Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Happy Birthday Sarah

Hope your special day is just that - happy and special.

I won't forget that you were born on a Friday night. I had to get up from watching The Dukes of Hazzard to take your mom to the hospital.

We miss you much.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Don't Slip Through the Cracks

Back in "the day" when our congregation totaled less than 75 people (and that was after significant growth!) and we could all fit for worship in the little 100 seat room of our old building, I could tell you who was missing from church every Sunday. After all, when you stand up for 35-45 minutes looking over a group that small, it's not hard to do.

But things are different now. Bigger room. Multiple gatherings. Way more people. For a while I found it frustrating that I couldn't "keep up". But I'm a shepherd and part of my job is making sure all the sheep are in the fold safely. Yet, a few years ago I noticed that was no longer a possibility for me.

In a church that "services" several hundred each Sunday there is no way to know when someone is MIA right away. Unless, of course, we issued cards that everyone had to scan upon entry or something like that, and that's not going to happen. So there are people who unfortunately "slip through the cracks".

How can that be prevented? What can we do to make sure no one is slipping away and/or falling prey to the enemy. And if you think missing church isn't a sign of that, you're likely slipping away yourself.

1. Plug in to a Connection Group. In a small group there not only is Bible study, prayer and relationships, but there is also the caring kind of accountability we all need. In our church they're called Connection Groups. In other churches it might be a Sunday school class or Bible study group. But the small group is your first line of protection against becoming a has-been. Believers who are in groups are far less likely to slip away.

2. Get on an active Ministry Team. And by "active" I mean one that requires your service regularly. Many of our teams minister every Sunday. Your ministry team captain and fellow team mates are a second line of that loving accountability. Plus, ministry gives you and me the sense of fulfilling a call to something bigger than ourselves, and that's something we all need. Churches need to grow past the "20% does 80% of the work" stigma, too.

3. Check in if you have to check out. Let someone in your group or on your team know if you're going to be away for more than a Sunday or more than once in your group. It's easy to make a phone call or send an email. Just don't make everyone else wonder. And yes, they can call, too, but it's much more courteous and responsible for you to let others know. And on that thought, don't be shy about telling someone if you're having to miss due to an illness or surgery!

4. Exercise your spirit. By that I mean stay close to God through your own time reading and studying His Word and in prayer. God wants you to be in a close active relationship with other believers in the church. That's plastered all over the pages of the New Testament. But if we ignore time with Him, we will forget and put His will out of our minds, even finding ways to rationalize our disobedience.

5. Give someone permission to hold you accountable. Develop a friendship with another growing, maturing believer and give that person permission to ask you the tough questions about your own growth and relationships. By the way, you gain that kind of friend by being friendly. Don't sit around waiting for someone to become your friend. God is our great example of being the initiator in relationships. We love Him because He first loved us.

6. If you miss someone, do something. Every time someone comes up to me and says, "Rick, I haven't seen so and so for a long time. Where is he/she?" I want to say, (and often do), "Then why haven't you called him/her?". If you genuinely care, you'll act. You are the church. If we know the right thing to do and don't do it God calls it sin.

Having said all that, (if you want to play games with my mind), don't always sit in the same place on Sunday. Move around. Some of you are so predictable and regimented in your routine! But the positive benefit of doing that is that you'll be introduced to new worshippers. And that's always a good thing.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sunday Flashback

Not that it can be explained, but in recent weeks the "momentum" (don't know what else to call it) has swung from the 9:00 gathering to the 11:00 one. That's not a negative thing at all, but it is interesting. The energy level and attendance has become higher at the second worship gathering. I don't have a clue. But it is interesting.

There were lots of locals checking us out today for the first time. I enjoy meeting them and finding out who they are and where they live, etc. The growth is a natural part of being healthy as a church. And even though we intentionally work at being a healthy church, the growth still amazes me.

After Doug Whitley's portrayal last Sunday of Moses' life got us started, tody's message started with the events pior to and around his birth. Moses' story began as the son of slaves who was marked for death before his life even began. but because of a mother who was willing to take a huge risk, his journey went beyond infancy. It's easy to use our beginnings or our heritage as excuses for our "issues". But the great thing about God and His plan for my life is that our past doesn't have to determine our future if we turn it over to God. It's the journey and how we finish that matters.

A young local artist, Amber, is providing paintings depicting scenes from Moses' life that will be displayed during the series. She's doing a superb job. Thanks Amber!

A video highlighted one of our newest ministry teams, "The Sonshine Team" whose focus is caring for those who may be unable to do things most of us take for granted, especially the elderly.

And today marked eighteen years that I've been a part of Nags Head Church. I'm thankful to God for the opportunity to get in on what He has done and continues to do here.

Friday, January 23, 2009

What? No Bible in the Map Room?

At our president's re-do of his oath of office/swearing in, the Chief Justice of the SCOTUS remembered to bring his robe. A photographer was present and an audio recording was made. But no one thought to bring a Bible, and there wasn't one in the Map Room.

Now, I can understand that schedules are tight, and to send VP Biden searching for a Bible wouldn't have been the prudent thing to do. In addition, I'm told that while the wording of the oath is specific and in the Constitution, there is no requirement to place your hand on the Bible while being sworn in to the office.

We're led to believe by the spin meisters that had there been a Bible in the Map Room it would have been used.

Watch now as hundreds, maybe thousands of donated Bibles come flooding into the White House post office labeled "For the Map Room". I wonder if they'll be given a tax credit for those donations?

Don't leave home without it.

But let's not make a big deal out of it. The Bible has been left out of our government for the past 45 years or so. And didn't Jesus say something about not swearing?

I guess up in DC they're not familiar with that great bluegrass tune, "I'm Using My Bible as a Road Map".

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Follow up news story

For the miniscule number of readers who don't come here from Nathan's blog, here's the link to the latest ABC 11 news story on Tricia, Gwyneth and Nathan's journey of miracles.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Controversial: the prayer and the pray-er

(For my take on the origins of this controversy read my earlier post.)

(Sorry for the commercials that come with the video!)

Did you watch Rick Warren's invocational prayer at the inauguration today? I did.

No surprises. Rick spoke to God (that's what prayer is) about such things as:
1. His sovereignty and being the source of all we have;
2. History being "His-story";
3. His unity, mercy and compassion;
4. Being grateful for our country;
5. Giving President Obama wisdom, humility, courage, compassion, generosity and integrity;
6. Protection and blessing upon the president's family and all in government;
7. Our commitment as a nation to freedom and justice for all;
8. Forgiveness for our shortcomings and failures;
9. Our ultimate accountability before God;

Gee. Are those controversial or what? Yet some are finding fault with those sentiments.

Even more, he is being criticized for invoking the name of Jesus in his prayer - even going so far as to recite "The Lord's Prayer". (I found that interesting and inclusive, since Rick is a Baptist* and Baptists rarely if ever recite that prayer in corporate worship).

The thinking goes like this: "How dare he exclude some who don't recognized Jesus by praying in His name? Isn't this a thumb of the nose at the separation of church and state?

First, Rick Warren is a Christian. Jesus is his God. He was asked to pray. Who is he supposed to pray to or through if not his God? To quote him, "I'm a Christian pastor so I will pray the only kind of prayer I know how to pray." Why is that so hard to understand or accept? Anything else would be forced or hypocritical.

Second, when government decides it can dictate how anyone can pray, even in public government functions it has violated at least two constitutional rights of every American: the right of freedom of religion and the freedom of speech. Church/state "separation" (not a Constitutional concept, by the way) protects the church from intrusion and control by the state.

Read our Founding Fathers who wrote the document. They talked often and much about God and Christ (they knew no other god) in their writings. If they heard how current culture has distorted their understanding of God and Country, they would start another revolution!

Good prayer, Rick. Thanks for not bowing to the gods of political correctness. May God answer that prayer!

*By the way, on a historical note...It was because of colonial Virginia Baptists, who were persecuted by the government sanctioned Church of England, that religious freedom is part of our rights as Americans. They lobbied fellow Virginian and framer of the Constitution, James Madison, to include the freedom to worship as we please in the Bill of Rights.

The Transfer of Power

Like many (if not most) Americans, I watched the inaugural proceedings with interest and a background of history. We have a new President. It's a great testament to the strength of our country.

As a Christian I'm instructed to pray for him and all of our leaders. Paul wrote, Pray for rulers and for all who have authority so that we can have quiet and peaceful lives full of worship and respect for God. 3This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, 4who wants all people to be saved and to know the truth. (1 Timothy 2:2-4 NCV)

How should we pray? Here's a good article that just came to me from Leadership Weekly, written by Pastor Mark Labberton.

Food for your thought and prayers.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Bracing for a "Winter Storm"

Just in from the National Weather people: we're under a "winter storm warning" beginning at 4AM tomorrow. They're predicting we could get from 3-5 inches of white stuff. The grocers will be stripped bare tonight.

Now, for those of you in the northern climes, that's laughable, I know. But anything over 1/2 inch shuts this place down. No removal equipment and nobody knows how to drive in it! Our county goes into panic mode. Hurricanes we can handle. Snow, however is another story.

So, there will likely be snow men in everyone's yards. Skiiers will descend down the sand dunes. The kids will be bummed out because they're out of school already! I'll stay home and get some work done in front of the fireplace.

We're due. I can't remember the last real accumulation we had here. But I remember well the 13 inches we got back in '89...

Makes me appreciate the South even more.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sunday Flashback

Today was one of those Sundays when I get to sit out in the crowd and enjoy hearing someone else speak God's Word. Our guest today was Moses. And what a story he had to tell. And twice to appreciative and full gatherings.

Actually, our guest speaker was Doug Whitley, a talented Christian actor who portrays great preachers of the past as well as biblical characters. He appeared today to help us kick off my new series. Great job, Doug!

From the sounds I'm hearing every Sunday, our elementary kids in Kidmo are having a blast! It's awesome to be in a church where the kids love coming. Our jr. wave riders team is the best.

Today was Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. To honor those who have had life chosen for them and those who have loved them, we invited anyone who either has been adopted or is an adoptive parent to come up for a group photo. We have lots of adoptive families in our church. I'll show the picture soon. It will be worth way more than a thousand words.

Andy asked me to speak to the youth tonight at Contagious. It's been a while since I spoke to such a young audience. On top of that, the topic I was assigned was pretty deep: imputed and imparted righteousness. I'm not kidding. But with such an intelligent audience it was a piece of cake! And it was good to see AJ there tonight after her surgery just a few days ago.

After my part of youth was done I hurried over to Manteo to catch Doug appearing there as "Uncle Bud" Robinson. He's one of my favorites, and his life story is powerful. You can catch it here on Youtube.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Semper Fi!

Tuesday night I got to hang out with a few good men. The local detachment of The Marine Corps League had their annual installation of officers and I've been "recruited" to serve as detachment chaplain. The MCL is made up of marines no longer on active duty whose purpose is to support the Corps in various ways. I say "no longer on active duty" because "Once a marine, always a marine".

At the ceremony I met a WWII veteran of the Seabees. Our commandant is a Korean War vet. Looks to me like there are several Viet Nam era marines, and present was a young man still active and just returned from Iraq.

I'm an "associate member" of the detachment because I was never a marine. But until I was 17 I lived in the home of a marine. Dad exited the Corps a Gunnery Sergeant (think Clint Eastwood in "Heartbreak Ridge") just before my senior year of high school. So I'm well versed in marine stuff. These old marines accept me because "if your daddy was a marine, that's good enough for us". Actually my great-grandfather was a marine, too - a veteran of the Boxer Rebellion. He was one of only 295 marines sent to quell the attacks against Christian missionaries in China in 1900. So to be associated with these leathernecks is a personal honor.

You've probably heard the Marines' Hymn ("From the halls of Montezuma..."), but have you ever heard the last words of the last verse?
If the Army and the Navy
Ever look on heaven's scenes;
They will find the streets are guarded
by United States Marines


Friday, January 16, 2009

A year later

Read Nathan, Tricia and Gwyneth's story in today's Virginian Pilot. For local readers it is in both the NC and Hampton Roads sections.

Baby, it's cold outside!

We're in the deep freeze that is covering the eastern US. Brrrr. High here today of 28. Little Belhaven, inland an hour and a half from us will hit 13 today. The plumbers in the Southeast will be working OT the next few days repairing burst pipes.

What's the weather today where you are? (I know some of you are enjoying summer.)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sunday Flashback

What do we mean by "Catch the Wave"? Today I talked about how as a church we have to be ready for the waves (whatever God does) He sends our way this year and sieze the opportunities for ministry and mission. That means while we can't plan for them or predict them, we can be prepared and we can pray. We can't be passive, because God isn't passive. While I'm just as concerned about the days ahead, I also believe "greater things are yet to come".

As we sang "Let the Praises Ring" at the end of the second gathering I thought about my first January eighteen years ago and the difference. It's hard to imagine what God has done here over the years, and keeps on doing them. Earlier we sang "I Stand Amazed". Exactly. Here it is January (the slowest time on the Outer Banks) and our ushers are having to set up extra chairs.

Yesterday in my "Discovering NHC" class, which introduces new attenders to who we are and what we're all about, I think it was the biggest class we've had in the past 10 or 11 years teaching the class. Tonight we launched Divorce Care and I'm totally stoked about it and can't wait to get a report. I'll bet it explodes. Thursday and Saturday mornings First Appointment - small groups for men - got our new year start. We're beginning a study called "Being a Godly Man in Troubled Times". There's always room for more guys to join us!

Next week we start "The Journey: Start to Finish", and we'll track the life of Moses. Helping us launch the series Sunday will be our friend Doug Whitley. Doug's an actor who uses his extraordinary talent to portray biblical characters and great preachers of the past. This will be Doug's first ever appearance as Moses. He'll be telling Moses' life story. It will be a "don't miss" Sunday for sure.

Now, I'm watching an episode of "Extreme Home Makeover" that looks to be a real tear jerker.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

And what a year it has been!

Happy Birthday, Gwyneth Rose!

All this week I've had several teary moments as I've thought back to January 8 last year and how you suddenly came into the world. One day you'll hear the story and be able to understand what a miracle you are, and that God must have a wonderful plan for your life.

Our first glimpse of you was when the doctor showed us your picture that he took on his cell phone. He was excited, too, but told us you had a big fight ahead of you. So did your Mom.

But you're both fighters! And by God's grace and the exceptional care you received at Duke, you grew bigger and stronger. Now you're such a big girl who loves to smile and laugh and talk.

You won't have a clue today why this day is so special. But, it seems the whole world knows it's your birthday.

And, like you, God is smiling. We all are.

(In case you're wondering, the hand in the top picture belongs to Gwyneth's great-grandmother and my mom.)

Monday, January 5, 2009

Rick Warren Needs to Evolve. Really?

(You can read Mary Sanchez' column here in its entirety.)

In Mary Sanchez’ op ed piece “Rick Warren Needs to Evolve”, she writes as though she knows him intimately. At least she judges him so. After all, she told us what Rick Warren fears - “America will recognize him for what he is: an old-time religionist with outdated beliefs”. Her words betray the fact that she doesn’t know the man at all.

But she also betrays her own hypocritical “religion of tolerance”, so common in our culture. The Gospel of Tolerance 1:1 says, “Live and let live. Different strokes for different folks. I’m OK, you’re OK. Whatever floats your boat. Don’t let anyone cramp your style.” Then verse 2 of the Gospel says, “But it’s kosher to be intolerant of those you deem to be intolerant. If someone disagrees with you, bash them.” Adherents to the Gospel of Tolerance, we’re told by Ms. Sanchez, are “enlightened”. The rest of us must be in the dark.

She mocks his prayer life. She belittles his strongly held belief that God has revealed His will in the Bible and that if you believe like Rick Warren you, too, are a bumpkin. She equates a moral lifestyle choice to one’s race without offering scientific evidence for the same. (But that’s “faith”, isn’t it?) She confuses Warren’s church with Warren himself, speaking of his “tax free status”. Has she seen his latest 1040? Out of one side of her mouth she declares his freedom of speech while out of the other she questions his right to pray in public and calls him a bigot.

What we have here are two preachers of two different religions: Warren and Sanchez. One says, “None of us perfect. That’s why we need God. He loves us in spite of what we do. He may not like what we do, but He loves us.” The other says, “God formulates His views of right and wrong by our enlightened and evolved humanism. And if you don’t agree with my view, you’re a bigot.” One God has established absolutes. The other goes along with the whims of the times.

I can’t help but find it humorous that President-elect Obama’s selection of Warren has met with such strong opposition from those who elected him. He’s betrayed the religion of tolerance by saying, “We’re all Americans. We don’t have to agree on everything.” And to them, that’s heresy.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

"What would Jesus do?" How far are you willing to go?

Ed Dobson, a retired pastor, prolific author and wannabe soccer icon decided to find out last year what it would be like literally to "live like Jesus". Everything from Old Testament dietary limitations (no chicken cheese burritos) to picking up strangers who needed a ride. Read the story.
I'm impressed with Ed. He's no crackpot luny. He has been quite the example of what it means to go into the world for the sake of Christ while leading and transitioning a large church in Grand Rapids, MI.

Not only that, I know Ed. I sat in his Dean of Students' office one day as a college senior arguing the point that I should be able to grow a mustache (they were taboo at my school then) if older guys in another related school could grow them. I was surprised when Ed told me that he didn't disagree with me, but it wasn't his call. It was then I began to see past his office in a fundamentalist college and into his heart.

A few years later I was back at the same university attending seminary. In response to a major inconsistency in a disciplinary matter with a high profile football player, I challenged Ed in a letter that for the sake of his integrity he should resign and make better use of his life. I knew that this particular "oversight" was also made higher up than Ed's office, although at this time he was the university's VP. I was again surprised when the phone in our apartment rang and the familiar Irish brogue said, "This is Ed Dobson. Thank you for your letter." What I had written resonated with him and he appreciated my encouragement.

So don't read this story and think he's totally wierd. He's just totally sold out to Christ, and decided to do something radical to learn more about who He is. My hat's off to you Ed.

And God bless you in your struggle with ALS. Here's one of your former students who is proud of how you've followed God's call.

And, yes, Ed, soccer is still the most popular game in the world. You don't have to remind us.

Sunday Flashback

The first Sunday of the new year! Like last year at this time we added some tables and chairs to the set up for worship. Unlike last year we may not have room to continue with doing that! And while we enjoy doing the tables for those who like them, it may not be the best way to get everyone in comfortably. We'll try it for a couple of weeks and see. Great problem to have, though! Thanks Mike for getting it all together.

Today and next Sunday I'm teaching a "mini-series" on looking ahead to this year. First, I spent this morning asking if we're ready should Christ return in 2009. Next Sunday we'll talk about how our church should be ready for what God brings our way this year. While we can't predict, we can prepare.

You could see a renewed enthusiasm among our youth today during worship. Winterfest obviously had a great impact on them. The adults who went with them, on the other hand, were either home sick or at church in slow motion!

I saw a number of guests in the crowds this morning. Some are folks I know. Some were new in the community checking out churches. But it's always encouraging to look out there and not be able to recognize so many. I saw one of our newer attenders the other morning in a restaurant who excitedly said, "Our whole neighborhood is coming to NHC".

A video promo we did in-house was shown for our Focus on Christian Womanhood class soon to begin. Those doing the registrations for the class tell me that it's going to be a huge class! I also heard that two more signed up today for Divorce Care, a new group beginning next Sunday night.

Appropriately, several of today's song choices reflected on the Kingdom coming. "Revelation Song"* continues to be a favorite at NHC.

F1rst Wednesday is this week. Don't forget!

(* Here's a great rendition I found on Youtube. I don't know what church this is, but their choir gets it!)

Saturday, January 3, 2009

It's a young man's game

My neck and back are sore. It's a Tylenol PM night for me.

Today I did a little (and I mean little) framing job at my son's house. It meant buying a couple of sheets of plywood and carrying them from my truck to the back of his house; framing the ceiling for a closet; using a drill to put up some wall board; a little painting...

I used to do this stuff every day all day. Could swing that 22 ouncer from 7 to 5. That was 20 years ago. No more. Now I can barely see the nail to hit it.

But the good thing is that I convinced myself I needed a new saw. It's sweet.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

It's Just 365 Days

Another New Year began at midnight. While I have no reasonable predictions for 2009, I can't imagine it, or any successive year will come close to what '08 brought my family and I.

On New Year's Day one year ago I traveled the 200+ miles from home to Duke University Hospital where the pastors from my church (at my daughter-in-law's request), along with family and friends gathered to pray for her. I had just seen her barely a week earlier when our family had an early Christmas in Nathan and Tricia's motel room. A week later her health had continued to decline to the point that we had genuine fears her time left was very short. And to complicate things, she was still at least a week away from being able to deliver her child with the minutest of chances of survival.

The prayers said, Scriptures read and tears shed that January 1st, as a dozen or so of us crowded in her room on the 7th floor at Duke worked together to result in an emotional worship gathering. Watching Tricia's body fight so hard to take in what little breath she could was a vivid reminder that life is to be lived every moment for all it's worth because it is so very fragile.

We left the hospital for a long quiet ride home wondering if we were strong enough to go through the trials coming to our family; wondering if the faith behind our prayers was pleasing to God. More than likely you've read the story.

This morning I cooked breakfast for Tricia, Nathan and Gail. I watched Gwyneth laugh and enjoy her family and toys (even as she cuts her first tooth). The day was spent getting their new house ready to become their home.

Life is so "normal" for us today. Actually way better than normal. Mostly I've learned much about God's immensity and about my inadequacies.

It is quite astounding what can happen in a year.