultures. Caribbean black churches. Central American hispanic churches. Canadian Native American churches. South African white and black churches. None were quite like my culture/my church. Different traditions; different songs; different feel. But they connected with their cultures.

Isn't that how it's supposed to be? Different yet accomplishing the same goals.

The church I lead and serve exists to reach the culture in which God has placed us. We have focused our mission on our culture. While everyone is welcome, not everyone would relate and connect to what we do. If I tried to take our style, music and methods of worship and preaching into the church I visited today it would be politely endured, but wouldn't connect.

And that's OK. Paul understood this very well, and when changing cultures he readily adapted his style of evangelism to match the culture.

When it comes to churches one size doesn't fit all. Let's not convince ourselves that it does. Does this mean that the church should be segregated? I hope not. If so our church is failing. That tells me that as important as culture is to defining a church, it's not the only thing.

Does the culture of your church look like the culture of your community? Does it fit? If not, is it time to find the right size and for the church to go shopping for a new pair?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Guest Blogger: Prodigal Jon

Trying To Look Cool at Church.

The blog is called "Stuff Christians Like" and is always tongue in cheek and funny, but also consistently strikes a nerve. The blogger is a young guy in advertising who is a member of one of America's great churches.

Hope you enjoy it. But don't read it if you can't stand someone poking fun at us.