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Archive for May, 2007

A new attraction recently opened up in Boone County Kentucky.  It’s called the “Creation Museum”.  Now, as I understood the news reports this weekend, the 65,000 square foot museum is a bit of a mix of Disney World and the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum.  The Creation Museum, according to its creators, showcases scientific evidence that supports the Bible’s account of the creation of the universe.

The museum’s opening yesterday drew a crowd of detractors and protestors.  Many of them were wearing George Bush masks and adding that the museum was just something more to embarass the United States within the global community.  One gentlemen – with his George Bush mask pushed back on top of his head – was arguing that the millions of dollars used to build the museum could have been more properly used in other ways.  Perhaps he’s right.  But I suppose he could have spent the day in a soup kitchen feeding the hungry rather than protesting a museum in the middle of Kentucky . . . I

But I suspect that the impact that these protestors will have on the “Creation Museum” will be much akin to the same impact that evangelical Christians had on Disney World when the Southern Baptist Convention called for a boycott several years ago because Disney had agreed to host a homosexual convention of some sort.  I’m pretty sure Disney is still in business and going strong.  And – judging by the size of the lines waiting to get into the Creation Museum – I’m pretty sure it’ll be open for a while, too.

All of this makes me wonder just how it is that we Christians are really supposed to be going about changing our culture and changing the world around us. 

In the book of Acts, Luke records the story of some metal workers; silver smiths to be exact, in the city of Ephesus.  The smiths become infuriated about the growth of the church in that community.  They are afraid that the growth of the church will destroy the vast market they have cornered for making silver shrines to the god, Artemis.  The smiths create a public protest to counter the work of the church.

Richard B. Hayes comments on this story in his book The Moral Vision of the New Testament are quite instructive.  Hayes writes,

“There is no indication that Paul has taken any direct initiative against the silver-smiths or their trade. (In other words, he planned no counter protests or public displays of his own)  He has simply been about the business of preaching repentance and integrating people into the fellowship of the church.  Yet in case after case, this sort of community-building seems to introduce an explosive new catalyst into the sociopolitical order.  The book of Acts portrays a movement that is turning people in large numbers “from the power of Satan to God (Acts 26.18) and resocializing them into a community that lives by very different norms – the norms defined by Jesus’ life and teachings.  Such a movement – when lived with integrity – inevitably has an explosive effect in the surrounding culture.  That is Luke’s vision for the transformative power of the church:  it turns the world upside down not through armed revolution but through the formation of the church as a counter culture, an alternative witness-bearing community.”

Bearing witness to the life-changing grace of God through Jesus Christ and living in a counter-cultural community.  That seems to be a tall order for the church in the Western World.

But it is an order that gets my adrenaline pumping.  I believe that it is God’s desire to create communities of repentant, Jesus-following, God-glorifying, believers all over the world that transform their communities and the world because thousands and thousands are being turned from the power of Satan to the power of God through Jesus Christ!

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Something lovely entered my life about 8 years ago.  Her name is Kyra Nicole.

After a whirl-wind first week of dating, both of us knew that we would eventually be married.  A few months later we were engaged.  A few months later – at Christmas -nearly one year after we started dating, we were married.

Neither of us knew what the road would hold.  We worked together – with determination – through a whole host of issues that we brought into our marriage (OK, to be fair, most of the issues were mine!).  God was faithful to heal both of us and heal our marriage.

We have had two beautiful children:  Sydney and Max.  OK, so they do drive me nuts from time to time, but on Sunday of this week (Mother’s Day), they were sitting next to me on the couch so I took a minute to smell their hair and give them each a hug.  Who ever knew that our marriage would create two absolutely beautiful little kids?  Even on the hard days, I remain excited to live with them and love them and it is absolutely thrilling to see each day pass with them growing into something more of what God has in store for them.

And now we have another challenge in our marriage:  rheumatoid arhtritis.  I’ve blogged about this a couple of times.  It has changed almost everything about our lives together.  Chronic illnesses tend to do that, but at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter.  I still lay down with the same lovely lady that I started dating back in December ’98 and married in December ’99.

The lovely thing about marriage is that point at which it slips from the impassioned fingers of infatuation and falls gently into the arms of dedication and commitment.  And when marriage does that, well, it is something more lovely than anything else you might possibly ever be involved in.

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We are having an emphasis on missions this Sunday at GCF.  Missions are at the heart and core of GCF and have been since the church was founded.  And many of the missionaries that we support are in need of some financial support right now.  Since Easter Sunday, we have been challenging our folks to save at least $10.00 a week so that each person would have around $50.00 to donate to missions on Sunday, May 20.

 It may be a bit “gimmicky”, but to keep attention focused on this important goal, I have placed my $10 bill in my mission envelope each Sunday just before I begin preaching.  Several other people have come up after worship to give me miscellaneous bills and cash that they were carrying so I think that there is actually about $130.00 in my envelope right now.

Now, here’s the thing:  money has been tight at our house in the last four weeks.  Several times over I have wanted to raid that envelope.  But I have not had to do that.  God has been faithful to us.  We have not had an overabundance of money within the last four to five weeks, but we have always had enough.

And I think that this gets at one of the greatest blessings of giving.  As you give, God reorients your thinking about your money.  You realize, first, how incredibly fortunate you are to live in the United States and, secondly, you realize how many luxuries you can do without and still have so much more than you need.  And all of this leads to an incredibly grateful heart and, well, there is not much that is better than those moments when your heart is lifted up in total gratitude to God for every little blessing he has poured out.  This morning, for example, it would have been nice to have had breakfast from Panera or Starbucks or where ever, but I found myself incredibly grateful for my bowl of cornflakes and bananas floating in skim milk 🙂  I was also reminded that there are many people around the world for whom those flakes and that banana and that milk would have been a total luxury.  That’s kind of scary and incredibly humbling to think about!  I need to live with that idea for a while . . . and perhaps for a few days . . . maybe even a lifetime.

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I made a whirlwind trip last weekend to my home state of West Virginia.  I traveled with Sydney, my 5 year old daughter.  This was the third spring pilgrimage that Sydney and I have made together to West Virginia.  The occassion of our trip this time:  my Dad – who will be 55 years old in June – was graduating college 🙂

 I am really proud of my Dad.  He is one of the hardest working men I have ever met. 

On the trip back Sydney and I stopped at a place called Tamarack where they showcase and sell the work of West Virginia artisans.  Tamarack is a neat place; even though it is really overpriced.  Our goal in Tamarack was to find a graduation gift for my Dad (also Sydney’s Grandfather, who she calls Boom Boom for reasons that might be discussed in another post).  At any rate after walking around for a long time, we finally settled on a figurine of a coal-miner carved out of coal.  We bought two identical coal miners.  I wanted my Dad to have one to keep on his desk and I wanted one just like it to keep on my desk.  Here’s why . . .

I want my Dad’s to remind him of his father and grandfather.  They were both hardworking men.  My great-grandfather was a coal miner in West Virginia before the UMW and any reforms in the coal mining industry.  He worked hard and got paid poorly.  My grandfather left home at a young age to go to work for the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, served in the US Navy during WWII, worked in the coal mines and then proved himself to be a successful small businessman in the food industry for the next 35 to 40 years.  Both men worked hard.

I wanted my coal miner to remind me of my Dad and grandfather.  I just told you about my grandfather.  Here’s a word about my Dad.  For most of my growing up years, he worked 10 to 14 hour days, 5 to 6 days a week in a machine shop that serviced the coal mining industry.  It was hard work and he provided well for us.  During that time, he answered a call to ministry and spent another 20 to 30 hours a week pastoring small churches.  Eventually, he left the machine shop to follow his dream of becoming an ordained United Methodist Pastor.  Last summer he was ordained and this Spring, he graduated college.  My Dad is a hardworking man.  I think its kind of cool that Sydney got to see her own grandfather graduate college.  I hope that it is something she will remember throughout her life and I hope that my Dad’s hardwork at completing the degree will inspire her to go to college and pursue her dreams in just the same way that my Dad’s hard work inspired me to do just that.

For the longest time, I think I felt that my bachelor’s degree and my master’s degree and my life in the suburbs of Lexington, KY somehow made me “better” than the hardworking heritage of my West Virginia roots.  How could I have been so  wrong.? I hope that – in someway – I can contribute as much to the world as my Dad and my grandfather and my great grandfather have.  I am proud that my a ton of my heritage can be found in men who spent their lives workin’ in a coal mine or just workin’ hard at whatever they were supposed to be doing.

Dad, if you’re reading this:  I’m proud of you and I’m glad that you’re my Father!

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I can’t believe its been 12 days since I last posted.  I think that may be the longest that I’ve gone without posting since I started doing this a few months ago.

 There’s a reason for the long time in between posts.  My life turned crazy all of a sudden.  Things became more than I could keep up with.  My terrific wife, for example, has rheumatoid arthritis which has had a big (no, more like a HUGE) impact on our lives.  Sometimes, keeping up with my job (which I love) and my kids (who I love) and taking on a few extra responsibilities at home (which I don’t always love) gets me a little bit overloaded.  That happened a couple of weeks ago and I got stressed and depressed.  That’s right depressed.  I am a pastor who struggles with depression.  Not all in my life is happy-go-lucky.  Sometimes, life is hard.

So, being stressed and depressed, I went in for one my three or four annual “check-up” therapy sessions with my counselor.  At one point in our time together, he said, “Jason, you have to ask for help.  You need help.  Ask your church for help.”  Well, the thought of asking for help sounded really humbling and I was not keen on the idea.  But, then, before I could even make a call for help, someone in our church told me that they would like to help out by coming once or twice a month just to help us keep the house clean.

 Wow!  I had been humbled before I had been given a chance to even make my own “humbling” happen.  Two things stuck out:  (1) God was so  good to know what we needed and to take action on it rather than waiting for me to get over my pride.  (2) This wonderful couple that offered to do this . . . well . . . I am humbled to be serving and pastoring a wonderful group of people and friends.  Their offer really touched our hearts.  We are grateful to them and to God.

And just to let everyone know:  any pastor who ever pretends like he doesn’t have a problem in the world or that he/she never needs help or that he has got his life all terrifically pulled together is an impostor.  Beware of these pastors!  Most of us pastors spend most of our lives doing the same thing as everyone else:  trying to keep up with all of life’s “in and outs” and seeking what it means to love Jesus in the midst of it all.  So this is a reminder to any other pastors out there:  keep it real with Jesus.  Keep it real with your friends.  Keep it real with your congregations.  And never let anyone force you to feel like to you must feign some sort of perfection you’ll never achieve.

Sometimes, we all need a little help from our friends.  And I hope that we can count our congregations as our friends.  I know I can and I’m deeply grateful for that!

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In John 3, Jesus speaks those famous words to Nicodemus that have now been picked up and repeated by countless politicians.  Jesus told Nicodemus that in order to be saved, he must be born again.  Nicodemus asks Jesus how this is to happen and Jesus tries to explain that this second birth is a spiritual process that takes place when “whosoever believes in him.”

This message has been preached by the church throughout the ages as a message for the “lost” and the “unreligious.”  The only catch is that Jesus is telling Nicodemus that he must be born again.  Nicodemus is not an irreligious man.  In fact, he is a highly religious person; probably a pharisee who comes to Jesus in the late hour of the night so that he will not be found by his other “religious” colleagues to be cohorting with Jesus, the sinner and blasphemer.

 “Be born again” is not just a message for the lost.  It began as a message to someone who was very religious.

Are we following the dictates of our cultural Christianity OR are we living in deep relationship with Jesus and following in the ways of the resurrected Lord of the Universe?  There are times when following him may resemble the best of Christian culture in the western world.  And there are others times when following him will fly in the face of our cultural religiosity.

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Back in early March, I made a visit to Newspring Church in Anderson, South Carolina. Now it should come as no surprise to anyone who has read a few of my posts, that I’m a bit of a Perry Noble fan.  I also enjoy reading and taking a peak at what other gifted Christian leaders are doing and how it is that God is using them.  Mark Driscoll, Erwin McManus, Andy Stanley and Mark Batterson are just three names that come to mind.  I also like to follow just how it is that god is using the churches they pastor to impact their communities.

It is easy for those of us who are closely or remotely following the stories of these pastors and those churches to assume that we can emulate their success if we only mimic and recreate what they are doing.  If we learn to preach like them, do worship like them, build buildings like them or innovate like them, then hundreds of people will come flowing through the doors of our churches.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  There are things that we can learn from these guys.  I learned so much at Newspring that I felt almost swamped in thoughts and reflections for a week or more.  I posted about some of those things back in March when we returned from the conference.

Now, don’t get me wrong about this, either.  When we pastors walk away from conferences or conversations with these pastors or their churches, it is easy to dream of huge facilities, executive assistants, large staffs and all the rest.  We are tempted to emulate the things they do and beleive that such emulation will help us achieve what they have achieved.  This usually fails for a number of reasons; leaving pastors feeling like God-forgotten failures and totally burned out.  Here’s what happens when we try to be someone we are not . . .

1.  We lose touch with the unique image of who we are as an individual in Christ.  This does not mean that we should not strive to preach better, teach better and lead better.  It means that these gifts may look different for each one of us.  For example, I spent some time trying to tie sermons together into series with catchy titles.  I was not very good at it and more than that, I was not having much fun.  I realized that I am not much of a “series” preacher.  My gifts in preaching are different than Perry Noble’s or Mark Batterson’s or Andy Stanley’s.  I should always strive to improve in my preaching.  I should always make sure that I am communicating with clarity and relevance, but that does not mean that I must preach each week like someone I am not.  My gifts are different.

2.  We can fail to realize that our congregation is unique.  The church I pastor is remarkably different than Newspring or Mars Hill or National Community.  I won’t elaborate on the differences, but those of us who are pastoring in already existing churches (ones that we did not plant) must take a good core sample of the DNA of those bodies.  This does not mean that we should tolerate or long put up with spiritual disease or mean-spiritedness or attitudes and activities that prevent the real work of the church from taking place.  It does mean that the modus operandi of ministry in our churches and communities may look strikingly different than the ministry MO’s of churches that are located in Washington DC or Seattle.  Believe me:  Wilmore, KY is not Washington DC or Seattle.

3.  We lose sight of the realities that made it possible for God to work in such awesome ways in these other pastors and in those churches.  At the Newpsring Conference, I kept hearing people ask over and over again, “how can we get that kind of equipment?”  “How can we do that?  We’re so small!”  Newspring has a lot of technology, but getting caught up in the technology belittles the real principles that have driven the ministry of that church and many others.  You see, Perry Noble and Erwin McManus and many others know who they are in Christ.  They exude the confidence of an identity firmly grounded in Christ and they are willing, at the same time, to learn from others without losing their own God-given identity.  The same is true of those churches.  They know who they are and what they are doing and, unless God tells them to do otherwise, they do not deviate from that which is true of who they are and what God has instructed them to do.  This is one of the more important principles from Jim Collin’s book Good to Great.  Noble, McManus, Batterson, Andy Stanley and others are not jumping from one big thing to the next; constantly redefining their God-given identity.  They are holding true to who they are and who their churches are in Jesus Christ.

So, the real lesson to be learned from these leaders and these churches is not necessarily, “emulate our methods”.  The better lesson to be learned is, “allow God to let you be who he is making you to be.”

Now before anyone jumps at any of this, let me say that I am not making an argument for churches to remain irrelevant or lackadaisical because that’s just “who they are.”  What I am encouraging is the life changing journey that takes place when pastors and churches go in search of the unique vision that God has for them and the churches and communities where we are serving!

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