Monday, March 29, 2010

Two Very Different Days...Really?

I spent the day today taking my elderly mother in law to a doctor's appt, to lunch and to do a bit of shopping. She's sadly suffering from the debilitating effects of advanced aging, both physically and mentally. She no longer can think rationally and can't remember anything she just heard and will deny personal responsibility for her actions.

Tomorrow I substitute at a local high school. All day with adolescents. The two days should be very different.

But then, maybe not so much.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sunday Flashback

While continuing my sabbatical I'll be worshipping with other churches. Doing so allows me to see what others are doing, steal some good ideas and continues to give our NHC leaders the opportunity to lead and teach more than when I'm around.

Today we visited New Community Church in Elizabeth City, NC. Mike Gothard, the lead pastor, has been there just about from the start, for 20 years or so. We've been friends most of that time, so it was good to join them today and see how God has blessed them and grown them. Their mission statement: "Love God. Love people. Turn the world upside down*." Very cool.

Lesson learned (before the sermon): make sure of the service time before you leave home! I had it stuck in my head from chatting with Mike a couple of weeks ago that they met at 10 AM. Gail and I left in time to get there before that time. It's an hour's drive from our home. When there's no one in the parking lot it's a tell-tale sign that you're late!

The bad news: They started at 9:15! The good news: Round two began at 11. Gail wanted to stop at Lowe's in EC to check out the Spring plants, so instead of doing that after church we did it before. Lowe's is right down the street from the church so it worked out well for us.

Their two year old building and remodel is great. The worship auditorium is pretty much identical to ours at NHC in size and has a lot of similarities. The band led us in some old school hymns done new, which for guests like us is a plus. Good acoustics in that room, too. The drum shield was covered, so the percussion all came through the system really well. And the walls had ample acoustic paneling. Mike sounded "natural" in a large room, like he was standing right in front of me. Well done tech team!

Like most churches influenced by Willow Creek, New Community typically makes good use of video and drama, which they did today in introducing Mike's message. Today he spoke from 2 Cor. 10 about the strongholds that imprison us. Excellent teaching. That Mike is a Dallas Seminary grad doesn't hurt his exegesis!

After church they had a lunch and some sort of intro time for new attenders wanting to know more about NCC. Tonight they are gathering for a fellowship time sponsored by their small groups called "Afters". The theme there is "Love God. Love people. Love desserts!" As a church I think they do a good job of getting people connected.

Well done Mike and New Community. You're hitting your target and making God's Word known to those seeking. If I lived in EC and was searching for a church home, NCC would be at the top of my list.

Like your web site, too.

*Acts 17:5-7

Monday, March 22, 2010

We all lose because of lost opportunities

The actions in the USHOR in passing a health care bill that heaps a mountain of debt on our children, provides federal funding for abortion and will require every American to have health insurance, etc., etc,. is a millstone about our country's neck. As a social conservative and believer in capitalism I'm more than concerned about the changes being made in Washington.

I'm also so tired of the bipartisan shoving and shouting matches being held from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. The Blue team has used their majority might to push across a socialistic agenda. The Red team has cried foul and vows to stage a house-cleaning and reversal come November. To the Red team I say, "Too little, too late."

We've had a health care crisis in this country for years. If you're fortunate to have medical insurance (as am I) you (or your employer) are paying up the ying yang for it, and the costs just keep rising. Many employers can't afford it, and if/when they are forced to provide it will either be forced out of business or will be forced to drive the prices for their goods and services higher, resulting in inflation and job cuts. Something needs to give, that's for sure.

Here's what has happened. The Democrats, led by President Obama's vision and agenda, have picked up the torch. They've been trying to bring health care reform into our system for years. They have shown great initiative and tenacity, like it or not.

So what have the Republicans done? They claim there are better ways to bring health care costs down than by nationalizing it. I think they're right. But apparently they have been sitting on their hands and now find themselves in the position to do nothing more than watch as the other side steam rolls them.

What if a few years ago, when the Republicans had a majority they had gone after the multi-millions in Medicare fraud and brought it to an end? What if they had said "Enough!" to the billions of dollars awarded in malpractice suits, limiting the funds awarded and ending the greed? What if regulation had been placed on the pharmaceutical manufacturers who are turning an obscene profit on the cost of prescription drugs? Have you had a surgery or made a visit to the ER lately? Did you have to take out a second mortgage on your home (if it hasn't been foreclosed on) to pay for it? What if illegal immigration had been stopped so that the taxpaying citizens of this country aren't paying for health care costs of those who aren't?

My point is that something could have been done years ago to reduce the cost of health care and to make it available to the masses and wasn't. But now the Republicans are saying, "This isn't the way to do it", as if they have a better idea now. Where was that idea when Hillary's health care initiative was shot down? Then was the time and now the time has slipped through our right hand. Now is too late.

Pro-active is always better than re-active. We needed a map long ago. Now we're lost and can't seem to find our way out of the woods. All we know to do is holler.

Broken Marriages

Last night I was reminded to pray for someone whose marriage has been destroyed by poor choices, temptation and sin. It all leads to heartbreak that I can only imagine.

As I prayed for this friend, God's Spirit prompted me to include numerous others in similar situations. And then today I learned that I need to add another couple to that list. A pastor friend told me that break ups among Christians is epidemic elsewhere. At least I know our church is not the only one where the sanctity of marriage is being thrown under the bus.

Statistics show us several things that are being realized. Financial struggles are the leading cause of divorce in America. Second marriages have a much higher probability of ending in divorce. Couples who live together before marrying are at a higher risk of infidelity.

As I prayed I found myself questioning God. "Where were You? Why didn't You intervene?". It's especially disheartening when humanly speaking you've done everything you know to do to help in these tragedies. Do you ever question God like that? It's OK. He can handle it.

But I have this overwhelming burden to try to stop the bleeding. Every time a Christian marriage goes on the rocks it weakens the witness of the church. Aren't Christians supposed to have strong marriages? Aren't Christ-followers supposed to be able to deal with temptation and to trust God in times of financial woe? The answer, of course, is "Of course".

So what can I do? One commitment I have made is to plainly and clearly teach about marriage and family and singleness and parenting upon my return from sabbatical. Some of us just need reminding. Others need to hear it for the first time. All of us need to know that God is greater than any struggle we face and to believe that He can restore and repair.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Guest Blog: Protect Your Pastor

Here's a blog post worth reading if you're part of a local church.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Songs for the Road

On our travels across America my mind gets stuck on songs that certain locations seem to invoke. Here are a few that have come to my mind (and tend to get stuck there) because of where we've been.

On the Road Again - Willie Nelson

Walking to New Orleans - Fats Domino

The City of New Orleans - Arlo Guthrie

Amos Moses - Jerry Reed

Born on the Bayou - CCR

(Going Back to) Houston - Dean Martin

San Antonio Rose - Patsy Cline

The Streets of El Paso - (OK, it's Laredo, not El Paso, but be creative) Marty Robbins

Tombstone Territory - theme from the TV Western

Wyatt Earp - theme from the TV Western

Bat Masterson - theme from the TV Western

The Ballad of Johnny Yuma - sung by Gail's cousin Johnny Cash

A Horse With No Name - America

California Dreamin' - The Mamas and the Papas

California Girls - The Beach Boys

Ventura Highway - America

Do You Know the Way to San Jose? - Dionne Warwick

San Francisco (Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair) - Scott MacKenzie

San Francisco Open Your Golden Gates - (Gail was singing this one in the car!)

The Big Valley - theme from the TV Western (I was looking for Audra)

Bonanza - the theme from the TV show as sung by Lorne Green. Lorne should have stuck with acting. (The Map of the Ponderosa shows the Cartwrights ranch bordered Lake Tahoe.)

Take It Easy - The Eagles. (I stood on the corner in Winslow, AZ.)

Living on Tulsa Time - Don Williams

Okie From Muskogee - Merle Haggard

So click on the links and turn up the volume. If the rest of the trip inspires more I'll add them.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

As the World Turns

Some might wonder, "What will you be doing on your Sabbatical?" (I've had a couple of pastors wonder, envious that I'm in a church that provides such a thing.)

It's rest, but it's not all rest. Even while we're very casually galavanting across the country and taking in the beauty of creation and reuniting with friends there are some projects I've started that are under the current radar. When I get home I'll be able to focus more on them and less on the road.

Both projects are literary. One is intended to encourage the church to work with, not against her leadership to accomplish the purposes God has given us. Most of these thoughts have been gathered from my 19 years serving the same congregation. We've learned a lot of lessons together! If you've followed this blog you've probably read my "Ed and Edith" posts. (If not, you can find them easily.) The book is about them.

The second writing project on the desk is a look at Jesus as a leader, not by what He said, but by what He did. Leadership is about example, and He was the best ever. This may take the shape of a daily devotional type of thing for leaders.

So one is about being a gracious follower; the other about being a godly leader - both topics I'm trying to learn.

I'm also gathering notes from the churches we visit on the road, and will do so when we visit churches once we get back home. Always I'm on the look out for great ideas and ways to improve.

Then, at home my to-do list is huge. I've got two houses to work on, so I'll stay busy with them as well.

And if you're a pastor, you know that even when you're on a vacation or, in my case, an extended break, you're mind and heart never totally disconnect from the flock. One of the advantages of social networking is being able to hear and "feel" the growth and the hurts so you can, even thousands of miles away still pray effectively.

There, that's all the work for today. Let's hit the road!