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Archive for April, 2007

Whether we like it or not, there is much about the life of a local church that moves according to the public school calendar.  We kick into high gear in late August and we’re ready to lay back and take it easy by the end of May.  I’d sit here and rail against that trend, but that would only make me a hypocrit because I’m a bit ready for things to slow down just a little.  I’m also ready to head for the beach in July!  Don’t get me wrong, GCF will still be around during the summer doing what we always do to live and proclaim the gospel in the world 🙂

Now, having said that, we are getting ready to head into one last month of the school year and we have four important events taking place at GCF during May.  On May 1, May 3, May 10 and May 14, four members of our body will be hosting home meetings where we will gather together to talk about and discuss the future of GCF.  Each meeting will give an opportunity to talk about where we are and what kind of things might take place in our future.  More importantly, each meeting will give me and other leaders a chance to listen to the folks who are GCF and hear their ideas and their thoughts about our future!  These meetings are really important and I am hoping that each meeting will be well attended. 

I can’t remember the musician, but I can remember hearing an old country song when I was a kid that had a line in it that went, “I’m as nervous as a kitten up a tree.”  That kind of describes how I feel about these home meetings.  I am excited, but I’m also a little bit nervous about them.  I’m not nervous about what will go on in the meetings.  I like talking AND believe it or not, I like listening more than I do talking.  But, I am a bit nervous that they will not be well attended.  This makes me nervous because I believe that listening is so incredibly important to moving forward.  The staff and elders at GCF have had several discussions over the last eight months or so about our future, but now its time to hear from the body and to start thinking and getting excited together about what God is doing and wants to do at GCF.

I’ve been in leadership for a long time, so I don’t want anyone to worry about my tiny, little case of nerves.  They will go away by the time of the first meeting next week AND besides that, I’m trusting God about these meetings and about our future.  I have a tiny case of nerves every Sunday morning and that goes away by the second or third song in the first set at the 9am celebration 🙂  I suppose my nerves will have passed by the time dessert and refreshments come to an end at the home meetings.

 As always, God will be faithful to pour out his Spirit on us and do exactly what He wants to do!

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The older I get and the more leadership experience I gain, the more I come to believe that the dividing line between leadership that leads somehwere and leadership that goes nowhere is the leader’s personal willingness and his/her trust in God when it comes to taking risks.  Granted, there are other factors, but this one seems – at least to me and for me – to be the biggest one.

Leaders have to make decisions between a quiet life of medicroity and regular paychecks OR a life of risks that sometimes sends mediocrity running for the hills.

I wish I could say that these thoughts came to me when I was reading the Biblical story of Moses – that might sound holier – but it actually came to me while watching The Prince of Egypt with my kids.  There is that moment – as Moses walks away from the burning bush – that you just know he is weighing out the options.  Do I keep tending my sheep or do I go on this crazy, wild, dangerous, impossible mission.  Moses chooses the mission and with it, he chooses the potential risk of failure.  And there were times, as he risked failure, that it must have seemed like failure was certain, but he kept pressing forward, kept risking and kept trusting.

A lot of us in Christian leadership have “burning bush” moments, but they become lost as we walk away from the bush and somehow manage to convince ourselves to choose mediocrity rather than the adventure.  It may be that there are many things that God can do and wants to do, but they become “hamstrung” by the fear of leaders to take the risks that following God and leading his people to follow him sometimes entail.

 Does this sound preachy?  Probably so.  I’m definately preaching to myself.  Father, teach me to take the risks that give you the room to do your awesome work!  And give me courage as I walk away from the Bush.  Amen.

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Its Sunday afternoon as I write.  It has been a full day.  Up early to complete work on a sermon, worshiped twice, preached the sermon twice, called on a bereaving family, prepared for our cell group meeting tonight, mopped the floor and vacuumed a couple of rooms.  By the time our cell group meeting ends, I’ll be fried.  But I’ll be happily fried.

 Right now I am kind of loving my life.  I read a survey on another blog last week that was pointing out that pastors are usually those who say they are most happy with their careers.  Well, I’m happy with my calling.  In fact, I find it really satisfying.  Almost always challenging and almost always satisfying.  It’s a great life!

 I also worked on Saturday so I am calling it quits tomorrow.  A day off.  And I am excited.  I mowed my lawn and did some preliminary yard work yesterday that should have been done three weeks ago and it got my energy pumping about getting the lawn in good shape.  Tomorrow morning, my kids and I will head to Lowes and get all the stuff we need to spend a day getting our hands in the earth.

 We’re planting flowers and shrubs, mulching, resetting some flower bed edging, watering the lawn (the kids will play in the sprinkler), fertilizing and getting the deck furniture out and getting that stuff all ready to go.  And if all goes well, I will hopefully get a chance to try out a new sidewalk and lawn edger. 

Out in my lawn, under the sun, with my kids, getting my hands into the earth that God has entrusted to us.  I can’t wait!  It probably doesn’t sound like it to some, but it’s excellent stress relief!

Not that you necessarily care about what I’m doing with my day on Monday.  I just thought I’d explain why I won’t be writing tomorrow.  Back to the blogosphere on Tuesday!

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My aunt (who I have not spoken to) works in administration at Virginia Tech.  I grew up about 40 minutes away from Tech and grew up going to games all the time.  Thus, the events of this week have been close to my heart.

It seems to me that there may be times when tragedy strikes so quickly and so severely and with such evil force that we just need to stop it!  We need to keep our big mouths shut!

NBC played video tape footage from the shooter this week.  Rosie O’Donnell went off about gun control.  In the immediate aftermath, the President of the University was attacked for having not put the campus under immediate lock down.  This of course, is something that many other University Presidents have stepped up this week to say is absolutely impossible.  I even read one blogger this week who felt the need to point out how misguided we are in assuming this tragedy is “that bad.”  Apparently, we have ignored too many other “greater” tragedies around the world to feel as if we have the moral authority to speak at all about this one.  I didn’t hear them, but I’m sure someone in the televangelism world pointed out that this was some sort of judgment on the “godless” university.  There have been a myriad of talking heads trying to figure out how it happened, why it happened and how it can be prevented again.  And I am particularly saddened when Christians join in on it.

Now, if you are someone whose life has been affected by a tragedy (no matter its magnitude), the last thing you need are a lot of talking heads blasting off at the mouth (whether on television or in the blogosphere).  Trust me.  I was affected this week (not like those who lost loved ones or those who live and work on the VT campus), but I was impacted and all of the endless speculation and political and religious postulating and posturing only heaps more pain and frustration.  This is especially true if people are asking all of the wrong questions at the wrong time and it is as equally true even if they are asking the right questions at the wrong time.

 Americans talk too much.  We need to just stop it!  We need to learn when to shut up and be silent!  The greatest truths are often revealed when we shut up long enough to discover them.  Talk is cheap.  Very, very cheap!  And, despite what our world would like to tell us about the value of dialogue and communication, there are times when silence is the only thing that brings healing and equilibrium.

 Granted, this is a rant and I usually try to avoid ranting on my blog.  So now, I’ll take my own advice and shut up 🙂

 Be back on Monday

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My grandmother died in January.  She had just turned 77 years old about a week and half before she passed away.  A large anneurism (sp?) was found on her upper aorta.  Repairing the problem required two surgeries.  The anneurism was so large and the surgery so intense that my Meemaw suffered severe brain trauma and was removed from life support two days later.

I am certain that my grandmother did not want to die.  Don’t get me wrong, she had no doubts about what would happen to her if she died.  She knew Jesus and she loved him.  She just was not ready to die and go be with him.  She was still busy being with him here 🙂

For the last several months, Meemaw’s desire to get better and go on with her life has often come into my mind.  Sometimes it has concerned me.  As Christians we are stereotypically taught that we must desire to go home and be with Jesus more than we desire anything else.  We are then lead to believe that there is something inadequate or “wrong” with the faith of a person who wants to go on living.  After all, the world is such a bad, horrible, sinful place that all of us who love Jesus should just stand around and wait for the day that we get to be with Him; whether going to be with him means dying OR Jesus returning again.

Like I said, and much to my consternation, those thoughts have been with me for the last several months.  But this morning – as  I was reading Eugene Peterson’s Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places God taught me something new!  There is nothing wrong with the desire to live.  In fact, the desire to live may actually be a far more God-centered, Christ-centered desire than the desire to just “hang out” here while waiting to die or for Him to return again.

Here’s what Peterson wrote, “The way in which this Genesis 1 text on the creation gift of time gets inside us is through the act of worship, believingly listening, obediently receiving the Word of God, but if the blinds are down all week (we don’t get out of our homes and into the world), we cut ourselves off from the textures and rhythems of ordinary time that is the context of that worship.  Worship is the primary means for forming us as participants in God’s work, but if the blinds are drawn while we wait for Sunday, we aren’t in touch with the work that God is actually doing . . . when we walk out of the place of worship, we walk with fresh, recognizing eyes as a re-created obedient heart into the world in which we are God’s image participating in God’s creation work.  Everything we see, touch, feel and taste carries within it the rhythms of “And God said . . . and it was so . . . and it was good . . .”  We are more deeply in and at home in the creation than ever.”

Meemaw loved her life and she thoroughly enjoyed the things that God created in the world with or without her help.  For example, on the Sunday before she went in for her surgery she went on her last Sunday drive with my grandfather.  They went to a local state park to look for deer and to enjoy the great views from the mountaintop drive in the park.  I can remember Meemaw going with Pawpee on these kinds of drives almost every Sunday; to places in the mountains of West Virginia to enjoy what God had created.  I can also remember how much she enjoyed driving anywhere.  Once, while visiting us in Kentucky, she fussed at me for driving too fast through some of the Bluegrass.  She couldn’t take in any of the lush green fields or trees or ponds or horses or farms and enjoy them because I was driving by them too fast.  She enjoyed the things that God had created.

She also enjoyed the things that God created through her.  For example, she loved all of her family (and it is a big family).  When we were all gathered together, you could almost sense her heart bursting with thanksgiving and adoration at how wonderful it was.  She also loved cooking and feeding people.  Even in her love of cooking, you could sense that appreciation and enjoyment of the creation work of God in the world. 

Meemaw was not perfect.  Like all of us she had her faults, but I truly believe that she had entered into the creation rhythm of God.  He is always bringing about new creation and pushing for the fullness of all things when Jesus comes again.  And these are the things that lead us to praise and obedience and adoration.

Meemaw was not a theologian.  She left the theology to me and my Dad (we’re both pastors), but as I think about her this morning and how much she enjoyed God’s creation I am realizing that none of my theology has – as of yet – gotten me any nearer (and perhaps not as near) to the heart of God as she was when she was enjoying his creation and worshipping him in her adoration and thanksgiving!

Desiring to enjoy the life and world that God has given us is not a bad thing.  Meemaw wouldn’t have said it the same way Peterson says it, but I think he describes how she lived when he writes, “I gradually realized that ordinary time is not what biblical people endure or put up with or hurry through as we wait around for the end time and its rocket launch into eternity.  It is a gift through which we participate in the present and daily work of God.  I finally got it:  the end of time influences present, ordinary time, not by diminishing or denigrating it but by charging it, filling it with purpose and significance.  The end time is not a future we wait for but the gift of the fullness of time that we receive in adoration and obedience as it flows into the present.”

Like I said, Meemaw never said it that way.  I’m not sure she could have said it that way.  And it doesn’t really matter whether or not she said it or could have said it.  Unlike so many of us who have the words to describe these kind of things, my Meemaw just lived it.  It was a beautiful life and I’m glad she enjoyed the gifts of God so much that she wanted to keep enjoying them.  And I’m glad that she’s still enjoying them now more than ever as she dwells in the fullness of Jesus!

 The words of one her favorite hymns comes to mind this morning . . .

O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder,

consider all the works they hands I have made.

I see the stars and hear the rolling thunder,

thy power throughout the universe displayed.

When through the woods and forest glades I wander,

and hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees;

when I look down from lofty moutain gradeur

and hear the brook, and feel the gentle breeze;

And when I think that God, his Son not sparing,

sent him to die, I scarce can take it in;

that on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,

he bled and died to take away my sin;

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation

and take me home, what joy shall fill my heart,

Then I shall bow in humble adoration,

and there proclaim, my God, how great thou art!

Then sings my soul,

my savior God to thee;

how great thou art,

how great thou art!

Then sings my soul,

my Savior God to thee;

how great thou art,

how great thou art!

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I want to clear up any potential misunderstandings that may have been created by yesterday’s post.  I am not a “church-basher”!

On the contrary, I love the church with all of her warts and faults.  There are many people who are giving up on the church and perhaps they have good cause to do so, but I am not convinced yet that the local church isn’t still an important part of God’s plan for making his power and glory and grace and Jesus Christ known in the world.  As a matter of fact, I convinced that it is his primary way for making Jesus Christ known in the world.

Those of you who have read George Barna’s book, Revolution know that Barna research indicates that about 70% of Christians now live their faith life primarily through the life of a local church.  He suggests that current trends indicate that as few as 30% of professing Christians will live their faith life through the life of a local church within 30 years.  I don’t like those kind of predictions and I hope that they are not true.

Barna sees this as a positive trend.  He senses that it is going to lead to a broadening of Christian community.  My suspicion is that it will create a lot of lone ranger Christians who will end up starving outside of a Christian community.  I could be wrong, though.  It wouldn’t be the first time.

 Yesterday’s post was written out of my sincere belief that the local church is where its at!  That’s why I want us as individuals to be seeking to follow Jesus and Him alone so that our institutions will likewise follow him and him alone.

 I’m not another one of the church’s nay-sayers.  I hope to be one of her cheerleaders and encouragers!

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Two questions over the last two months have prompted me to do some thinking.  The first was asked of me at a lunch colloquium at the college in the town where I pastor.  I had been asked to speak on a topic of interest to me, so I chose the changing face of the evangelical church.  The same question was asked of me in a slightly different form in an e-mail I received this week.  The e-mail was in response to a discussion that had taken place at our LIFE Group meeting on Sunday evening.

At the lunch colloquium, I had spoken about the pattern established by the early church.  The early church seemed to focus upon corporate worship, small meetings of believers and community care and concern.  Following my little “lecturette”, one of the students asked me this question:  “how can we determine that the pattern of the early church is the right way to do church?”  An excellent question.

On Sunday evening we began a four week study on Erwin McManus’ book The Barbarian Way.  A good bit of our discussion focused on McManus’s assertion that “Jesus has become lost in the religion that bears his name.”  This conversation lead us into a conversation about the early church that may have verged on idealism.  The question came from a group member, who, having read some of Paul’s letters, asked if we do no too often develop an abstract, idealistic view of the early church and create a standard that we cannot really attain.

They are both excellent questions.  And they prompted a lot of thought on my part.  Here are my answers to those two questions.

It may well be that the pattern of the early church has not always been the “best” pattern for our practice of “being the church.”  At the same time, it is quite true that the first and second centuries which saw the burgeoning of the Christian Church, in many ways resemble the culture of the Western World today.  We are an increasingly pluralistic, multi-cultural, multi-religious, and pervasively “spiritual” society that often assumes it has reached the pinnacle of sophistication and intelligence.  While there are many ways in which America can still be labeled a Christian culture, we cannot also say that this is a Christian nation and we are also forced to admit that being identified as a “Christian culture” or a “Christian Nation” has always meant that the resurrected Jesus was being made known or being radically followed by those who claimed to know him.  This is one of the points that McManus makes so well in his book.  And we can certainly see that Europe has already gone through the transformation from “Christian” culture to pluralistic culture.  Since this modern transformation in so many ways resembles the Roman world of the first and second centuries, I am inclined to think that the first century church; which survived and grew in the midst of its culture, could probably teach us some important “basics” about being and doing church in today’s western world.

As to the second question:  the answer is “yes”.  Many Christians have an idealized view of the early church that is based on the early days of the church in the beginning chapters of the book of Acts.  Those who take this view do overlook that the churches that Paul planted and ministered to did have significant struggles and quarrels and bickering and fighting.  All was not well all the time in those churches and in the cities where those churches had been planted.  So, when I think about modeling the early church, I believe that also means that we need to model the authenticity of those churches and of their leaders and their founder.  Paul’s writings are brutally honest about life sometimes being tough.  They are brutally honest about bodies of believers struggling to remain true to Jesus Christ in the midst of a sophisticated, pluaristic society that seemed to be moving at a break-neck pace.  And I believe that Paul’s churches; as they wrestled with what it meant to be community and as they worked to remain true to the Way of Jesus in a pluralistic society that either thought of them as “wierdo’s” or just another pagan cult, offer us vital insights into what it means to be church today. 

I am not a historian, but let me postulate a trend that I think has taken place within American Christianity during the last 75 to 100 or so years.  All too often, following Jesus has been approached as some sort of self-help tool.  During the 1950’s and into the 1970’s going to church and practicing the Christian “faith” was viewed as a duty that was part and parcel of living an upstanding life within an increasingly suburban, middle class American culture.  Following the cultural revolution of the late 1960’s and into the 1970’s, the church became increasingly irrelevant in America.  Culture was moving from dutiful loyalty to the things that worked for our ancestors to “do anything that works”.  As this happened and we became increasingly interested in the growing fields of self-help and psychology, the church took a new approach to reaching those who had fallen away or those who had never even gotten a start in the “faith.”  Thus, Christianity took on the tenor of the “best self-help” you can get for yourself.  If you wanted to lead a fulfilled, suburban, American, middle class life, then go to church.  Jesus can help you get what you want in terms of a good American life.

Now, there is some truth in that.  Jesus has changed my own life and has made it far better than it was, but even those of us who have had that experience must admit that there is something more to following Jesus than just having my life fixed.  Jesus is so much more than just my “fixer-upper.”  Following Jesus cannot be about “me” and my life.  It has to be about my life being absorped into the life of Jesus.  And I just happen to think that the early church can inspire us in our journey and our efforts to not only recover the church, but also to recover what it means to live a life that is immersed in the One that we are called to follow.  This does not mean that we must destroy the classic institutions of our Christian faith.  It does mean that we must stop following the classic institutions we have created.  Rather than following our institutions, we must make certain that the institutions that we make up and are joined into are following in the Way of Jesus.  Only as we do this (and this is certainly what I see Paul and his early churches struggling with) will our institutions speak beautifully to the world of the life and love and power of Jesus as did and as does the first and second century church.

 Eugene Peterson says it well when he writes, “Defining God down to the level of our emotions, and thinking and then demanding that God work by the terms of our agenda, is set aside in favor of a life of worship and prayer, obedience and love – a way of life open and responsive to what God is doing rather than one in which we plot strategies to get God involved in what we are doing . . . The Christian life is not pre-programmed; it is a release into freedom.  (God) Trinity keeps us alert and responsive to the freedom that derives from participation in the life of God.  And every act of participation is unique.”

The early church; even though it was not perfect, can help us once again discover what it means to live a life that is a participation in the life of God.

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