Friday, August 31, 2007

I'll miss Vintage

Since the end of June I've spent my Monday nights hanging with young adults, mostly in their twenties. It's our vision to reach into the emerging generation of our resort community with a relevant presentation of the life Jesus offers. So, Vintage was born.

Now that summer is over, we're giving it a rest. Our plan is to bring it back, likely in January as a once a month gathering. Then in the summer more frequently. The down time gives us time to debrief and lay out a strategy for how to take it to the next level when we crank it up again.

Thanks to the guys and girls who planned out the services and made it a success! God used it to stretch me. It wasn't a repeat of Sunday morning but used some innovative and creative ways to bring gen X to the table. I'm really looking forward to greater things to come.

Should you choose to accept it...

Three guys from our church are in the Findlay, OH area this week helping flood victims clean out their homes from the damages of the water and mud. It's not easy work. It's required personal sacrifice. But they're in Ohio because they want to be used by God to help someone else.

What's your life mission? Where are you willing to go at His beck and call? In the picture, Mike is crawling out of a hole that led him into a room. He wanted to go in first. That's what I'm talkin' about!

Thanks Greg, Dale and Mike for being willing and ready! You're my heroes of the week.

Communicating Vision

Remember when Ronald Reagan was President? Well, you can if you’re over 30. One of the nicknames given to him was “The Great Communicator”, because he had a natural gift of being able to say what needed to be said in such a way that we as a nation heard and understood (whether we agreed or not). The ability to communicate clearly and effectively is crucial for anyone in a leadership post, whether it’s at home, at work, in government or in church.

Fortunately for us God has communicated Himself to us in a way we can hear and understand. He gave us a book, the Bible that reveals His will. He gave us His Son, who came to earth in human flesh to reveal His desire to bring us back to a relationship with Him. He gave us His Holy Spirit who lives in every believer to guide and teach us. God’s all about communication, isn’t He?

One of my great frustrations is how ineffectively I communicate as a pastor. Part of my calling and responsibility is to deliver the goods in such a way that we get it. So I’m always looking for better ways to do that. Too much is at stake for the message and the vision to get muddled.

Soon I’ll be using Sunday mornings to teach from two sources – the Word of God and my heart – where God is leading us as a church family. He’s taken us to so many amazing places on our journey over the years, but it doesn’t end here! There’s a next level to where He wants us to ascend.

We’re getting the Sunday morning thing down pretty well. From the welcome to the worship and everything in between our weekly gatherings are going so well. We like being the people of God in the “house” of God. But I’m not sure we all understand why we do what we do. And I think it’s important that we have that understanding.

But we’ve got to be so much more than a Sunday morning gathering, as vital as that is to our health. Exciting things are happening the rest of the week, many that I’m sure I don’t even know about. And those things, like healthy, growing and reproducing Connection Groups are the early steps toward this next level of being the people of God in the world. But it’s got to be much more if we’re going to reach our community with the Gospel.

So I’ll be communicating these things over the fall months. Please listen! Read my weekly emails. Visit my blog. Listen to the messages on the pod cast. I really am trying to make the vision plain, as the Word says. And I’m trying so hard because I believe it’s urgent that we blaze some new trails and without fear follow Christ out of the safety of the fortress and into the enemy’s terrain.

He promised that the gates of hell couldn’t hold us back. Let’s find out if He was serious.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Looking back at this morning

At 7:20 I got a call from Andy: "The lights in the auditorium won't work". Oh well! So we scrambled setting up some can lights around the stage and kept the doors open to let in some natural light. Then when Fred arrived early for his ministry on the hospitality team I found him a screwdriver and he went to work. Turns out one of our dimmers has a short in it, but he got the lights on for half of the room. So, it wasn't too bad.

We really missed the summer vacationers today! After next weekend and Labor Day we'll get to get "back to normal" again. But summer is such a great time for us. The added energy we get from the vacation worshippers is awesome.

Buddy's video testimony worked so well with the message from the Prodigal Son parable. Really drove it home. And the music fit perfectly. Great job!

In the second gathering I asked for those desiring prayer in response to the message about the urgency of returning to lift their hands and they went up all over. I pictured the heavenly Father seeing many coming home, and His eagerness to welcome them back. It was a great response to a powerful parable.

A family from Connecticut made it a point to meet me after the second gathering. They were stoked to have found us (on the web!). Then their oldest son stayed a bit to share with me how God showed him his "older brother" attitude.

It was also great to hear that several of our guys are leaving this week to go to Findaly, OH to assist flood victims.

Next Sunday we'll be in the third week of this series, looking at the parable of the Good Samaritan and The Urgency of Caring. If you're checking out the podcast, leave a comment and let me know how it's working for you.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Time off

I'm taking a few days off this week. That's a hard thing for me to do because I enjoy what I do. But I also know it's essential to my health, mental and spiritual well-being, and my marriage!

Our friends from California are coming for a week. Richard and I have been best buds since high school. We were best men in each other's weddings too long ago. Carol then became part of our closest circle of friends. Now that our kids (they have two grown girls) are able to survive without us in town, we're spending more time vacationing together. In fact, Gail and I are overdue for a West Coast trip.

So tomorrow we'll pick them up in Norfolk and drive up to Williamsburg. They've never been to Jamestown, and this 400th anniversary year is an ideal time to see it.

And I'm not taking my laptop with me. (Oh, man, is my inbox going to be crowded when I get back!)

A trash can at the front door

[The discerning have noted that recent posts have indicated that I've been miffed recently with a trouble spot in our church. ( See "Faithful Shepherds") We're dealing with it and expect to move beyond it soon.]

Yesterday I came to church struggling with anger over things I've discovered in the past two weeks. I'm a shepherd by calling, and as such have learned to be defensive and protective of the sheep in our care. Thus, when I sense that the sheep are in danger, I get angry. "Not on my watch!"

I made it through the first gathering OK. No real distractions. But in the second gathering I realized (thank You Holy Spirit) as we were singing, "Holy, holy, holy, is our Lord God almighty; the One who is and is to come", that while I could sing the words and appreciate their meaning, the anger I brought in with me was blocking my ability to worship God with my heart.

With that awakening, I was able to lift my hands and truly declare to God His holiness and sovereignty and eternal glory. An amazing thing happened. My eyes became wet with tears as I realized that my worship was replacing my anger. Soon, I was saying, "Lord, I'll let you have the anger". And He took my burden and gave me rest in my spirit.

Worship can't co-exist when in my heart I'm harboring anger, even when I believe the indignation to be righteous, because it (the anger) is filling my mind instead of the glory of God. Worship happens when I put away all the clutter and give my total being over to praising and glorifying Him.

Maybe we need to have a big trash container outside the church door for us to dump the clutter in as we enter.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Your mission statement

I've challenged the men who meet with me on Monday mornings (from 6-7AM - a committed group!) to come up with a personal mission statement.

Jesus had one. "I didn't come to be served but to serve and to give my life as a ransom for many". He came to "seek and to save that which was lost".

Paul had one. "I'll become all things to all men in order to save some."

When we have a mission statement we likely are intentionally living it. Without one we're likely missing it.

What's your's?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A sad irony

On June 13 I posted about my dealing with the family of a young man who died on vacation. He had a promising future and was about to enter his first year of med school on his way to fulfilling his dream of becoming a doctor. That's how our tourist season began for me in my role as chaplain of the Nags Head Fire and Rescue Department.

This past Sunday a retired physician, having just arrived at their vacation home on the beach 3 hours earlier with his wife, daugher, son-in-law and two grandkids suffered a crushed spinal cord from a freak accident in the surf. He was playing with his grandson. I met his wife as she arrived at the ER in the ambulance, then later that evening drove her and her daughter to meet a son coming from his home. They continued on to Norfolk, where the injured doctor had been flown.

Tonight I heard from his family that earlier today he elected to be removed from the ventilator that was sustaining his life. He died a little after 2:00. I'm very sad. They seem like a great family.

One, beginning his medical career. The other having recently retired from his. How ironic.

And this Sunday in my message on the urgency of believing I'll point out the brevity of life and the certainty of death. Double irony.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Can you hear Him now?

One of our guests Sunday wrote this comment on a Communication Card: "God speaks in still small voice - whispers. NOT LOUD, NOISY".

My guess is that this couple (in their 80's!) weren't used to the amplified music and style of our worship. To them, God can't be in something so "loud and noisy".

All of us imagine God speaking to us in tones we prefer, myself included. But I use the word "imagine" intentionally, because that's what it is - our imagination. If we think God only has one volume level then we've put God in a box of our own design. We've become the creator and limited Him to do only what we can conceive.

But that's my spin. What does the Bible say? That's really what counts, isn't it?

Indeed, God spoke to Elijah in a "still small voice". (1 Kings 19:12-13). But He also spoke audibly on Palm Sunday in reply to Jesus request that the Father's name be glorified. In fact, His voice sounded to some like "thunder". (John 12:28-29). When He uttered the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 5:22) and wrote them on the tablets He did so in a "loud voice". He spoke to Ezekiel (Ezekiel 9:1) in a "loud voice". To John the revelator, Jesus identified Himself in a "loud voice" (Revelation 1:10).

In fact, just do a study in your concordance with the phrase "loud voice" and you'll find that God tends to speak more often with the volume at a ten than at a one. Sure, I prefer someone, including God, to speak to me in soft tones. But I don't think I'm going to tell God to turn it down on my behalf because of what I prefer.

Don't box God in a package. He does what He wants, whether we like it or not. Still small whisper or thunderous boom, it's His voice and His choice.

(I think He's often loud because we're too often listening to everything else and He wants our attention.)
And I've already read some minds here. Yeah, probably what that couple meant was "Music in church that's loud doesn't lend to worship". I'll go there in a future ramble. But be warned: I'm going to use the Bible again.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Faithful shepherds

I'm blessed to be part of a team of pastors - 5 of us - who work together to shepherd our church. Two of us have been working together now for 13 years; a third has 11 years on the team. I look up to the other 4 men as strong, godly men, feeling no qualms about trusting their leadership and being accountable to them as my pastors.

Most of the time being a pastor is a joyful thing. You get to watch as the flock discovers, often together, sometimes one sheep at a time, this incredible ride we call the Christian life. But there are also times when I'd rather be doing anything else.

That's because as a pastor you get connected with people and their lives, especially those you saw come into the family by faith in Christ. You learn to hurt when they hurt as well as rejoice when they rejoice. The truly hard part of the job, however, is when a part of the body decides it's time to go a different direction. Like a physical body, joints can be separated and muscles torn. And it hurts.

When there is hurt in the body, often the pastors are perceived as the inflictors of the pain. Even when they genuinely seek to find restoration and reconciliation between members, and bend over backwards to follow the Word and show grace and patience, they often get the blame. And that hurts even more.

But sometimes it's true: no pain, no gain. My good friend and fellow blogger (see my link to The View), Roger Blackmore reminds us that Jesus compared the church to a vine that on occasion must be pruned by the Father. The end result and purpose of the pruning is always to give health and growth to the vine. But that doesn't make it any less painful.

So, to my pastors I say, "Thanks for your willingness to do what you believe is right to protect the flock. Although you'll often be misunderstood and misrepresented, your conviction to speak the truth in love and grace when it's necessary makes me proud to call you my pastors."

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Only one shot

It's mid-August, which for our church means the summer season is drawing to a close. I guess it means that to everyone! But for a church like ours, located in a resort community, the summer gets crazy as our attendance nearly doubles each Sunday, (sending our ministry staff - all the folks who work so hard every week teaching, leading, greeting, serving into overdrive), getting to this part of the summer is encouraging. Soon we'll be able to catch our collective breaths a bit.

Each week I get to hear and read comments from our guests who come from all over the country. Being our first summer in our new building has brought so many very positive reactions. And they have so many kind things to say about our worship gatherings, especially our music. But what's most gratifying is when one comes up to me (and this is repeated every week) and says, "Today was life-changing for me".

We have a unique opportunity here to touch so many lives of folks who will leave here in a few days and go back to PA, MD, VA, NJ and other places with new life or a renewed commitment to follow Christ. We just get this one shot, and I'm so humbled to serve with a team that knows that one shot has to be our best for their sakes and God's glory.

This church rocks!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007


Today I responded to a call in my role as a fire department chaplain for a woman who was "unconscious and not breathing". That's not a good sign. Additional info from dispatch told us that "CPR is in progress". Not good, either. Too often the result of those calls is death.

The husband of the unconscious and not breathing woman called 911. Then he ran next door (these were vacationers in a motel). Upon their arrival yesterday they met the "neighbors". As God would have it, their next door neighbor, also on vacation, is an ICU nurse at Henry Ford hospital in Detroit, MI. She was able to start CPR right away and continue until EMS arrived just minutes later.

The patient is in critical condition right now, but her heart is beating on its own and she's been transported to a cardiac hospital. The medical pros, from the paramedics and firefighters on scene to the ER doc all said that the vacationing nurse saved this woman's life by being there and doing exactly what she did.

She (the heroine neighbor) told me, "This is the first time I've ever done this outside of the hospital. But I've always told myself to be prepared whereever I am."

Good advice. In a situation like this one today, seconds are precious. Do you know CPR?

I thanked her for being there, telling her that God brought her to that motel and put her in that room for the purpose of saving another's life. She kept the blood and oxygen flowing to the patient's brain. She and her husband should have been out on the beach, but stayed in the room because it is so hot today. Well, who controls the atmospheric thermostat? God put it all together to save a life.

Likewise, He has us where He wants us every day for the purpose of saving spiritual lives. We're on a mission. Be prepared; today might be the day you will be needed to make a huge difference in someone's eternity.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Summer's here for real

After a comparatively "cool" summer with few days above 90 we've been socked in the last few days with scorchers and mega-meltdown humidity. Just looking outside causes the sweat to flow. My bifocals fog up everytime I go out from inside, and that makes driving an adventure!

I'm old enough to remember the pre-air conditioning days - back when only the upper crust, department stores and movie theaters had AC. Living as a boy in eastern Carolina with this heat and humidity was just a part of summer. Lying in bed at night beneath an open window and with a fan blowing never quite cooled you off, but kept it from being totally unbearable.

And I remember the preacher, with a fan blowing on him, handherchief in hand and apologizing for taking off his coat to preach, with the windows open. It always was interesting at church on Sunday nights in the summer. The open windows allowed the moths to come in, attracted to the lights, which always made for great entertainment in church for a young boy.

No such fun anymore!

Thank God for whoever the guy was who invented air conditioning! He's my hero today.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


Because the church is organic it has life, and that life is expected to grow and flourish. My experience has been that for that to happen the church has to occasionally (maybe even consistently) go through periods of transition - movement from where we are now to where we need to be tomorrow. Otherwise we'll stay the same. You know the saying, "If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always had" (or something like that).

In my 16 years here we've been through at least 4 major transitions that have brought us to where we are today, not including the transition from an old traditional building to a new, modern contemporary one. I almost forgot about that, and yes, that's a big transition. But in my heart I'm sensing that we're on the brink of another transition here - that to becoming a truly "missional" congregation.

It's already happening. We can see the wave coming and are beginning to paddle. So hang on for the ride. Transitions are always exciting!

Sure, we'll lose some who choose not to paddle their boards and will choose to miss the wave. That's sad. It's painful. But it also always happens in a transition because it's necessary. The gain and the realization of looking more and more like what Jesus envisions us to be far outweighs the loss.