Tuesday, December 30, 2008

EXTENDING RADICAL HOSPITALITY

(I invited Joe Mannino, my brother-in-law, to be a guest blogger. Joe has a heart for God, Christ's Church, and lost people. He wrote this in response to a seminar on Radical Hospitality he attended in WPB, FL. He is also Italian and works out at the YMCA, so if you don't like his blog you better keep it to yourself or you may sleep with the fishes!!)

EXTENDING RADICAL HOSPITALITY

It is almost impossible for those of us raised in the church really to understand how unchurched persons feel about Christianity and about visiting our worship services.

The Fermi Project, a recent sociological study of how 16-29 years olds outside the church think about Christians, reports the following findings:

  • Judgmental - 87%
  • Insensitive to others - 70%
  • Hypocritical - 85%
  • Not accept persons of other faiths - 64%
  • Old Fashioned - 78%
  • Boring - 68%
  • Too involved in politics - 75%
  • Confusing - 61%
  • Out of touch with reality - 72%

While there are a variety of portals of entry into the life of a congregation, by far the primary entry point is worship.

Sixty to seventy percent of church goers say that the first time they came to worship they were invited and brought by a trusted friend of family member.

The main reasons people, who acknowledge that they would be willing to come to church, say they have not been to worship at a congregation is that they don't know anybody and nobody invited them.

WHY DO PEOPLE INVITE THEIR FRIENDS TO WORSHIP?

People are most likely to invite their friends or family to worship when:

  1. They themselves are spiritually blessed by attending their congregation
  2. Their congregational leaders teach the importance of "Come & See Ministry" and encourage people to invite their friends.
  3. They believe it will be a positive experience for their friend or family member.

People believe their friend or family member will have a positive experience when they sense the worship service will:

  1. Connect culturally with them.
  2. Be meaningful spiritually to them.
  3. And be executed with excellence.

THE MINISTRY OF HIGH IMPACT HOSPITALITY

High Impact Hospitality exceeds people's expectations. There is a "Wow!" factor when a visitor feels that "They expected people like us to show up today and they were ready for us!"

High Impact Hospitality includes many things which people take in quickly and often unconsciously to make their first impressions of the congregation: Facilities, parking, greeters & ushers, refreshments, signage, bulletins & announcements, childcare and visitor follow up.

High Impact Hospitality includes many aspects about the worship service, but the two biggest are the music and the message. Can they relate to the music played and is it played with excellence? Does the message address issues that a visitor can relate to? Is it offered in a way that makes sense to them?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Recommendations for Resolutions

Last Sunday at church we looked at the historical reliability of the Bible. The Bible better be true, because we are called to believe big things and set the course of our lives by them. But believing the Bible is true doesn't do us any good if the scriptures stay on the shelf.

So if you are going to make any New Year's resolutions at all, please make feeding daily on God's word one of them. Here are a few Bible reading plans from the ESV website for you to consider. Find one that works for you!

  • Daily Light on the Daily Path. For over a century, Daily Light on the Daily Path has been a favorite devotional book of those who realize the tremendous benefit of reading and praying Scripture. Originally printed in the mid-1800s, Daily Light was born out of the devout faith of Samuel Bagster, a British bookstore owner determined to share his faith with his twelve children. The Bagsters' daily practice of reading Scripture together, then connecting the day's verses with other passages, inspired one of the children to compile their devotions for publication. The family discussed and prayed over the selection and arrangement of each verse until they were convinced that no further improvement could be made. After two years of prayer and consideration, the devotions were printed in two volumes for morning and evening reading.
  • Every Day in the Word. The popular reading plan features a reading from the Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs each day. This plan divides the text into 365 sections, so you can read through the entire Bible in one unforgettable year—in as little as 15 minutes a day. In one year, you read the Old Testament, New Testament, and Proverbs once, and the Psalms twice.
  • One-Year Tract Bible Reading Plan. This plan is based on the M'Cheyne reading system, featuring four different readings for use in both family and personal devotions. Each day has two passages from the Old Testament, one from the New Testament, and one from either the Psalms or the Gospels. In one year, you read the Old Testament once and the New Testament and Psalms twice.
  • Through the Bible in a Year. The online version of the popular tract. Each day includes a reading from the Old Testament and New Testament. Starting in Genesis and Matthew, the readings continue sequentially—over the course of a year, you never read the same passage twice.
  • Book of Common Prayer Daily Office Lectionary. This plan follows the Daily Office Lectionary found in The Book of Common Prayer (1979) used worldwide by Anglicans and Episcopalians.
  • Daily Reading Bible. Follows the reading plan found in the ESV Daily Reading Bible. Each day has one Old Testament reading, one New Testament reading, and one reading from the Psalms. You read the Old Testament once and the New Testament and Psalms twice over a year.
  • Chronological. Read the events of the Bible as they occurred chronologically. For example, the Book of Job is integrated with Genesis because Job lived before Abraham. This reading plan is copyright Back to the Bible.
  • Literary Study Bible. Readings every day from the Psalms and Wisdom Literature, Pentateuch and History of Israel, Chronicles and Prophets, and Gospels and Epistles.
  • ESV Study Bible. Readings every day from the Psalms and Wisdom Literature, Pentateuch and History of Israel, Chronicles and Prophets, and Gospels and Epistles.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Very Welch Christmas 2008

Here are some pictures from our holiday gatherings, mostly bad shots - but I was the photog, so that;s what you get!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Child of the Snows

The images of Christmas fly fast and furious past us like the hyperspace scene from Starwars. Words, on the other hand, slow us down and make us think. I did myself a favor and downloaded Dylan Thomas's "A Child's Christmas in Wales" on Mp3 to listen to on the ride to South Florida on Christmas Eve. Though recorded in 1952 (a year before his death), Thomas's voice is a resonant pleasure.

But poems make the best speed bumps. Poems make you read them and re-read them till you see the poet's meaning. Though my favorite poem by G.K. Chesterton is "The House of Christmas", here's another treat to chew on as you seek to savor the richness of the holiday (it makes me long to go to the inn at the end of the world!):

A Child of the Snows by G. K. Chesterton

There is heard a hymn when the panes are dim,
And never before or again,
When the nights are strong with a darkness long,
And the dark is alive with rain.

Never we know but in sleet and in snow,
The place where the great fires are,
That the midst of the earth is a raging mirth
And the heart of the earth a star.

And at night we win to the ancient inn
Where the child in the frost is furled,
We follow the feet where all souls meet
At the inn at the end of the world.

The gods lie dead where the leaves lie red,
For the flame of the sun is flown,
The gods lie cold where the leaves lie gold,
And a Child comes forth alone.

The well wisher of your soul's happiness,

Pastor Tom

Monday, December 15, 2008

God moves in

"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14

Camping is a good way to get to know people. When I was growing up my family would go on a camping trip a couple times a year. This meant that instead of five people trying to coexist in one house, we now were crammed into one big canvas tent. You get to know your family (if against your will) in those circumstances.

We would go to "Sandsprit Park" in Stuart, Florida, in the heat of summer, at the height of mosquito season, in a canvas tent. It was a public park (still is – in fact the pictures I googled look like a serious upgrade from what I remember!). And being a public park we learned a lot about the other campers, especially the drunken fishing buddies two campsites down! But you learn about the nice ones too – the lady who shares some charcoal with you, the family making s'mores for anyone who walks by, the retired couple fishing off the seawall who show you how to bait a hook properly. You can't hide things from other campers like you can in your neighborhood back home.

So when God wanted to reveal himself to lost mankind, He chose the closest of human proximities – he pitched a tent.

When the Apostle John says "dwelt among us", the word "dwelt" is the same as the word for "tent". John's readers would have recognized the reference immediately: the Old Testament Tabernacle (literally "tent") – where God dwelt among his people! In the Old Testament when God wanted to draw close to His people he pitched a tent.

But when God want to reveal himself to a lost and dying world in the ultimate way, He "tabernacled among us" in His Son, Jesus Christ. In Jesus, God dwells among us in a personal way!

And, unlike our neighbors, this neighbor is glorious!

" ..and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth."

Glory is a pretty awesome thing. When glory comes down people fall on their faces, shield their eyes, and fear for their lives. Glory is nothing less than the visible manifestation of God!

And John is telling us that Jesus is the true glory of God! Pretty stunning truth about a kid from Bethlehem. And yet there it is – the glory of God, in human form, camping next door. And all this for us. Like the Nicene Creed says, "Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven". "For us"?! That's grace! (And truth!)

So this season think about this: God has drawn near to us - will you draw near to Him?

The well wisher of your soul's happiness,

Pastor Tom

Sunday, December 14, 2008

tcwelch@bellsouth.net sent you a link to content of interest

tcwelch@bellsouth.net sent you a link to the following content:

The Measure of Our Growth and Decay
http://firstimportance.org/2008/12/14/the-measure-of-our-growth-and-decay/

The sender also included this note:

From my favorite blog...

--
Sent via a FeedFlare link from a FeedBurner feed.
http://www.feedburner.com/fb/a/publishers/feedflare

Monday, December 8, 2008

Advent Longing…

The calendar for the traditional church year begins, not with January 1st, but with Advent. Advent is a time to get simple, get quiet, and stir up a longing for Christ's 2nd Coming. Only recent history starts the frantic rush of the "Christmas Season" the day after Thanksgiving. No, advent is actually a "mini Lent" intended to strip our souls of acquired excess and prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus. We stir up that longing by reading the prophets and other Bible passages that point us to Christ's return.

Last week I was meditating on the traditional reading for the day from the Daily Office of the Book of Common Prayer - 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:

"But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words"

As I meditated on these verses, I was nurturing a hunger and desire to see Christ face to face. I was reflecting on the amazing thought that one day I will really see Jesus with my own two eyes! I was forcing myself to slow down and move deeper in my relationship with my Savior, because at the time I was feeling the pressure to prepare a message about Jesus for our church!

Then I realized the danger of knowing correct doctrine about Jesus, but failing to press in to know the person of Jesus. The core of our faith is not a dogma, it's a person. I can know right truth about Christ and communicate right truth about Christ. And I must. But I want my knowledge to feed a relationship.

I don't want to "meet the Lord in the air" like a blind date! I don't want to say, "Oh, you're the person I've talked so much about! Glad to finally meet you!" I want to meet Jesus like someone who has been talking on the phone with a friend, only to see him drive up in the driveway! It's not a new relationship, but it's so much more immediate.

Yes, I realize that now we walk by faith and not by sight. And I know that the return of Christ will take that relationship to a whole new level. But I want to spend my Advent getting quiet, getting simple, and stirring up a deeper longing for my Lord!

The well wisher of your soul's happiness,

Pastor Tom

Monday, December 1, 2008

Stephen's Pictures

Stephen was practicing candel light photography with the digital camera, so I took a couple shots myself!


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The Wonder of the Incarnation

The Apostle's Creed tells us that our God is "Maker of Heaven and Earth". This can be demonstrated with undeniable scientific precision by performing the intricate experiment of walking outside. God's glory is demonstrated in all He has made. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see God's creative, caring, and revealing hand. His fingerprints are everywhere! As Paul stated,

"For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made." (Romans 1:20).

Yet we also see fallenness in creation. When sin entered God's good world, everything went askew. We are now alienated from our creator, our neighbor, ourselves, and even creation itself (Rom 8:21-22). That explains the homesickness in the center of our souls. As G.K. Chesterton said:

"For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay on their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done."
(From "The House of Christmas")

But God has not abandoned his fallen creation. He send His Son on a rescue mission to reclaim creation and restore all that was lost in the fall. The wonder of the incarnation is that to reclaim creation, Christ became a part of creation. The Creator is created, the Maker is made! Truly we have no response to this overwhelming truth other than flat-out mind-bending awe and face-to-the-floor worship!

So take these words by Christopher Smart (1722-1771) and reclaim the wonder of Christmas:

Where is this stupendous stranger?
Prophets, shepherds, kings, advise.
Lead me to my Master's manger,
show me where my Savior lies.
O Most Mighty! O Most Holy!
Far beyond the seraph's thought:
art thou then so weak and lowly
as unheeded prophets taught?

O the magnitude of meekness!
Worth from worth immortal sprung;
O the strength of infant weakness,
if eternal is so young!
God all-bounteous, all-creative,
whom no ills from good dissuade,
is incarnate, and a native
of the very world he made.


Friday, November 28, 2008

New D.min Class...

Well, since I have started posting more book reviews, that must mean I am taking a new D.min class. I am currently doing the reading for "Empowering Church Leaders in Soul Care". The class will run January 19-23, 2009. I chose this class for a few reasons:
  1. I want to be a better shepherd to my people and empower our church leaders in soul-care.
  2. It's the last class offered this winter, so I have time to get the reading done!
  3. The paper required is only 5-7 pages (usually 15-20!)
So check back for my progress and keep me in your prayers!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Book Review: The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God through Prayer, Wisdom, and Silence, by Henri Nouwen

Overview—Give a brief overview of the book, including its theme, perspective and approach.

In the tradition of Thomas Merton and other contemplatives, Nouwen presents a way to bring monastic disciplines into our "everyday world". Nouwen, who is no stranger to communal monastic life, organizes his thoughts under the three headings of Solitude, Silence, and Prayer. He then explores what each discipline entails, and importantly, what each does not entail. His writings have a warm devotional tone, without descending into the maudlin sentimentalism of many devotional writings. He invites the reader, rather than instructs, to connect with God in a deeper way through these practices.

Critique—Offer a brief critique of the book, including elements of strength and weakness.

I have always enjoyed Nouwen's works. I found his book "The Prodigal Son" to be transformational. "The Way of the Heart" offers less biographical narrative, and more contemplative reflections. I enjoyed the stories and lessons drawn from the Desert Fathers, which Nouwen casts as considerably more approachable than, say, Athanasius in his "Life of Anthony" (where the anchorite monks just seem cranky!). And Nouwen also warns that solitude, silence, and prayer aren't simply places to go for a refreshing spiritual retreat (a kind of contemplative cappuccino break). No, they are places to do battle with the Devil as he exposes the darkness of our own hearts.

Application—Offer some specific application to your own ministry— demonstrating the value and relevance of the material in this book.

Because we live in an age when ministry means "doing" rather than "being", Nouwen is a voice that brings us back to personal soul-care. As I seek, not merely to "do" the right things, but to "be" the right person, I feel I will be able to better connect with people in their struggles to grow in Christ. I particularly enjoyed his section on "nurtured by short prayers". "The Way of the Heart" is more of an enticement than a guide book, but a welcome enticement nonetheless.

Best Quote—Be sure to include the page number where the quote can be found.

p. 25: " In solitude we realize that nothing human is alien to us, that the roots of all conflict, war, injustice, cruelty, hatred, jealousy, and envy are deeply anchored in our own heart. In solitude our heart of stone can be turned into a heart of flesh, a rebellious heart into a contrite heart, and a closed heart into a heart that can open itself to all suffering people in a gesture of solidarity."

"If you would ask the Desert Fathers why solitude gives birth to compassion, they would say, 'Because it makes us die to our neighbour.' At first this answer seems quite disturbing to a modern mind. But when we give it a closer look we can see that in order to be of service to others we have to die to then; that is, we have to give up measuring our meaning and value the yardstick of others. To die to our neighbours means to stop judging them, to stop evaluating them, and them to become free to be compassionate. Compassion can never coexist with judgment because judgment creates the distance, the distinction, which prevents us from really being with the other…"

Monday, November 24, 2008

ECHO Trip

Here are some pictures from our ECHO work trip - we had a blast!

Faith and Doubt

This week our church began a study of the Apostle's Creed. This creed has helped to shape and define the Christian community for centuries. But the creed has a very personal beginning; "I Believe". J.I. Packer has some great insights about this in his book "Affirming the Apostle's Creed":

In worship, the Creed is said in unison, but the opening words are "I believe"—not "we": each worshiper speaks for himself. Thus he proclaims his philosophy of life, and at the same time testifies to his happiness: he has come into the hands of the Christian God where he is glad to be, and when he says "I believe," it is an act of praise and thanksgiving on his part. It is in truth a great thing to be able to say the Creed.

Fresh and living faith is a great liberating and strengthening force! But what about the doubts that many (most?) Christians struggle with from time to time? What do you do when faith does not come easy? Again, let me lean on Dr. Packer's wisdom:

I write as if God's revelation in the Bible has self-evident truth and authority, and I think that in the last analysis it has; but I know, as you do, that uncriticized preconceptions and prejudices create problems for us all, and many have deep doubts and perplexities about elements of the biblical message. How do these doubts relate to faith?

Well, what is doubt? It is a state of divided mind—"doublemindedness" is James' concept (James 1:6-8)—and it is found both within faith and without it. In the former case, it is faith infected, sick, and out of sorts; in the latter, it belongs to a struggle either toward faith or away from a God felt to be invading and making claims one does not want to meet. In C. S. Lewis' spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy, you can observe both these motivations successively.

In our doubts, we think we are honest, and certainly try to be; but perfect honesty is beyond us in this world, and an unacknowledged unwillingness to take God's word about things, whether from deference to supposed scholarship or fear of ridicule or of deep involvement or from some other motive, often underlies a person's doubt about this or that item of faith. Repeatedly this becomes clear in retrospect, though we could not see it at the time.


How can one help doubters? First, by explaining the problem area (for doubts often arise from misunderstanding); second, by exhibiting the reasonableness of Christian belief at that point, and the grounds for embracing it (for Christian beliefs, though above reason, are not against it); third, by exploring what prompts the doubts (for doubts are never rationally compelling, and hesitations about Christianity usually have more to do with likes and dislikes, hurt feelings, and social, intellectual, and cultural snobbery than the doubters are aware).


The well wisher of your soul's happiness,

Pastor Tom

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Where do you hide your heart?

You know – your heart, the core of your being, who you really are, the seat of your values, desires, and affections. Where do you hide your heart? How do you find your way to someone's heart? How do you find the true inclinations of the heart of another? Can you guide and direct your own heart?

Jesus answers all these questions on Matthew 6:19-21:

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

Surprisingly (or perhaps not so surprisingly!), Jesus tells us straight up: to find a person's heart, look to where he hides his treasures. To put it crassly: the heart follows money. As much as we'd like to romanticize the largesse of our souls, our credit card bills and checkbooks are a more accurate assessment of our affections than our warm-hearted sentiments.

And not only an assessment of our affections but also of our trust. Do we trust God with our future or our investments? What tale does our bank account tell? A wise man once laid out the options for us:

"The name of the Lord is a strong tower;
the righteous man runs into it and is safe."
"A rich man's wealth is his strong city,
and like a high wall in his imagination." Proverbs 18:10-11

Today, everyone is looking for safe shelters for their finances. And there is nothing wrong with being wise. But beware the "wisdom" which would make wealth our "strong city" when in fact "the name of the Lord is a strong tower".

And yes, we can guide our hearts in new directions. Begin making kingdom investments. You will find your heart moving in a kingdom direction. And you will never be disappointed with the rate of return! As we invest with the eternal values of Christ's kingdom in mind ("treasures in heaven"), God promises to handle the "daily bread" stuff for us:

"But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." Matthew 6:33

The well wisher of your soul's happiness,

Pastor Tom

Monday, November 10, 2008

Who is Your God?

Question: How do we maintain our personal stability in unstable times?

Answer: Turbulent times call for a transcendent God.

We live in uncertain times. Some say the myth of security has masked the fact that we always live in uncertain times! We see major change in the political realm, fluctuation in the financial world, insecurity in foreign fields. Change leads to stress, stress leads to fear, and fear erodes faith. We turn inward, gathering what we have around us and clinging for security to our own resources. The only solution is to lift our eyes and remind ourselves of just who our God is. Consider the vision of God that David, a great king of Israel, had:

10 "Therefore David blessed the Lord in the presence of all the assembly. And David said: "Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. 11 Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. 12 Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. 13 And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name."

What do we see here?

  • God is Lord of all.
  • God is owner of all.
  • Everything thing we have comes from God and belongs to God.
  • We are merely managers of all He give us.
  • Our proper response is thanks and praise!

We trust not the government, the markets, or any other source for security. We trust a sovereign God! And we live lives of humble faith, doing the most with what He provides. And He will provide. Confidence in such a great God frees us from miserly fear to live lives of gracious generosity!

The only question remains is, "What are you doing with God's stuff?"

The well wisher of your soul's happiness,

Pastor Tom

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Garden

Here are some pictures my son Stephen took of our garden...

Friday, November 7, 2008

Good stuff...

I have been listening to the audiobook version of Charles Spurgeon's classic "All of Grace". What a soul-feast! It is pure gospel for your soul's needs - converted or unconverted. Give it a read or a listen. Here's a nibble:

A Certain man placed a fountain by the wayside, and he hung up a cup near to it by a little chain. He was told some time after that a great art-critic had found much fault with its design. "But," said he, "do many thirsty persons drink at it?" Then they told him that thousands of poor people, men, women, and children, slaked their thirst at this fountain; and he smiled and said, that he was little troubled by the critic's observation, only he hoped that on some sultry summer's day the critic himself might fill the cup, and be refreshed, and praise the name of the Lord.

Here is my fountain, and here is my cup: find fault if you please; but do drink of the water of life. I only care for this. I had rather bless the soul of the poorest crossing- sweeper, or rag-gatherer, than please a prince of the blood, and fail to convert him to God.


Monday, November 3, 2008

Why the Bible?

Each and every week the people of our church entrust me with something very valuable – time. Each week you graciously and responsively listen s I share the message with you. That is a trust I take very seriously. Which is why I have no desire to fill up your time with anyone's views, opinions, or directives - but God's!

That is why the Bible is so prominent in our church.

Last Sunday we saw how the Bible is preeminent in its circulation, influence, and scope. The Bible is the most widely owned, read, influential book in human history. Within its pages you will find history, poetry, stories, drama, practical wisdom, fantastic images, and plain teaching.

We looked at the Bible's permanence. Jesus said, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away." (Matthew 24:35). World leaders, idols, even heaven and earth will pass away. But God's word lasts forever.

But the foundation for all of the above is the Bible's source and origin (its "provenance"!). We are told that, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Since God is the author of scripture, the Bible is eternally relevant, popular, and powerful!

I realize I may be "preaching to the choir" here, but I want us all to remember why the Bible is so important to us. So we will read it, study it, apply it, memorize it, live it, and by God's grace, always preach it!

The well wisher of your soul's happiness,

Pastor Tom

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Whew!

I am 1/2 way through my busiest week ever. 2 District meetings, 2 papers to write for my D.Min class, new sermon series to begin, preparing for parents coming in this weekend (a good thing!), new guitar class to prepare for, plus the regular responsibilities. But at least I get to turn the clocks back this weekend!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Benedictions need speed-bumps

"Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen." Hebrews 13:20-21

Benedictions need speed bumps. Too often the words of blessing spoken at the end of a service roll over us like water off a ducks back. Liturgical flourishes with little meaning. But take a moment to stop and smell the "good words" (literally "bene-diction") here. In this short sentence the writer of Hebrews gives us a 30,000 foot overview of the meaning of our lives. Consider:

God's chief end is the eternal glory of Christ: "Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen." God is orchestrating and accomplishing the flow of human and cosmic history to the end that the glory of His son would be on display! That is God's "big picture". That is what drives the heart of God.

His glory is best seen in his saving act of the cross and resurrection. "Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant…" We can see God's glory in a lot of thing – in creation, in his providential care, in his gift of the scriptures. But the ultimate display of his glory is the cross. The writer recounts the great saving act of Christ – shedding his blood to bring us into covenant with the Father and rising from the dead to fulfill redemption.

God is now restoring us to our original purpose and design. "…equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight". We were created to find our purpose in doing God's will. That is why his will is described as "good, pleasing, and perfect (Romans 12:1-2). We were formed to take pleasure in pleasing God. So being equipped to order our lives around God and his will for us is not a straightjacket, but a declaration of liberation! It is the restoration of the human heart to its original happiness.

So let this benediction be a good-word from God to you. And may it become your purpose and passion as well.

The well wisher of your soul's happiness,

Pastor Tom

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Crisis in Leadership

Leadership is the buzz word today, especially with the presidential elections coming up. Each candidate is seeking to look more "presidential" than the other. But what are the qualities of great leadership? What models of leadership do we look to?

We need to ask these questions concerning church leadership as well. What are we to look for in church leadership? Hebrews 13:7, 17-19 give us a great outline of the role of leadership in the church.

First, Leaders speak the word of God: "Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God." (v.7). God's Word is our nourishment, our guide-book, and our authority. Therefore the main function of church leaders is to speak and teach God's word. Paul tells timothy that elders are to "be able to teach". That's why God's Word is front and center in the ministry of our church.

Second, leaders are to live out the word of God: "Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith." (v.7). The integrity crisis in leadership is at its most damaging when seen in the church. When one leader fails, every leader feels it. Hypocrisy in church leadership totally undermines the good of the ministry. That's why walking the walk must accompany talking the talk. Leaders have to live lives worthy of consideration and imitation.

Not that leaders have to be perfect. Some of the virtues we must model are humility and repentance. The world is not looking for perfect Christians, just perfectly humble ones!

Third, leaders keep watch over souls: "…for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account" (v.17). The humble, careful application of the word of God to the needs of the people is a mark of healthy leadership. In order to care for souls, leaders must be relationally connected and committed to people. The work "watch" means "pass sleepless nights". The shepherd must put up with long, cold nights in the pastures as they watch over the sheep.

These are tall orders indeed! Watchful leaders will be held accountable for the souls under their care. Anyone want that job? So, yes, soberness and seriousness will accompany leadership.

But don't miss the joy! Hebrews 13:17 says, "Let them do this with joy"! It works like this: It is a joy to see people grow in the lord! It is a joy to see people endure hardship by faith! It is a joy to see people following hard after Christ! It is a joy to see people leading their friends to Christ! It is a joy to see people sacrificing for the cause of Christ!

And ultimately it is the supreme joy of knowing we serve for the glory of "...our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep" (v.20). As we serve in His strength, for his honor, and with his love for the flock – joy overwhelms!

So give joy to your leaders by loving God's word, imitating the good you see in them, following their lead, and helping them through prayer (v.18-19)

The well wisher of your soul's happiness,

Pastor Tom


Thursday, October 16, 2008

"Must Have" downloads from Tim Keller...

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p.s. Do yourself a big favor and listen to "The Prodigal Sons" and "Christ, Our Life". Please.

Monday, October 13, 2008

“It is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace” Hebrews 13:9

On Sunday we spent a lot of time looking at being "Gospel-Driven" and being "strengthened by grace". The Gospel of Grace is not just for unbelievers, but essential for Christians as well (Romans 1:7,15). We know that we are saved by grace through faith, but then we think we need to be perfected by our own efforts (Galatians 3:3). We so easily lose our grip on grace – just ask Peter (Galatians 2:14)! We have got to "eat grace" everyday if our hearts are to be strengthened.

I'm not talking about some weak, insipid, "Jesus wuvs you", sentimentalism. I am talking about hard-fought, blood-bought, Christ-wrought grace! The stuff that is hearty and heart-satisfying. The stuff that you've got to go to the cross to get.

So let me be real practical and suggest some solid resources for you to strengthen your hear by grace:

First – go to the source. Get grace from God's word every day. If you need some help go to the ESV Online site and sign up for one of their devotions. You'll get God's word delivered by email daily!

Second – read grace-drenched authors. One of my favorites is C.J. Mahaney. He is down to earth and easy to read. Read his book "The Cross-Centered Life" for a solid helping of grace.

Jerry Bridges is also helpful here. His book "Transforming Grace" can truly be transforming.

Third – listen to grace-full speakers. Tim Keller is one of my favorites. He is solidly Biblical and easy to listen to. In particular, look for his message on "The Prodigal Sons" - it is delicious! Also – his upcoming book "The Prodigal God" looks to be excellent.

Fourth – sing grace. The classic hymns of the church are treasuries of grace-filled poetry. Some of the best new music is classic hymns set to new tunes. Check out the "Indelible Grace Music" site for great songs of grace to saturate your soul. Their on-line hymnal features lyrics, songsheets, and samples.

Fifth – learn from those who have gone before you. We are told to “remember your leaders…consider the outcome of their life and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7). John Piper has a series of biographical sermons on the lives of great Christian leaders of the past. We can learn much about grace and living for God from the likes of John Bunyan, Charles Spurgeon, and David Brainerd. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore! (If these names are unfamiliar – you really will enjoy getting to know these guys!)

Well, that should get you going. If you've got some helpful "grace" resources – send them my way. Hey, a pastor has to eat too!

The well wisher of your soul's happiness,

Pastor Tom

Monday, October 6, 2008

Who Needs the Gospel?

Many Christians believe that "The Gospel" is for non-believers alone. Once a person becomes a Christian they leave the "ABC's" of Christianity to go on to deeper things. But the Gospel is not the ABC's of the faith; it is the "A to Z" of the faith. We never go beyond the gospel, we just go deeper.

St. Paul considered the Christians at Rome to be "loved by God and called to be saints" (v.7). And yet he can say to these believers that, "I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome." (v.15) The Gospel is for believers too!

A mark of a revitalized church is that it is "Gospel-Driven and Christ-Centered". What, then, is the Gospel? The gospel includes all that God has done for us in Christ, past, present and future. Consider these elements of the gospel:

Deliverance - "Past"

  • The Persuasion of Sin – Effectual Calling (A New Perspective) - Romans 8:30, 2 Thess. 2:14. God gives us eyes to see and ears to hear!
  • The Power of Sin – Regeneration (A New Heart) – John 3:3, Titus 3:5. We exercise saving faith and godly repentance!
  • The Penalty of Sin – Justification (A New Record) – Rom. 3:21-24. In justification the Lord has cleansed us from our sin and clothed us with His righteousness!
  • The Position of Sin - Adoption (A New Family) – Eph 1:5, Rom 8:15. With God as our Father we relate to him as redeemed sons and daughters.

Deliverance - "Present"

  • The Practice of Sin – Sanctification (A New Life) – Eph 4:22-24. God works holiness into our lives as we walk in repentance and obedience to Him.

Deliverance - "Future"

  • The Presence of Sin - Glorification (A New Home) – Romans 8:30, 2 Cor 5:1. Not just new bodies in the new heaven and earth, but new desires to love God and new capacities to enjoy him!

What fuel for meditation, worship, and application! That should give us all a lot to chew on. Join us next Sunday in our "From Embers to a Flame" Family Bible Hour class as we feast together on the Gospel!

The well wisher of your soul's happiness,

Pastor Tom

Calvinist Hip-Hop?!
















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Monday, September 29, 2008

Why in the world should we seek repentance?

In our "Embers to a Flame" class, we have been challenged to seek repentance, both as individuals and as a church. Repentance seems like such a mournful process, so why would anyone head in this direction? Let me suggest just a few of the benefits of walking with a repentant attitude:

The Fruits of Repentance

  • Intimacy with God. The main reason to seek repentance is because God loves to get close to those with a broken heart and contrite spirit (Isaiah 57:15, Isaiah 66:2b). Remember the definition of repentance is, "turning away from sin by God's grace for purposes of reconciliation to him and intimacy with him".
  • Honesty in prayer. When we realize that God loves us as we are, not as we have been pretending to be, a great freedom and honesty before God gives vitality to our prayer life. To "confess" literally means to agree with God's assessment with things. Grace allows us to be honest before God
  • Empathy with the lost. As we grow honest with God and ourselves, there is a natural transition to start loving sinners where they are, not where they are pretending to be – or where you think they should be.

  • Humility with the saints. Humility is the oil on the gears of interpersonal relationships. Anger and bitterness are stiff, brittle things. Humility softens hearts, allows love to flow to the undeserving, and grants the supernatural ability to put the needs of others before your own.

Well, I am sure you could add many other "fruits" to this list. But I do hope I have primed the pump for us all to seek a humble repentance and a repentant humility!

The well wisher of your soul's happiness,

Pastor Tom

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Pretty amazing quote considering the source...

"Have you ever been at sea in a dense fog, when it seemed as if a tangible white darkness shut you in and the great ship, tense and anxious, groped her way toward the shore with plummet and sounding-line, and you waited with beating heart for something to happen? I was like that ship before my education began, only I was without compass or sounding line, and no way of knowing how near the harbor was. "Light! Give me light!" was the wordless cry of my soul, and the light of love shone on me in that very hour."
Helen Keller

Monday, September 22, 2008

Repent?

What do you think of when you hear the word "Repent"? An invitation given at an evangelistic rally? The rants of an angry preacher during "revival" meetings"? Sorrow and tears after we sin? Repentance is a key Biblical ingredient for personal and church renewal, so we must be sure to understand it rightly.

In Revelation, Jesus tells the Church in Ephesus to "Remember, Repent, and Recover" (2:5). In our "Embers to a Flame" FBH class, we've been taking a hard look at what this means. If we want to see revitalization as a church, we've got to recover the Biblical patterns for spiritual renewal!

What is Repentance?

Repentance is a wonderfully healthy Biblical word. In its simplest form, repentance is turning away from sin by God's grace for purposes of reconciliation to him and intimacy with him. With that turning also comes a willingness/commitment for God to change us in any way he wants. Repentance results when a person with a soft and humble heart realizes they've gone of the path. Or have drifted from their closeness and love with God. Or have been convicted by the Holy Spirit of an area of sin or compromise in their life.

When does repentance happen?

The "original repentance" for a Christian happens at the moment of faith. Repentance is a turning away from sin. Faith is a turning to Jesus in trust. So faith and repentance are two sides of the same coin! But we must also speak of "ongoing repentance". That is the day to day sensitivity to the Holy Spirit in our lives making corrections and adjustments to our walk with Christ. In that way, Martin Luther was right when he said, "When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said "Repent", He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance" (#1 of 95 Theses!)

Repentance happens when we take seriously the meditations of passages like Psalm 139 and Psalm 19:

"Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!" Psalm 139:23-24

"Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression." Psalm 19:12-13

Such introspection is not done in a spirit of shame, guilt, groveling, or condemnation. Rather we ask our gracious Father to pinpoint anything standing in the way of intimacy with him.

How do we repent?

Repentance must never become kowtowing before God so we can convince him to forgive us. It is not self-flagellation in the hopes we can do penance for our sin. That is an affront to the cross-work of Christ! We don't bring shame, but we do bring humility! Humility is a virtue that attracts the gracious attention of God. But we always humble ourselves in the context of the hard-fought, blood-bought, grace of Jesus! Here are two important reminders and important scriptures upon which to meditate (click and read!)

Seek Humility! Isaiah 57:15, Isaiah 66:2b

Remember Grace! 1 John 1:9, Micah7:7-9

And bear in mind these helpful words: "All the wickedness in this world that man might work or think is no more to the mercy of God than a live coal in the sea." —William Langland (1332-1386), Piers Plowman

The well wisher of your soul's happiness,

Pastor Tom

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Learning Endurance through Tough Times

How do you react when adversity strikes? What is your response when you are dealt a set-back? Do you throw up your hands and cry "Why me?" Do you fume at the seeming randomness of afflictions? Do you get mad at God and doubt his concern for you?

Our reactions to tough times depend on how we view them. If we see them as unwelcome intrusions into our plan for security, safety, comfort, and convenience we will tend to respond with frustration, despair, anger, and unbelief. Our interpretation of trials is the key.

The writer of Hebrews urges us to view our "tough times" as the loving discipline of our heavenly Father who is committed to our spiritual victory. He knows we need endurance. And He knows the only way to gain endurance is through vigorous training. Consider Hebrews 12:10-12:

"He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it."

Lest you think this is head-in-the-clouds spirituality lacking real-world grit, remember that this is being written to the persecuted church! If this is solid counsel for a church facing opposition and persecution, it certainly is for us as well! Rather than wringing our hands and falling down in desperation, we need to clasp our hands and fall to our knees in prayer.

So at the next flat-tire, appliance break-down, relational conflict, vocational disappointment, financial down-turn (fill in the blank here!), surrender the crisis to God, see his commitment to our progress in the tough times, and look to the fruit this will yield in our lives and for eternity!

The well wisher of your soul's happiness,

Pastor Tom

Monday, September 8, 2008

What is holding you back?

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us." Hebrews 12:1

I'm not much of a runner. I could never make it as a sprinter. I've got an awkward stride and I'm just not fast. But I am a plodder and given enough time I can go the distance. I won't set any speed records, but I can finish the race.

The bible tells us to "run with endurance". That means the Christian life is not a sprint, but a marathon. Our need is not for speed, but rather stamina. And in any endurance race, we've got to run lean. Runners wear light clothing so they won't be weighed down.

So the writer of Hebrews tells us, "Let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely". Sin is any entanglement that keeps us from focusing on Jesus. The "weight" is anything that will slow us down in that pursuit.

William Lane, in his commentary on Hebrews explains it like this:

"The expression covers any encumbrance that would handicap a runner, and by analogy, anything that would interfere with responsible commitment to Jesus Christ. This might have reference to the love of wealth, attachment to the world, preoccupations with earthly interests, or self-importance. Christians are to divest themselves of every association or concern that would limit their freedom for Christian confession."

Are you feeling sluggish in your spiritual journey? Are you feeling weighed down? Maybe you've accumulated some excess baggage that is slowing your race! What do you need to shed from your schedule? What do you need to sell on eBay? What attitudes or thoughts do you need to discard? Take some time to do some soul and life searching with the Lord, get rid of the excess stuff, and run with freedom!

The well wisher of your soul's happiness,

Pastor Tom

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

When denial is really delight

By anyone's measure, Moses was a man who lived a life of sacrifice for others. From the decision to leave Pharaoh's palace and identify with the people of Israel, to leading this same (often stiff-necked) people into the wilderness, Moses' life was one of self-denial for the sake of others. Hebrews 11:24-25 give us insight into the extent of his self-denial:

"By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. (Hebrews 11:24-25)

One could easily imagine a dour ascetic grumbling through the desert with moans of self-righteous self-pity; "Look at all I sacrifice to serve God and His people!" And yet that's not what we see in Moses' life. His motivation came from deeper places:

"He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward." (Hebrews 11:26)

No, it wasn't duty that drove Moses' denial – it was delight! He considered any suffering and reproach to be greater wealth than the treasures he turned his back on. He wasn't losing a reward; he was gaining a better one!

We are also called to deny ourselves to follow Christ and serve others. What kind of reward makes denying ourselves to serve God's people a delight? Let me suggest these:

1. The delight of pleasing our Father through our service.

2. The delight of knowing we are a help to those we love.

3. The delight of increased intimacy with Christ through our service.

4. The delight of one day hearing "Well done, good and faithful servant!"

There is nothing that you give up for Christ that you don't get back, multiplied ten-fold or more!

The Bottom Line: If denial causes you to grumble – it's all about you. If denial causes you delight – it's all about him!

From the well-wisher of your soul's happiness,

Pastor Tom

Thursday, August 28, 2008

This week's article is from an interview with Dr. Ed Stetzer on "missional living". I hope you find it as challenging as I did. My hope is that God would shape us as a church of true missionaries to our community!

How would you define "missional living"?

Missional living is essentially living with our primary perspective as that of an ambassador for the Kingdom of God. It means making our lives not about us, but about Jesus and His Kingdom.

In an alliterated sense, missional living is an incarnational (being the presence of Christ in community), indigenous (of the people and culture) and intentional (planning our lives around God's agenda) focus on the power of the Gospel to bring the reign of God into people's lives.

What keeps people from missional living?

Believers do not live missionally for two primary reasons:

a) because they believe someone else is doing it; or worse,

b) they are selfish.

Too many Christians assume or deceive themselves into believing that someone else has explained the Gospel to our neighbors, co-workers and friends. Beyond that, believers choose their traditions over the mission. Entire congregations have decided that "the way we do things" is superior to the mission to go, be and tell the Gospel in understandable ways to the culture surrounding them.

Ten Tips for Missional Living

  1. Understand the Gospel. The mission of God is consumed with the person and work of Christ. As you understand Christ, you can accurately participate in God's work of redemption. So read the Gospels—a lot.
  2. Take an eternal view of people. The friends, neighbors and co-workers around you have an eternity in front of them. We need to see them as God does and care for them accordingly.
  3. Be friendly. A Christian should be the most trustworthy confidant another person has in the world. Believers should be the kind of people everyone else wants to be around.
  4. Watch for a chance to serve. People use up all of their energy on family, work and menial chores. Look for ways you can care for your neighbors—even if it is just cooking a simple dinner for them.
  5. Be truthful. Missional believers contend for the faith while speaking in a way understandable to the hearer. No matter what, be ready to talk about the truths in Scripture.
  6. Love like Jesus. He lived a robust life of caring for the lost. In elevating sacrificial love far beyond any previous thinking, He gave an example for us.
  7. Be on guard. As you work alongside the King to extend His Kingdom, our spiritual enemy will immediately attack. Guard your heart in holiness.
  8. Live missionally at home. Family is the first place for the mission of God in your life. When people see the impact it has on your home, they will be more willing to trust its veracity for their own lives.
  9. Show patience. People are farther away from understanding the Gospel than in previous generations. Do not hesitate to invite them to submit to Christ, but know that they have plenty of questions that might need answering first.
  10. Do it for one reason—the glory of God. The only reason to be missional is to make Christ more widely known. God is worthy of being honored by all of creation, and it should be the main reason why we participate in His mission.

Monday, August 18, 2008

life together

When you read the New Testament documents, how is the community life of the church pictured? What kind of relationships did the early Christians have? How does their relational life compare to ours?

We get a glimpse from texts like Hebrews 10:24-25:

"And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."

Here we see a community of believers who are committed to the spiritual success of one another. We see at least three aspects of their "life together":

1. They were thinking about one another ("let us consider…")

2. They were connecting with one another ("not neglecting to meet together")

3. They were encouraging one another to keep focused on Jesus ("encouraging one another")

And this was NOT the job of the leaders, but the role of every follower of Christ. True, the leaders should set the example in spiritual care. But the challenge is for every Christian.

We can take up this challenge in the same three ways.

1. Who are you thinking about? The best way to think about someone is to pray for them. Who is one your mind? Is it just the people with whom you have natural friendships or are others on your "radar" as well?

2. Who do you connect with? Connecting happens when we worship together. Do you greet others or just those in your "comfort zone"? When you miss someone, give them a call or write them a note. Ask yourself, "Who is missing that I can contact?" These are all great ways of connecting.

3. Who are you encouraging? That can be as simple as asking "how can I pray for you?" When you hear of a struggle or trial someone is going though ask yourself "I wonder how that is affecting them spiritually?" – then ask the person! It is a way to let them know you care about their soul's happiness!

Now, this may all be new to you. It will require that you do things differently this week. It will require you take actions that may be new to you. Yet, imagine what God would do through our church if each one of us took up the challenge in all three areas, together! May it be done, Lord, for your glory!

The well wisher of your soul's happiness,

Tom

P.S. #1 – As we see what "Fay" is going to do, let's make sure we reach out and check on one another!

P.S. #2 – This Wednesday and Thursday evening Grace Church is hosting Dr. Sam Storms (a favorite author and speaker of mine) of Enjoying God Ministries at Church of the Messiah's fellowship hall (did you get all that?!). The meetings are at 7:00 PM. I am hoping to attend. If you'd like to join me let me know!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Christ Our Sanctifier

One of the distinctives of the Christian & Missionary Alliance (our “tribe”), is honor Christ as our sanctifier. “Sanctifier” is a big word for the one who makes us holy. So let’s consider one practical aspect of what that means.

When we think about growing in our relationship with God and personal holiness, we can look one of two directions. We can look inward and chart the progress of our souls. Or we can look outward at Christ. A preoccupation with the inward gaze can lead to frustration, guilt, and spiritual paralysis. The outward gaze leads to something absolutely paradoxical. Listen to how A.W. Tozer (a C&MA pastor of the last century) puts it:

“While we are looking at God we do not see ourselves - blessed riddance. The man who has struggled to purify himself and has had nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his soul and looks away to the perfect One. While he looks at Christ, the very thing he has so long been trying to do will be getting done within him.”

- A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc., 1993), 85.

As we look away from ourselves and look to Christ – who he is and what he has done, we discover that the Spirit is busy at work forming Christ within us! As we trust in him, his perfect righteousness is imputed to our account even as our sins are taken by him on the cross. That’s what followers of Christ can be called “perfect” even though we have a long way to go on the journey! As the writer of the book of Hebrews puts it:

“For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”

(Hebrews 10:14)

That’s where justification (declared righteous in Christ) meets sanctification (having a heart set apart to delight in doing God’s will). Because Christ does this work, we honor him as our “Sanctifier”. The Scottish pastor, Robert Murray M’Cheyne give us some insight in this proper perspective:

“I must not only wash in Christ’s blood, but clothe me in Christ’s obedience. For every sin of omission in self, I may find a divinely perfect obedience ready for me in Christ. For every sin of commission in self, I may find not only a stripe or a wound in Christ, but also a perfect rendering of the opposite obedience in my place, so that the law is magnified, its curse more than carried, its demand more than answered.”

—Robert Murray M’Cheyne, quoted by Andrew Bonar, Robert Murray M’Cheyne (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1960), 176

I couldn’t have said it better myself!

p.s. Do yourself a big favor and check out the blog “Of First Importance”, your soul will thank you for it and you’ll see where I get all my cool quotes!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Feedback Time...

Okay, now it's time for your input. I am considering which class to take next and am asking "what would give the greatest benefit to me and to the ministry of the church I pastor?" Though the classes don't begin until January '09, I have to complete 2000+ pages of reading beforehand - so I will need to get on it pretty soon.

I am planning to take one class during the winter session and one or two during the summer session. I am thinking that fall/advent/Christmas season will be busy and spring/summer will afford more time for preparation.

Anyway - I'd be interested in your feedback on some of my class options. Check out the syllabi below and let me know your thoughts.

2009_01_2DM803_Transitions_in_Leadership
2009_01_2DM842_Empowering_Church_Leaders_in_Soul_Care
2009_01_2DM853_Church_Planting_Conference
2009_01_2DM860_The_Intentional_Church

Monday, August 4, 2008

From Ed Stetzer's blog...

Post-Sabbatical Thoughts...

Well, I suppose I should sign-off this "Sabbatical Journal" blog, my Sabbatical having come to a close last week. I really did have a wonderful experience, for which I am so very grateful. As I shared with our church on Sunday my goals were threefold:
  1. Personal Spiritual Renewal
  2. Pastoral Ministry Renewal
  3. Family/Relationship Building
I feel very good about each area, though I did not get through my to-do list on any of them! But here's what I did:

1. Personal Spiritual Renewal:
  • A week of solitude and prayer at Mepkin Abbey
  • Personal soul-feeding through worshiping at other churches
  • Reading books for personal renewal (Eugene Peterson's "The Contemplative Pastor" being one)
2. Pastoral Ministry Renewal
  • Beginning the Doctor of Ministry program at Reformed Theological Seminary with the class "Church Growth and Renewal"
  • Reading 2000+ pages in preparation for the class.
  • Becoming certified in the "Prepare and Enrich" marital strengthening program.
3. Family/Relationship Strengthening
  • Jonathan and I got our open water scuba certification.
  • Nancy and I had a weekend away at Sanibel Island.
  • Our family spent four days in South Carolina with friends for the 4th of July.
  • A vacation with my extended family in NE GA (Flowery Branch, to be specific).
I could (should and probably will) add to the list. It was really a wonderful sabbatical.

My next move is to collate all my impressions, thoughts, and ideas into a coherent plan for ministry, family, and me! Because I have found journaling to be a helpful way to crystallize my thoughts I will be blogging under the heading "Missional Monasticism". I'll be forwarding the web address as soon as it is up and running.

In the meantime check back in a few days, I've got a couple items on which I could use some feedback. Thanks for tracking with me!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Chattanooga Riverside

Here are some pictures from our sidetrip to "Chad Anugar". Kevin and Lisa Eames were our hosts. I've known Kevin since High School. He was very influential in leading me to Christ - so we've got a lot of good history. It was so good to connect with them and their family. And have a little fun as well...

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sabbath in G'ville

On our way home from Atlanta we decided on a stop-over in Gainesville to see Janna. Her roommate was away so the guys crashed at her place and Nancy and I got a room at the local Motel 6. They left a light on for us, but they should have told the other guests when to turn it off. Some kids decided to re-enact the Florida Relays around the second floor balcony at about 12:30 AM. I've stayed at a Motel 6 before, but this was more like the "no-tell motel". As far as I could tell the guest list was out of a Flannery O'Conner novel. Every now and then a car alarm would go off and I would check the window to made sure the van was still there. Later things calmed down when a voice outside announced that someone had called the cops. So much for sleep.

We stopped at Starbucks (yes!) for coffee and scones before picking up the kids - a welcome repast.

Janna goes to Creekside Community Church, an Evangelical Free congregation that was around when I was at UF. Upon parking we saw Ed and Elna Barnard, who were active at the Alliance church with us back in the day. ed was an elder there and gave me much wise counsel during my formative years. We had a mini-reunion! We then bumped into Toby and Linda Sorrells, who we knew from UF days and who also were good friends at Trinity in Chicago with us. Toby is now on staff at Creekside and has worked with International Friendships in the past. It was truly a walk down memory lane. The worship was great and the message from James 4-5 was solid.

Somehow a small bird had entered the sanctuary and spent various parts of the service flying around the ceiling. It was distracting, but pretty cool. I though of Psalms 84:3 "Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God." I could have thought the bird was worshiping with us until it ran into the projector screen and the congregation emitted a collective "ohh!" in the middle of "My Redeemer Lives"!

But it was good to re-connect with good friends. And the hope for future connection remains.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Chad Anugar(?) is our...

Chad Anugar(?) is our port of call today. We are staying with friends Kevin and Lisa and having great time down by the river, but not in a van. listen

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mayfield Dairy was...

Mayfield Dairy was the site of our annual pilgrimage yesterday. We touched the sacred cow, we wore the sacred hairnets as we walked the sacred tour, then we ate the sacred ice cream. All was well. listen

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Catching Up...

On Monday, Nancy and I got up early to go to a "Prepare and Enrich" training seminar. Prepare and Enrich is a pre-marital (prepare) and marital (enrich) counseling program and the seminar qualifies me to administer the assessment tools that form the basis for the program. The seminars are offered at various times and places around the country. I noticed that Dr. william E. Johnson offered the seminar almost daily throughout the summer, so I registered for the course and asked if Nancy could join me.

The morning of the seminar I re-googled the address and noticed that it looked like a residential area. Thinking that I may have had the wrong address I called Dr. Johnson, and yes, the seminar was held in his home! So, with a spirit of adventure we headed out!

We had some second thoughts when the GPS took us through some questionable areas of Atlanta (we should have followed Google Maps), But we arrived on time at Dr. Johnson's home. Dr. Johnson, a kind, 60 year old African-American gentleman with multiple degrees (PhD, Rev, etc...) greeted us at the door. He welcomed us into his living room where we sat down to begin the seminar: two students and one professor - good ratio!

We discovered that Dr. Johnson works for the school board as a guidance counselor and therefore has time during the summer to offer the seminar on as "as needed" basis (or perhaps better - "on-demand"). So, after the initial uncertainty faded, we sat on the couch, workbook on lap, as Dr. Johnson led us through the material via PowerPoint and DVD.

The material is excellent. I can see immediate application in ministry, both for martial enrichment and pre-marital counseling. I can't wait to use the material with Michael and Lindsey as my first "Guinea Pigs"!

+Lunch+
Nancy and I drove to a nearby "brass and fern" restaurant for lunch where we could discuss what we had been learning thus far. After we were seated I commented to Pamela, our waitress, about her beautiful smile and Nancy and I both privately sensed a spiritual connection with her. I asked, as is my habit, if there was anyway we could pray for her as we gave thanks for our meal. She immediately asked us to pray for her marriage. We did, and in ensuing conversation she shared that she wished her husband would seek counseling with her, but he refused. We had a chance to talk further, sharing some of the morning's material with her. We gave her the web-site and Dr. Johnson's contact info and assured her of our further prayers for her and her husband. Hopefully we left her with hope and a knowledge that she wasn't alone and that God was at work.

On the way home after the seminar Nancy and I had a chance to debrief, pray more for Pamela, and thank the Lord for ministry opportunities in unexpected places! How kind of God to lead us to a marriage seminar and then to an opportunity to minister to someone's marriage while strengthening our own!

+postscript+
Sometimes I feel a bit anxious after encounters like that. I wrongly think that the responsibility is now on me to somehow fix and rescue. But the Lord helped me to remember that just as he brought Nancy and I into this young lady's life, so he will resource her needs along the way. For a Calvinist, you'd think I would trust His sovereignty more! Oh well, we are all in process.