Who Stole My Church?

I bought a new book by pastor Gordon MacDonald today called Who Stole My Church?. Though I’ve not had a chance to start reading it yet, I have listened to two radio programs that he has been on in the last few weeks. I have to say that it has been an incredible encouragement to hear many of the things that this seasoned pastor has had to say on the subject of the changing church in America.

As the pastor of a church in transition, trying to go from a dying 50+ year old church to a renewed, mission-focused, growing church, I find myself challenged at every turn with tough decisions and often, personally, painful results.

Since we have gone from two services, one contemporary and one traditional, to a single contemporary service that incorporates both hymns and P&W songs, there have definitely been mixed feelings with some of our senior adults, unable to accept the change, have left. It’s really hard since everyone seemed to know beforehand that many difficult changes were coming if we were going to survive. It’s a very different animal, isn’t it, though, when the changes actually start happening? We are, after all, humans who have preferences and feel slighted when those preferences aren’t provided for in the way we feel they should be.

It is hard not to take it personally when people leave the church, especially when some of them lash out at you as though you were out to get them from the start. Of course, there is nothing farther from the truth. One thing a pastor doesn’t want is to see people hurt and to feel as though he was out to inflict such pain. And yet, one who seeks to honor Christ in the leadership of HIS church, can only be obedient and leave the results to God. Thus, that is where I stand.

I say all of that to say that I have been encouraged by the ministry of Gordon MacDonald as this, now senior adult, testified that unless churches that have been well established in the past do not change to meet the needs of the contemporary culture with the unchanging message of Christ, they will die. It may be today or it may be tomorrow, but people will absolutely stop coming. That’s hard to hear, but the reality must be faced.

Another interesting point he made was that, because there are always those within the church who simply will not accept change, if a pastor is doing his job, he can always expect 10-15% of the church population to leave at any given time. That is both good and bad news. The bad is that no pastor wants to always have people walk out the door. The good news for those of us pressing forward is that what we are experiencing is both normal and healthy. The result is that if you’re doing it right, many more people than those who leave will come to be a part of a growing community. That’s what we are experiencing…there is a growing excitement and sense of loving community growing with people starting to get excited about bringing their family and friends to take part of the movement of God. How exciting is that!

For those who are a part of MBC reading this, I want you to know how much I love you! It is hard to communicate that in a way that some can hear when I simply do not have the means to meet your every felt need through our worship experiences, but I do love you. My desire is to see God’s church at MBC thrive for many many more years and become the healthiest church in the area. For that to happen, many tough choices have to be made and seen through to fruition. I assure you, though, God will bless our socks off because of our obedience! We’re already seeing that with the increased number of people coming in every week to experience God with us.

For those pastors who, like myself, are trying to lead the church God has put in your charge through changes which inevitably leads to friction, be encouraged…God will carry you through, too. For me, there are two things God impressed on me at the onset of our change: first, make the change towards being a mission organism that reaches those lost in the 21st century and, secondly, leave the results and problems to Me. That’s what I’ve done and will continue to do.

Yeah, ministry is tough, but I honestly can’t imagine myself anywhere else doing anything differently. God is most certainly good.

One Life

What difference can one life really make? When we think of people like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, or others who have been in extraordinary positions, wielding extraordinary power, perhaps we say one life can make a tremendous difference.

It’s another thing, though, when we talk about us ordinary folk with limited resources and limited opportunities isn’t it? Yet, in Scripture I read about one ordinary person following another who made tremendous impact on the world. Think about just a few: Abraham…nothing special. Joseph…nothing special, either. David…a shepherd…nothing. Peter, the fisherman…nope. I could go on and on with individuals who were “nothing special” but accomplished spectacular things. Or should I say, had spectacular things accomplished through them? That’s really it, isn’t it? It’s one thing to be given power and prestige and accomplish great things. It’s another thing, entirely, to be an average joe living an average life and accomplish things.

I say this because everybody…yes, everybody…wants to accomplish great things; they want to make a difference; to leave their mark on the world. Everybody wishes they had more influence, power, and position to do more than they feel capable of. And yet, just like (and I do mean just like) all of those amazing people in Scripture, we have the capability of having great things done through us. So, I’d like to take just a minute to reflect on the characteristics of these individuals so that we can learn how to accomplish God-sized things and make an impact on the world around us. I’ll list the top five characteristics:

1. They yielded to the call of God.

2. They…hmmm.

3. ……..

OK. Let me start again:

1. They yielded to God.

2. See #1.

That’s really it. They yielded to God and through them, God did extraordinary things, giving them extraordinary power and ability to accomplish all He chose them to do.

How hard it is for us to tap into the power the Holy Spirit has already put within us because we find it difficult to set aside our own dreams and desires and simply yield to His desire! But that’s where the power is. That’s it, there is nothing more.

At Memorial, I am focusing on praying for rain and preparing our fields in expectation of the coming rain. Starting this Sunday, I will preach a four week series on “April Showers.” For me and, hopefully, for our congregation, it is a month of expectation, where we begin to focus on the preparations of God’s Spirit as He comes upon us and begins to do extraordinary things through us. I believe this can and will happen. Why? Because He said it would. Hosea 10: 12 reveals the nature of God as He deals with His unfaithful people:

Sow for yourselves righteousness;
reap steadfast love;
break up your fallow ground,
for it is the time to seek the Lord,
that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.

Fallow ground is land that has been prepared for crops, yet is unseeded. How easy it is to grow hard and fruitless, yet God says to begin preparing the field and seek the Lord. Why? That His rain may come!

Last week, I showed scenes from the movie, Facing the Giants, which focuses on a coach who completely yielded to the call and purpose of God. Another minor character is Mr. Bridges, a gentleman in the community who has come to the high school for years, praying for each student as he would quietly walk past the lockers, calling on God for a revival. In the movie, that’s exactly what happened. In real life it can, too!

It is hard for me to swallow that reality most of the time. Usually, I am good at making excuses as to why I can’t expect extraordinary things to happen through my life. Yet, I have the same ability that every one of these people had…the ability to yield.

M.I.A.: The Strong, Silent Type

I have been reflecting on Charles Spurgeon’s devotion for this morning which referenced Matthew 27:11-14. That’s the section that tells of Jesus before the governor, being asked as to whether or not He was the “King of the Jews.” Jesus only response was, “You have said so.” It then follows that Jesus would give no answer to the Jewish leaders.

Now, obviously, there are several ways to look at this. One of which is to simply say that Jesus gave no defense on His own behalf because He had no desire to be released. The endgame was the cross and, therefore, He would do nothing that would jeopardize the mission, such as arguing His way out of conviction (which He demonstrated numerous times that He could have easily done).

Though I think that is a right way of thinking, Spurgeon points out the important example that Jesus set on another level. Sometimes it is best to strictly keep our mouths shut. Jesus was accused of many things, yet He did not feel it important to make great defenses on His own behalf; He did not argue against them. In doing so, His accusers fell under their own accusations and became the targets of the wrath of God, though Jesus, Himself, stood guiltless.

I most certainly believe that there is a time and a place to give a defense of the Gospel. Unfortunately, I believe we Evangelical Christians spend too much time defending ourselves. There is a world of difference between presenting a clear portrayal of the message of Christ love in a way that will clear up misunderstanding of who Christ is and arguing for our own rights or defending our own stands on any number of issues. We are called not to stand up for our rights as Christians, but rather the simple Truth of the Gospel. That is the major issue I have with many politically focused evangelical leaders today who argue for morality, ethics and godliness in society at the expense of alienating the very ones that we are trying to reach. I am all for morality, ethics, and godliness…I just don’t believe they come through debate, legislation, or boycotts.

Spurgeon said, “The anvil breaks a host of hammers by silently bearing their blows.” I believe there is great wisdom in that. I believe that we would find our influence growing among those hostile to the Faith more quickly by bearing the blows that come our way with dignity and grace and a quiet faith that Christ will deliver us in His time than by going on the attack, singing our battle cry of Onward Christian Soldiers. Anyone can become a political special interest group and fight for their rights. Respect comes when we do that which is counter-cultural and actively love those who are waging the attacks. You want to talk about blowing minds.

That’s not a pacifist perspective I am advocating (as I am not a pacifist at heart). There are times when standing up and fighting for causes is important, such as justice for widows, orphans, the outcast, etc. However, I’ve never read that our own rights are among those things to be fought for.

Sometimes, the greatest weapon of offense is a strong resolution to keep our big mouths shut and take the blows to the glory of Christ.

The Meaning of ALL

So, just who is welcome in a church? I mean really. That is always a very tough thing to deal with when you start talking about real life, is it not? Even in a church like ours that stresses the desire to welcome in all types of people, junk in tow, to find healing through the resurrection power of Christ. The question we have to answer is do we really mean it, because if we do, it opens us up to all sorts of unpleasantries.

It seems to me that Jesus was the master of welcoming the most outrageous lifestyles. He was friends with prostitutes, thieves, liars, cheats, adulterers and no telling how many more that aren’t even recorded. The problem seems to be that we’re not Jesus and we’re not very good with drawing the line between accepting the individual without giving the lifestyle a pass or, to the other extreme, focusing so much on the lifestyle/character flaws that we fail to accept the individual.

I think the main cause of this problem within churches is at least two-fold (maybe others, but at least two): On the one hand, we’re lousy communicators. We don’t seem to be able to communicate truth in love. We don’t know how to separate the “who” from the “what” of an individual. Who someone is is not the sum-total of what they do. Jesus was exceptional at differentiating the two and drawing the “who” of someone is out, leading them into becoming all they could be, no longer being victimized by what they did. We don’t seem to be able to do that very well. The solution? I think it’s honesty. We have to care enough about people to honestly tell them the truth in such a way that they are not shamed in the process. Really, who among us is above the shame of our own sins to such a degree that we feel self-righteous enough to shame another?

The other comes in the form of liking our safe-haven where we feel like we can escape the miserable world to such a degree that we’ll go to any extent to maintain our “fortress of solitude.” We sure don’t want to invite it in and, thereby, dirty up God’s church. Is it not the case, though, that when we fail to invite the world in that we are, in reality, then dirtying up Christ’s church? Are not those the very ones that Christ focussed on while He was here? He called the religious establishment “white-washed tombs” because they dressed up the outside yet failed to authentically love and serve Him. At other times, He talks of taking the Kingdom from such as these and giving it to those considered outcasts.

I admit that these are extremely unpopular ideas among many modern-day evangelicals, but who really cares? It’s time to call a spade a spade and face up to the fact that we have so abused the Church of Jesus Christ by making it into a kingdom of our own liking, that we completely ignore the mission He called us to. Perhaps I am being overly harsh, but when I think back on Christ’s attitude towards the self-righteous religious people, I don’t know that I am.

Perhaps you’ll have to pardon my rant, but the reality is our churches are filled with arrogance and pride. No wonder we are losing our influence in the world. If we’re ever going to become the beautiful bride of Christ that reflects His glory and majesty, we had better figure out how to welcome in all walks of life, loving them with an honest compassion without signing off on what they do. We had better come to a place of brokenness and repentance before a holy God who called us out of the world (in holiness only) to be a place of hope and refuge for those in the world, victimized by Satan’s sinful ploy.

These are very real issues for any church that is getting serious about the idea of the church as a hospital that is full to the rim (including the Pastor!) with sick people needing healing from the Master Physician. As we’re finding out first-hand in our church, when you make that claim, the broken and bleeding, so to speak, start pouring in. What do you do? Who comes in and who is just too sick to be allowed in? Who is so ill that they just might contaminate the other patients?

All I know is this: “Come to me all who labor and are heavy-ladened and I will give you rest…” ~Jesus

I only know of one definition for “all.”

Happy Birthday, Drew

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Amazingly, my littlest one is turning 1 today! I cannot begin to describe the blessing that Andrew is to us. His smile, his laugh, and his funny little facial expressions are a constant joy. God has most certainly been good beyond measure and we thank Him daily for this little blessing.

Karen I have been given two wonderful gifts in Jacob and Andrew and on this day, we want to wish Andrew a very happy 1st birthday. We love you with all of our heart.

Hard-learned Lessons

I was reminded again this morning about how important it is to seek Christ’s mind in all things big and small. I was reading in Joshua 9 following the defeat of Jericho and Ai by Joshua, where God had begun to fulfill His promise to the people in giving them a land to call their own. Through that, all of the inhabitants of the land were being overthrown and killed.

As it turns out, the inhabitants of Gibeon heard the news (as this kind of news would travel far and wide fast) and decided to trick Joshua and the elders into not destroying them by dressing in rags and carrying dry bread which would indicate that they had been on a long, tiring journey. This was, of course, to keep them from thinking they were a people who lived in the land thereby needing to be destroyed.

Verse 14 is huge: “So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the Lord.”

The result was that Joshua made a covenant “in the name of the Lord,” and upon learning the truth was therefore unable to carry out the command of the Lord. Though the result was not devastating in this case, it apparently caused a great deal of unrest among the people as they “murmured against the leaders” (v. 18).

Now, murmuring or disagreement is by no means an indicator of being disobedient. Sometimes, as in the case of Moses, murmuring is because you have been obedient. The Israelites constantly murmured against what God told Moses to do (which is why they lay dead on the wilderness floor). In fact, this makes it even more poignant in that troubles are going to be present even when we do seek God’s counsel…we certainly don’t need to make matters worse by being disobedient!

I realized anew just how many problems can be avoided simply by taking some extra time to seek God’s counsel. I found it interesting that God remained silent. Joshua and the boys worked through the deliberation of whether or not to accept the provisions from the disguised enemy and enter into a binding covenant without ever even considering what God wanted. They simply weighed the “pros and cons” and came up with what they considered the best action without ever asking God and God stood by silently and let them make the mistake.

How many times has God stood silent in order to teach me the importance of asking for His counsel. Though it may sound somewhat unkind for God to stand by and let them fail, I have done the very same thing with my own son. There have been times when I have let him make a bad decision without correcting him in order to teach him the lesson of where pride will take you. Had he asked, I would have most certainly helped.

This reminds me that God is a loving Father, but I must humbly bring Him into every decision in order to find the wisdom He has to offer. I wonder if Joshua learned his lesson completely. I wonder, too, if I ever will.

To the Victor Go the Spoils

Man, I love it when God provides in ways that demonstrate He’s in control! The context in which I write is how God has blessed our church in the last two weeks as we were faithful to do what He commanded. Specifically, it was to take our two services and combine into one, thereby bringing two very different generations together in one place to worship.

Now, there is no doubt I did it with some measure of fear and trembling, but I knew that God was in it and He assured me in my spirit that if I would simply lead the people in the direction in which He directed, He would take care of the rest.

In these past two weeks, we have had more new members join than we have experienced in the past six months! We’ve had people coming in from who knows where interested in becoming a part of the church. We’ve seen people responding at the end of services desiring to get their lives in tune with what God wants to do in them. It is absolutely amazing. Strangely, too, is the fact that some of the ones that have put up some of the biggest roadblocks in the past have decided to leave. I say, praise be to God!

There is something to obedience that leads to God’s provision. Yes, I know, that sounds a bit strange to say…should be somewhat obvious…yet I think we often fail to move because we fail to believe God will provide. We see His provision over and over in the delivery of the Children of Israel in Scripture, yet, like them, we often fail to see how God will deliver this time.

In the case of the Exodus, God started right off in the beginning with amazing provision. In Exodus 3, God told Moses that as he explained to the elders what God was going to do for them, he would be heard and believed, regardless of how skeptical Moses might have been about such a prospect. After all, it did sound a bit outlandish, I’m sure.

That’s not the really good one, though. In verse 21, God said that He would “give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty, but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.”

I love that! God is so cool, isn’t He? I mean, wouldn’t you just have to laugh to see 2 million people walking out of Egypt wearing jewelry they had just “plundered” from the Egyptians simply by asking for it, only to look back and see a bunch of people watching them leave with all their stuff while they gleafully wish them bon voyage? It’s great! And that’s how God is! We miss that so often. We fail to trust Him that if we are obedient, He is faithful. Often He delivers even when we’re not, but we miss tremendous blessings that way.

I am encouraged to see how God has been moving in our life and can’t wait to see how He provides even more “spoils” in the future! I hope you will determine to live faithfully in order to receive all of the loot (blessings) of the Victorious One!

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. ~James 1:17

The Power of Perspective

I was reading in Exodus this morning (chapter 1) of how God dealt with two Hebrew midwives as they demonstrated their fear of and commitment to the one, true God. Pharaoh had commanded the midwives to kill every Israelite child born who was a male. Instead, because of their fear of God, they let the male children live.

I thought of the great risk these women took in defying the absolute rule of a king. Yet, because of their fear of God, they maintained absolute integrity in doing what was right, regardless of the price they might have to pay. Could pharaoh have them killed? Yes. Could he torture them to the point of making them wish they were dead?

So, what would make these women defy this ruler and risk such horrible consequences? Perspective. They understood that nothing this man could do to them could compare with they fury of a holy and absolute sovereign God. They knew that God had the power and compassion to protect them if He so chose, but that they would rather be in the hands of an irate earthly dictator than the hands of a jealous God. As we see, they demonstrated great wisdom as God “dealt with the midwives.” Either way, God would have dealt with the midwives, but because of their faithfulness to God, He not only protected them from Pharaoh, He blessed them with families of their own.

Why do we miss so many blessings in our lives? Often, it’s because we fear man more than God in our dealings? Is there a tough ethical or moral decision to make at work? How do we respond? Often, we see the immediate results and compromise in order to stay out of trouble with the boss or the IRS or whomever. After all, God is a forgiving God. You know, it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission. However, we forget that God is holy and just and will often either directly punish us or, perhaps even worse, simply grow silent and quietly remove His hand of blessing. That, above all else, is reason for great fear.

We struggle every day with decisions of faithfulness…crises of belief. Well, hold on and stay faithful. God is big enough, compassionate enough, and strong enough to carry you. He’ll deal with the issues you’re facing and the reward for obedience far exceeds the potential cost you may face.

“He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High, shall abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.'” ~Psalm 91: 1-2

A New Day

Welcome to my new journal. You perhaps know that I operated a blog called Espresso Roast for several years that is still up and running but put on ice, so to speak. All of the posts there will be preserved and accessible, but will not be added to anytime soon (at least, as far as I can see). I think part of the reason I burned out on that blog was that I focused too much on news, current events and the like and felt the need to always put something “of substance” on there. They ended up being more along the lines of articles than a journal.

The reality is, I want this new space to be of substance as well, but more pastoral and meditative in nature. I prefer to have a place where I can reflect on what God is doing in my own spirit and, hopefully, God may speak to you as well. I think I need a taste of the simple approach…a blog without all the bells and whistles.

I make no promises or predictions about what this will be like. I don’t expect it to become a must-see attraction. I do hope to visit God here and stumble upon some great insights as I take the time to listen to Him. As my background is in worldview studies, I suspect I will make some semi-regular comments on culture and how that does/does not reflect the nature of God, but I doubt that will become the focus. Much of my reflections may be centered around my church, Memorial Baptist, and what God is doing there. Whatever it is, I hope it is a blessing.

So, I hope you will keep Espresso Roast on your subscription list in case we fire it up again, but I invite you to look in on what God is doing in my life and I’d love for you to give your own insights so that maybe we can learn from each other.

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